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   Chapter 18 THE DISABLED VETERAN

Old Put" The Patriot" By Frederick A. Ober Characters: 15894

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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General Putnam was sixty-one years old at the time of his famous exploit at Horseneck, and apparently in the full possession of his powers; but, as it eventuated, this was the beginning of his last campaign, which actually opened with the removal of the soldiers from Redding to the Hudson, about the last of May, where Putnam was appointed to the command of the right wing of the army, with headquarters on the west bank of the river. Previous to removal, he wrote the following interesting letter to a friend, Colonel Wadsworth, of Hartford, which the author of this memoir copied from the original in possession of the Connecticut Historical Society:

Redding, ye 11 of May, 1779.

Dear Sir: On my arrivol to this plas I could hear nothing of my hard mony and so must conclud it is gon to the dogs we have no nus hear from head Quarters not a lin senc I cam hear and what my destination is to be this summer cant even so much as geuss but shuld be much obbliged to you if you would be so good as to send me by the teems the Lym juice you was so good as to offer me and a par of Shoes I left under the chamber tabel. I begin to think the nues from the sutherd is tru of ginrol Lintons having a batel and comming of the leator it is said he killed 200 hundred and took 500 hundred what makes me creudit it is becaus the acounts in the New york papers peartly agree with ours

my beast Respeacts to your Lady and sistors and Litel soon.

I am dear sir with the greatest respects your most obed and humbel Sarvant

Israel Putnam.

Old Put's anxiety as to his destination having been allayed, he established his military family at or near Buttermilk Falls, about two miles below West Point, where, says Major Humphreys, "he was happy in possessing the friendship of the officers of the line, and in living on terms of hospitality with them. Indeed, there was no family in the army that lived better than his own. The General, his second son, Major Daniel Putnam, and the author of these memoirs, composed that family."

Putnam was probably at this point when, on that dark and stormy night of the fifteenth of July, "Mad Anthony" Wayne stormed and captured Stony Point, on the river not far below. This remarkable exploit was not only the most important event of the year, but, like the battle of Monmouth of the year previous, almost the only action worthy of note. It had the effect, probably, of causing the British to withdraw their troops from along the Sound, where they were engaged in ravaging the seaboard places of Connecticut; but the post was again taken by the enemy, who, like the Americans, did not find it worth the while to hold it.

The most important members of Putnam's military family, his son Daniel and Major Humphreys, accompanied him home on leave of absence, in November, whence, early in December, the General set out on his return to the army, which was to winter at Morristown. Soon after leaving Brooklyn, and while on the road to Hartford, he "felt an unusual torpor slowly pervading his right hand and foot. This heaviness crept gradually on until it had deprived him of the use of his limbs on that side, in a considerable degree, before he reached the house of his friend Colonel Wadsworth"-the gentleman to whom he had written the letter of the eleventh of May previous.

Having tried, though vainly, to shake off the terrible torpor and regain the use of his limbs by exercise, the stricken soldier was at last compelled to admit defeat and resign himself to the inevitable. He returned home after a short tarry with his friend, and passed the remainder of that winter at the farmhouse he had built in his younger days, surrounded with loving care and affection by his children. At first disposed to rebel against this stroke that had rendered him useless while his country still stood in need of his services, eventually he regained his cheerfulness and gave himself up to the enjoyment of the home comforts of which for so many years he had been deprived.

The partial paralysis from which he suffered was premonitory of the final stroke; but it was eleven years before it came and removed from earth this stout-hearted man who had given his best years and his best efforts to battling for his native land. There is no doubt that his mighty struggles in the several wars-his daylight marches and nighttime vigils; his tremendous exertions in emergencies like the fire at Fort Edward, the running of the rapids at Fort Miller; long hours without rest in the saddle, and in the trenches, with wet and frozen clothing sometimes unchanged for days-all conduced toward the weakening of that mighty frame prematurely stricken with paralysis.

But he had regrets only for what he was prevented from doing; not for what he had done. Having recovered somewhat, he entertained hopes-vain hopes-of rejoining the army; but was finally convinced that his active career was ended. Major Humphreys having visited him in May, 1780, by his hand he sent a missive to Washington, informing him of his condition, and ending with this pathetic postscript: "I am making a great effort to use my hand to make the initials of my name for the first time. "I.P."-Israel Putnam."

