Israel Putnam Drops Plow And Goes To War

Israel Putnam Drops Plow And Goes To War

Israel Putnam was one of the first men chosen as a Major General in the Continental Army.

Putnam has become an American Legend for many of his exploits.


The Legend

Israel Putnam is one of those Founders who has taken on legendary status for the American Revolution due to many of his early exploits.

However, in order to keep with the goal of making these biographies fairly short, some of these tales (like his hillside decent on horseback) have been cut.

There was still plenty of good stuff packed into the result though, so…enjoy!

Israel Putnam

By the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Israel Putnam had already established himself as one of the most notable soldiers in the colony of Connecticut.

Putnam gained this fame through his valiant service during the French and Indian War. Legend has it he was captured and about to be executed by Native Americans but was freed due to the interference of a French officer (plus a well-timed storm which kept putting out the fire he was to be burned on).

Israel had also gained popularity for being the only man who could conquer a dangerous wolf who was terrifying his town. The beast was hiding out in a cave which could only be accessed on one’s hands and knees.


Major General

When news arrived that the Battle of Lexington and Concord had taken place, Putnam was tending his fields with his son.

Israel literally left his plow in the middle of the field and fled straight to Massachusetts.

Based on his military experience and revolutionary vigor, Putnam was named Major General. He was one of the first two people given this title during the Revolutionary War. The first was Artemas Ward, to whom Putnam was second in command.


Bunker Hill

In the lead up to the Battle of Bunker Hill, Putnam promoted the arming of Breed’s Hill. This would be fortuitous, as the firing from this area annihilated the British soldiers.

Although the Americans lost the Battle of Bunker Hill, they inflicted significantly more casualties, making it a success.

There have been claims made that Putnam gave the famous order ‘don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,’ though there are several men who have received credit for this line.



When the Continental Army was organized, Putnam was named as one of the original Major Generals in the history of the United States.

After the Siege of Boston was complete, Putnam moved to New York where he participated in the Battle of Long Island. There were some who blamed him for the loss (though it certainly was not his fault) and he began to get caught up in the politics of war.

Israel began to be accused of sympathy for the British Army. This is due mostly to his past with several British officers (with whom he’d fought in the French and Indian War). Additionally, Putnam was much kinder to captured troops than most soldiers.



Under these circumstances, Putnam was relegated to lead men who were distant from any real fighting.

Before he had the opportunity to clear his name, Israel suffered a paralyzing stroke. Though he would live another decade, this was the end of his ability to take the field.

While Israel Putnam may not have had great effect on the Revolutionary War or the Founding of the United States Government, his efforts in the early days of the rebellion make him the truest of Patriots.

To learn about other underappreciated Major Generals in the Continental Army, check out my articles on John Paterson and William Heath.

While there are several biographies of Israel Putnam, I prefer ‘Old Put’ which was written back in the 1970’s. Pick up a copy through the affiliate link below.

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