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successful military commander during the French and Indian War who failed to have much success as a general during the Revolutionary War
Commissioned a Lieutenant of Connecticut volunteers in 1756 (during the French and Indian War), Putnam took part in actions at Ticonderoga, Montreal, and Havana, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by 1759. In 1762, Putnam led a Connecticut regiment against the French in the West Indies. In 1764, he helped to relieve Chief Pontiac's siege of Detroit.
An outspoken critic of British taxation policies, Putnam was one of the founders of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty. On April 20, 1775, receiving news that patriots had engaged British forces at Lexington and Concord the day before, Putnam left his plow in the field and rode off to Cambridge. Covering the 100-mile distance in 18 hours, Putnam arrived at Cambridge, offered his services to the patriot cause, and was appointed Colonel of the Connecticut Militia. Subsequently raised to the rank of Major General, Putnam led his forces to Boston, were he played a principal part in the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 15-16, 1775) -- both in its planning and on the battlefield. After the evacuation of Boston, Putnam was in overall command of the American forces in New York until the arrival of General George Washington, on April 13, 1776. He was then put in general charge of the city's fortifications. Immediately before the Battle of Long Island, Putnam succeeded General John Sullivan in command of the troops on Brooklyn Heights. In the battle itself (August 27, 1776), Putnam was in immediate command of the American side when he was forced to effect a hasty retreat. During the retreat from New York, he took part in the Battle of Harlem Heights (September 16). Although General Washington did not blame Putnam for the failure at Long Island, he was forced to reassess Putnam's abilities as a General and subsequently assigned him to lesser commands.
In May, 1777, Putnam took command of the Hudson Highlands at Peekskill. In October, he was forced to abandon both Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton to the British. He was brought before a court of inquiry to explain the losses, but was ultimately exonerated of any wrongdoing. After a few months' recruiting service in Connecticut, Putnam returned to the main army at White Plains, New York. In the winter of 1778-1779, he commanded the troops quartered near Redding, Connecticut. In May, 1779, he took command of the right wing on the west side of the Hudson River. An attack of paralysis in December, 1779, ended his active military service.
Putnam spent his last years on his farm in Brooklyn, Connecticut, where he died May 29, 1790.
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This page was last updated on January 17, 2018.