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On May 10, 1775, Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, and the Green Mountain Boys, conducted a successful raid of Fort Ticonderoga. The bloodless raid yielded an incredible cache of weapons for the fledgling Patriot cause. There was a problem, however. Fort Ticonderoga was located in remote upstate New York, where the weapons were of little use. How could the Patriots transport the heavy weaponry 300 miles to break the British blockade of Boston Harbor?
Knox Placed in Charge of Moving 60 Tons of Weapons Nearly 300 Miles
That same year, Commander-in-Chief George Washington was put in charge of Patriot forces in Boston. Recognizing a need for heavy weaponry, Washington chose the 25-year-old bookseller, Henry Knox to lead the expedition to transport the weapons to Boston. On December 5, 1775, Knox reached Fort Ticonderoga. Knox's first assignment was to evaluate the weapons and to determine which would be transported. Knox chose 59 different weapons, including several large cannons called "Big Berthas." In all, the load of weapons was estimated to weigh 60 tons.
The Arduous Process
Much of what is known about Knox's journey comes from his largely incomplete and tattered diary. On December 17, Knox wrote to Washington that he was on his way to Boston and had procured 42 sleds and 80 "yoke" of oxen. By Christmas Day, Knox had crossed the icy Hudson River near Albany, although two feet of snow slowed his progress. It took an additional two weeks for Knox and his team to usher all of the cannons across the river. In the process, several cannons fell through the ice and were retrieved. Although details within Knox's diary are sketchy, he apparently crossed the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts and reached Framingham, Massachusetts, on January 25. Knox had reached the outskirts of Boston at Cambridge two days later. The entire journey, dubbed "one of the most stupendous feats of logistics" in the Revolutionary War, took a total of ten weeks.
Positioning the Weapons
On March 4, 1776, Patriot soldiers occupied Dorchester Heights, a series of low hills overlooking Boston. Washington ordered the cannons captured from Fort Ticonderoga to be positioned on the heights, threatening the British fleet in the harbor below. Under the cover of darkness, 2,000 Patriot soldiers under the command of John Thomas, and supervised by George Washington, painstakingly moved cannons into place, built makeshift fortifications, cleared trees, and built rock-filled barrels that could be rolled down the hills in case of a British attack. Giant hay stacks were strategically placed to quiet the noise of the preparations.
The British Evacuate Boston
When the British realized what had occurred, they made plans to attack the hill to dislodge the Patriots. Their plans, however, were thwarted by a powerful snowstorm, which gave British General William Howe time to reconsider this action. On March 17, 1776, General Howe instructed his soldiers and fleet to leave the city of Boston and its harbor. The British withdrew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Boston was safe for the time being.