• October 17, 2015 11:00 am
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Cannons for General Washington

At the same time Ethan Allen was capturing Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, Washington was chairing a congressional committee charged with finding ways to supply the unprepared colonies with guns and ammunition.  Ticonderoga held eighty cannon and six mortars-very encouraging news for the entire committee.  But now, in late 1775, General Washington faced an occupied Boston in the midst of a cold and snowy winter, and the cannon remained an impossible three hundred frozen miles away.

The solution to his problem came in the person of Henry Knox, a former bookseller from Boston. Knox had learned a great deal about artillery from his voracious reading; and in November 1775 Washington named him chief of the artillery corps.  Knox’s first task was to get the cannon from faraway Ticonderoga.

When Knox arrived at the fort, he was dismayed to find that many of the cannon were old and damaged beyond repair.  He selected about sixty of the best, and had his men drag them onto boats to float across Lake George.  The largest guns weighed 2,000 pounds apiece, making the total cargo (including ammunition) some 120,000 pounds.

The trip to Ticonderoga had been exhausting, but Knox’s adventure was only beginning.  Fierce winds pressed them hard as the crews strained to row across the boisterous lake.  Then the largest scow struck a rock.  The tired men wanted to weep when they saw several of the largest cannon bubble down into the water.  But Knox was undeterred.  He had the priceless guns raised from the water, and he repaired the scow.  With numb hands in the freezing weather, the men worked as quickly as they could-but not as quickly as they wished.  With no further mishap they reached the southern end of the lake and loaded the guns onto sleds for the overland journey.  Using his own money, Knox hired teamsters and 160 oxen to pull them across the mountains ahead.  They were forced the cross the Hudson four times.  They fought their way through the winds and two-foot snows, laboriously making their way over hills and swamps.  They climbed through the rolling Toconics, then the higher Berkshire HIlls, descending onto the floor of the Connecticut River valley.  Then the ground began to thaw, making the sleds useless.  But Knox and his men waited for a new freeze and pressed on.  

Finally, after a grueling forty-day struggle, in late January Kox arrived at his destination, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He had spent $2,500 of his own money and had thoroughly worn out himself and his men.  But his mission had been a success.  

-Taken from the book “The Real George Washington”, with permission from the publisher

I have loved this story from the first time that I read it.  I was so impressed with Henry Knox’s perseverance and personal sacrifices, that I immediately told this story to my children, along with the resulting story of the liberation of Boston from the occupying forces.  The next day, my son, who was about 5 years old at the time, was helping my husband to carry some heavy boxes from a storage room to our house.  Seeing that the box was pretty heavy for him, my husband offered help.  Trevor squared his little shoulders and promptly replied, “Nope.  If Henry Knox can get the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, I can carry this box.”  He did carry that box, then he carried several more.

-Contributed by Tonya Nelson

What story has inspired you to keep going when the road was difficult?

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