History/Travel

Two Epic Marches in 1775

During the early days of the Revolutionary War, there were two epic marches of heroic proportion.  Henry Knox’s Noble train of artillery in November and December 1775 was one.  Benedict Arnold’s march through the wilderness of Maine for the invasion of Quebec in September to November 1775 was the other, and the one that seems to have been lost to history because of Arnold’s turncoat future in the war and the immediate result from each effort.

Benedict Arnold was the person credited with the idea of hauling the artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, which was occupied by British troops but under siege from the colonists.  The Generals recognized that a long, drawn-out siege was going to help the British more than the colonists, as reinforcements from England would be arriving at some point in the spring to try to eradicate the uprising.  Ships in Boston harbor weren’t going to leave just because militiamen were surrounding Boston.  Artillery was needed to encourage them to move on.

Since Arnold was a little busy marching through the wilderness of Maine, it fell on Henry Knox to bring the cannon from Ticonderoga to Boston.  As with any travel in those days, using existing waterways was much easier than horse paths through the woods.  So bringing almost 120,000 pounds of cannon down the Hudson River to Albany made a lot of sense, but from there they needed to haul the cannon on sleds across ice and rough terrain all the way to the Dorchester Heights.  The hardest part of this overland trip must surely have been bringing them over the Berkshires roughly where Blandford, Massachusetts is today (where the Massachusetts Turnpike cuts through the Berkshires).

Arnold by contrast sailed to the Kennebec River and up to Augusta, Maine, where he began his march through the wilderness to Quebec.  He started with 1100 men, and reached the St. Lawrence with about 600 starving men.  Some starved to death on the trip, and the rest abandoned the march and retreated towards home.  Arnold’s expedition was even more bold than Knox’s.  Yet the immediate results were very different.  Knox’s artillery chased the British out of Boston on what is forever celebrated as Evacuation Day in the city.  Arnold’s army reached Quebec and were met there by Montgomery’s troops who had come from Lake Champlain.  Ultimately they didn’t have the numbers or the artillery to lay a proper siege on Quebec, and they were eventually chased away as the ice broke on the St Lawrence and British reinforcements arrived to chase them down.

Two men remembered differently in history.  Benedict Arnold’s name is forever associated with treason, but in the early years of the war he was a hero many times over.  Henry Knox would continue to grow his career in the Continental Army, becoming the Secretary of War for the United States.  His name lives on at Fort Knox.  Benedict Arnold doesn’t have any forts named after him, but the United States may not have won the war without him.

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