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Title: Who was the Commander at Bunker Hill? - With Remarks on Frothingham's History of the Battle
Author: Swett, Samuel
Language: English
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                              WHO WAS THE

                       COMMANDER AT BUNKER HILL?

                            WITH REMARKS ON


                           With an Appendix.

                             BY S. SWETT.


                        PRINTED BY JOHN WILSON,

                          21, SCHOOL STREET.


      Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1850, by

                               S. SWETT,

      In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District
                           of Massachusetts.


Thirty–two years since, though without any pretensions to be an
author, we consented to write an account of Bunker Hill Battle, as
a feeble contribution to the monument of fame that history owed our
ancestors. But, we find, one may be an author in spite of himself; we
have been compelled to address the public repeatedly in defence of our
history, though never before with so great reluctance. By this time
we hoped to enjoy the privilege of age, to exempt us from this task;
and, notwithstanding our friendly regards for Mr. Frothingham, and a
high appreciation of his book for its intentional honor and honesty
and successful research, we shall be obliged to notice at least one
of his mistakes. For he is under the same ban as all our race: “to
err is human.” And were his mistake solitary, it would compensate for
that by its magnitude, nay, its sublimity. According to him, the great
Battle of Bunker Hill was fought, on our side, by a headless mob; and,
to prove this, he adduces the most incontrovertible argument in the
world, were it true,—that the army at Cambridge, which had been for
two months collecting and organizing under the able and experienced
Gen. Ward, assisted by a host of accomplished veteran officers,
was itself a mob. He terms it, by a new–invented name, “an army of
allies;” a misnomer, calculated to mislead his readers in regard to
its organization. On the files of the Provincial Congress, and by the
Committee of Safety, it is termed the New England army; and, in the
gazettes of the day, the American army. Gen. Putnam, he says, would
have been the commander in the battle, had the army been “regularly
organized;” but, because “it had not yielded to the vital principle of
subordination,” he was present as a patriotic volunteer. He has treated
Gen. Putnam’s character with the utmost candor and kindness, as animals
destined for the altar are pampered, to be sacrificed at last.

It will be our duty to enter into a thorough investigation of this
subject of the command, though with great repugnance, on account of
its involving the rival claims of Putnam and Prescott. For both those
heroes we entertain the most devoted admiration, and the deepest
interest in their fame. Could we have imagined that any such discordant
claims might be advanced, our history had never been commenced. In
our numerous conversations with Judge Prescott on the subject, we
never discovered their existence until our history was published. He
had presented to the Athenæum Gen. Heath’s Memoirs, as a declaration,
we presumed, that the statements in them relative to his father were
correct; and to Heath’s opinions we subscribed. We have contented
ourselves heretofore with a simple statement of the facts that were
known relative to the command; but an historian is bound to state
the principles, as well as the facts, relative to the characters he
introduces, and the legitimate conclusions resulting from those facts
and principles, as much as a counsellor is bound to do so for his

The author, in robbing Putnam of the command, “not enriches” Prescott,
nor any one else. He does not intimate the possibility that Prescott
may have been the commander of the battle: so far from it, he
emphatically denies that he issued any order whatsoever on Bunker Hill,
or at the rail–fence; and states that he was one of the junior colonels
in the army, that Col. Frye was an older officer and in the battle;
whilst he does not pretend that Prescott exercised, or had a right to
exercise, any command over him, or over other colonels who were in the
battle, and older officers than himself. He attributes to Prescott
nothing more than a colonel’s command over his detachment, which, by
some unaccountable mistake, he computes at twelve hundred, whilst it
is limited at one thousand by Col. Prescott himself, and all reliable
authorities. He states that Prescott held councils of war; but he ought
to have added, that this was not at any time whilst Gen. Putnam was in
Charlestown; and that they were confined to the junior officers of his
detachment. He confines him during the battle to the redoubt; and he
might have added that it was impossible for him to have exercised any
command through the line, because he was on foot; though he does add
one fact which is exceedingly important,—that Prescott had but one
hundred and fifty men left under his command at the redoubt,[1] during
the battle, as is stated by the colonel himself, and others who were
with him; and, in conclusion, he observes, that Prescott was left in
the redoubt, during the battle, without the slightest interference,
control, or command from Gen. Putnam or any one else. Now, there never
was, and never will be, any one to question or deny one tittle of these
statements relative to Prescott; we subscribe to them implicitly.

But the author has labored, throughout a large portion of his book, to
prove the most insignificant abstraction that ever entered visionary’s
imagination,—that Gen. Putnam possessed no right to command Col.
Prescott. Grant it; and it would not add one leaf to the laurels of
Prescott, nor a single ray to the splendor of his fame. Nor, on the
other hand, would Putnam lose by the concession. Grant to Putnam the
command of all the rest of the battle, and all that is thus demanded
for Prescott would constitute so insignificant an exception, as merely
to illustrate the proverb, that the general rule is proved by the

Mr. Frothingham says nothing of any command at the breastwork, though,
by describing it as reaching down to the slough, he has represented
it as longer than it was, and has marred and obscured by this mistake
one of the principal features of the battle. The breastwork did not
reach down to the slough by six or seven rods; which space was nearly
or quite unprotected, as was the farther space of 190 yards between the
breastwork and rail–fence, except by the slough, that did not reach
back to the rail–fence by 80 yards. Now, this was the weak point and
key to the American position, which the enemy were grossly culpable for
not discovering, through their previous reconnoissances and knowledge
of the ground. We did not discover, till we had written thus far,
that the author had our own authority for his mistake, or rather our
printer’s. In our map of the battle, we have represented the fact
correctly; but in our text it stands, that the breastwork ran “to”
instead of “toward” the slough.

Taking for granted all the author says of Prescott, we should pass over
the authorities he has accumulated concerning him, were it not that,
left unexplained as they are by him, they may mislead his readers into
the belief, that Prescott had command, not only of his detachment,
but of the battle. We will go through the list. The report of the
Committee of Safety says, “The commander of the party gave orders to
retreat from the redoubt;” and one of the writers of the the report is
supposed to have called Prescott “the commander of the provincials.”
That is, Prescott commanded the _party_, the _provincials_, who raised
the redoubt, and those of them who fought there under him, till he
gave them orders to retreat. The author denies that he commanded any
others: “Gen. Ward, in his letter to President Adams, 30th Oct. ’75,
says that Bunker Hill Battle was conducted by a Massachusetts officer.”
Ward was endeavoring to make out a strong case for the Massachusetts
against the Southern officers. As he knew it was physically impossible
for Prescott to have conducted the battle, because he was on foot, and
militarily so, because there were generals and other officers older
than Prescott on the field, he must have intended to designate himself
or Warren as the conductor of the battle. Possibly he intended to claim
the honor himself. The first syllable of the word “conducted” has been
altered by the pen: he began perhaps to write the word “commanded;”
but, recollecting that he could not claim the command, altered it into
“conducted.” And he was authorized to claim to have been the conductor
of the battle, and to have conducted it with great skill and discretion.

Mr. Frothingham thinks, that, “in a military point of view, it would be
difficult to assign a just motive to either party for this conflict.”
We place in our Appendix the declaration of the proscribed patriot
Adams on the subject, which will justify Gen. Ward, and satisfy every
one on this point.

