Serving in the French and Indian War, Putnam was already a seasoned officer when war broke out with Great Britain in 1775. Setting aside his prosperous life as a farmer and tavern keeper, Putnam raced to Cambridge, Massachusetts following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and offered up his services to what would later become the Continental Army. As a major general commanding the New England militia forces in Massachusetts, Putnam was paramount at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. It was Putnam who organized and commanded the stout colonial defense at Breed’s Hill, and who also may have given the famous order of “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Though the British ultimately drove Putnam’s force from the field, it was a gravely pyrrhic victory for the British, as the assaulting redcoats incurred over 1,000 casualties. The Battle of Bunker Hill was the zenith of Putnam’s military career. Though he continued to serve in the Continental Army following the battle, he suffered several embarrassing losses before being forced to resign his command due to a debilitating stroke.
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