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January 27, 1776: Henry Knox Delivers the Noble Train of Artillery to Washington

One of the interesting aspects of wars and revolutions is the unexpected talents and abilities that come to the fore in the most unlikely of individuals.  As that remarkable year 1775 was drawing to a close, General Washington, if he was to force the British  to leave Boston, needed a substantial artillery force, which he entirely lacked.   Twenty-five year old Colonel Henry Knox, a fat Boston book seller prior to the War, came up with the idea of transporting the artillery from newly captured Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York to the siege lines around Boston.  This was accomplished by Knox from December 5, 1775 to January 27, 1776, transporting sixty tons of artillery and ammunition, 59 cannon, mortars and howitzers, through wilderness in the dead of winter, a truly astounding feat. On December 17, 1775 Knox wrote to Washington:

I return’d to this place on the 15 & brought with me the Cannon being nearly the time I conjectur’d it would take us to transport them to here, It is not easy [to] conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the Year & contrary winds, but the danger is now past & three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them untill next spring, but now please God they must go – I have had made forty two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh Cattle to Carry them to Camp – the rout will be from here to Kinderhook from thence into Great Barrington Massachusetts Bay & down to Springfield There will scarcely be possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on sleds the roads being very much gullied, at present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 miles; beyond that there is none – I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come here & expect to begin [to] move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this & then we shall have a fine fall of snow which will enable us to proceed further & make the carriage easy – if that should be the case I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery.

Knox went on to serve as Washington’s chief of artillery, and would eventually be the youngest Major General of the War.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

11 Comments

  1. Knox had said it would take him two weeks to move the artillery, and it ended up being six weeks. In today’s politicized climate he would have run the risk of being cashiered.

  2. “… but now please God they must go …”
    Could faith be what was behind all the miracle of defeating the King?
    Great article Donald–keep them coming.

  3. Faith and providence. Americans up until very recently knew that there were several moments when the Revolution could have easily been lost. In hindsight the coincidences are too eerie.

  4. “A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverence of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.”

    George Washington

  5. but Don – knox was a private citizen when he performed this task, not colonel. how he loved washington and vice versa …. his commission did not come in till later 76 – Arnold had first volunteered to get the artillery but got distracted with other opportunities – knox lost a few canon thru river ice weakness- in the hudson near lansingburgh ny and the hudson again near albany – the citizens of albany helped him retrieve it from the river- early jan 76 – knox nearly froze to death near albany’ in a snow storm’ as he recounted to his Excellency George in a letter: the hoax was knox brought no powder – there was no propellant for the shells- Gage was looking for an excuse to abandon boston -small pox was killing him – so when dorchester heights made boston appear untenable he shipped his army to points north like nova scotia to fight another day …..

  6. Knox was appointed Colonel of the Artillery Regiment on November 17, 1775:

    http://allthingsliberty.com/2013/09/richard-gridley-nearly-forgotten-patriot/

    Arnold took part with Ethan Allan in the taking of Fort Ticonderoga from a miniscule British guard. He then headed the Maine prong of the American invasion of Canada.

    Lack of powder delayed Washington from fortifying Dorchester Heights until March 5, 1776 by which time his army had sufficient powder for the cannon, much of it smuggled in from the West Indies.

  7. hey Don – i mis spoke- Knox’s commission came in a day late , not a year late, for the then private citizen – Knox was acting as a ‘continental officer’ and was issued orders a day before his congressional commission was effective ; “Washington put Knox in charge of securing the Ticonderoga artillery, saying that “no trouble or expense must be spared to obtain them.” On November 16 Washington issued orders to Knox to retrieve the cannon (and authorized £1000 for the purpose), and wrote to General Philip Schuyler, a native New Yorker recently commission[ed] by the Second Continental Congress, asking him to assist Knox in the endeavor. Washington’s call for the weapons was echoed by the Congress, which issued Knox a colonel’s commission in November[17] that did not reach him until he returned from the expedition. Knox departed Washington’s camp on November 17, and after traveling to New York City for supplies, reached Ticonderoga on December 5 love your blog obviously, http://burnpit.legion.org/2012/12/henry-knox-begins-organizing-noble-train-artillery-transport-bostonnce Washintons