But, notwithstanding Gen. Ward’s use of the word “conducted,” he
probably intended to say that Warren was the conductor or commander
of Bunker Hill Battle, knowing that he was on the field, vested with
all the rights and authority of a major–general;—which was literally
true, notwithstanding Frothingham’s mistake in supposing that Warren
told Prescott, as a reason for not assuming the command, that he had
not received his commission. This is a mistake of fact and law: Warren,
according to Gen. Heath, said not one word about his commission, and
his want of one did not diminish his rights of office; a point that
has been settled by the Supreme Court of the United States. It was not
so extraordinary for Ward to call Warren the commander, as for Gen.
Humphreys to do so in his life of Putnam, whose Aid he had been. Both,
doubtless, were ignorant of the fact, that Warren refused to exercise
any command on the occasion. It was not generally known till published
by Gen. Heath, twenty years after the battle. Martin the chaplain,
who was present the night before and during the battle, says, “The
Americans took possession of the hill under Prescott.” This is taken
by Frothingham from Stiles’s Diary; and the reason why Stiles does not
quote Martin as saying they were under Putnam likewise is, doubtless,
because he had just before entered the same fact in his diary from the
all–sufficient authority of Gen. Green. Martin says, that he urged
Prescott in vain to send for Putnam and a reinforcement; that Prescott
and he differed, even to quarrel, about the reinforcements; and that he
ordered one of the men off himself to Gen. Ward, which brought Gen.
Putnam and a large reinforcement about noon. “Gordon says one thousand
men under Prescott intrenched; Gen. Putnam is busily engaged in aiding
and encouraging here and there as the case requires.” “Dr. Thatcher
says, Prescott headed the detachment, and retained the command,”
that is, the command of it. Frothingham says this is unequivocal in
favor of Prescott. Instead of that, Thatcher is unequivocal in favor
of Putnam’s command, by placing him at the head of all the officers,
in the following words:—“Generals Putnam, Warren, Pomeroy, and Col.
Prescott were emphatically the heroes of the day.” “Pitts says, it
appears to me there never was more confusion and less command; no one
seemed to have any but Col. Prescott.” “Gen. Heath says, Prescott was
the proper commanding officer in the redoubt.” And Heath says, and
Frothingham in another place quotes it as an instance of a collision
between Putnam and Prescott, that Putnam rode up to the redoubt, and
told Col. Prescott that the intrenching tools must be sent off; and
that Col. Prescott, though he remonstrated against it, obeyed the
order. Gen. Lee, in his memoirs of the war in the Southern States, has
what is called an _obiter dictum_, a few words foreign to his subject,
in which he remarks that Gen. Howe found his enemy posted on Breed’s
Hill, “commanded by Col. Prescott.” The author gives no explanation
of Lee’s words, nor does he claim that they mean any thing more than
Prescott’s command of his detachment and the redoubt on Breed’s
Hill. Lee quotes no authority, and was no authority himself. He knew
nothing about the battle. His ignorance was so gross, that he says the
Americans had no artillery. Lee states, however, that Prescott received
no promotion in the army of the United Colonies. It is impossible,
then, that he could have been the commander of the battle. Judge Tudor
throws no light on the subject: he says, “There was no authorized
commander; Col. Prescott appeared to have been the chief;” “the whole
business appeared to have been conducted without order, or regular
command.” Our author adds the words of Col. Prescott’s son: “Neither
Gen. Putnam nor any other officer ever exercised or claimed any
authority or command over Col. Prescott, or the detachment, before or
in the battle.” It follows not that they had no right to do so. The
author attributes to Col. Scammans an anonymous note in a newspaper,
written perhaps by the editor, saying, “As there was no general
officer who commanded on Bunker Hill, was it not Whitcomb’s duty to
have been there?” This probably meant early in the day when Scammans
met Whitcomb, and Putnam was not on the hill. But the author omits to
mention here, that in the same paper it appears from witnesses under
oath, and not denied, that Scammans, during the battle, sent to Gen.
Putnam, at Bunker Hill, to see if he was wanted, and that his regiment
went to the top of Bunker Hill; “after which Gen. Putnam came up, and
ordered the regiment to advance within hearing of Col. Scammans.”[2]
We have gone through Mr. Frothingham’s list of authorities; and in the
whole of them there is not the shadow of an excuse for his conclusion,
“that no general officer was authorized to command over Prescott
during the battle.” But, if these authorities were trumpet–tongued in
support of his conclusion, it would remain one of those things which no
evidence can prove. The author is dealing with hard characters: Ward,
Warren, Putnam, and Prescott, are not rag babies, that an historian
may bend and distort according to his fancy. The whole kingdom of
Great Britain could not bend one of them. Yet, if this story be true,
Ward, a stickler for the authority and dignity of officers according
to their rank, imposed on Warren and Putnam the insulting restriction
of fighting the battle, shorn of half their authority and command; and
these high–spirited and gallant heroes submitted to so ignominious a
condition. Still worse; they no sooner arrive on the field than they
deny their own agreement. Warren, in a shuffling answer to Prescott,
implies his right to the command, and makes a merit of foregoing it in
favor of so distinguished a veteran; while Putnam not only disavows
his agreement, but has the atrocious folly to attempt to bully such an
officer as Prescott out of his command, who obeys him, however, without
daring to assert his rights. This is certainly very strange history;
but, unless every word of it is true, the author’s conclusion must be
false. The author has taken no notice of Gen. Dearborn’s declaration of
Col. Prescott’s conversation with him on this subject. Dearborn states
expressly, that he was informed by Prescott that he sent to Putnam to
come forward and exercise the command, as he could not do so for want
of rank; confessing thus that Putnam, while on the field, was fully
entitled to be the commander. All the world knows that he did come
forward and exercise the command most effectually, from the beginning
to the end of the engagement.

There may be some unwilling to believe that the opinion of Mr.
Frothingham is entitled to no weight; but he, as well as myself, are
writing on a subject technical and professional, belonging to the art
of war, concerning which both of us confess we know little or nothing.
He seems unable to distinguish between a separate and an independent
command. Were he writing on chemistry, he might perhaps exclaim,
of a well–known fact, as he does about Putnam and Prescott, “It is
impossible that two white things put together should make a black one;”
or in astronomy, that it is quite impossible the earth should have any
movement of its own, while it was under control of Jupiter and the Sun.

We have made the supposition of the author’s fundamental error being
solitary; but errors, like misfortunes, never come alone. The lost
traveller, who wanders from the right road, enters on a boundless
field of aberration, and at every step plunges deeper into a chaos of

To prove that Putnam was not the commander, the author alleges that,
in some cases, he was not obeyed as such. Now, we say with the utmost
confidence, that, any few cases of cowardice out of the question, no
military despot ever was obeyed with more implicit subjection than
Putnam was, throughout the battle, by every one, officers or men, from
their enthusiastic love and admiration of him, and boundless confidence
in him, as a great, experienced, and fortunate hero and patriot.

The first case he imagines to have been an instance of disobedience is
that of Col. Sargent, whom he charges with disobeying Gen. Putnam’s
order for him to go on to Bunker Hill.[3] This injustice to the
reputations of Putnam and Sargent arises from the most inconceivable
misconstruction of Col. Sargent’s letter to us, the only document on
the subject. Col. Paul Dudley Sargent refuse to go on to Bunker Hill,
or any other battle–ground! He was one of the greatest fire–eaters of
the revolutionary army. Gen. Washington observed, that, in all his
councils of war, whenever he proposed any measure which his other
officers thought too desperate to be undertaken, Sargent always voted
for its execution.[4] Had the author ever heard of the man, or made the
slightest inquiry among his relatives in Boston, he would never have
imagined the possibility of such an imputation. Had Putnam ordered him
on to Sinai’s hill, with all its fires, he would not have hesitated,
had there been fighting there.