Washington replied in July, congratulating him on his improved state of health, and four years later, after peace was declared between Great Britain and the United States, he wrote a long and cordial letter, which the old General regarded as one of his most precious treasures. The opening paragraph shows Washington's real and lasting estimate of his former comrade in adversity, and is as follows:

Your favor of the 20th of May I received with much pleasure. For I can assure you that among the many worthy and meritorious officers with whom I have had the happiness to be connected in service throughout this war, and from whom I have had cheerful assistance in the various and trying vicissitudes of a complicated contest, the name of a Putnam is not forgotten; nor will it be but with that stroke of time which shall obliterate from my mind the remembrance of all those toils and fatigues through which we have struggled for the preservation and establishment of the Rights, Liberties, and Independence of our Country.

It was not like Old Put to give up the fight so long as life held out, and by the exercise of his iron will he kept up and about for years. Within less than a twelvemonth from having been disqualified from service on account of his affliction, he paid a visit to his former command on the lower Hudson, where one of his old friends, General Greene, complains, in a letter, that he is "talking as usual, and telling his old stories."

It can not be denied that he was somewhat loquacious, especially in his later years, and those "old stories" were not alone his solace, but the delight of numerous audiences of admiring friends and neighbors. At Major Humphreys's request he retold them, two or three years before he died (1788) and they form the basis of his first biographical memoir. But they were doubtless very stale to those of his hearers who had listened to them again and again, as plainly intimated by General Greene.

As they were mainly about himself and his exploits, and as many of them were of events that happened in the distant past, it is not unlikely that some of them were slightly exaggerated, to say the least. Some others told of Old Put and his doings are perhaps not entitled to credence. Among these latter may be the tales of his dueling days, as, for instance, the story of his challenge by an English officer on parole, who, when he came to the place appointed, found Old Put seated near what appeared to be a keg of powder, serenely smoking his pipe. As the officer reached the rendezvous, Putnam lighted a slow-match from his pipe and thrust it into a hole bored in the head of the keg, upon which were scattered a few grains of gunpowde

r. Viewing these sinister preparations for the "duel," the Englishman concluded that the best thing he could do was to run away, which he did very promptly. "O ho!" shouted Putnam after him, taking his pipe from his mouth. "You are just about as brave a man as I thought, to run away from a keg of onions! Ha, ha, ha!"

No date is given to this occurrence, nor to another account of the "duel" he didn't fight with a brother officer whom he drove from the field at the muzzle of a loaded musket. In fact, the "field of honor" was not much frequented by Putnam, who preferred the field of battle, where he always gave a good account of himself.

During his declining years he was cheered by the companionship of his children, most of whom were married and settled near him, and being in the enjoyment of a competence, he was vastly better off than the majority of the soldiers who had fought with and under him during the Revolution, for many of them were impoverished.

He preserved his strong will-power and great physical strength to the end of his days, notwithstanding the ravages of disease, and in 1786, four years before he died, performed a journey to his birthplace in Danvers, riding all the way on horseback, though with frequent stops by the way not only for rest, but on account of the people who flocked out to see him and desired to entertain the famous fighter in so many wars.

This was the last of his ventures afield, and henceforth he confined his excursions to visiting the homes of his sons and daughters, and to trips around his farm, though on Sundays and "prayer-meeting nights" he would always be found in the meeting-house at the Green, where he was a regular attendant. It is related that at one of the evening meetings one of his fellow worshipers aroused him, by expressing his own conviction that any person who had ever used profane language could hardly be considered a model Christian. Old Put at once accepted the reproof as intended, for it was well known that in moments of excitement, when carried away by the furore of battle, he had often used words which he would not care to review in print. He detested a coward, and when he met one in retreat he did not hesitate to employ strong language in expressing his opinion. At Horseneck, declared the only witness of his reckless ride down the hill, "Old Put was cursing the British terribly." There was no evading his friend's pointed remarks, so the honest old man rose from his seat and "confessed the failing which he had finally overcome"; but he added, with a twinkle in his eye, "it was enough to make an angel swear at Bunker Hill to see the rascals run away from the British!"[4]

[4] Livingston's Life of Israel Putnam. An exhaustive work, by a conscientious and painstaking author.

