Henry Knox (1750-1806)
Henry Knox was born in Boston, the 7th of 10 children. His father was a shipmaster who had difficulty supporting his large family. Once embargoes began, he could not continue in his line of work. Unfortunately, Henry's father died at the age of 50 and Henry had to leave school to take care of his mother and his siblings. His career started as a shop clerk in a bookstore. Years later, he would own his own bookstore. His education began at the Latin School but he was mostly self-taught since he had to leave school at an early age.
He would read every day, and once he began working at a bookstore, his love of reading continued. His favorite topic was British military history, strategy, and tactics. This knowledge would be stored in his brain and used during the most important war in history - the Revolutionary War.
In 1772, he became a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps. A grenadier is a soldier who carries and throws grenades. Yes, even back in the 1700s there were grenades.
In 1775, he volunteered to fight at Bunker Hill. When George Washington arrived in Boston that same year, Knox met him. They became good friends and Washington was intrigued with the young man's knowledge of artillery. Artillery is the weapons such as bows, slings, and catapults, that discharge missiles. Knox advised Washington on how best to beat the British, having read all about their strategies while working in the bookstore.
He was made a colonel and put in charge of the artillery. His first task was to bring a confiscated cannon from Fort Ticonderoga. He brought 50 cannons on oxsleds back to Boston. He placed cannons in different cities, strategically placing them to best help those cities defend themselves against a British invasion or attack.
Knox advised Washington to cross the Delaware, that fateful Christmas evening, and helped defeat the Hessiams. Because of his bravery, he was promoted to Brigadier General. The troops confiscated important stores and supplies from the Hessians that evening and ferried them all back across the Delaware.
While Washington's troops waited out the difficult winter at Valley Forge, Knox was in charge of raising a battalion for artillery. A battalion is a body of troops who are organized to act together. He helped General von Steuben train the soldiers during that winter. He constructed an arsenal in Springfield, Pennsylvania, (just outside of Philadelphia) where arms were made and repaired.
The Continental Congress was going to replace Knox with a Frenchman, Ducondray, but Washington wrote to Congress on Knox's behalf. his appeal was successful and Knox remained in charge of his troops.
Knox continued to excel and fought at Brandywine and Germantown. He helped erect forts to keep the men safe during their winter encampments. Whatever was asked of him, he did and more.
During the Battle of Yorktown, Knox placed the cannons in strategic locations which helped win the battle and the war. After Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, Knox was promoted to Major-General.
In 1782, he was stationed at West Point to oversee the withdrawal of British troops from New York. In 1783, he followed the last British troops as they departed New York. When the officers gathered at Fraunces Tavern in New York to be relieved of their duties by General Washington, he returned to Boston.
In 1785, when he was only 35, he was elected Secretary of War by the Congress. And in 1789, when Washington was elected President, Knox was elected our first Secretary of War and was made a member of Washington's cabinet. He remained in his job until 1794, when he officially resigned.
He moved to Thomaston, Maine in 1796, where he lived for the remainder of his days. He died in 1806, quite unexpectedly.
As I stated at the beginning of this post - Fort Knox was named after him. At first, the fort was called Fort Duffield when it was erected in 1861. In 1918, the fort was renamed after him, in honor of his duty during the Revolutionary War and as his position as our first Secretary of War.