Whilst Col. Sargent was at Cambridge, his regiment, and that of
Connecticut, were stationed under the immediate command of Putnam at
Inman’s farm, the most exposed and important post of the army, near
which place the enemy had landed at the time of Lexington Battle.
During the Battle of Bunker Hill, both these regiments were like
“greyhounds on the slip,” earnestly entreating of Gen. Ward for
permission to join in the conflict. But, apprehending the enemy would
land at the same place again to assail him, he would not grant them
permission, until it was too late for Col. Sargent to participate in
the battle. When he arrived at Charlestown, the battle was over; our
troops had retreated; and Sargent found Putnam, with all he could
rally, on top of Prospect Hill, where, in hot haste, he was throwing
up intrenchments, often laying some of the sods himself to encourage
his men. The day after the battle, he observed that for three days he
had neither washed nor changed his clothes. But, though the battle was
over, Sargent could not deny himself the satisfaction of scenting the
British Lion. He lingered under the enemy’s cannonade till every one of
his men had run away, and he himself was wounded, when he returned to
Cambridge. Putnam, in defiance of Ward’s orders, who, notwithstanding
his urgency, had always refused him permission, was fortifying Prospect
Hill, and sent repeatedly for Sargent to join him, which he declined;
but why he does not intimate. He might have exposed himself to a
court–martial by a compliance. These are all the facts the author has
for the assertion, that Sargent disobeyed Putnam’s order to go on
to Bunker Hill. It is simply and palpably impossible that any such
order should have been given or disobeyed. (For more of Sargent, see

The only other instance in the author’s book of Putnam’s being
disobeyed, to make good his allegation that such cases existed, is
that of Capt. Callender of the Artillery. If any thing could be more
wonderful than the author’s mistaking one hill for another, when both
have been before his eyes from his birth, it would be his adducing
this case as one of disobedience, or a case of any kind to disprove
that Putnam was the commander. And it is quite as extraordinary that
he should refer to a newspaper for the facts in Calender’s case, when
he had before him a complete statement of them in the report of a
committee to the Massachusetts Congress; a report from which he has
extracted only five words, saying that Putnam ordered Callender to
go back, though it is so important in a description of the battle,
and especially for the fame of Gen. Putnam, that any historian who
neglects it commits a most unfortunate mistake. This committee say, “We
applied to Gen. Putnam and other officers, who were in the heat of the
engagement, for further intelligence. Gen. Putnam informed us, that,
in the late action, as he was riding up Bunker Hill, he met an officer
in the train, drawing his cannon down in great haste; he ordered the
officer to stop and go back; he replied, he had no cartridges; the
general dismounted, and examined his boxes, and found a considerable
number of cartridges, upon which he ordered him back; he refused until
the general threatened him with immediate death; upon which he returned
up the hill again, but soon deserted his post, and left the cannon.”
Now, this is the strongest case imaginable, not of disobedience, but
compulsory obedience. Callender obeyed Putnam to the letter, as the
committee say; he deserted his post afterwards. And we ask the author
whether this conduct of Putnam was that of a volunteer. But allow the
author to make his own case regardless of facts.[5] Suppose Callender
disobeyed Putnam, and that it was for this he was condemned, instead
of cowardice only, as he was, this imaginary case would be worse than
the real one for the author and his argument; it would give us the
sentence of the court–martial to prove that Putnam was his commander.
As if purposely to declare he did not think any thing relative to
Putnam deserving of ordinary care or attention, he says, “This report
states Callender was riding down the hill,” when there is not a
syllable of the kind. The author has racked his fancy to discover other
objections to Putnam’s having the command, that are as groundless as
the foregoing. He objects, that, if Putnam had been the commander, he
would have boasted of it in his letter to the town of Cambridge, in
which he claims the merit of having saved that place from the incursion
of the enemy, after the battle, by erecting fortifications on Prospect
Hill. In the first place, the argument proves too much: it would prove
that he was not the commander in the battle at Chelsea; for he does not
mention that in his letter; and he had more reason to boast of that,
than of Bunker Hill Battle, to the people of Cambridge, who would have
thanked him for nothing in regard to the latter. It was he who, with
Prescott, had urged on that battle for the good of the country, but at
the imminent risk of Cambridge, and brought on them the very danger to
which he alluded. But he had a better reason for not mentioning either
of those battles. He was not a braggadocio. The author’s next objection
is, that Putnam did not at the time publicly claim to have been the
commander. Putnam claim the honor of the command, when all the world at
that time agreed in attributing it to the martyred Warren! “Putnam’s
generosity was singular;” “he was generous almost to a fault.” Was he
the man to pluck from the bloody brow of Warren the crown of honor, for
the nominal command of Bunker Hill Battle?—from Warren, whom he adored
as a patriot, and loved as a friend and brother; who had just stood
by his side at the cannon’s mouth at Chelsea and Bunker Hill? In the
bosom of his family, he declared the bare idea was abhorrent to him. In
that sanctuary, however, he did not hesitate to declare that he was the

The author represents President Stiles as stating, in his Diary, 20th
June, as one among various rumors from camp, that Gen. Putnam took
possession of the hill the night before the battle; and that Stiles,
on 23d June, after receiving additional information from those who had
seen Gen. Putnam, enters in his Diary “that Putnam was not on the hill
at the beginning.” The author has no right to introduce the second
entry to contradict the first, because he knows that, if it does so,
it is false; for he has stated himself that Putnam was present at the
beginning of the intrenchment. For the same reason he cannot adduce it
to prove Putnam was not present at the beginning of the battle. But
there is no contradiction between these entries: both of them are true.
President Stiles was not a man to contradict himself; his meaning is
perfectly clear; he is speaking of the 17th June, and says Putnam was
not present at the beginning, that is, the beginning of the contest
by the enemy’s cannonade at daylight. But who would imagine, that,
instead of any rumors, as the author calls them, on which Stiles makes
his first entry, Stiles says not one syllable of any rumor? So far
from it, he states expressly and distinctly that William Ellery, the
leading man of Rhode Island, and well–known signer of the Declaration
of Independence, had just shown him a copy of a letter from Gen. Greene
at Roxbury, second to no one in the army except Washington, and a
copy of another letter from the Committee of Supplies [of R. Island
at Roxbury]; and that Gen. Greene said, Gen. Putnam took possession
and intrenched on Bunker Hill, Friday night, 16th inst.; “and that
Gen. Ward said, the enemy’s loss was three times as great as ours.”
“Greene,” Styles says, “seemed to doubt this at first; but, from
after–inquiry, and considering that Putnam fired from the trenches,
and that it was said the dead of the enemy covered an acre of ground,
Gen. Greene seemed rather to credit the estimate.” The Chamber of
Supplies says, “The king’s troops attacked Gen. Putnam, who defended
himself with bravery, till overpowered and obliged to retreat.” Now,
these accounts alone settle the whole question of Putnam’s command for
ever. Instead of being base metal to be stigmatized as rumors, they are
sterling gold, and stamped at the highest mint in America.

We have gone through the objections of the author to Putnam’s
claims, as we did through his positions in favor of Prescott’s, and
demonstrated them all to be groundless. We repeat that we have done
this with the greatest repugnance, not only from our personal respect
for the author, but because we may be suspected of doing so from
rivalry. But the author will bear us witness, that we did all in our
power beforehand to render his history as perfect and correct as
possible, for the very purpose of avoiding the necessity of writing
again on the subject. Whence his invincible prepossession against
Putnam’s claims it is useless to inquire; but he acknowledges the
assistance of a number of gentlemen, who, as well as he and myself,
belong to Massachusetts; and we must all acknowledge our natural and
instinctive preference and partiality in favor of an officer of our
own Commonwealth. This is fearful odds against Putnam; but, in his long
warfare for his country, he came off triumphant in many a desperate
conflict while living; and his hard–earned reputation may suffice to
gain him one victory more, though he is dead. In the fable of the lion
painted by man, the lion complains that man is the painter instead of
himself. Putnam, the lion of Connecticut, might well complain that
we men of Massachusetts are drawing a picture of him in Bunker Hill
Battle. But happily for the moral of that fable, three other lions of
Connecticut, Stiles, Dwight, and Whitney, have done the same; and their
picture of him is much more life–like than Frothingham’s.

We are delighted to discover, at last, something amusing in one of the
author’s mistakes, to relieve this dry and dolorous discussion. He
says, Putnam had the command of a regiment, because he was complimented
with the empty title of colonel of a particular regiment, or rather the
regiment was complimented by bearing the name of the nominal colonel
according to the etiquette and fashion of that day. But this gave the
nominal colonel no more right of command over it, than my signing
myself the author’s humble servant gives him a right to call on me for
menial service. The regiment, in these cases, had a full compliment
of officers in command, exclusive of the nominal colonel. The King of
Prussia paid the same compliment to the King of France, by making him a
colonel of one of his regiments; and even the Virgin Mary was appointed
by Louis XI. the colonel of a regiment.

