Thursday, September 29, 2011

All's Fair in Love and War

Here is an excerpt from an old book published in 1904, Old Put, the Patriot, by Frederick A. Ober, relating one deception by "Old Put" during the Revolutionary War. "Old Put" is General Israel Putnam, a valuable soldier and leader under Washignton.

"It was with only the "skeleton of an army" that Washington, on the eighth of December, crossed the Delaware at Trenton, less than three thousand troops remaining by him then. Cornwallis and his soldiers were not far behind, during a portion of that gloomy retreat, a few days measuring the distance between the rival armies; but they did not catch up with the Americans at that time.

"The very day after his arrival at Trenton Washington ordered Putnam to Philadelphia, where he was placed in absolute command, and where he displayed the same energy and integrity of purpose that had always animated him hitherto. He had been a sustaining force to the Commander-in-Chief on that march across New Jersey, and of the few generals who had stood by him, no one had endured with less complaint or performed with more alacrity than Old Put. He was one upon whom to rely in the proposed scheme of fortifying the city, and his long experience at entrenching made him peculiarly fit for the work.

"His sturdy nature, good sense, and ready wit made him at once a favorite with the Continental Congress and the Committee of Safety; though the former, acting on his advice, soon left the city for the greater security of Baltimore. Putnam soon placed the city under martial law, drafted all the citizens, except the Quakers, into the military service, and put the place in the best posture for defense of which it was capable. "There were foes within the city as well as foes without," for the Tory element was strong in Philadelphia, and it was because of it that Putnam was unable to cooperate with Washington when he dealt the enemy the first of those telling blows at Trenton and Princeton. He dared not withdraw his men from the city, even for a short absence, in order to create a diversion while his Commander- in-Chief made the direct attack. Had he done so, and also the other generals to whom were entrusted the details of this affair, the Hessians might have been entirely cut off in their retreat from Trenton and practically destroyed. As it was, Putnam held to his command in Philadelphia, and soon had the pleasure of entertaining some of the Hessian captives, for whom he was obliged to provide quarters while passing through the city.

"It must have fretted him vastly to be kept in Philadelphia while Washington was pursuing the very tactics he himself would have used against the enemy. After his first success Washington ordered Putnam out to Crosswicks, a small place southeast of Trenton, "a very advantageous post" for him to hold while his superior was planning his descent upon Princeton. On the 5th of January, after Washington had launched his thunderbolt at Princeton (of his intention to do which Putnam had been informed by a letter from his adjutant, written at midnight preceding that eventful third of January, 1777), he wrote at length to his trusty friend and General: "It is thought advisable for you to march the troops under your command to Crosswicks, and keep a strict watch up on the enemy in that quarter. If the enemy continue at Brunswick you must act with great circumspection, lest you meet with a surprise. As we have made two successful attacks upon the enemy by the way of surprise, they will be pointed with resentment, and if there is any possibility of retaliating they will attempt it. You will give out your strength to be twice as great as it is. Forward on all the baggage and scattered troops belonging to this division of the army as soon as may be."

"In accordance with Washington's suggestion as to the augmenting of the number of his men, Putnam availed himself of the request of a wounded British officer, who was his prisoner, that a friend in Cornwallis's army might be sent for to make his will, to practice a ruse. It was in Princeton, whither he had been ordered from Crosswicks. As he had but a few hundred men, in order to prevent his weakness from being known to the military visitor he was brought in after dark, all the windows in the college buildings and private houses were lighted up, "and the handful of troops paraded about to such effect during the night that the visitor, on his return to the British camp, reported the force under the old general to be at least five thousand strong!" In this manner the shrewd but kind-hearted Putnam complied with his prisoner's request, and at the same time turned it to his own and his soldiers' advantage.

"Having failed in his attempt to "bag that old fox" (Washington), Lord Cornwallis had scurried back to protect his baggage and communications at New Brunswick, while Washington ensconced himself in the rugged country about Morristown, and Putnam was left to protect the lowlands and harass the enemy. So effectually did he perform the latter that his aggregate of prisoners taken during the winter exceeded the number captured by Washigton at Trenton, and his captures of wagons laden with provisions for the enemy were highly important."

I put this in a blog post for a couple of reasons. One was to highlight the book, Old Put the Patriot, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading since in it I found out where one of my ancestor's was killed or died in the Revolution and where Old Put escaped from the British, at Horseneck along the Connecticut coast. And the other is to note the deception carried out by Old Put re the number of troops. This ruse was used throughout the centuries, if I may say so, and also in the West where the cowboys on a ranch or cornered in the hills were paraded to make the attackers think there were more than there were, and at the forts that were surrounded by the Indians and being attacked. These have been depicted in the movies.

Here is a picture of the cover of the book:

Old Put escaping from the British at Horseneck. The British soldiers at the top of the picture are not too legible in this scan, but look fine in the illustration inside the book, which is available at Project Gutenberg.


  1. Cool. I'll check this out at Gutenberg

  2. Those darn British, huh?

  3. Oscar, I tried to submit for your blog but not sure how it works. Give me some instructions.

    Betty Auchard