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Putnam to enjoy the good opinion of the illustrious commander. Why was gen. Dearborn silent when all others spoke so goldenly of the courageemphatically of the courage of Putnam? How did that veteran wade through the many perilous conjunctures of those days, and bequeath to his posterity a reputation, which, for nearly half a century, has been the pride of his country? And now, after fame has canonized his bones, will it be endured that the solitary and tardy testimony of general Dearborn should
Beggar the estimation which we prized
SIR, It was not until the 29th of April, that I saw a publication, entitled, " An Account of the Battle of Bunker-hill; written for the Port Folio, at the request of the Editor, by H. Dearborn, Major General U. S. Army."
This production, as unworthy of the rank you bear, as it is void of truth in some of its most prominent parts, I have read with mingled emotions of indignation and contempt.
What, Sir, could tempt you at this distant period to disturb the ashes of the dead, and thus, in the face of truth, to impose on the public such a miserable libel on the fair fame of a man who "exhausted his bodily strength, and expended the vigour of a youthful constitution in the service of his country?" What, above all things, could induce you to assail the character of General Putnam, in a point most of all others, perhaps, unassailable; and to impeach with cowardice, a man always foremost in danger? a man, of whom it was proverbially said, as well by British as Provincial officers, that in a service of great peril and hardship, from 1755 to 1763, "He dared to lead where any dared to follow?”
It was from a full conviction of this truth in the public mind, and from a confidence in his experience, patriotism, and fidelity to his country, that "General Putnam entered our army at the " commencement of the revolutionary war with such an universal "popularity as can scarcely now be conceived, even by those who "then felt the whole force of it." But, however "universal," however "extraordinary," however "unaccountable" may have been this "popularity” to a mind jaundiced by envy, and smarting under the sting of popular odium, even while loaded with Executive favor, it was not quite so "ephemeral," nor did it so soon "fade away," as you would now fain make the public believe. On the
contrary, it was his lot, while in service, generally to have the post of danger and importance assigned him.
When the British army left Boston, in the spring of 1776, he was ordered to New-York, for the defence of that city; Major General Lee, who had been sent there the January preceding, having gone on to South-Carolina. I am unwilling to swell this letter by introducing any thing not directly in point; but, since it can hardly be supposed that the "extraordinary popularity” of General Putnam should have so entirely imposed on the discriminating mind of WASHINGTON, after a daily and most familiar intercourse from July to March, as to have led him to commit the defence of that important post to the Coward of Bunker-Hill, I take the liberty of inserting the following
"Orders and Instructions for Major-General Putnam.
"As there are the best reasons to believe that the enemy's fleet and army, which left Nantasket road last Wednesday evening, are bound to New-York, to endeavour to possess that important post, and, if possible, to secure the communication by Hudson's river to Canada; it must be our care to prevent them from accomplishing their design. To that end, I have detached Brigadier-General Heath, with the whole body of riflemen, and five battalions of the Continental army, by way of Norwich in Connecticut, to New York. These, by an express arrived yesterday from general Heath, I have reason to believe are in New York. Six more battalions, under general Sullivan, march this morning by the same route, and will, I hope, arrive there in eight or ten days at the farthest. The rest of the army will immediately follow in divisions, leaving only a convenient space between each division, to prevent confusion and want of accommodation upon their march.
"You will, no doubt, make the best despatch in getting to New York. Upon your arrival there, you will assume the command, and immediately proceed in continuing to execute the plan, proposed by major-general Lee, for fortifying that city, and securing the passes of the East and North rivers. If, upon consultation with the brigadier-generals and engineers, any alteration in that plan is thought necessary, you are at liberty to make it, cautiously avoiding to break in too much upon his main design, unless where it may be apparently necessary so to do, and that, by the general voice and opinion of the gentlemen above mentioned.
"You will meet the quarter-master-general, colonel Mifflin, and commissary-general, [colonel Trumbull] at New York. As these are both men of excellent talents in their different departments, you will do well to give them all the authority and assistance they require: and should a
council of war be necessary, it is my direction they assist at it.
"Your long service and experience, will, better than my particular directions at this distance, point out to you the works most proper to be first raised, and your perseverance, activity, and zeal, will lead you (without my recommending it,) to exert every nerve to disappoint the enemy's designs.
"Devoutly praying that the PoWER which has hitherto sustained the American arms, may continue to bless them with the Divine protection, I bid you farewell.
"Given at head-quarters, in Cambridge, this 29th March, 1776. "GEO. WASHINGTON."
The faithful execution of the duties here enjoined were acknowledged by the commander in chief after his arrival in New York, and his thanks were publicly expressed in general orders.