In this respect he was no worse than his former Commander-in-Chief, though he may have been oftener culpable, being so much more excitable than the phlegmatic Washington.

The final summons came on Saturday, the twenty-ninth of May, 1790, when, in a lower room of the house he had built nearly fifty years before, the battle-scarred warrior, life's fitful fever ended, passed peacefully away to his rest.

Israel Putnam was well prepared to die, declared his pastor in his funeral sermon, and perfectly resigned to the will of God.

"He had been for years," says Major Humphreys, "in patient yet fearless expectation of the approach of the King of Terrors, whom he had full often faced on the field of blood."

On the first day of June the earthly remains of Israel Putnam, attended by a distinguished company of former comrades and sorrowing friends, were taken to the Brooklyn burying-ground, and placed in a brick tomb.

Upon the slab of the tomb was carved the lengthy epitaph, printed on the next page, as composed by Dr. Timothy Dwight, Putnam's former friend and chaplain in the army, who subsequently became President of Yale College.

Statue to General Putnam at Brooklyn, Connecticut.

To the memory

of

Israel Putnam, Esquire,

Senior Major-General in the Armies

of

The United States of America

Who

Was born at Salem

In the Province of Massachusetts

On the seventh day of January

AD. 1718,

And died

On the twenty-ninth day of May

AD. 1790.

PASSENGER

If thou art a Soldier

Drop a Tear over the dust of a Hero

Who

Ever attentive

To the lives and happiness of his Men

Dared to lead

Where any Dared to follow;

If a Patriot,

Remember the distinguished and gallant services

Rendered thy Country

By the Patriot who sleeps beneath this Monument;

If thou art Honest, generous & worthy

Render a cheerful tribute of respect

To a Man

Whose generosity was singular

Whose honesty was proverbial

Who

Raised himself to universal esteem

And offices of Eminent distinction

By personal worth

And a

Usefull life.

With the passing of the years, Putnam's tomb in the pleasant little cemetery in Brooklyn became defaced through the ravages of time and heartless relic hunters, so the State resolved to erect a more enduring monument to "Connecticut's hero of the Revolution." This monument was dedicated June 14th, 1888, nearly a century after the death of the one it is intended to commemorate, and is in the shape of a beautiful bronze statue, representing Putnam on his war-horse, beneath the pedestal supporting which, embedded in the foundation, is a sarcophagus containing his ashes. It stands near the old church which Putnam helped to build, and not far distant from the field in which he was plowing when the call came from Lexington and Concord. Dr. Dwight's original epitaph is inscribed on the tablets, and a wolf's head in bronze ornaments the pedestal on each side.

Little now remains to be added, except to call attention to Putnam's character, eulogies upon which have been delivered by the ablest men of his time and of the generations after him. This sterling character has shone resplendent in his deeds, which we have noted; and we may almost say of him, as of Washington, his great commander, "Whatever good may at any time be said, it can never be an exaggeration!"

General Putnam, remarked his first biographer, "is universally acknowledged to have been as brave and honest a man as ever America produced.... He seems to have been formed on purpose for the age in which he lived. His native courage, unshaken integrity, and established reputation as a soldier, were necessary in the early stages of our opposition to Great Britain, and gave unbounded confidence to our troops in their first conflicts on the field of battle."

Over his open grave, on that day in June so long ago, were pronounced the following words, as true now as yesterday, as they will be henceforth, forever: "Born a hero, whom nature taught and cherished in the lap of innumerable toils and dangers, he was terrible in battle.... But from the amiableness of his heart, when carnage ceased, his humanity spread over the field like the refreshing zephyrs of a summer's evening. ... He pitied littleness, loved goodness, admired greatness, and ever aspired to its glorious summit."

The name of Putnam, as Washington declared, is not forgotten-nor will be, until time shall be no more.

"He dared to lead

Where any dared to follow. In their need

Men looked to him.

A tower of strength was Israel Putnam's name,

A rally-word for patriot acclaim;

It meant resolve, and hope, and bravery,

And steady cheerfulness and constancy.

And if, in years to come, men should forget

That only freedom makes a nation great;

If men grow less as wealth accumulates,

Till gold becomes the life-blood of our States;

Should all these heavy ills weigh down our heart,

We'll turn to him who acted well his part

In those old days, draw lessons from his fame,

And hope and strength from Israel Putnam's name."

THE END.

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