“We shall cut no small figure in going through the Country with our Cannon, Mortars, etc., drawn by eighty yoke of oxen” ~~Henry Knox in a letter to his wife, December 1775
General George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 2, 1775. He had been led to believe by the Continental Congress that he would find 20,000 battle-tested provincial soldiers. What he found was not a proper army. In his opinion, it was a mob of dirty and nasty “puritanical savages”. Further, on his arrival, he was assured that the army had 308 barrels of gunpowder. It was actually only 90 barrels. A lack of heavy weaponry, made offensive operations virtually impossible.
What was Washington, who was intent on ending the Siege of Boston in one decisive stroke, to do?
Enter a twenty-five-year-old former book seller with militia and battle experience, an interest in artillery, and a talent for building fortifications: Henry Knox.
Henry impressed Washington with his energy, ingenuity, determination, and knowledge. Which man brought up the cache of artillery at Ft. Ticonderoga in upstate New York is unknown, but Henry volunteered to travel the 300 miles to Ticonderoga and bring the artillery back to Cambridge.
Washington issued the order, backed Knox financially, and wrote to General Philip Schuyler asking him to assist Knox in the endeavor.
Leaving on horseback and accompanied by his nineteen-year-old brother, William, and an expeditionary force, Knox reached Ticonderoga on December 5, 1775. The plan was to transport over 60 tons of artillery by scows from the northern tip of Lake George thirty-two miles to Ft. George on the southern tip of the lake.
Henry had prayed for warm weather, and until that point, the weather had remained mild, but the wind picked up and forced Knox’s freezing men to row into an icy gale. One of the scows fetched up on a rock and filled with water. As long as the scows gunnels remained above the water line, the boat could be floated. With heroic effort, they finally succeeded in getting all the cannon to the southern end of the lake just as it began to freeze over.
On December 17, Henry wrote to Washington, “I have had made forty two exceedingly 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. . . . I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery.”
Henry began earnest negotiations with local Stillwater (Albany-area) native George Palmer for the expected oxen and sleds. Per Henry’s journal, Palmer walked off in a huff after General Schuyler complained he was charging too much for his services. Thus, Knox relented to using mostly horses to pull the laden sleds.
While William Knox remained at Ft. George to procure the needed sleds, Henry went ahead to the Hudson River, where he and his men took steps to strengthen the river ice in anticipation of the artillery’s arrival and crossing.
Once the horses and sleds (and some head of oxen) were secured, the Noble Train of Artillery left Ft. George and moved along a difficult and exceedingly slow route following the Hudson River, with the crews forced to cross the frozen Hudson four times before reaching Albany. On January 5, from Albany, Henry wrote Washington: “The want of snow detained us some days, and now a cruel thaw hinders [us] from crossing [the] Hudson River, which we are obliged to do four times from Ft. George to this town.”
When the train was able to move on, Henry was forced to break up his caravan into smaller groups of sleds due to logistics. On crossing the Hudson east to Massachusetts, cannon broke through the ice and crashed into the water. With the help of locals, they recovered the cannon. On January 9, the last of the cannons had crossed the Hudson.
Crossing and recrossing the Hudson had proved difficult, but the hills and mountains of western and central Massachusetts were just as challenging. On the down slopes, the huge heavy sleds threatened to run ahead of the teams that were pulling them. They were plagued by lack of snow. Another “cruel” thaw left them stranded in Westfield.
In Westfield, Henry entertained the locals, many who had never seen cannon, by firing a mortar that became known as “Old Sow”. It was here that Henry learned that John Adams and George Washington had named him to succeed the ailing Richard Gridley as colonel of the Regiment of Artillery. (Gridley’s artillery regiments had been an embarrassment at Bunker Hill.)
In the last week of January, 1776, the first of the noble train arrived in Framingham, Massachusetts. Henry Knox was back in Cambridge by January 25.
Knox’s journey provided the Continental Army with a windfall of artillery that ultimately led General William Howe to evacuate his British troops from Boston, taking thousands of loyalists civilians with them, and effectively ending the Siege of Boston without a single shot fired on either side.
Colonel Henry Knox was eventually promoted to major general and remained loyal to Washington throughout the war.
The grit and determination it took to complete the expedition is truly amazing, admirable, and inspiring. Men (and women) like them, who believed they could do anything if they put their minds, hearts, and bodies to the task, gave us the freedom to think for ourselves and express those thoughts without fear of our personal liberties being taken away.
The Henry Knox Noble Train re-enactment begins at Fort Ticonderoga on December 9, 2017 in Ticonderoga, New York.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.
A few weeks ago I had an epiphany about why I write historical fantasy.