Two days before the battle of Flat Bush, in consequence of the sickness of that excellent officer, major-general Greene, who had commanded on Long Island, general Putnam was ordered to the command of that post, and assisted in the arduous and complicated difficulties of that masterly retreat.
In the memorable and distressing flight of the American army through New Jersey in 1776, general Putnam was always nearalways the friend, the supporter, and confident of his beloved chief; and the moment after reaching the western bank of the Delaware with the rear of the army, he was ordered to Philadelphia, to fortify and defend that city, against a meditated attack; concerning which general Washington thus expresses himself in a letter to general Putnam, dated 23d December, 1776. "If I had not been well convinced before, of the enemy's intention to possess themselves of Philadelphia, as soon as the frost should form ice strong enough to support them and their artillery across the Delaware, I have now obtained an intercepted letter, which places the matter beyond a doubt."
On the evening preceding the surprise of the Hessians at Trenton and while the army was paraded for that object, the writer was dispatched by the commander in chief, with a confidential message to general Putnam, apprising him of the pending event, and requiring him to be in perfect readiness to move at a moment's warning wherever directed; and immediately after the action of Princeton, he was ordered to pass the Delaware with
what force he had, to Croswix, and, soon after, to repair to Princeton, where he continued through the winter, within sixteen miles of the head-quarters of lord Cornwallis, and covering a large extent of country with but a handful of men; and those almost entirely composed of New Jersey militia, who had but a short time previous, in despair at the aspect of public affairs, received written protections from the enemy, which they were now required by proclamation of WASHINGTON to give up, and subscribe allegiance to the United States. It is a fact, that during one whole week of this time, general Putnam had no military force with him at Princeton, but a fine independent company from Baltimore, under captain Yates.
In the spring of 1777, the important post of the Highlands on the Hudson, was committed to the defence of general Putnam; and though the loss of fort Montgomery was among the disasters of that campaign, yet a court of enquiry, upon mature deliberation, and with a full knowledge of the facts, reported "the loss to have been occasioned by want of men, and not by any fault in the commander." It evidently was not productive of any diminution of confidence in WASHINGTON; for the correspondence between him and general Putnam had been diffuse on the subject, in which it was expressly declared by the latter," that he would not hold himself responsible for the post committed to his care, with the small number of men left for its defence;" and when he had determined to erect another fortification for the defence of the river, he left it wholly to the judgment of general Putnam to fix the spot, who decided in favour of West Point; and, as his biographer has remarked, " It is no vulgar phrase to say, that to him belongs the glory of having chosen this rock of our military salvation."
When the three armies, which had the preceding year acted separately, united at White Plains under WASHINGTON, general Putnam was called to the command of the right wing.
But why need instances be multiplied to show, that he, who now held the second rank in the American army, retained the confidence of him who in all points was deservedly acknowledged the first? I forbear to draw a comparison between his standing in the estimation of the American chief, and that of your's in the War department, through a succession of secretaries, who direct
ed the military operations of the late war. If a retrospect of facts and events, bring not a blush to your cheek, it must be that you are below shame.
It has been reserved for you, sir, after a lapse of forty-three years, and when you probably supposed the grave had closed on all who would contradict your bold assertions, that you have thus, like an assassin in the dark, cowardly meditated this insiduous blow, against a character as much above your level, as your base calumny is beneath a gentleman and an officer.
There yet lives one, who not only feels indignant at such unmerited abuse of his father's name, but who has, also, a personal knowledge of most of the military concerns of general Putnam through the revolutionary war, having been the greater part of that time attached to his family, and in possession of his confidence. Regardless of consequences, he will not shun to declare the truth, though it may bear hard on the licentious assertions of major-general Dearborn.
You commence your work by saying that "On the 16th June, 1775, it was determined that a fortified post should be established at or near Bunker's Hill." This determination was made in a council of war at which general Putnam assisted; and (without asserting what cannot now be proved, that the proposition for occupying that post originated with him)-he it was, who went on with the first detachment, and commenced the work-he was the principal agent or " engineer," who traced the lines of the redoubt, and he continued most, if not all the night with the workmen: at any rate he was on the spot before sun-rise in the morning, and "taken his station," as you say, " on the top of Bunker's Hill, where the regiment of colonel Stark halted a few moments for the rear to come up." Here, you roundly assert, he " remain"ed during the whole action, with nearly as many men as had been "engaged in the battle; notwithstanding which, no measures had "been taken for reinforcing us, nor was there a shot fired to cover "our retreat, nor any movement made to check the advance of the (6 enemy; but on the contrary, general Putnam rode off WITH A "NUMBER OF SPADES AND PICK-AXES IN HIS "HANDS, AND THE TROOPS THAT HAD REMAINED "WITH HIM INACTIVE."