The Shipwreck

"The weather was so tempestuous and the surf, which ran mountain-high, dashed with such violence against the ship that the most experienced seaman expected it would soon part asunder. The rest of the fleet, so far from being able to afford assistance, with difficulty rode out the gale. In this deplorable situation, as the only expedient by which they could be saved, strict order was maintained, and all those people who best understood the use of tools instantly employed in constructing rafts from spars, plank, and whatever other materials could be procured. There happened to be on board a large quantity of strong cords (the same that are used in the whale fishery) which, being fastened to the rafts, after the first had with inconceivable hazard reached the shore, were of infinite service in preventing the others from drifting out to sea, as also in dragging them athwart the billows to the beach, by which means every man was finally saved."

The same chronicler now mentions the precautionary measures of the efficient commander for the protection of the castaways until the arrival of the vessel sent to their relief : "As soon as all were landed, Lieutenant-Colonel Putnam fortified his camp, that he might not be exposed to insult from inhabitants of the neighbouring districts or from those of Carthagena, who were but twenty-four miles distant. Here the party remained unmolested several days, until the storm had so much abated as to permit the convoy to take them off." Coasting westward along the Cuban shore, the New England soldiers must have gazed with great interest on the tropical scenery so strange to most of them. Fertile, undulating land, instead of wastes of sand or low flats, receded from the sea and rose in high hills which were covered with luxuriant verdure. At last, in the distance, the grey outlines of Morro Castle, contrasting strongly with the richness and peaceful beauty of nature, came in sight. Soon Putnam and all on board the vessel gained a nearer view of this grim, beetling fortress, between which and the frowning battlements of Punta was the deep, narrow entrance to Havana harbour. At a sate distance west of Morro Castle, Putnam and his men landed. They soon joined their comrades, who, having escaped being cast away in the storm, had arrived before them in this vicinity. It was now the last week in July. The siege of Havana had already been in progress nearly two months. The provincials — even those of them who had been shipwrecked — were in high spirits and were eager to share in the military operations against the Spaniards. In deed, the reinforcement was heartily welcomed, for the besiegers were in a deplorable condition. Since the 7th of June, the date of their landing, the English troops under Lord Albemarle had suffered more from the climate than from the assaults of the defenders of Morro Castle. Under the fiery sun they had toiled at the breastworks on the surrounding heights. Hardly enough earth could be gathered from crevices in the parched rocks to hold the fascines firm. When at last the cannon had opened on the Spanish stronghold, the grand battery, which was little else than a heap of dry sticks, took fire and was consumed. The exhausting labour of rebuilding the defences in the tropic midsummer and the lack of proper food and drink wrought fearful havoc among the English. Half the army lay ill of fever and many of the soldiers had died. It was at this critical time that, in the words of the early historian, Benjamin Trumbull, " the arrival of troops from North America [Putnam and the provincials] revived the drooping spirits of the English regulars, gave fresh vigor to their operations, and was of the most signal service."

The above article is taken from the book Israel Putnam,

Pioneer, Ranger, and Major-General by William Farrand

Livingston, The Knickerbocker Press, 1901.