« PoprzedniaDalej »
When a man undertakes to deviate from truth, he should endeavour to veil falsehood with at least some appearance of probability. Was it, then, cowardice, or treachery, that kept general Putnam in this disgraceful situation during the battle? If the former, can it be conceived, that under the galling fire of a pursuing enemy, he would thus encumber himself with such a load? "A NUMBER of spades and pick-axes" would be no very convenient appendage for a flying coward, who had to pass the same "galling cross fire of the enemy," which caused the dauntless captain Dearborn, but a few hours before to urge colonel Stark ❝ to quicken his march.” If treachery were the cause, is it not surprising, that he should have retained the confidence of his country and commander to the close of the war.
My object, sir, is to elicit truth, and to correct misrepresentation; and if in the course of this investigation it should be found, that general Putnam was not " inactive during the whole of the action" at Bunker Hill, but that he participated in the danger as well as the glory of that day-I hope it will detract nothing from your courage, whatever it may do from your veracity.
It would seem from your statement, that little was done in that action, but by the regiments of Stark and Reed;—that it was these alone which lined the "rail-fence," and repelled the repeated assaults of British veterans.
But where was the brave captain Knowlton, with a detachment under his command, who first took possession of the groundwho worked all night in raising the redoubt, and to whom as large a share of glory, as to any other force of equal number is justly due? The honourable judge Grosvenor, who was a wounded ofcer of that detachment-who entered the service one grade below you-who left it at the peace of 1783, your senior in rank-and whose character as a citizen or an officer will never suffer in comparison with your's shall be heard on this subject.
"Pomfret, April 30th,1818.
"MY DEAR SIR,—IN conformity to your request, I now state what came under my observation at the battle of Bunker Hill, at the commencement of the revolutionary war, and with as much precision as possible, at the distance of time that has intervened.
"Being under the command of general Putnam, part of our regiment, and a much larger number of Massachusett's troops under colonel PresP. F. 1818. No. 211.
cott, were ordered to march on the evening of the 16th of June, 1775, to Breed's Hill, where, under the immediate superiutendance of general Putnam, ground was broken and a redoubt formed. On the following day, the 17th, dispositions were made to deter the advance of the enemy, as there was reason to believe an immediate attack was intended. General Putnam during the period was extremely active, and directed principally the operations. All were animated, and their general inspired confidence by his example. The British army, having made dispositions for landing at Morton's Point, were covered by the fire of shot and shells from Copp's Hill in Boston, which it had opened on our redoubt early in the morning, and continued the greatest part of the day. At this moment a detachment of four lieutenants (of which I was one) and one hundred and twenty men, selected the preceding day from general Putnam's regiment * under captain Knowlton, were, by the general order to take post at a rail-fence on the left of the breast-work, that ran north from the redoubt to the bottom of Breed's Hill. This order was promptly executed, and our detachment in advancing to the post, took up one rail-fence and placed it against another, (as a partial cover) nearly parallel with the line of the breast-work, and extended our left nearly to Mystic river. Each man was furnished with one pound of gun-powder and forty-eight balls. This ammunition was received, howevever, prior to marching to Breed's Hill.
"In this position our detachment remained until a second division of British troops landed, when they commenced a fire of their field-artillery of several rounds, and particularly against the rail-fence; then formed in columns, advanced to the attack, displayed in line at about the distance of musket shot, and commenced firing. At this instant our whole line opened upon the enemy, and so precise and fatal was our fire, that in the course of a short time they gave way and retired in disorder out of musket shot, leaving before us many killed and wounded.
"There was but a short respite on the part of the British, as their lines were soon filled up, and led against us; when they were met as before, and forced back with great loss.
"On reinforcements joining the enemy, they made a direct advance on the redoubt, and being successful, which our brave Capt. Knowlton perceiving, ordered a retreat of his men, in which he was sustained by two companies under the command of Captains Clark and Chester.
"The loss in our detachment I presume was nearly equal. Of my own immediate command of thirty men and one subaltern, there were 11 killed and wounded; among the latter was myself, though not so severely as to prevent my retiring.
*The general officers from Connecticut, in the campaign of 1775, had oach a regiment, with lieutenant-colonels under them.
"At the rail-fence' there wAS NOT posted any corps save our own under Knowlton, at the time the firing commenced; nor did I hear of any other being there till long after the action. Other troops, it was said, were ordered to join us, but refused doing so.
"Of the officers on the ground, the most active within my observation were Gen. Putnam, Col. Prescott, and Capt. Knowlton; but no doubt there were many more equally brave and meritorious, who must naturally have escaped the eye of one attending to his own immediate command.
"Thus you have a brief statement of my knowledge of the action, without descending to minute particulars. To conclude, it is matter of surprize, even of astonishment to me, my dear sir, that I am called on to state my opinion of the character of your honored father, Gen. Putnam; who was ever the first in public life, at the post of honor, and danger; and who, in his private conduct was excelled by none. Look but at his services in the French and Indian wars from 1755 to 1763, and finally at those of the revolution, and you will need no proof to refute the calumny of common de famers.
"With respect, I am, yours, truly,
"Colonel Daniel Putnam."
