In the autumn of 1776, the Siege of Boston was at a perceived stalemate. The British could sortie and end the American Revolution anytime it wanted: LTG George Washington did not have enough powder to fight a battle, and the Continental Army didn’t have the discipline to retreat; the army would disintegrate. But Washington did have more than 20,000 militiamen and the lack of powder was a closely guarded secret. However, even though Washington had few pieces of artillery, which made the lack of powder less obvious, he still needed more cannon to end the siege. Henry Knox would change that.
Henry Knox was a bookseller from Boston. He was never a soldier but Washington was impressed with his military expertise, obtained solely from reading, and made him his chief of artillery. In September of 1776, Henry Knox set off with a motley crew of engineers, artillerists, and backwoodsmen to Ft Ticonderoga which Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured that summer. It was packed with cannon.
Knox had no way to transport the cannon, so he waited for the harsh New England winter and created a “Noble Train of Artillery” by placing the cannon on sleds drawn by oxen. They cut their way for 300 miles over the snowy Berkshire Mtns. The trek took three months and by the end of January, 60 tons of cannon were at Washington’s disposal.
By mid February the gun carriages were complete. On 19 February 1776, Henry Knox, personally siting each gun, unleashed a furious barrage on British positions around Boston. It was ineffectual but it reinforced the perception that the Continental Army had plenty of gunpowder.
However, firing on British positions wasn’t going to end the siege. The guns needed to fire on the British Navy supplying Gen. Gage in the city. They could do that from the unoccupied Dorchester Heights to the south of the city, but the heights were a no mans land because the British fired on any American attempt to fortify the position. Washington needed a way to occupy the Heights with the cannon and dig in before the British cleared it with fire.
Colonel Henry Knox figured that one out too.