We are at a loss to account for the author’s hallucination: perhaps,
being an antiquarian, he has adopted the odd notion of our ancestors,
that some men are born for perdition, whose good deeds are filthy
rags, and all efforts to save them useless; in fact, that Putnam was
one of those culprits described in our common–law code as outlaws,
who wear wolves’ heads, “_caput lupinum_,” and whose brains it is the
duty of every one to beat out. He seems to imagine, that the head of
the wolf Putnam slew in the cavern may by some legerdemain have been
transferred to his shoulders; and it must be acknowledged there are
some who appear to be of that opinion.

Putnam was a large, strong, muscular man, with an open, bold,
determined countenance, and a large head, with full broad forehead and
brain, proclaiming prodigious power and energy of mind to govern and
direct, and passion to impel. As a farmer–boy, born and brought up in
Essex, Massachusetts, one of the most enlightened counties in America,
he must have partaken of the universal cultivation around him, though
his schooling was confined to a few winter weeks annually. Before the
Revolution, he had been many years in the army, in continual desperate
battle on the continent and in the West Indies, and fought his way
up from captain to a colonelcy. For particular accounts of him, we
refer to the biographies, eulogies, and histories that mention him.
Frothingham has given us the flattering eulogies on him by Gen. Reed,
than whom a more intelligent officer was not under Washington. The
late eminent scholar, John Pickering, sent us an eulogy upon him, from
the English Annual Register, which he thought was written by the great
Edmund Burke. Gen. Dearborn says, “The universal popularity of Putnam
at the commencement of the Revolution was such as can scarcely _now_
be conceived, even by those who _then_ felt the whole force of it.”
Gen. Burbeck says, “He was the great gun of the day.” President Dwight,
and no one knew him better, says he was “a man whose generosity was
singular, whose honesty was proverbial; a hero who dared to lead where
any dared to follow.” But Washington has stamped on Putnam the fiat
of fame. The first moment he met him on Prospect Hill, he paid him a
flattering compliment, “that he inspired every man under him with his
own energy and spirit;” and he pronounced various eulogies on him up to
the moment of bidding him his last farewell. Their mutual confidence
and friendship were uninterrupted, except for an instant, when
Washington thought Putnam was desirous of doing more than his share of
the fighting. Washington called for part of the troops of Putnam, who
waited to entreat permission to head them first against New York, as he
had before against Boston. Washington, though his military sternness
was as gigantic as all his other good qualities, rebuked him with more
forbearance than he ever exhibited on a similar occasion. He was more
severe on Hamilton for a slight want of punctuality, when he said to
him, “You must change your watch, or I must change my Aid.”[6]

But the appointment of Putnam as Brigadier–General by Connecticut, and
Major–General by the Federal Congress, over the heads of many most
respectable officers, would prove, without any of these notices, that
no other officer could have been selected as the commander of the
battle, as he had been on three very conspicuous occasions before. If
commander there was, he must have been the commander; and “that there
was, all nature cries aloud.” Since the world began, in all history or
natural history, there never was a battle known without a commander.
It is the instinct of all animated nature, insect, animal, or man;
from the bee to the buffalo, from the Indian savage to Gen. Taylor.
Milton’s battles of the angels were fought under Michael and Satan as
the commanders.

Our next incontrovertible proof that Putnam was the commander is
founded on the fact, that the army at Cambridge was regularly organized
and consolidated under Ward, Warren, Putnam, and other officers in
regular gradation, without any distinction in regard to the colonies
whence the troops came. The author acknowledges, if this was the fact,
that Putnam was the commander; we take him at his word, and will make
this so clear, that he who runs may read. The question is one of fact
only, as regards both the army and Gen. Putnam; whether the army was,
in fact, a consolidated and organized body, and whether Putnam was
commander of the battle _de facto_. Whether all this was technically
legal and constitutional is a question as abstract and useless as
that other of the author’s, whether Putnam had any right to command
Prescott; and more hopeless: it is almost on a par with that of free
agency, or the origin of evil. It would be as preposterous to deny that
Putnam was the commander, even if the army was not a legal one, as for
British historians to have denied that Washington was the commander in
the battles he fought, because they said he was not a legal commander,
and Gen. Howe said he was no General, only Mr. &c.; though he found
to his sorrow, that Washington and Putnam both were generals, and
out–generalled him,—Putnam at Bunker Hill, and Washington ever
afterwards. There is poor encouragement for any one to enter into this
question of the legality of the organization of the army, when Pres.
Adams, sen. and Judge Tudor failed under it so egregiously. They both
jumped into this quickset hedge, and the author shuts his eyes and
follows them. The result is, Pres. Adams doubts whether any one was
authorized to command the troops of all the colonies; and whether any
one, except the old militia Gen. Pomeroy, a volunteer with no command
over an individual in Cambridge, had a right to command the troops of
Massachusetts. Judge Tudor doubts with him. The author is positive
that the army was one of allies only, and Putnam a mere volunteer.
Putnam was no more a volunteer than the whole army at Cambridge was
a volunteer army, or than the governments of the colonies who sent
the troops there were volunteer governments; and they were in fact
mere governments _de facto_, without constitutions, or conventions
to form any. New Hampshire, rather the worst off in this respect,
had two separate governments,—the royal, under the very popular and
conciliatory Gov. Wentworth; and the rebel, under a convention; and
both were in operation for a month after the battle. But just as much
legality and constitutionality as there was in these governments, so
much there was in the consolidation and organization of the army under
Gen. Ward. The facts were perfectly well known to all three of the
colonies, and their tacit consent and approbation was as binding on
them as if it was expressed by their regular enactments enrolled and

The author omits, in his extracts from Adams’s letter, far the most
interesting and important part of it, as it regards the subject, and
especially Putnam’s claims. Adams thinks his objections to the legality
of the army extend to it, and to Washington, when he took command. Now,
this fortunately gives us the conclusive authority of Washington, to
show that all these legal subtleties are of no practical importance.
Adams doubts whether the army was sufficiently organized to authorize
Washington to try by courts–martial the delinquents in the battle.
But Washington did not hesitate a moment to cut this Gordian knot.
He brought Mansfield, Gerrish, Scammans, and all other delinquents,
before courts–martial; and made Gen. Greene, of Rhode Island, the
president of them, as if for the express purpose of declaring his
opinion, that this colonial question did not affect in the slightest
degree the organization of the army, or the authority and liabilities
of the officers. Our author labors to make out an argument against
Putnam’s command, by showing that there was more legality and intimacy
in the connection of the New Hampshire troops with the rest of the
army, than in that of the troops from Connecticut. So complete was the
union of the Connecticut troops with the rest of the army, that Putnam
could not obtain Ward’s permission to take the Connecticut regiment
to Charlestown the night before the battle, though he strenuously
urged it. The most he could obtain was two hundred of them; and they
were placed under the command of Prescott, who had likewise a company
from New Hampshire (Capt. Dow’s) under his command. Could any thing
be more conclusive as to the consolidation of the army? We have the
pay–rolls of New Hampshire to prove, that her troops were adopted and
paid by her from the first moment they went to Cambridge. On the side
of Connecticut this union was not only expressed by the manner in which
their officers were detailed for duty by Ward; but he placed under the
immediate command of Putnam, Patterson’s Massachusetts and Sargent’s
New Hampshire regiments, in addition to one from Connecticut, at
Inman’s Farm, the most exposed and important outpost of the army.[7]
And the very important action was fought, and the victory achieved,
under the command of Putnam, the 27th of May, at Chelsea. On the 13th
May, all the troops at Cambridge marched under the command of Putnam to
Charlestown, and defied the enemy under the very muzzles of their guns.
Lieut–Col. Huntington writes to Gov. Trumbull from Cambridge, 27th
April: “Gen. Ward being at Roxbury, Gen. Putnam is commander–in–chief
at this place.” Now, how is it conceivable, that the author, after
narrating these three striking cases of Putnam’s command over all
the troops, and after this overwhelming evidence of the complete
coalescence of these troops, should a few days after, when Putnam
appears again with the army at Bunker Hill, turn to the right about
face, like lightning, and deny that he could possibly command, because
it was an army of allies?