Historical fantasy is a messy business. Those who lean more toward the historical aspect tend to complain if the story suddenly leans closer to the fantasy aspect, and vice versa.
I don’t watch much TV, Netflix, etc. What I do watch is always in danger of developing into an obsession, to the point that, I become a fanatic (which used to be reserved ONLY for my NFL team, the Oakland Raiders). Somewhere along the line I become “overly involved”. I think it’s because I started writing historical fantasy in 2005 without realizing the genre I was headed for.
The first sign of my mania manifested itself in 2010 with my discovery of the TV series Supernatural, which was already in its fifth season. Yes, Sam and Dean Winchester are hot brothers, but more importantly, I like the characters.
I stopped watching The Walking Dead in season 3 because I couldn’t stand some of the characters. Several years later, I learned of Negan’s first appearance in the season six finale. The actor who portrays Negan is Jeffery Dean Morgan. He portrayed John Winchester, the Winchester boys’ father in the first season of Supernatural (2005). Now, suddenly, the world knew who Jeffery Dean Morgan was, while the cultist fans of Supernatural remembered him as the ruggedly handsome, John Winchester! I had people ask me if I watched The Walking Dead, and my thoughts on Jeffery Dean Morgan. My response: “You’re eleven years late.”
Supernatural is renewed for season 13, which will premier in October 2017.
So what does this have to do with my epiphany? This year I lost two of my favorite TV shows.
After 8 seasons, I lost The Vampire Diaries. The series finale aired March 10, 2017. I own every season of this YA type show on DVD, and I’ve watched those collective seasons more than once. I loved the characters, and the show brimmed with vampires, werewolves, witches, hybrids, and doppelgangers. But there was one other important aspect about this show that I loved. It flashed back often to the mid-1800’s, which was when the Salvatore brothers became vampires. And there were numerous flash backs to the 10th century, when the original vampires were spawned.
Historical Fantasy? Yes!
On Saturday, August 12, 2017, after 4 years, I lost another adored TV series, the historical drama, TURN: Washington Spies. The series was based on the non-fiction book by Alexander Rose, “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”. Of course, this is referring to the Culper spy ring that was formed in 1778. The producers of TURN (Alexander Rose was among them) and the actors excelled in authenticity, thus, the inaccuracies sometimes necessary to tell a smooth tale, were largely forgiven by the show’s dedicated audience.
As an aside, the female portion of TURN’s audience found the actor who portrayed Major Ben Tallmadge, Seth Numrich, too hot to handle in his Continental Army uniform of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons.
Historical Fantasy? Yes!
The final episode of the series induced a sobbing goodbye among the fans. The cast of the show immediately reached out to their grieving fans. It led us to participate in many Tweets and Facebook groups that discuss all things TURN and the Revolutionary War.
TURN’s finale was more than my heart could handle. I’ve spent the past year dedicated to understanding the philosophies (British and American) that led to the American Revolution, the people who played a part, and the military aspect of the first six months of the war, as I wrote the first book in my novel series Angels & Patriots, due to release Fall 2017.
I ordered the first three seasons of TURN: Washington Spies on DVD so I can watch it obsessively and stay in the mood of the time period while I’m writing Angels & Patriots book two.
One last thing about the conclusion of TURN; this beautiful observation was made by General George Washington:
“Our country owes its life to the heroes whose names it will never know.”
John Adams in a letter to John Winthrop following the Battle of Bunker Hill:
“Alass poor Warren! …. For God Sake my Friend let us be upon our Guard, against too much Admiration of our greatest Friends. President of the Congress, Chairman of the Committee of Safety, Major General ….. was too much for Mortal, and This Accumulation of Admiration upon one Gentleman, which among the Hebrews was called Idolatry….”
As I turn my attention to Angels & Patriots: Book Two, I’m allowing one more look at the object of my affection, Dr. Joseph Warren. (Of course, I have yet to write about the discovery of his body, his funeral, and his orphaned children.)
I ran a Facebook post for several months as a forum to gather topics of interest and resources from others who are interested in the Revolutionary War. I had so many good suggestions from knowledgeable people!
Of course, John Adams was a huge topic of interest. In Angels & Patriots: Book One, John and Abigail Adams are important, but secondary characters. That will change in Book Two. Therefore, as I did for Joseph Warren, I’ll read and study the Adams at length.
I began with the resources I already had and I stumbled across the last letter Joseph Warren wrote to John Adams.