    the corpulent Colonel Knox’s congressional commission is dated to 11/17/1775. see Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution; mark puls , pg 38-43
    https://books.google.com/books?id=Xf5Kmmp-yycC&dq=when+did+congress+commission+col+knox%3F

    regarding powder – note in washingtons’ own writings https://books.google.com/books?id=ONaxAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA381&lpg=PA381&dq=colonel+knox%27s+continental+commission&source=bl&ots=ZhNhd3OsGp&sig=M-8-SvWl_oajVUdwJpRiODgaKQE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjQyJGks9DKAhVHPCYKHewKAHI4ChDoAQgrMAQ#v=onepage&q=colonel%20knox's%20continental%20commission&f=false on page 380 Washington himself tells of Gage attempting to evacuate 1,000 men on transports on MARCH 5TH – along with their arms and magazines – and being driven back to boston by a violent storm . Gage decided to leave well prior to 3/5 or 3/17
    the ruse de guerre worked , prior to His Excellency having the powder to effect the departure; i believe Gage was running from small pox and “inclement surroundings” in beantown.

  8. Don- ‘Arnold took part with Ethan Allan in the taking of Fort Ticonderoga from a miniscule British guard. ” took part?! – like Patton took part in the defeat of Nazi germany….. Col.Easton may be the cause of some confusion here
    http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/arnold.html – BTW – Arnold was one of only 2 visitors to valley forge who were applauded and saluted by the starving, frozen patriots
    i digress….

    ……Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were as equally eager to capture such a prize and the two groups met up with each other at Bennington. [Arnold, as usual was out ahead , as Dark Eagle always was …..of his authorized 400 man brigade from Mass. ] Arnold was surprised and a little angered because Ethan Allen did not care if Arnold had permission from the Committee of Safety and Arnold couldn’t talk Allen out of relinquishing command. Arnold had to concede to accompanying Allen and his rowdy, rough and tumble fighters. On May 10, they surprised the British garrison and the Green Mountain Boys celebrated by invading the rum stores of the British and getting totally sloshed. They virtually ignored Benedict Arnold except when they were teasing and jeering him. Arnold had an argument with Colonel Easton, who was to deliver the missive announcing the victory of the capture to Massachusetts…which doesn’t make it surprising that Arnold spent time with the captured enemy officers than his fellow countrymen.
    Frustrated, he retired to the captain’s quarters to await forces that he had recruited, reporting to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress that Allen and his men were “governing by whim and caprice” at the fort, and that the plan to strip the fort and send armaments to Boston was in peril.[28] When Delaplace protested the seizure of his private liquor stores, Allen issued him a receipt for the stores, which he later submitted to Connecticut for payment.[29] Arnold’s disputes with Allen and his unruly men were severe enough that there were times when some of Allen’s men drew weapons.[28]
    28=Randall, Willard Sterne (1990). Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 1-55710-034-9.

    Arnold eventually gained some control by way of his sailing experience, however he and Allen really never could see things the same way…except for the essential need of an invasion of Canada. Easton returned from his mission to Massachusetts while Arnold and Allen were planning the Canadian Invasion. Easton had done his best to diminish Arnold’s participation in the capture of Ticonderoga and the two were arguing once more. Arnold challenged him to a duel and Easton refused. When the fight got physical, Allen and Easton both left. He proceeded with his own plans, but soon a Massachusetts Committee commanded him to place himself under Colonel Benjamin Hinman. With his quick temper, he immediately dismissed all his troops after resigning his commission. He was not any happier when he found out his men had been recruited by his nemesis, Colonel Easton. Completely affronted, he went to Albany and there sent off a statement of the situation at Ticonderoga to Continental Congress.

    I am so pleased you know and post about our great history … God Bless your work!! and you…

  9. from of all places….. https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2010-featured-story-archive/capture-of-fort-ticonderoga.html
    ” he attackers roused the fort commander from his bed, and Arnold reputedly demanded the fort’s surrender “in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” The fort fell without casualties and without a shot being fired.

    i’d always seen the phrase demanding surrender attributed to E. Allen of the New Hampshire estates …..

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