A Noble Train of Artillery: The Knox Expedition

“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.

HenryKnox
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.

Knox Route from Ft Ticonderago to Boston-8x6

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.

220px-Schuyler
General Philip Schuyler

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 24.

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.

The-Noble-Train-Begins-01-850x567

Resources:

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.

http://www.derekbeck.com/1775/info/noble-train-2/

http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=29

Portrait of Major General Philip Schuyler from the John Trumbull miniature by Jacob H. Lazarus (1822-91) in 1881. The painting is on display at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, Albany.

Painting of General Henry Knox by Charles Willson Peale, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

My award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

John Adams’ and Joseph Warren’s Last Correspondence

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 the second novel in my series Angels & Patriots, I’m allowing another look at the object of my affection and an important character in Angels & Patriots Book One: Dr. Joseph Warren. (Of course, I have yet to write about the discovery and identification of his remains, his funeral and second burial, and his orphaned and destitute children.)

I began the second book 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

Dear Sir

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.   

Joseph Warren

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

Dr Sir

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, 

John Adams

 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.

Resources

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.]

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One

10 Interesting Facts About the Sons of Liberty and other American Patriots

John Hancock was raised by his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Lydia Hancock, after his father died when John was a boy of seven.

John Adams was the defense lawyer for the British soldiers who were put on trial for the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were acquitted.

Dr. Joseph Warren became the situational leader of the patriotic cause. He dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to spread the alarm that the British were on the move the night of April 18, 1775.

Samuel Adams was uninterested in money. He failed as a tax collector and neglected his father’s brewery.

Paul Revere rode to spread the alarm and deliver news for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress throughout New England on many, many occasions other than the night of April 18, 1775.

Dr. Benjamin Church, a trusted compatriot of the Sons of Liberty, was a spy for British General Thomas Gage.

Benedict Arnold donated $500 to the education of Dr. Joseph Warren’s children after Warren died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Israel Putnam was the leader of the Connecticut branch of the Sons of Liberty.

Dr. Samuel Prescott was the man who carried the alarm to Concord that the British were on the move, after Paul Revere and William Dawes were detained by a British patrol in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775.

Abigail Adams urged her husband, John, to take women’s rights into consideration if and when the colonies gained independence. “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment [promote] a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One. Availabe on Amazon in paperback or Kindle eBook. Angels & Patriots Book One