The organization of the army at Cambridge, just before the battle,
was as follows: Two full regiments, under Stark and Reid, and another
small one under Sargent, from New Hampshire, and one full regiment
from Connecticut under Lieut.–Col. Storrs, immediately after the
battle of Lexington, about two months before that of Bunker Hill,
came to Cambridge, and voluntarily united themselves with the army
under Major–Gen. Ward. All these troops previous to the battle, as
we stated in our history of it, in the very words, we believe, of
Gov. Brooks (Maj. Brooks, of Ward’s army), were regularly organized
and consolidated, and the routine and operations of a regular army
were performed by them precisely as though they had been all of one
province. The following extracts from Gen. Ward’s orderly book will
put this beyond dispute:—April 22, he orders Col. Stark to march to
Chelsea with three hundred men. May 2, he orders Maj. M’Clary, of the
same regiment, to keep a vigilant look–out as far as Winter Hill.
June 6, Lieut.–Col. Storrs is officer of the main guard. June 7, Maj.
Durkee Connecticut troops are made repeatedly; and, on the 12th of
June, Ward orders a court–martial with Col. Frye, president, and
other officers of Massachusetts, united with Coit and Keyes, and Jos.
Trumbull, judge advocate, all of Connecticut. Here, then, we have a
demonstration, as clear as were it mathematical, of the complete union
and coalition of the whole army, not only with their own consent, but
with the sanction and approbation of their several provinces, to whom
all this was known. But allow the gentleman, as in regard to Callender,
to manufacture his own case, grossly regardless of all known facts.
Allow that these New England provinces, who had always lived like
brothers under one general government, should, when their object,
danger, and enemy were one, be so discordant and repulsive, that each
provincial corps, even in battle, must be insulated, he would not be
one step nearer to his object. Is it possible he is ignorant that
allies, as he calls them, when in military detachments, must be under
the command of the oldest allied officer, who ranks the rest? This is
so perfectly settled, that it would be burning daylight to prove it.

We have thus proved a second time, from the nature of the army, and
the rank of Putnam, according to the author’s own acknowledgment,
that Putnam was the commander of the battle. We now proceed to prove
it a third and fourth time, by his conduct in the battle, and the
evidence in the case. Our troops were well fed at Cambridge, through
contributions from the New England towns, who thought, with the old
general, that men fought best on full stomachs: but, after waiting two
months, they grew impatient for fighting; and Putnam’s whole soul was
with them. Notwithstanding Ward’s prudence, Putnam persuaded him at
last to grant him two thousand men to meet the enemy. The heights of
Charlestown were carefully reconnoitred by Putnam, fascines and empty
casks were prepared for intrenchments, and all the intrenching tools
far and near were collected; but enough only could be found for one
thousand men, and Prescott’s detachment was limited to that number
from necessity; but they were to be relieved in the morning by an
equal number in their places. The still more important preparation of
gunpowder was anxiously attempted, though nearly in vain. During the
turmoil of the day of battle, Putnam called on the Committee of Safety
to receipt for eighteen barrels of powder from Connecticut. He went on
to Breed’s Hill the night before the battle, and assisted in laying
out the intrenchments.[8] He likewise took his small soldiers’ tent
on to the ground, and Capt. Trevett says it was erected. This shows a
“foregone conclusion,” that he was to be indissolubly connected with
the expedition, and all its consequences. But, what was still more in
the spirit of the man, he prepared for himself a relay of horses for
the battle; and nothing more difficult: even Col. Prescott could not
find one for Maj. Brooks to ride to Cambridge, though he endeavored
to press one from the artillery. Putnam was the only officer mounted
in the battle, unless Maj. Durkee was part of the time, as one of
the documents relates. Durkee had been his intimate associate in the
previous war, as he was through that of the Revolution. By daylight on
the morning of the battle, Putnam sent to Gen. Ward for a horse, and
procured another himself; he seemed to consider this as important as
Richard did, when he exclaims, “My kingdom for a horse.” He went to
Breed’s Hill the night before the battle; and this he did under the
express agreement with Gen. Ward that he was to do so, and to have the
direction and superintendence of the whole expedition. For the minute
detail of Putnam’s conduct relative to the battle and connection with
it, we refer to our history and notes. The well–known, honorable, and
intelligent Col. Putnam, son of the general, who observes he was with
the army at the time of the battle, and afterwards an officer under
his father till near the close of the war, and during his whole life
frequently conversed on the subject of the battle with his father and
all others, wrote a memoir, which he communicated to the Monument
Association. Putnam, he says, early urged Ward to have the heights of
Charlestown fortified, who, with Warren, objected the want of powder
and battering cannon. Ward hoped for peace and reconciliation with the
enemy, and wished to continue on the defensive. Putnam said we should
gain peace only by the sword, and he wished only to draw out the enemy
so as to meet them on equal terms. He frequently reconnoitred the
heights; and, just before the battle, Ward agreed to put two thousand
men under him to form intrenchments and defend them. General Putnam
went with half this force to Breed’s Hill the night of the 16th,
repairing at dawn to Cambridge for the other thousand to relieve the
fatigue–party; but the cannonade of the enemy called him instantly
back. Gov. Brooks went on to the ground with Gen. Putnam, and was
present whilst he assisted in laying out the works. Col. Trumbull,
with the army at the time, says the detachment went under the command
of Gen. Putnam and Col. Prescott. Judge Grosvenor, an officer of the
army at the time, and in the detachment, says “Putnam was with them;
and, under his immediate superintendence, ground was broken and the
redoubt formed; and that he commanded the troops engaged afterwards.”
Pres. Stiles, of New Haven College, recorded in his Diary, that
Putnam took possession of Bunker Hill the night of the 16th. Pres.
Dwight, of the same college, says Putnam was the commander of the
battle. Rev. Dr. Whitney, the pastor and most intimate friend of Gen.
Putnam, states explicitly Gen. Putnam’s own declaration to him, that
the detachment was at first put under his command, and that with
it he took possession of the hill, and ordered the battle from the
beginning to the end. “These facts,” he says, “Gen. Putnam himself
gave me soon after the battle, and also repeated them to me after his
life [by Humphreys] was printed.” This is in a note of Dr. Whitney
to his funeral discourse on Gen. Putnam, 1790, and repeated in his
letter, 1818. Col. Putnam, in his letter to me, confirms Dr. Whitney’s
declarations as to his father’s assertions. Frothingham thinks they
may have mistaken the general’s meaning. Col. Putnam’s reasons for
his accurate recollections, we have given. Dr. Whitney says, “Soon
after Bunker Hill Battle, I was at Cambridge some weeks chaplain to
Gen. Putnam’s regiment, resided in his family, and had peculiarly
favorable opportunities of learning, from him and others, in detail,
the things which took place in the battle from its beginning to its
end.” Dr. Aaron Dexter says, from memoranda written at the time, that
he was informed by the officers at Ward’s quarters the day after the
battle, that Putnam had command of all the troops that were sent
down over–night, and that might be ordered there the next day. Col.
Bancroft, the distinguished captain in the redoubt, says he was at
the laying–out of the works by Putnam, and that the rail breastwork
was formed and lined under the direction of Putnam. John Boyle, Esq.
of Boston, who was aide–de–camp to Gov. Hancock, in the expedition
to Rhode Island, writes in his Diary, 16th June, 1775: “Gen. Putnam,
with a detachment of about one thousand of the American forces, went
from Cambridge, and began an intrenchment on an eminence below Bunker
Hill.” Col. Samuel Ward, of Rhode Island, then a captain in the army
at Roxbury, writes, 20th June: “Putnam had a sore battle on Saturday.”
Ethan Clarke writes to Capt. Ward, “We hear that Putnam is defeated,
and Dr. Warren slain.” The most astonishing inadvertence of the author,
though mere inadvertence we believe, is his publishing two pages out
of Rivington’s Gazette of 3d August, 1775, and never hinting, that
in the same paper of 29th June, 1775, it is stated that “Putnam on
the evening of the 16th inst. took possession of Bunker Hill, and
began an intrenchment;” and this extract from Rivington was mentioned
in a publication of ours, which he had among our documents. Josiah
Cleveland’s[9] deposition says he was of Putnam’s regiment; went on
the night of the 16th, Putnam at their head, who with others directed
the works, and ordered the Connecticut and some Massachusetts troops
to make the breastwork at the rail–fence. Abner Allen,[10] of the
same regiment, in his deposition, says he went on the night before
the battle; Putnam was then and there called general, and acted as
such. Major Daniel Jackson, 16th June, 1775, then a sergeant in the
artillery, entered in his Diary, “Gen. Putnam with the army went to
intrench on Bunker Hill.” Trevett, senior captain of the artillery, the
day of the battle, inquired officially of Maj. Gridley, then in command
of all the artillery at Cambridge, and whose father was inferior to no
one in the councils of war, “Who had the command of the troops?” and
was informed by him, “Gen. Putnam.” “Then there is nothing to fear,” he
observed at the time. He consequently applied to Putnam for orders, and
received them. We have mentioned Putnam’s command over three regiments
from different provinces; and that, while “Gen. Ward was at Roxbury,
Gen. Putnam was commander–in–chief” at Cambridge. Gen. Dearborn,[11]
who was in the battle, represents Putnam as the authorized commander.
Our next witness is the Rev. Jos. Thaxter, of Edgarton, who, in
his letter A.D. 1818, says, “On the evening of the 16th June, Col.
Prescott and Col. Bridge, with their regiments, under the direction of
Gen. Putnam, took possession of Breed’s Hill, and threw up a fort or
intrenchment.” We have looked in vain into the author’s book for the
name of Thaxter, that most venerable and interesting old man eloquent,
and minister of the Most High, who, at the time of the battle, was
chaplain in the army, and, while the battle raged, was wrestling with
the Lord in prayer for victory; and, in 1825, with head as white
and heart as unsullied as the driven snow, appeared again on the
battle–field at the jubilee, and laying of the corner–stone for the
monument, to bear up to the throne of grace the thanks of the hundred
thousand who were present, for the very success that he had prayed for
in ’75. The author has devoted twenty–two pages to this jubilee and
monument, without one syllable to spare for the patriotism, eloquence,
and unction of this most interesting relic of olden time, or for the
mention of any religious service whatsoever on the occasion. He dwells
on Webster’s eloquent address to the sovereign people, without the
slightest notice of any address to the Sovereign of the universe. The
neglect of all religious service on the occasion will be considered,
by all those who give credit to the author’s history, as a serious
imputation on our national character.

