Henry Knox (1750-1806) was a Revolutionary War general, famed as the father of American army artillery.
Henry Knox was born in Boston, Mass., on July 25, 1750. He had to leave school at an early age to support his mother, who had been deserted by his father. In 1772 Knox joined the Boston Grenadier Corps, a crack regiment, as second in command. Two years later he married Lucy Flucker, whose loyalist father opposed the marriage.
When the Revolution broke out in 1775, Knox volunteered his services to Gen. George Washington. Knox knew something about artillery, so he was appointed colonel in command of the Continental Regiment of Artillery. There was, however, no artillery in the army assembled at Cambridge, Mass.; it was in enemy hands 300 miles away at Ticonderoga, N.Y. In late December 1775 Knox went to fetch the 59 big guns and in a daring operation hauled them to Boston through snow and ice. He arrived just in time to help Washington fortify Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston. This caused the British general to evacuate the city. Thereafter, Knox and his artillery figured prominently in almost every major engagement of the war.
Knox took part in the Battle of Long Island in August 1776. He joined Washington in the retreat into New Jersey and in the stunning surprise attack and victory against the Hessian garrison at Trenton in December. It was Knox who directed the famous crossing of the Delaware by Washington's army on Christmas night, 1776, and it was his artillery that cut down the Hessians as they emerged sleepily from their quarters. Meanwhile, Congress had promoted him to brigadier general. In the next key encounter with the British (at Princeton, N.J., in January 1777) Knox's part in the victory was equally important.
In the campaigns of 1777 and 1778, Knox was, as always, at Washington's side—in the failures at Brandywine and Germantown, Pa., and in the success at Monmouth, N.J. In the Monmouth battle he performed so skillfully that Washington could say, "No artillery could have been better served than ours." But it was the final battle of the war, at Yorktown, Va., in October 1781, that showed Knox's genius. The murderous accuracy of his guns devastated the British forces penned up on the narrow Yorktown peninsula, and 8 days after Knox opened fire, the British general, Charles Cornwallis, surrendered. Knox's reward was the second star, making him, at 31, the youngest major general in the army.
With the fighting over, Knox was put in command of the military reservation at West Point, N.Y. After Washington retired in December 1783, Knox was appointed to replace him as commander in chief until the army was disbanded 6 months later. In March 1785 he was made secretary of war in the Confederation government, and he retained that post in Washington's first presidential cabinet. In 1794 he retired to a lavish life on the large estate his wife inherited in Maine. He died there on Oct. 6, 1806.
Further Reading on Henry Knox
The best biography is North Callahan, Henry Knox: General Washington's General (1958). A briefer account by Callahan is in George A. Billias, ed., George Washington's Generals (1964). Useful chiefly for Knox's letters are Francis S. Drake, Life and Correspondence of Henry Knox (1873), and Noah Brooks, Henry Knox: A Soldier of the Revolution (1900).
Additional Biography Sources
Brooks, Noah, Henry Knox, a soldier of the Revolution, New York, Da Capo Press, 1974.
Griffiths, Thomas Morgan, Major General Henry Knox and the last heirs to Montpelier, Monmouth, Me.: Monmouth Press, 1991.