"Sir, you fire better than the French, and indeed, the development of your artillery has been the wonder of the war."
So commented General Lafayette to the American artillery commander during the Battle of Yorktown. The genius behind this development was Henry Knox.
Henry Knox personifies the American rags to riches story. When Knox's father squandered the family finances and abandoned the family, young Henry quit school and went to work in a Boston bookstore. In 1771, Knox was able to open his own bookstore. He also became involved with local militia units, drilled an artillery company, and observed British military procedures. By the beginning of the war, few Americans knew more about military theory than Henry Knox.
In 1775, Washington recognized Knox's potential and had Knox commissioned as a colonel in the Continental Artillery. Knox's brilliance was responsible for one of the greatest coups of the war, when he proposed, organized and carried out the removal of the artillery captured at Fort Ticonderoga. This December 1775 feat moved 62 tons of artillery over 300 miles of grueling winter terrain to Boston.
Knox would go on to serve with distinction at the Battle of Trenton. Knox was commissioned a brigadier general in charge of all the American artillery for his performance at both Trenton and the subsequent victory at Princeton. Knox remained Chief of Artillery throughout the war. He also got involved in organizing and improving the structure of the entire Continental Army, as well as developing the industrial and technical base upon which artillery and armies rely.
Knox was promoted to major general soon after the victory at Yorktown. At the end of the war, after Washington resigned his command, Knox briefly served as commander in chief of the American army. Knox went on to serve as Secretary of War.
In 1794, after 20 years public service, Knox resigned his position as Secretary of War. He returned to his estate in Maine and pursued several business ventures. He was barely able to stay one step ahead of his creditors. He died unexpectedly in 1806 from what modern historians believe was a burst appendix.
Last updated: February 26, 2015