During the Revolutionary War, when it seemed like momentum had turned from the Continental Army to favor the British, a few things turned the tide. First, of course, was the support of the French in the war. Without the French its inconceivable that the Continental Army would have been victorious. But another huge factor was the Atlantic Ocean. The sheer distance between American and Great Britain made it challenging to run an efficient supply chain, even for the British. Without supplies, the British generals were reluctant to spread themselves too thin. When they did venture out to forage off the land, they were highly vulnerable to gorilla warfare, and also created bad blood with colonists who might otherwise be neutral. Shipments from Ireland were greatly compromised by the weather and privateers. The Americans by contrast were using their land to their advantage, running supplies and men from battle site to battle site.
The most famous supply chain route was the Henry Knox Trail, or the noble train of artillery, on which the cannons and cannonballs were transported from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, where they were placed on the heights in the secrecy of darkness, prompting the British to evacuate Boston. The 59 artillery pieces were hauled on ox-driven sleds in winter from Lake Champlain through New York and Massachusetts to Boston, a massive undertaking for the time. The arrival of this artillery was surely a shock to the British and one of the first big wins for the Continental Army.
While the war started in Boston, it was decided in the battles and strategic moves of Washington’s Army in New Jersey. Key battles in Manalapan, Princeton and Trenton helped swing momentum to the Americans. Ramapo Valley Road was a key route for the Continental Army during this phase of the war, and was the path that many marched on route to skirmishes throughout the Hudson River Valley and the Delaware River Valley.
Bergen County, New Jersey has a trail running through it called the Cannonball Trail, which was loosely part of this network of trails and roads that transported and supplied the Continental Army. One of my goals is to hike portions of both the Henry Knox Trail and the Cannonball Trail. There’s something about walking in the footsteps of those before you that resonates with me. When I walk into the Adams House in Quincy, Massachusetts or the Signal Hill barracks in St, John’s, or walk on the battlefields in Lexington and Concord, I feel a connection to the past. Maybe its the history geek in me, or maybe its the ghosts of those who walked here before me. Either way the connection is real for me.