Like the British, the American troops had been confused, disobedient and they deserted. But when American Gen. Israel Putnam brought this complaint to Col. William Prescott, commander of the rebel forces, the brilliant young colonel was in no mood for excuses. He knew that hundreds of Putnam’s disorganized reinforcements had been milling around on nearby Bunker Hill, only 600 yards from the battle, and might have saved the day.
Instead, while Prescott’s desperate men were running out of ammo, firing nails or bits of metal they scavenged off the ground, Putnam could hear the battle raging and didn’t join it.
Now, after the fact, Prescott reminded the general of his promise to serve as a backup. “Why,” the colonel demanded, “did you not support me, General, with your men?”
“I could not drive the dogs up,” Putnam replied.
“If you could not drive them up,” Prescott told him, “you might have led them up.”
Lesson: Want history to judge you kindly? Don’t hang back.
—Adapted from Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, A.J. Langguth, Simon & Schuster.