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   Chapter 3 FIRST TASTE OF WAR

Old Put" The Patriot" By Frederick A. Ober Characters: 12799

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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Israel Putnam's adventure with the wolf gave him an unsought, and in some respects undesirable, notoriety; but that he did not court this notoriety is shown by the fact that for the next twelve or thirteen years he lived quietly on his farm, attending to his duties as a cultivator of the soil and a simple citizen. During these years he acquired an enviable reputation as one of the best farmers in all the region of which Pomfret was the center, and had it not been for the lamentable struggle between the French and the English for supremacy in North America, he might have continued as the humble and prosperous citizen-cultivator to the end of his days. The breaking out of the prolonged strife which is known in history as the French and Indian War, found Putnam in possession of what in those days was considered a competency. Having received a good start from the paternal inheritance, he had not hidden his talents in a napkin, but had put them out to good purpose. He erected a large and substantial dwelling about a fourth of a mile distant from the first he had built in Pomfret, and here he lived most happily, with his good wife Hannah, surrounded by a growing family of healthy children.

In the year 1755, when active operations began in this war between England and France, fought out on the soil of America, Israel Putnam was thirty-seven years old and in the prime of life. There was no immediate necessity for him to volunteer in defense of the frontier, where the hostile French were gathering, for it was far distant from his home, the forests around which were threatened by no roaming savages with tomahawks and muskets. But his patriotic instincts were aroused by the reports of massacres committed in other regions; he knew the tide must be met before it became irresistible and breasted in the North. Four great expeditions were planned by the English to frustrate the schemes of the enemy: against Fort Niagara, Crown Point on Lake Champlain, Fort Duquesne, and against the French in Nova Scotia.

It was to take part in the expedition with Crown Point as its objective that Israel Putnam abandoned his farm, early in the summer of 1755, just when it needed him most, and started on his second long journey away from home. He reached the rendezvous at Albany, after a toilsome march through the forests that intervened between the Connecticut and the Hudson, and there found three thousand other "Provincials" gathered for the defense of the colonies. Most of them were sons of the soil, like Putnam, and like him were yet to receive their baptism of fire; but they were sturdy and valiant, though appearing rude and uncouth in the eyes of the British veterans.

The commander-in-chief of the British Colonial forces in North America at the beginning of the war was Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts, and the commander of the Crown Point expedition was General William Johnson, the famous and eccentric "sachem" of the Mohawks. Having lived for many years with or near the Indians, this Englishman had acquired a great influence over them, especially over the Mohawks, of whose tribe he had been elected an honorary sachem. He had learned their language, had even adopted their peculiar garb, and at times adorned his face with war-paint and performed with his savage friends the furious war-dance. His stanch ally was the ever faithful chief of the Mohawks, the valiant Hendrick, who rendered invaluable service to the English and was killed while battling for their cause.

As Putnam, the stalwart provincial soldier, was merely a private in the ranks when he made the acquaintance of the famous general and the Mohawk chief, he may not have attracted their attention; though he later won encomiums from the commander. He could not but have admired the General's sagacity in retaining the Mohawks as allies of the English Colonials, when most of the Indian tribes had arrayed themselves on the side of the French. At the time Johnson was assembling his army on the Hudson, in that very month of July, 1755, General Braddock, commander of the Duquesne expedition, met with most disastrous defeat, and almost his last words were regrets that he had not taken the advice of his aide-de-camp, a "young Virginian colonel named Washington," who had earnestly besought him to abandon the British tactics and adopt the American system of "bush-fighting."

"We shall better know how to deal with them another time," the defeated Braddock had said to Washington, just before he died. But General Johnson and the Provincial officers already knew how to deal with their wily foes. They had taken leaves from the unwritten book of Indian tactics; their men fought from behind trees and logs, as the savages fought, and in this manner turned the tables upon the French commanders.

"It was owing to the pride and ignorance of that great general that came from England," said an Indian chieftain, alluding to the terrible defeat of Braddock. "He looked upon the Indians as dogs, and would never take their advice, and that is the reason many of our warriors left him. We are ready again to take up the hatchet with you against the French; but let us unite our strength. You are numerous, and all the English governors along your seashore can raise men enough. But don't let those that come from over the great seas be concerned any more. They are unfit to fight in the woods. Let us go by ourselves-we that came out of this ground."

Colonel Washington knew of what the Indians were capable, for young as he was then, he had been through a dreadful experience and had received valuable lessons in their mode of warfare. "It is in their power," he declared, "to be of infinite use to us; and without the Indians we shall never be able to cope with these cruel foes of our country."

There is no doubt that the Indians turned the tide of the first battle in which Israel Putnam took part-that of Lake George, on the eighth of September, 1755. Having made all his preparations at Albany, General Johnson took up his march for Crown Point by way of the "carrying-place" (subsequently known as Fort Edward) and Lake George. After leaving some of his troops to complete the fort he had begun at the "carrying-place," the commander proceeded to the south end of Lake George, where he made camp. He had between five and six thousand New Y

ork and New England troops and his loyal Mohawks. Not long had he been in camp before his Indian scouts brought him intelligence of an approaching force of French and Indians.

