Putnam, Israel (1718–1790), an American military leader. He played an active role in patriotic causes before the American Revolution and served as a major general during the Revolutionary War. Although widely admired for his courage and energy in battle, “Old Put," as he was affectionately called, was an incompetent commander, ineffective in planning and coordinating military action.
Putnam was born in Salem Village (now Danvers), Massachusetts. During the French and Indian War (1754–63), he was captured by Indians and nearly put to death.
In 1765 Putnam helped found the Sons of Liberty, a patriotic group. He served in the Connecticut general assembly, 1776–67. In 1774 he was made a lieutenant colonel in the Connecticut militia. Soon after the Revolution began in April, 1775, Putnam was appointed major general under George Washington's command. He was at the battle of Bunker Hill in June, 1775. He was reported to have ordered his troops not to fire on the British until they could see the whites of their eyes. (The remark is also attributed to Colonel William Prescott.)
In general command at the battle of Long Island (August, 1776), before Washington's arrival, Putnam was blamed by some for the disastrous defeat of the American forces. He came under criticism again for his inept defense of the Hudson River in October, 1777, and was forced to justify his actions before a court of inquiry. Although exonerated, he was relieved of command and put in charge of recruiting in Connecticut. In 1779 a paralytic stroke ended his military career.