Knox's "Noble Train of Artillery"

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Knox's "Noble Train of Artillery"

KNOX'S "NOBLE TRAIN OF ARTILLERY." The New England army that besieged Boston after 19 April 1775 lacked the heavy artillery that could force the British to evacuate the town. Various people realized that the best source from which to acquire such guns was Fort Ticonderoga, New York, a lightly manned outpost on Lake Champlain. A group of Americans led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold (who was acting under authority from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety) captured the fort on 10 May. The next problem was how to move the guns to the siege lines around Boston. Henry Knox proposed a plan to George Washington, and, on 16 November 1775, the general ordered the stout twenty-five-year-old Knox to carry it out. Leaving Cambridge a few days later with his brother and a servant, Knox reached Fort Ticonderoga on 5 December. Apparently in conjunction with Philip Schuyler, commanding the Northern Department, Knox selected fifty-nine artillery pieces (forty-three heavy brass and iron guns, six cohorn mortars, eight siege mortars, and two howitzers) for transport. The pieces were dragged to the fort dock, put on a small gundalow for the short sail to the portage road that led to Lake George, unloaded and dragged by ox team across the portage, loaded onto a scow, a pettiauger, and a batteau, and sailed south to Fort George at the head of the lake. They all arrived by the middle of December. On 12 December, Knox arranged for the construction of forty-two "good strong sleds that will each be able to carry a long cannon clear from dragging on the ground and which will weigh 5400 pounds each." He also hired eighty yoke of oxen to drag the sleds to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he would procure new teams to drag them to Framingham. Fortunately for Knox, the weather turned cold and snowy, freezing roads and streams, thus making it possible for the oxen to drag the sleds with some degree of efficiency. The nearly 300 miles of difficult terrain were covered with a speed that surprised even the impatient and ambitious Knox. From Fort George the sleds went south through Fort Edward, Saratoga, Albany, Kinderhook, and Claverack, and were then hauled east through the steep grades and heavy snows of the Berkshires to Framingham, twenty miles west of Cambridge. They arrived on 24 January and were parked temporarily; John Adams counted and examined fifty-two cannon. Three of the large, thirteen-inch (bore diameter) siege mortars, including one named the "Old Sow," weighed a ton each. Total weight of the guns and mortars was 119,900 pounds, and the convoy included 2,300 pounds of lead and a barrel of the excellent Ticonderoga flints.

The Americans were able to end the siege of Boston by emplacing many of these heavy guns on Dorchester Heights in early March 1776, an outcome that would not have been possible without the artillery from Ticonderoga. Knox himself called these weapons "a noble train of artillery."

SEE ALSO Allen, Ethan; Arnold, Benedict; Artillery of the Eighteenth Century; Boston Siege; Dorchester Heights, Massachusetts; Ticonderoga, New York, American Capture of.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Flick, Alexander C. "General Henry Knox's Ticonderoga Expedition." New York State Historical Association Quarterly Journal (1928): 119-135.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington: A Biography. Vol. 4: Leader of the Revolution. New York: Scribners, 1951.

Schruth, Susan E. "The Knox Trail Reenactment, 1976." In The Noble Train of Artillery, 200 Years Ago and Today. Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bicentennial Commission, March 1976.

                             revised by Harold E. Selesky