On the morning of August 8th, 1758, the English decamped, not
aware that four hundred and fifty French and Indians lay in a dense
growth of thickets, preparing to surprise them.
"We began our march," Rogers writes, "Major Putnam with
a party of Provincials marching in the front, my Rangers in the rear,
Capt. Dalzell with the regulars in the centre, the other officers suitably
disposed among the men, being in number 530, exclusive of
officers, a number having by leave returned home the day before."
Putnam, at the head of the long and narrow line, and with the
Connecticut men under his immediate command, had proceeded
three-fourths of a mile, and was just emerging from the thicket-growth
to enter the forest beyond, when yells and whoops rent the air, and
the enemy began a furious onslaught. The surprised but undaunted Major
halted, returned the fire, and passed the word for the other divisions
to advance to his support. "I brought my people into as good
order as possible," says Rogers, who was some distance behind,"
Capt. Dalzell ill the centre, and the rangers on the right, with
Col. Partridge's light infantry; on the left was Capt.
Gidding's, of the Boston troops, with his people."
Meanwhile, a large and powerful Caughnawaga chief had sprung upon
the brave leader at the front. In the fierce hand-to-hand fight,
Putnam pressed the muzzle of his gun against his assailant's
breast, but the weapon missed fire. With a loud war-whoop, the
Indian warrior clutched his defenseless victim, and, brandishing
his hatchet over him, compelled him to surrender. Putnam was
dragged back into the forest and lashed fast to a tree. Then his
captor returned to the battle. The Connecticut men,
deprived of the inspiring presence of their principal officer,
had retreated among the thickets in confusion, but were soon
reinforced by the men who had pressed their way
through the bushes and briery undergrowth
from the rear. Having quickly rallied with this aid, they checked
the advancing enemy. Indeed, they succeeded in forcing
them back beyond the spot where the action had begun. Owing
to this change of battleground, the tree to which Putnam was
tied was directly between the fires of the combatants. The
account by Humphreys of the prisoner's perilous experiences
is of special interest, not only because he had the facts from
Putnam himself, but also because, as the historian Parkman
says, he seems to give the story with substantial correctness.
His version - the earliest that we have - must be the basis of any
other account. Humphreys describes Putnam's helplessness
during the battle thus:
Traditionally, the tree to which Putnam was tied.
Putnam Tied to Tree
"The balls flew incessantly from either side, many struck the
tree, while some passed through the sleeves and skirts of his
coat. In this state of jeopardy, unable to move his body, or
to stir his limbs, or even to incline his head, he remained more
than an hour. So equally balanced, and so obstinate was the fight!
At one moment, while the battle swerved in favour of the enemy, a
young savage chose an odd way of discovering his humour. He
found Putnam bound. He might have dispatched him at a blow.
But he loved better to excite the terrors of the prisoner, by
hurling a tomahawk at his bead, or rather it should seem that
his object was to see how near he could throw it without touching
him - the weapon struck in the tree a number of times at hair's
breadth distance from the mark. When the Indian had finished his
amusement, a French officer (a much more inveterate savage by
nature, though descended from so humane and polished a nation)
perceiving Putnam, came up to him, and, leveling a fuse within a
foot of his breast, attempted to discharge it - it missed fire.
Ineffectually did the intended victim solicit the treatment
due to his situation by repeating that he was a prisoner of war. The
degenerate Frenchman did not understand the language honour or
of nature: deaf to their voice, and dead to sensibility, he violently,
and repeatedly, pushed the muzzle of his gun against Putnam's ribs,
and finally gave him a cruel blow on the jaw with the
butt-end of his piece. After this dastardly deed he left him."
Battle Rages On
In the battle that raged not far away, the
scene of which had again shifted, the English were
still making an heroic resistance. Some of them fought in open view;
others fired from behind trees. At last the Canadians gave way,
sixty of them deserting Marin at a critical moment. "This somewhat
astonished the Indians,"according to the French account
of the battle, "and prevented that brave officer from
deriving all the advantage from
the circumstance." Having found that more of his men were leaving him
and that "the English were too numerous to be forced,"
Marin ordered his wounded to be removed
and withdrew all his force. The battle had lasted
almost two hours. Forty-nine of the English had been killed. It was
reported soon afterwards that the enemy lost more than twice that number.