About the time that General Johnson had begun his march northwardly, Baron Dieskau, with a force of 3,000 French troops, 800 Canadians and 700 Indians, had started southwardly from Montreal, also for Crown Point on Lake Champlain. He had intended to proceed against Oswego; but learning of the contemplated English expedition for the reduction of Crown Point, he changed the direction of his march.

Had he waited for the English general to carry out his original intention, the result might have been more favorable to the French, for the former would then have been the attacking party and have borne the brunt of the battle. As it was, the French commander nearly succeeded in drawing the thousand men that Johnson had sent out to meet him into an ambuscade, and among the slain was brave Colonel Williams, commander of the Provincials in this engagement, and gallant Chief Hendrick, who had accompanied him with two hundred Mohawks.

The Provincials fought fiercely, but vainly, for they were outnumbered, and at first outgeneraled. They fell back upon the main body, the rear of which was protected by the lake, the flanks by densely-wooded swamps, and the front by a breastwork of trees, behind which were mounted several cannon.

On came the enemy, in pursuit of the retreating Provincials, who sought shelter behind the rude breastworks as rapidly as possible. They had lost heavily, they had been partially ambuscaded, some of their best officers were killed and some wounded; but they had no thought of surrender. Recovering from the first shock of surprise, they quickly adopted the Indian fashion of fighting from behind the trees and rocks, thus exposing themselves very little and inflicting upon the enemy the greatest possible punishment by their accurate marksmanship.

The gallant Dieskau was unable to control his Canadian and Indian allies, but advanced his French regulars against the breastworks without flinching. There, however, he committed the same mistake that had caused Braddock's bloody defeat, by ordering his men to advance in a body and fire by platoons. And again, though the Canadians and Indians fought bravely, after their manner, posted behind the trees, they here encountered what they feared so much, the fire of artillery.

It had been Dieskau's intention to march upon Fort Edward; but hearing that there were cannon mounted there, his allies had refused to go. So he changed his course and set upon Johnson at Lake George. Here, however, his forces, victoriously advancing after their successes of the morning, were met by the destructive fire of the few cannon which had been hastily mounted, and which mowed down the regulars and struck such terror into the savage allies that the latter fled in a panic, their whoops of triumph changed to yells of fear.

It was then the turn of the Provincials to take the offensive, which they did promptly, ably seconded by the Mohawks. They pursued the French a long distance through the woods, and only halted when spent from fatigue.

The French themselves had paused for rest on the very ground where the battle of the morning had been fought, and here, reenforced by soldiers sent by General Lyman from Fort Edward, the Americans set upon them a second time and finally vanquished them completely. They covered the ground with the slain and took many prisoners, among them being the French commander, who was found leaning against a stump, having been wounded in the second fight. He was alone, save for a companion, who was shot down by his side. Seeing an American soldier approach, the Baron felt for his watch, hoping probably to secure good treatment by presenting him with it; but the soldier, mistaking the motion for an effort to draw a pistol, shot him through the hips, inflicting a wound from which he ultimately died. Johnson himself was shot through the thigh, early in the action, and the command devolved upon General Lyman, who conducted the battle to a successful issue, as narrated.

Thus was fought the battle of Lake George, September 8, 1755. The brilliant victory gained here was greater than is apparent at a superficial glance, for it checked the French advance upon the English colonies; it probably saved Albany and other towns from destruction; it was the means of driving the invaders back upon their defensive posts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, where they were eventually attacked and overcome.

Contrary to the expressed opinions (and perhaps advice) of the Provincials, among whom was Putnam, General Johnson decided to advance no further in that campaign, brief as it had been, but proceeded to erect a fort on the site of his camp, alleging that this was necessary to protect his base of supplies and maintain communication with Albany. Had he followed up the victory and pursued the demoralized enemy to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, he might have saved the English many valuable lives and the humiliation of repeated defeats in their subsequent efforts to reduce those important fortifications.

The reduction of Crown Point was abandoned for that season; but notwithstanding this, and the fact that the brunt of the fight had been borne by General Phineas Lyman and his New England militia, the commander-in-chief was rewarded for the victory by a baronetcy and a grant of five thousand pounds!

That the results of this victory at Lake George were far-reaching, and not forgotten by posterity, was shown, for example, nearly a century and a half after it was won, by the erection of a monument upon the site of the battle-field. On the eighth of September, 1903, the governors of four States-New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts-gathered at the unveiling of a bronze memorial (erected by the Society of Colonial Wars), the heroic figures of which, nine feet in height, are General Johnson and Chief Hendrick. The inscriptions on the granite pedestal tell the story: "Defeat would have opened the road to Albany and the French.... Confidence inspired by the victory was of inestimable value to the American Army in the War of the Revolution."

It should be borne in mind that Israel Putnam was present at this battle, and rendered important service.

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