All this perfectly decisive testimony of Putnam’s command is fully
confirmed by the whole of his conduct during the day after he left Gen.
Ward at dawn, who promised to send on a reinforcement. The breastwork
at the rail–fence was built under Putnam’s orders by the Connecticut
and a few Massachusetts troops, though Frothingham does not give him
the credit of it. He acknowledges it was built by Knowlton and the
troops under him, and that Judge Grosvenor says Gen. Putnam placed
them there. Adj.–Gen. Keyes, then lieutenant in Grosvenor’s company,
says the same. Col. Putnam’s memoir states that his father placed
them there, and ordered them to make the best preparation in their
power for defence. Col. Bancroft and Mr. Josiah Cleveland,[12] as
mentioned before, and Messrs. Aaron Smith[13] and William Low,[14] all
of them present and in the battle, say expressly Putnam built it; and
Low adds, Putnam took a rail on his shoulder, and ordered every man
to do the same and build the breastwork. Greater service than this
was never performed by Putnam for his country, nor greater service
by him or any one at Bunker Hill. There were ingenuity, knowledge of
position, and generalship in it, that have secured for him immortal
honor, and the warmest gratitude of all his countrymen to the latest
posterity. Without this defence, the overwhelming force of the enemy
would have flanked, surrounded, and vanquished our ill–equipped troops
instantly. There was scarcely a regiment, corps, or individual of the
army, that Putnam did not personally command, direct, or encourage.
The reinforcements not arriving, he galloped back to Ward’s quarters
to obtain them. He ordered Doolittle’s regiment[15] to go on at nine
o’clock; ordered Stark’s regiment to the lines, and reserved a part
of it to intrench on Bunker Hill; led on Woodbridge’s and Brewer’s
regiments; ordered Gardner’s to build intrenchments on Bunker Hill; he
ordered the companies of Little’s regiment to their posts; and Ford’s
company of Bridge’s regiment he ordered to draw Callender’s deserted
cannon to the line. Ford, though no submissive man, obeyed with the
greatest reluctance, his company being infantry, and Putnam fired the
pieces himself; some of the soldiers exclaiming that he made a lane,
others a furrow, through the enemy. He beat, cut, and thrust with his
sword a number of the soldiers who were backward and cowardly, broke
his sword over a dastardly officer of Gerrish’s regiment, and compelled
Capt. Callender to do his duty by threatening him with instant
death. During the raging of the battle, frothing at the mouth from
his vociferations, and his horse covered with foam, he was galloping
from end to end of the line, encouraging, directing, and commanding
everybody. My townsman Bagley, who was fighting at the time at the
breastwork, and others, say, in their simple language, “he had a very
encouraging look.” In the language of one of Shakspeare’s characters,—

  “He outfaced the brow of bragging horror;
  So that inferior men, who borrow their behavior
  From the great, grew great by his example,
  And put on the spirit of dauntless resolution.”

And we say the same of Prescott. When Putnam could no longer prevent
the retreat of his troops, he was one of the last in the rear. He told
Whittemore, an old companion of the former war, he would rally again
directly, as he attempted to do at his slight intrenchments on Bunker
Hill, where he obstinately remained till even the Leonidas company
of Charlestown, and Trevett’s noble corps, left him alone. But, even
then, Gen. Putnam it was who saved the honor of his country, as he had
already secured for her all the advantages of victory in the battle, by
rallying his troops again on Prospect Hill within cannon–shot of the
enemy, who did not dare to follow him; and he made a drawn battle of it.

Seventy–five years since, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. Who
the commander was has ever since remained a mystery. Maj.–Gen. Ward
was the commander–in–chief of the army at Cambridge; Maj.–Gen. Warren,
the next; Brig.–Gen. Putnam, the third in command; and Col. Prescott,
another officer of the army. Gen. Ward, from headquarters, ordered the
preparations for the battle, and the general movements and disposition
of the troops during the day. But, from want of staff officers, he
was unable to ascertain or to direct the particular movements and
manœuvres of the troops during the day. He was the commander
of the general movements out of the field. Had Napoleon, with his
numerous staff, been in Ward’s place, history, without hesitation,
would have recorded him the commander. Warren[16] was on the field,
and, notwithstanding he declined to issue any orders, was authorized
so to do whenever he pleased. His situation was nearly identical with
that of the admiral, who declined giving any orders to his fleet,
and merely directed that “every commander of a ship should kill his
own bird.” Warren, then, was the authorized, and for many years the
supposed commander, as he was the distinguished hero, martyr, and
volunteer of the battle. Gen. Putnam was the actual, and, on Warren’s
declining, the authorized commander of Bunker Hill Battle. He was “the
bright particular star,” to which, during all the storm and tempest of
the battle, every eye was turned for guidance and for victory. Col.
Prescott[17] was commander at Bunker Hill the night before the battle,
and the next day till Gen. Putnam came on with the reinforcements; and,
during the battle, the commander at the redoubt. He erected his works
with his detachment of one thousand men, under a sheet of fire from the
enemy like a volcano, and defended them afterwards most heroically to
the latest moment of desperation. He immortalized his name. There were,
then, four who in some sense participated in the command of Bunker Hill
Battle; hence the multiplied mistakes on the subject. It may be equally
impossible to demonstrate who was exclusively the commander, as to
discover the author of Junius, or birthplace of Homer. It was our duty
not the less to make the attempt; as we have done with the greatest
diffidence, considering it a forlorn hope.




