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Henry Knox

Revolutionary War Major General

KNOX, Henry, soldier, born in Boston, Massachusetts, 25 July, 1750; died in Thomaston, Maine, 25 October, 1806. He received a good education in the schools of his native city, early exhibited a taste for military service, and at the age of eighteen was chosen an officer in a company of grenadiers, composed of the young men of Boston, which was distinguished for its good discipline. At twenty he began business as a bookseller, he took sides warmly with the colonies in their controversy with the mother country, and after the battles of Lexington and Concord abandoned his business and hastened to join the army that was assembled at Cambridge. 

He fought gallantly in the battle of Bunker Hill, and when afterward General Washington joined the army, he had the rank of colonel. In laying siege to the city, Washington found himself embarrassed by the wang of sufficient artillery, and young Knox conceived the idea of obtaining a supply from Lake George and the forts on the Canadian frontier. The peril and difficulty of transporting heavy guns that great distance through the woods, and part of the way over mere wood roads, were so great that his proposition was unfavorably received. But after an interview with the enthusiastic young officer, Washington, who readily formed an estimate of the man, gave his consent, and Knox set out in November on his hazardous enterprise. He started on this month so as to be ready to move when snow covered the ground, as it was only then that heavy guns could be transported down the lakes and across the state. Setting out on horseback with a squad of men, he reached Lake Champlain, where ice had formed, and by extraordinary efforts was able to return in December. He had gathered together 42 sleds, on which he loaded 13 brass and 26 iron cannon, 8 brass and 6 iron mortars, 2 iron howitzers, 2,300 pounds of lead, and a barrel of flints--55 guns in all. The long procession moved slowly, but at last it reached Boston, and as it passed into the American lines it was received with shouts by the troops. Knox was warmly complimented by Washington, and congress, as a reward for his services, made him brigadier-general of the artillery. The addition of 55 cannon was a great re-enforcement in those times, and Washington at once began preparations for a bombardment of the city, but circumstances caused him to change his plans, and the guns served a better purpose not long afterward on Dorchester heights. From this time Knox was the constant companion of Washington throughout the war and his warm personal friend and counselor. 

Before the Battle of Trenton he was sent by the general to cross the Delaware and march on the place. This he did before the stream became choked with ice. Halting where Washington with his army was struggling amid the floating ice and in the darkness, he stood on the shore, and with his voice indicated where the landing should be made. He then pushed his guns on through the blinding snow-storm, and they were soon thundering by the camp of the astonished Hessians. He brought his young and beautiful wife to Valley Forge to cheer the encampment, and in the battle of Monmouth, in the following summer, did good service. Though for so young and untrained an officer he handled his guns with great skill and effect, yet once he made a serious mistake in judgment. 

In the surprise and flight of the British at Germantown about 200 of the enemy threw themselves into the Chew farm-house. As he came up to it he halted and began to unlimber his guns. General Artemas Ward, seeing him halt, inquired his motive, and Knox replied, "It is a rule in war never to leave a fort in your rear." They sent off for General Thomas Conway to decide the matter, but he could not be found. Knox held to his opinion, and the favorable moment was lost. 

He fought gallantly at Brandywine and Jamestown, and when the army was besieging Yorktown he visited with Washington the flag-ship of De Grasse, being the only American officer that accompanied the commander-in-chief. In the siege of this place his artillery practice held its own beside that of the accomplished artillerists of France. Immediately after the surrender of Cornwallis, congress, acting under the advice of Washington, made him major-general, and he was appointed one of the commissioners to settle the terms of exchange of prisoners, he was afterward quartered in New Windsor, New York, near General Washington, the families of the two generals living on the most familiar terms. Knox accompanied Washington to the "Old Temple," where the latter delivered his reply to the famous Newburg letters. When it was finished, as soon as Washington had disappeared through the door, Knox rose and moved a resolution of thanks to him, declaring that the army "returned his affection with all the strength of which the human heart is capable." 

He was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati, and for years its chief secretary. He was deputed to receive the surrender of New York. When Washington bade farewell to his officers in Fraunce's tavern, New York, Knox was the first to advance and receive his embrace, and wept on his neck. In 1785 he was appointed by congress to succeed General Benjamin Lincoln as secretary of war, and he held the office for eleven years. The navy department was afterward attached to it, yet he discharged the duties of both with marked ability. The meager salary he received not being sufficient to support his family, he resigned and removed to Maine, where his wife owned a tract of land. But he did not wholly retire from public life, and was frequently elected both to the legislature and council of the state.

In 1798, when war seemed probable with France, he was called to take his place in the army. But the threatened danger passing by, he returned to Thomaston. Maine. His death was caused by his accidentally swallowing a chicken-bone, which caused internal inflammation. Knox was amiable, upright, and pure in his private life, and though ardent, impulsive, and enthusiastic, he was vet sound in judgment and cool in action. See "Life and Correspondence of Henry Knox," by Francis S. Drake (Boston, 1874).

--His wife, Lucy, born in Boston, Massachusetts, about 1754; died in Thomaston, Maine, in 1824, was the daughter of the secretary of the province of Massachusetts, whose name was Flucker. She was considered the belle of Massachusetts. and when she betrayed an attachment for a poor tradesman, who was moreover a Whig and an officer in the provincial militia, her parents were greatly incensed, and her father told her that she must choose between her family and her lover. The family left the country soon after the battle of Lexington. The lovers had already been joined in wedlock. They escaped together from Boston when it was occupied by the British, and Mrs. Knox followed her husband through all the campaigns, Her spirit and gayety encouraged the soldiers to endure hardships that they saw her bear with patience. Not only her husband, but General Washington, relied on her judgment in affairs of moment, while in social and ceremonial matters she was the arbiter in the army, mid afterward the chief adviser of Mrs. Washington in New York and Philadelphia. She grew corpulent, like her husband, but her activity never abated, and her conversational talents and power of management gave her great influence in social and political circles. After her husband had retired to private life Madame Knox, as she was usually called, continued to exercise a lavish hospitality, frequently entertaining a hundred guests in their mansion, which was built near the head of St. George's river on an estate skirting Penobscot bay that she inherited from her maternal grandfather, General Samuel Waldo.


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