The Knox Expedition: “The Noble Train of Artillery”

In late 1775 general George Washington’s ragtag group of colonists had besieged the British army in Boston. While they surrounded the city and controlled the hilltops, they could not force the British out due to a lack of heavy artillery. A relatively unheralded former Boston bookshop owner named Henry Knox proposed a solution to Washington’s dilemma. This is where the Knox Expedition, or “Noble Train of Artillery” had its claim to fame.

Earlier in 1775 the upstate New York Fort Ticonderoga had been captured from the British. Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” impressively captured the iconic fort without firing a single shot. The real prize was the hundreds of cannons and other heavy artillery located inside.

Knox’s plan (later dubbed the Knox Expedition) would entail transporting this heavy artillery the ~300 miles from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. It required ships and barges, specially designed sleds and teams of oxen. The weather would play a key role as well. While there were many things that could go wrong, though the colonists were desperate enough to give it a shot.

The Knox Expedition: “The Noble Train of Artillery”

The Knox Expedition Noble Train of Artillery chart

In early December, Knox arrived and chose the 59 artillery pieces he would send to Boston. The majority (43) were iron and brass cannons, mostly 12-18 pounders. The others included 8 mortars, 6 cohorns and 2 howitzers. In all, Knox’s “noble train of artillery” weighed nearly 60 tons.

Over the ensuing 8 weeks, the Knox expedition crossed lakes, frozen rivers and snowy mountains facing many setbacks and hardships. On several occasions artillery sleds even fell through the ice. Luckily the cannons were recovered, and the train trudged on. The logistics required to transport these cannons was widely considered one of the most impressive feats of the entire war.

Knox arrived in Cambridge at the end of January with all 59 artillery pieces. The Guns of Ticonderoga would now be put to good use besieging the British. In early March the artillery was maneuvered up and placed around the hills surrounding Boston. When the British commander Howe realized what had happened he ordered a full evacuation of the city.

The Noble Train of Artillery was a legendary feat that has only grown more impressive with time. The expedition allowed for an early, key victory in the revolution that gave hope to the colonists that they could win against the British.

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Source: Massachusetts Moments

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