According to Hon. Jos. Allen, late of Worcester, Samuel Adams, the
proscribed patriot, said, “I have heard some people find fault with
Gen. Ward, for intrenching on Breed’s Hill, so near the enemy,
without any fortifications in their rear; but the world does not
know how much that man is to be justified for so doing; for he had
secret intelligence from Boston, by means of spies, that the British
were about to take possession of Dorchester Heights; and, to divert
them from their object, a close approach to the enemy was made by
intrenching on Breed’s Hill, which had the desired effect, until the
provincials could take possession of Dorchester Heights.”

PAGE 12.

Col. Sargent was born at Salem, in 1745, but resided in early life
at Cape Ann, and was rugged as the rocky mountains there. From his
continual intercourse, by sea, between the Cape and the Capital, he
acquired the additional roughness and hardihood of the mariner, and was
not mollified by his fierce disputes with the government and tories
in Boston. His schooling in the tented field lent the last finish to
his character: he was a perfect Ironsides, and loved fighting as he
loved his eyes. Learning from his brother, who was a tory, that he was
proscribed by Gov. Hutchinson, he made his escape into New Hampshire,
where he raised a regiment, to repay the governor’s compliment, by
assisting to blockade Gov. Gage. When Washington departed for New York,
Sargent remained at Boston under Gen. Ward, who, Sargent says, knowing
his opinion of him, placed him as far off as he could, in command of
the castle and islands. Though the British had been driven off, he
contrived to find fighting, which he thus describes:—

“Early in April, on Fast Day, while we were going to meeting, an alarm
gun was fired from the Castle. I repaired to Long Wharf, and manned
my barge with forty men. Proceeding down, I observed a ship and three
schooners making for Shirley Point, and immediately proceeded to
Pudding Point Channel, and took charge of piloting her through the
Narrows. But Mr. Knox and Capt. D. Martin coming on board, Knox being
the branch pilot, I gave up my command, and in a few moments he ran the
ship on a spit of sand, which I cautioned him of. We then collected all
the boats, and loaded with powder from the ship, and sent them to town.
There were then lying in Nantasket Road, the ‘Rainbow,’ of fifty guns;
‘Dawson,’ of fourteen; and a schooner, tender to the ‘Rainbow.’ They
made no attempt to succor the ship during the day; but I expected they
would in the night, and warned Capt. Mugford and the other captains
to be very vigilant. I left on board the ship a captain and two
subalterns, with forty men, and returned to my quarters. In the night,
the British attempted to retake the ship, or destroy her. They came
with five boats full of men, and the largest laid the ship alongside.
Credit is due to Daniel Malcom, who threw a rope over the boat’s
mainmast, and hauled her in till her halyards could be seized by those
on board the ship; by which the boat was filled and sunk, and sixty
men were put to their paddles, most of whom were drowned. A heavy fire
from our soldiers obliged them to make a shameful retreat. They fired
a great number of shot at _us_ without effect. She was a most valuable
prize, being fully loaded with military stores. We were very short of
them, and Lord North could not have done us a greater service.”

The next day, Gen. Ward inquired whether Sargent could drive the enemy
from Nantasket. He informed him, that his cannon were too small; but,
Ward wishing him to make the experiment, he repaired in the night to
Long Island with three hundred men, erected breastworks before light,
and in the morning saluted the “Rainbow” with a shot, which struck
her on the quarter, carrying away some of her upper works; and excited
so great a panic in the enemy, that they instantly towed out, and,
the wind springing up, sailed off with the utmost despatch. Sargent,
satisfied with their movements, was too prudent to betray his weakness
by firing a second time. Crowned with these victories, in July, 1776,
he left Boston for New York, with the only full regiment then formed,
numbering, officers and men, seven hundred and twenty–seven. And, by
December, he had used up this regiment, by continual and desperate
fighting, at Harlem Heights, Fort Washington, White Plains, and by
casualties; one hundred and ninety–five of them only were left, to
tell the melancholy fate of their comrades. So ardent was Sargent’s
patriotism, that, many years after the peace, being in Boston on
Sunday, he went to church with his half–brother, Daniel Sargent, Esq.
and took his seat, before he perceived that his own brother, from
Halifax, who had been a tory and refugee, was in the same pew with
him. The moment he discovered this, he seized his three–cornered hat,
and stalked out of church; vociferating afterwards, that the same roof
should never cover such a—— tory as his brother was, and himself. He
died 1828.

PAGE 18.

The following description of Putnam was not intended for publication;
but that lends it the highest interest. Judge Dana, a senator of the
United States from Maine, was a grandson of Putnam, and remarks in
his letter, 1818, that he had just been to visit his aunt Waldo, Gen.
Putnam’s daughter; and then gives the following description of the

“In his person, for height, about the middle size; very erect;
thickset, muscular, and firm in every part. His countenance was open,
strong, and animated; the features of his face large, well–proportioned
to each other, and to his whole frame; his teeth fair and sound till
death. His organs and senses were all exactly fitted for a warrior; he
heard quickly, saw to an immense distance; and, though he sometimes
stammered in conversation, his voice was remarkably heavy, strong,
and commanding. Though facetious and dispassionate in private, when
animated in the heat of battle, his countenance was fierce and
terrible, and his voice like thunder. His whole manner was admirably
calculated to inspire his soldiers with courage and confidence, and
his enemy with terror. The faculties of his mind were not inferior to
those of his body; his penetration was acute, his decision rapid, yet
remarkably correct; and the more desperate his situation, the more
collected and undaunted. With the courage of a lion, he had a heart
that melted at the sight of distress; he could never witness suffering
in any human being, without becoming a sufferer himself; even the
operation of blood–letting has caused him to faint. In viewing the
field of battle, his distress was exquisite, until he had afforded
friend or foe all the relief in his power. Once after a battle, on
examining a bullet–wound through the head of a favorite officer, Capt.
Whiting, who died on the field, he fainted, and was taken up for dead.
Martial music roused him to the highest pitch; while solemn, sacred
music set him into tears. In his disposition he was open and generous,
almost to a fault; he never disguised; and in the social relations of
life he was never excelled.”

PAGE 29.

One of the most magnificent monuments that ever bore the name of any
man, and which will transmit the name of Warren, in grateful and
glorious remembrance, down to the latest posterity, has been erected
in Boston Harbor. Fort Warren, for strength, grandeur, and scientific
perfection, is one of the masterpieces of military art; and it will
be highly gratifying to all the countrymen of Col. Thayer,—that
most amiable, scientific, and distinguished engineer, by whom it
was constructed,—that his name will be for ever so honorably and
deservedly associated with that of Warren. Both were born in the
vicinity of Boston.

PAGE 30.