The English buried all their own dead and made litters of branches
with which to carry their wounded comrades. Then they resumed the march
southward which had been tragically interrupted, and reached Fort
Edward the next day.
Putnam in the meantime was faring ill in the hands of savages.
For his adventures in captivity, Humphrey again is the authority.
This is the story of what happened at the close of the battle,
as he recorded it from the hero's own narration:
"As they [the enemy] were retiring, Putnam was untied by the Indian
who had made him prisoner, and whom he afterwards called master. Having
been conducted for some distance from the place of action, he was stripped
of his coat, vest, stockings and shoes; loaded with as many of the packs
of the wounded as could be piled upon him; strongly pinioned, an his
wrists tied as closely together as they could be pulled with a cord,
After he had marched through no pleasant paths in this painful manner,
for many a tedious mile, the party (who were excessively fatigued)
halted to breathe. His hands were now immoderately swelled from the
tightness of the ligature; and the pain had become intolerable.
His feet were so much scratched, that the blood dropped fast from them.
Exhausted with bearing a burden above his strength,
and frantic with torments exquisite beyond endurance, he entreated
the Irish interpreter to implore, as the last and only grace he desired
of the savages, that they would knock him on the head and take his scalp
at once, or loose his hands. A French officer, instant interposing,
ordered his hands to be unbound and some of the packs to be taken off.
By this time the Indian who captured him and who had been absent with
the wounded, coming up gave him a pair of moccasins, and expressed
great indignation at the unworthy treatment his prisoner had suffered.
That savage chief again returned to the care of the wounded, and the
Indians, about two hundred in number, went before the rest of the
party to the place where the whole were that night to encamp.
They took with them Major Putnam, on whom, besides innumerable other
outrages, they had the barbarity to inflict a deep wound with a
tomahawk, in the left cheek."
The mark of this blow Putnam is said to have borne
through life. "A deep scar on the cheek
of that veteran warrior," says Abiel Holmes in his Annals of
America, in referring to this incident, "is well remembered
by the writer, who believes it was the wound inflicted by the
Now comes the most tragic scene of the day in Putnam's
eventful captivity. We can easily imagine the absorbing interest
with which Humphrey listened to the tale of "horror." He has given us
this description of what the Indians planned for their victim:
Enemy tries to Burn Putnam Alive
"It was determined to roast him alive. For this purpose they led
him into a dark forest, stripped him naked, bound him to a tree,
and piled dry brush, with other fuel, at a small distance, in a
circle round him. They accompanied their labours, as if for his
funeral dirge, with screams and sounds inimitable but by savage
voices. Then they set the piles on fire. A sudden shower damped
the rising flame. Still they strove to kindle it, until, at last,
the blaze ran fiercely round the circle. Major Putnam soon began
to feel the scorching heat. His hands were so tied that he
could move his body. He often shifted sides as the fire approached.
This sight, at the very idea of which all but savages must shudder,
afforded the highest diversion to his inhuman tormentors, who
demonstrated the delirium of their joy by correspondent yells,
dances, and gesticulations. He saw clearly that his final hour
was inevitably come. He summoned all his resolution and composed
his mind, as far as the circumstances could admit, to bid an eternal
farewell to all he held most dear. To quit the world would scarcely
have cost a single pang but for the idea of home, for the
remembrance of domestic endearments, of the affectionate
partner of his soul, and of their beloved offspring."
Unexpected deliverance came to Putnam in his torturous and
dire situation, for - to continue the early narrative -
"a French officer rushed through the crowd, opened a way by scattering
the burning brands and unbound the victim. It was Molang [Marin]
himself - to whom a savage, unwilling to see another human sacrifice
immolated, had run and communicated the tidings. That commandant
spurned and severely reprimanded the barbarians, whose nocturnal
powwas and hellish orgies he suddenly ended. Putnam did not want
for feeling or gratitude. The French commander, fearing to trust
him alone with them, remained until he could deliver him in safety
into the hands of his master."
The above article is taken from the book Israel Putnam,
Pioneer, Ranger, and Major-General by William Farrand
Livingston, The Knickerbocker Press, 1901.