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The committee commissioned Arnold a colonel on May 3, authorizing him to raise troops and lead a mission to capture the fort. The British garrison occupying Boston, was effectively penned up by forces too weak to do anything about it. The stalemate dragged on for months, when a year-old bookseller came to General Washington with a plan. His name was Henry Knox. Knox set out with a column of men in late November, For British military leadership in Boston, headed by General William Howe, the only option for resupply was by water, via Boston Harbor. Both sides of the siege understood the strategic importance of the twin prominences overlooking the harbor, the hills of Charlestown to the north, and Dorchester heights to the south.
That changed with the guns of Ticonderoga. The batteries opened fire on the night of March 2, and again on the following night and the night after that. British attention thus diverted, American General John Thomas and a force of some 2, made plans to take the heights. Plans were laid for an immediate assault on the hill, as American reinforcements poured into the position. A heavy snowstorm descended late in the day, interrupting British plans for the assault.
A few days later, Howe had thought better of it.
The mere presence of those guns moved General Howe to weigh anchor and sail for Nova Scotia. The whole episode may have been one of the greatest head fakes, in all military history. It is often said that you should never bring a knife to a gunfight. Not if the other guy is carrying a cannon. In early , Benjamin Franklin was on an extended diplomatic mission to England. The balance had not yet tipped toward Revolution, though things were headed in that direction.
An unnamed British military officer felt the need to run his mouth before the Parliament, at the expense of his fellow British subjects in the American colonies. Franklin himself was not the most religious man, but he reminded his readers that it was the zealous Puritans who rid Great Britain of the hated King Charles I. Franklin noted that the British population was declining at the time, while in the American colonies, numbers were increasing. It must have been a sight when that noble train of artillery entered Cambridge on this day in Within days of the Battles at Lexington and Concord and the subsequent British withdrawal to Boston, over 20, men poured into Cambridge from all over New England.
Abandoned Tory homes and the empty Christ Church became temporary barracks and field hospitals. Even Harvard College shut down, its buildings becoming quarters for at least 1, Patriots. An action which took its name from that of a neighboring farmer, going into history as the Battle of Bunker Hill. At the time, Boston was a virtual island, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land.
British forces were effectively penned up in Boston, by a force too weak to do anything about it. His plan was a mile, round trip slog into a New England winter, to retrieve the guns of Fort Ticonderoga. Henry Knox set out with a column of men on December 1.
In it were brass and iron cannon, howitzers, and mortars, 59 pieces in all. Arriving on December 5, Knox and his men set about disassembling the artillery, making it ready for transport. A flotilla of flat bottom boats was scavenged from all over the countryside, the guns loaded and rowed the length of Lake George, arriving barely before the water began to freeze over.
I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery. Bare ground prevented the sleds from moving until Christmas morning, when a heavy snow fell and the column set out for Albany. Continuing east, Knox and his men crossed into Massachusetts, over the Berkshires, and on to Springfield.
With 80 fresh yoke of oxen, the 5,lb sleds moved along much of what are modern-day Routes 9 and 20, passing through Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown. The mere presence of those guns moved British General Howe to weigh anchor and sail for Nova Scotia, but that must be a story for another day. Most of his troops were about to end their enlistments, effective at the end of the year.
A mere five days away. Camping on the western banks of the Delaware, Washington was in desperate straits.
Food, ammunition and equipment were in short supply, men were deserting as the string of defeats brought morale to a new low. The Americans needed a decisive victory, and quickly, if their cause was to survive. Washington planned a three-pronged attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, himself at the head of a 2, man army, flanked by a 1, man diversionary force under Colonel John Cadwalader and a blocking move by men under General James Ewing. The weather that night was dreadful.
Horses balked at being led onto flat-bottom barges.
Cannon weighing as much as 1, lbs had to be tied down to prevent capsize. With visibility near zero, several men fell overboard during the crossing.
Two froze to death on the overnight march to Trenton. Men were so poorly equipped that many of them lacked boots, the soaked and freezing rags wrapped around their feet not enough to keep them from leaving bloody footprints in the snow.
Loyalists had warned the Hessian commander, Colonel Johann Rall, that American forces were planning an action. I am resolved to take Trenton. The Patriot force arrived at Trenton at 8am December 26, completely surprising the Hessian garrison. There is a story about the Hessians being drunk or hungover after Christmas celebrations, but the story is almost certainly untrue.
He expected no further action that day. The tactical surprise was complete for the American side. Hessian soldiers spilled out of their quarters and tried to form up, but most were shot down or dispersed. A few American civilians, residents of Trenton, even joined in the fight. All told, Hessian losses were 22 killed, 92 wounded, captured and escaped.
Four Hessian colonels were killed, including Rall himself. The Americans suffered the two who had frozen to death, and five wounded. They had won the first major victory of the Revolution. On December 30, the Americans once again crossed the Delaware, eluding a main force under Generals Cornwallis and Grant, proving on January 3 rd at a place called Princeton, that they could defeat a regular British army in the field.
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