If we may be excused for speaking from a very slight experience, we
should say, there is no reason to suppose that any of Ward’s orders to
his officers, on the occasion of the battle, were in writing. In 1814,
when the British forces, freed from European service, were pouring
into Canada, and apprehensions were entertained that they would make
their way into our country, we joined the army under Gen. Izard, on
the Champlain frontier, as one of the Massachusetts volunteers, and
served in his staff through the campaign as topographical engineer.
The general was soon ordered to the Niagara frontier, to save
Gen. Brown from Drummond’s superior force, which we found posted
on the north bank of the Chippewa River, and with very formidable
fortifications along the southern shore likewise. Gen. Izard, finding
that the enemy’s position was unassailable in front, was desirous of
discovering whether the British fleet, with the large frigate they
had been building, which was to give them the mastery over Commodore
Chauncey, was out on Lake Ontario, so as to prevent him from getting
on the enemy’s flank or rear. To gain this information, he ordered
me, and not in writing, to go with a small detachment of infantry
across the Niagara River in a boat, and proceed to the vicinity of
Lake Ontario, to obtain the requisite information. That region was
abandoned to the enemy, and deserted by all the Americans, excepting a
few men who frequented it occasionally, to look after their property,
though their fine crops were rotting on the ground. We embarked on
the Canada side of the Niagara; and, as we neared the opposite shore,
we were challenged by a body of musketeers demanding who we were.
Neither party had any uniform, or other badge of nationality; and
as they, being on _terra firma_, had us at a great disadvantage, my
tactic was to gain time, while we were fast approaching the shore.
But as I was only a soldier “by the book,” and very little of that,
I was confounded with my situation. Having often pondered on Maj.
André’s egregious indiscretion, in disclosing to his captors who he
was, in place of claiming to be an American, which would have insured
his safety, I was disposed to avoid his mistake, and pass our party
off for English. But no simile goes on all–fours. In our case, had I
guessed wrong as to their character, they would have responded with
their guns. To gain time, I cried out, “Friends!” but that trick did
not take; their muskets were levelled at us, and they swore they would
fire, if we did not answer them directly. We were prepared for them,
and I was compelled to show our colors. I cried out, “Americans!”
when they hailed us, “Brothers!” to our great delight. We soon
gained the information we were in pursuit of, and had the melancholy
though magnificent view, with our glass, of the British fleet in the
offing, on Lake Ontario. We reported these unpleasant tidings to
Gen. Izard; and his whole plan of campaign was frustrated, and the
war virtually over. The general, in his dilemma, consulted one of
the most distinguished officers in the army, and as great a military
genius probably as the world has produced,—young Col. M’Cree, of the
engineers. On our arrival at Fort Erie, we found him in Gen. Brown’s
staff; and he had really been the principal staff on which Brown had
leaned to gain his brilliant success on the Niagara frontier. Gen.
Izard was desirous of reaping the same advantage from M’Cree, who
advised to a very ingenious and scientific expedient to extricate the
general from his embarrassment. It was to construct a floating bridge
at some distance above the enemy, on our side of the Chippewa, with
one end fastened on our side, while the rest of the bridge was to be
floated off into the river; and the other end, when the current had
carried it to the opposite shore, to be attached there, for our army
to pass over. But Gen. Brown, once relieved by Izard from Drummond’s
superior force, seemed not at all disposed to assist him to gain any
laurels in return. There was a marked jealousy and coldness between
those officers, that precluded any joint enterprise of theirs from

Brig.–Gen. Totten, now head of the engineer department, was a young
engineer in Gen. Izard’s staff, and gained his first laurels at
Plattsburgh. The forts he built there would have done him honor,
even had he then gained his present high advancement. With the most
unmanageable material, the sand of Plattsburgh, he contrived, with
the aid of carpentry, to construct his forts with a skill, science,
and ingenuity that would have rendered them impregnable, Gen. Izard
declared, against the overwhelming force of Prevost, even if it had not
been crippled by the naval victory of the gallant Com. M’Donough. When
we left Plattsburgh for Fort Erie, Totten remained behind to test and
fight his own works, which he did with great _éclat_. Winstanley, the
gallant civil engineer, who bravely dared to prove his own light–house
against as fierce an elemental strife as ever raged, fell a noble
sacrifice to an inscrutable decree of Providence; but Totten, more
fortunate, found his works were not to be subdued by man.

PAGE 30.

The author thinks we are mistaken as to the number of cannon belonging
to the corps of artillery at Cambridge. Our informants, in 1818, were
Col. Popkin and Capt. Trevett, captains in the corps; and they are
so well known yet, from their high character, and the public stations
they held, that we need say no more of their testimony. Capt. Trevett
will be recollected as the distinguished officer in the battle, and
for a great number of years commander of the revenue cutter at Boston.
Col. Popkin was born at Boston, of Welsh descent. He had been in
Paddock’s corps, was a major in Greaton’s regiment, and in the battle
of White Plains; in the engagements at Saratoga as Aid to Gen. Lincoln;
afterwards lieutenant–colonel of artillery under Crane, and left the
army at the peace a colonel. He was a custom–house officer under Gen.
Lincoln, in 1789, and remained in office till his decease, 1827, aged
eighty–four. He was father of the learned, beloved, and respected
Professor John S. Popkin, of Harvard University, for more than half a
century past dear to all the friends of that institution, and whose
sermons would do honor to any man.

PAGE 30.

Gen. Burbeck, who was with the army at the time of the battle, says,
the following is an accurate description of Col. Prescott:—“Figure to
yourself a man of sixty, six feet high, and somewhat round–shouldered,
sunburned from exposure, with coarse leather shoes, and blue stockings,
coarse home–spun cloth small–clothes, a red waistcoat, and a calico
banian, answering to the sack worn at the present day, a three–cornered
hat with a red cockade, and a bandoleer, or belt, with a sword hung
high up under the left arm. You will say that it is a complete
caricature; but such was the fact, and such was the dress of the heroes
who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill.”

“On the day of the battle,” Burbeck says, “Gen. Putnam rode between
Charlestown and Cambridge without a coat, in his shirt sleeves, and
an old white felt hat on, to report to Gen. Ward, and to consult on
farther operations.”[18]


[1] The regular number to line the front of the redoubt would be 132.

[2] The author’s mode of stating evidence, by this extract of a note
out of a whole trial, equals the clergyman who fulminated the following
text against the flaunting top–knots our foremothers wore on their
heads:—“Top–knot, come down,” leaving out the other words of “Let
him on the house–top not come down.” Colman, in his “Broad Grins,”
describes a very large man as three single gentlemen rolled into one:
our author has contrived to roll up most of Scammans’s officers, who
testify in his case, into a single witness. Page 164.

[3] Page 168. Note 1.

[4] Hon. Daniel Sargent.

[5] The author’s declaration, that Callender was tried for
disobedience, 27th June, seems to be a poetic license. Ward orders the
court–martial at that time, without the slightest intimation of such
a charge. Fearing our readers’ incredulity, we have omitted hitherto
another of our author’s mistakes: he sometimes, like St. Patrick,
carries his head under his arm, instead of wearing it on his shoulders.

[6] For an interesting description of Putnam, see Appendix.

[7] Col. Putnam’s Letter.

[8] Frothingham says there was another anonymous general there. No
other army general was there; and, if a militia one was, though of no
importance, we should have heard of it, from some one of the mass of
witnesses who were present.

[9] Of Canterbury. All the names we give are of the highest
respectability: from their residences any one may inquire.

[10] Of Killingley.

[11] His pamphlet generally, especially page 13.

[12] Of Canterbury and Oswego.

[13] Shrewsbury.

[14] Gloucester.

[15] Letter of Capt. Holden, of Leicester.

[16] Warren was at Ward’s quarters; and, on the British coming out,
Ward called him from his bed, as he promised to do, to go to Bunker
Hill without any known restriction.

[17] The author says, Judge Prescott’s understanding and belief
was, that the order to his father was in writing,—a very natural
supposition for that eminent lawyer; but Ward had no adjutant–general
to make out orders. His order to Col. Scammans on the 17th June was
verbal: “Go where the fighting is.” And that to Prescott on the 16th
was probably not more formal, or in writing: it could be only, “Go
where the intrenching is.” (See Appendix.)

[18] June 15, ’75, a committee of Mass. Congress report Little’s
regiment to have eight companies, 509 men, 382 of them with bayonets,
and seven of the companies at Cambridge. Little’s orderly book is

The British fired without aim, holding their guns below the shoulder,
as, by reason of the recoil, they did in our war of 1812.

We conclude, as we commenced, with expressing our belief in the
intentional honor and honesty of the author.

                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE:

—Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.

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