This statement from a gentleman of truth and honor, differs essentially in many points from that made by you. It contradicts your assertion that there was no field-artillery, used by the British army. It contradicts the assertion, which to military men would hardly need contradiction, that the position at the" rail-fence was taken by the direction of the committee of safety." It makes void the insinuation that Stark's and Reed's regiments were the only troops posted at the "rail-fence;" and it even makes it doubtful if they were there at all. That they were not, when the firing commenced, Col. Grosvenor states clearly, and those who know the modest unassuming deportment of this respectable man, and his cautious character, will be sure that he says nothing positively, but what he knows fully and recollects distinctly. It shows too, and that pretty clearly, that either Captain Dearborn with his "full company" (consisting at that time of ninety six) were very fortunate in escaping the British fire, or that they were less exposed to it than Knowlton's detachment, which had about one third of their number killed and wounded, while of Captain Dearborn's only six were hurt. It shows, if you were on the ground, and had the knowledge of facts which you claim to have
that you have done injustice, not only to Gen. Putnam, but to the companies of Clark and Chester, both of whom were known to suffer loss in covering the retreat from the "rail-fence." It shows, that orders were given, and dispositions for defence made, by other officers than Col. Stark and Capt. Dearborn. It shows, in fine, that nearly your whole statement of the transactions of that memorable day must have resulted either from ignorance or misrepresentation.
Let nothing, which is here or elsewhere said be construed into a wish of the writer, to detract, in any way whatever, from the merits of the veteran Gen. Stark. He honours his name, his patriotism, and his important services to his country, in that war which gave it Freedom and Independence; and is thankful to that BEING who has given him a heart to rejoice in the honest fame of others, without coveting one jot or tittle of their merited applause. He hopes this aged and long devoted servant of the public may be permitted to descend to his grave in peace and honor; and that no ruthless hand may be found, after a rest of more than forty years, to drag before the tribunal of a succeeding generation, and to couple with infamy and dishonor, a NAME so long renowned for valour!
I beg pardon, sir, for this digression-it was an apostrophe not to be resisted, and I now proceed to lay before you further evidence on the subject-for I had scarce gone through the reading of your ridiculous tale, before a letter was put into my hand, by Charles H. Hall, Esq. from Col. John Trumbull, of New-York,— an officer of distinction in the revolutionary war, and now a celebrated historical painter, employed in his profession by the government of the United States.
As this letter affords some evidence of the " station" of Gen. Putnam, during the action; and does not fully coincide with your account of the death of the immortal WARREN, I shall by his permission, make use of it in this place.
"New York, 30th March, 1818.
"Mr. Hall has just shown me the Port-Folio of last month, containing an account of the battle of Bunker Hill, which appears to have been written for the mere purpose of introducing a most unjustifiable attack upon the memory of your excellent father.
"It is strange that men cannot be contented with their own honest share of fame, without attempting to detract from that of others:-but, after the
attempts which have been made to diminish the immortal reputation of WASHINGTON, who shall be surprized or who repine at this enviable attendant on human greatness.
"In all cases like this, perhaps, the most unquestionable testimony is that which is given by an enemy.
"In the summer of 1786 I became acquainted in London, with Ccl. John Small, of the British army, who had served in America many years, and had known General Putnam intimately during the war of Canada from 1756 to 1763. From him, I had the two following anecdotes respecting the battle of Bunker Hill;-I shall nearly repeat his words:-Looking at the Picture which I had then almost completed, he said: 'I don't like the situation in which you have placed my old friend PUTNAM; you have not done him justice. I wish you would alter that part of our Picture, and introduce a circumstance which actually happened, and which I can never forget. When the British troops advanced the second time to the attack of the redoubt, I, with the other officers, was in front of the line to encourage the men: we had advanced very near the works undisturbed, when an irregular fire, like a feu-de-joie was poured in upon us; it was cruelly fatal. The troops fell back, and when I looked to the right and left, I saw not one officer standing;—I glanced my eye to the enemy, and saw several young men levelling their pieces at me; I knew their excellence as marksmen, and considered myself gone. At that moment my old friend PUTNAM rushed forward, and striking up the muzzles of their pieces with his sword, cried out, "For God's sake, my lads, don't fire at that man-I love him as I do my brother." We were so near each other, that I heard his words distinctly. He was obeyed; I bowed, thanked him, and walked away unmolested.'
"The other anecdote relates to the death of General Warren.
"At the moment when the troops succeeded in carrying the redoubt, and the Americans were in full retreat, Gen. Howe (who had been hurt by a spent ball which bruised his ancle,) was leaning on my arm. He called suddenly to me: "Do you see that elegant young man who has just fallen? Do you know him?" I looked to the spot towards which he pointed-" Good God, Sir, I believe it is my friend WARREN." "Leave ME then instantlyrun-keep off the troops, save him if possible."—I flew to the spot, " My dear friend," I said to him, "I hope you are not badly hurt:”—he looked up, seemed to recollect me, smiled and died! A musket-ball had passed through the upper part of his head.'
"Col. Small had the character of an honorable upright man, and could have no conceivable motive for deviating from truth in relating these circumstances to me; I therefore believe them to be true.
"You remember, my dear Sir, the viper biting the file. The character of your father for courage, humanity, generosity, and integrity is too firmly