Description

    [Battle of Bunker Hill]. Daniel Putnam Archive concerning the controversy surrounding the service of his father, General Israel Putnam, at the Battle of Bunker Bill. This archive, dated May 1818, contains three letters and one memorandum (six pages of handwritten text in all), all part of an effort to counter accusations of dishonor, mainly launched from General Henry Dearborn aimed at the military service and reputation of General Israel Putnam's service at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Two letters are written to publications; three are signed by Daniel Putnam.

    In the first letter, dated May 5, 1818, from Brooklyn [Connecticut], Daniel thanks an unnamed recipient for his "friendly and obliging letter" in the controversy surrounding General Putnam. In this letter, Daniel calls General Dearborn's "account of the battle of Bunker hill" an "issue of falsehood and malignity." In the second letter (one page, Boston, May 12, 1818), Daniel writes the editor of Portfolio regarding a recent statement from General Dearborn published in Portfolio. Daniel requests that his letter "might be inserted in the Portfolio for the purpose of correcting some misrepresentation of facts in his account of the Battle of Bunker Hill and removing any erroneous improprieties[?] of the character of Genl. Putnam which that publication might occasion." The third letter (one page, from Brooklyn dated July 27, 1818), addressed "To the Editor of the [Columbian] Centinel," concerns the character of Colonel John Callender.

    The memorandum (two and one-half pages, n. p., n. d. [1818]) offers details about General Putnam's actions during the Battle of Bunker Hill, particularly actions regarding British Colonel John Small. According to the memorandum, a week after the battle and under a "Flag of truce," General Small sent General Putnam a note, along with "a hamper of wine and Porter . . . 'as a small but grateful acknowledgement for a kindness he could never forget.' These circumstances naturally led to an enquiry researching the nature of the kindness alluded to by Small." General Putnam admitted that he had been "intimately acquainted with Major Small" for some time. The general's lengthy answer states that during the battle, as the enemy retreated, Putnam and a few men rode toward the enemy where the "smoak was thick & we could see no enemy." Suddenly they saw General Small, "no more than 10 or 12 yards away," riding off. When one of Putnam's men "drew up his piece to level at him, a chill ran over me and seizing him by the shoulder I called aloud, 'Spare that man, don't fire, he is my friend, and I love him as a brother.'" Later, according to the memorandum, General Smalls sent Putnam another note requesting a meeting. After securing permission from General Washington, Putnam met Small, who tried to "detach Genl. Putnam from the American service. . . . His offer was spurned."

    General Israel Putnam (1718-1790) of Connecticut began his service to the American cause at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. He continued until suffering a stroke in late 1779. Twenty-six years after his death, a publication by General James Wilkinson displayed Putnam's behavior at the Battle of Bunker Hill in an unfavorable light. Henry Dearborn, secretary of war from 1801-1809, wrote a statement which agreed with Wilkinson's accusations; his statement was published in the Portfolio in March 1818 (referred to above by Daniel). Daniel Putnam, who didn't read Dearborn's statement until April 29, immediately went on the offensive, gathering facts and allies and writing letters to newspapers in defense of his father. In May, Portfolio published Daniel's response. The letters in this archive played an important role in this controversy; they also offer important details about the Battle of Bunker Hill and the difficulties that arise when the American colonists began meeting the army of their mother country on the battlefield for the first time. The pages are age toned. All text is written in bold ink and easily legible.


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