To John Adams from Joseph Warren, 20 May 1775
Cambridge May. 20th. 1775
Having wrote fully upon several Subjects to Mr. Hancock and Mr. Adams, upon several Matters which they will communicate to you,1 I can only add here that I Yesterday heard from your Family at Braintree were all in Health. A person having brought me a Letter from your Lady to me recommending one of your Brothers to be a Major in one of the Regiments, I am sorry the Letter did not arrive sooner, but I shall do all in my Power to obtain such a place for him yet, as he is the Brother of my Friend, and I hear is a worthy Man.2 I am Dear Sir most sincerely, Your Friend & Humble Servt.
In discovering Joseph Warren’s last letter to John Adams, I also found the following letter. It moved me greatly when I realized that John, at the writing of his letter, didn’t know Joseph’s mutilated body had been lying on Breed’s Hill for four days, in a shallow grave with a farmer. I felt genuine sorrow for John Adams.
John entrusted George Washington to deliver the letter to Joseph. Washington delivered the letter to the man who was elected to fill Joseph’s shoes as the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, James Warren (no relation to Joseph Warren).
When he received the letter, James Warren read the letter aloud to the congressional members.
From John Adams to Joseph Warren, 21 June 1775
Phyladelphia June 21. 1775
This Letter I presume will be delivered into your own Hand by the General. He proposes to set out, tomorrow, for your Camp. God Speed him. Lee is, Second Major General, Schuyler, who is to command at N. York is the third and Putnam the fourth. How many Brigadiers general we shall have, whether five, Seven or Eight, is not determined, nor who they shall be. One from N. Hampshire, one from R. Island, two from Connecticutt, one from N. York, and three from Massachusetts, perhaps.1
I am almost impatient to be at Cambridge. We shall maintain a good Army for you. I expect to hear of Grumbletonians, some from parcimonious and others from Superstitious Prejudices. But We do the best we can, and leave the Event.
How do you like your Government? Does it make or remove Difficulties? I wish We were nearer to you.
The Tories lie very low both here and at New York. The latter will very soon be as deep as any Colony.
We have Major Skeene a Prisoner, enlarged a little on his Parol—a very great Tool.2 I hope Govr Tryon, will be taken care of.3 But We find a great many Bundles of weak Nerves. We are obliged to be as delicate and soft and modest and humble as possible. Pray Stir up every Man, who has a Quill to write me. We want to know the Number of your Army—A List of your officers—a State of your Government—the Distresses of Boston—the Condition of the Enemy &c. I am, Dr sir your Friend,
We have all recommended Billy Tudor for a secretary to the General. Will he make a good one? This moment informed of Powder arrived here, 500 Blls they say. We must send it along to you.
And so begins my journey with John Adams …
Forman, Samuel A. Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. 2012: Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.
“To John Adams from Joseph Warren, 20 May 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0006. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 3, May 1775 – January 1776, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979, p. 10.]
“From John Adams to Joseph Warren, 21 June 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0027. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 3, May 1775 – January 1776, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979, pp. 44–45.]
“The spring of 1775 was filled with a rush of decisive events that ultimately brought a war no one had planned to fight.“
American Spring is a nonfiction account of the first six months of 1775, and the opening acts of the Revolutionary War. Borneman reveals the events leading up to the war, and those who participated in those events and the struggles between Great Britain and the American colonies. We are enlightened by the lives and faces of patriots that history has forsaken, such as the handsome charismatic Dr. Joseph Warren, as well as, those whose who are well-known, like the wealthy egotistical John Hancock. The author ventures into the backgrounds of the many British participants whose stake in the future of the American colonies was equally important, and the forgotten participants: women, Native Americans, and African Americans.
Borneman illustrates the alliances of the British and Americans soldiers during the French and Indian War, and their importance. He points out, as examples, campaigns shared by the future generals, George Washington and Thomas Gage; and the military tactics Gage learned from colonial frontiersman Robert Rogers.
He brings to light little commonly known information:
Did you know that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, led by Warren at the time, financially backed Benedict Arnold’s mission to capture cannons from the wilderness outpost Ft. Ticonderoga? And the congress’ decision to send 200 pounds of gunpowder with Arnold may have led to the colonial defeat at the battle at Bunker’ Hill?
The reader is presented with hundreds of vital questions that to this day have gone unanswered, and the author provides a variety of ways to ponder what may have actually happened:
Did Margaret Gage, the American born wife of British General Thomas Gage, slip the patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, the information that led him to order the midnight ride of William Dawes and Paul Revere?
What of British General William Howe’s mentally instability after he led over a thousand soldiers to their death during the Battle of Bunker Hill?
American Spring is a splendidly vivid and detailed account of the choices, the blunders, the victories, the fears, and the boldness that shaped the events that led to the battles of Lexington and Concord, the ensuing calm that followed, and one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution: the Battle of Bunker Hill.
This book was my first resource for my research into the Revolutionary War for my WIP. I recommend this wonderful well-rounded book.