It was Thanksgiving of 1775, and if the scraggly rebels were to make any headway in the war they started, they would need the big guns. Literally.
Sitting in a fort, somewhere in upper New York, cannons sat unused and rusting. It took the audacity of a 25-year old, who believed in his heart, that if he could just get that load of metal and iron south to Boston, they just might have a shot against the british.
His name was Colonel Henry Knox, a Boston bookkeeper, with a hairbrained idea of transporting multitudinous pounds of guns (canons) from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston’s shore. General Washington and his top brass were naturally quite skeptical.
But Knox persisted. He had a plan and he was ready to lay it out.
In his opnion, they needed to move, and they needed to move fast. The guns would have to be dismantled, loaded onto barges and transported over the huge, 30-mile-long Lake George before it froze over. Once the land portion of the route began, a sledge and oxen would take it from there. Knox would need warm days for crossing the lake and cold, snowy nights for the sleds. (Good luck!)
He admitted, that once he arrived, he’d have the daunting task of recruiting enough men that could assemble a flotilla of flat-bottomed boats for the lake trip, and, also, build 40 special sleds. After that, he would need to round up 160 oxen to pull the 5400-pound sleds! Washington actually agreed to the idea, and on December 1st, the Boston bookseller set off on horseback for the lands above the Adirondaks.
Upon arrival, Knox and his men feverishly worked to remove 43 heavy brass and iron cannon, six cohorns, eight mortars, and two howitzers from their mountings. Next, would be the immense task of exiting the fort, manuevering down to the water, and loading onto the boats. By December 9th, all 59 guns were in place on the flat-bottomed boats waiting for their ride down the lake.
The weather was surprisingly kind. But a sudden wind forced Knox’s freezing men to row into an icy gale. With heroic effort, they navigated the last of the cannon to the southern end of the waters just before the lake began to freeze over.
The land portion of the trip now awaited its cue. On December 12th, Knox asked a local farmer to “purchase or get made immediately 40 good strong sleds that will each be able to carry a long cannon clear from dragging on the ground and which will weigh 5400 pound each and likewise that you would procure oxen or horse as you shall judge most proper to drag them. . . . The sleds . . . are to go to camp near Boston.” Don’t you know that farmer shook his head and read that letter more than twice!
But the Patriot homesteader came through. In less than a week, the sleds were in place and loaded behind the burly beasts of burden. On December 17th, Knox wrote to Washington, “I have had made forty two exceedingly strong sleds & have provided eighty yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh cattle to carry them to camp. . . . I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery.”
Knox was succeeding, but a new challenge arose. No snow. Without that, the oxen wouldn’t be able to move the sleds. On Christmas Eve, he prayed for a miracle and awoke the next morning to miles of fluffy white. But he may have prayed too well. There was so much snow, the animals weren’t able to cut a fresh path through it. Still, Knox and his men forged on toward Boston.
The citizens of Albany greeted and cheered the wet and exhausted crew as they trapsed into town that January 5th. News, however, that the ice on the Hudson River wasn’t deep enough to support the weight of the sleds, was disheartening. Defeat was not an option for this young Colonel. The crossing would commence as planned. At one point, a canon broke through and sank. Knox, begging the townsfolks for help, pursued until it was drug from the mire and replaced on a barge. On the evening of January 8th, he wrote in his diary, ” Went on the ice about 8 O’clock in the morning & proceeded so carefully that before night we got over 23 sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave.”
Encountering good roads and weather at the Massachusetts border, Knox and his men inched their way on to Springfield. Somehow, they were able to locate 80 yoke of fresh oxen, and successfully crawled through Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown. On January 24, 1776, Knox’s “noble train of artillery” accomplished the impossible and enjoyed a triumphal entry into Cambridge.
But it was the night of March 4th that gives me chills to this day. As the sun set, General Washington ordered every gun battery in Cambridge to put on a display of sight and sound as never before seen. It was his hopes this would distract the British troops sleeping in the harbor below. With astounding precision and speed, they maneuvered the mass of newly arrived artillery up, and to the top of, Dorchester Heights. Some even painted logs to look like cannon hoping the enemy would see what appeard to be more firepower than was actually there.
The next morning, as British General Howe exited his bedchamber to stretch and greet the day, his eyes froze in mid gaze. There above him, thousands of Colonists quietly waited. Fully armed. Later, he would exclaim, “The rebels did more in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.”
Thanks to the determination of one 25-year old who dared to dream, and stuck to his guns, the American Revolutionaries pulled off a most daring feat. The British Army knew they were cornered and by March 17th, British troops and Tory sympathizers began evacuating the town of Boston.
Perhaps you are in the process of accomplishing some great mission or vision. The odds may look overwhelming. Volunteers or assistance may be needed at different stops along the way. Stars may need to align and more. If, however, deep down, you believe, keep trudging onward. Victory may lie just around the corner. It may come as a surprise to some, but for you, it will merely be the accomplishment of a dream.
With that: May the Guns of Ticonderoga and Spirit of Dorchester Heights be with you.
Just my thoughts.