History From America's Most Famous Valleys
A MILITARY JOURNAL
During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.
SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF GENERAL KNOX.
Among those of our countrymen, who most zealously engaged in the cause of liberty, few sustained a rank more deservedly conspicuous, than General Knox. He was one of those heroes, of whom it may be truly said, that he lived for his country.
The ardor of his youth and the vigor of his manhood were devoted to acquiring its liberty, and establishing its prosperity. Born in Boston, July, 1750, his childhood and youth were employed in obtaining the best education that the justly celebrated schools of his native town afforded. In very early he he opened a book store, for the enlargement of which he soon formed an extensive correspondence in Europe-but little time elapsed before, at the call of his country, he relinquished this lucrative and increasing business. Indebted to no adventitious aid, his character was formed by himself: the native and vigorous principles of his own mind made him what he was. Distinguished among his associates, from the first dawn of manhood, for a decided predilection to martial exercises, he was at the age of eighteen selected by the young men of Boston as one of the officers of a company of grenadiers-a company so distinguished for its martial appearance, and the precision of its evolutions, that it received the most nattering encomium from British officer of high distinction.
This early scene of his military labors served but as a school for that distinguished talent which afterward shone with lustre in the most brilliant campaigns of an eight years' war; through the whole of which, he directed the artillery with consummate skill and bravery.
His heart was deeply engaged in the cause of freedom ; he felt it to be a righteous cause, and to its accomplishment yielded every other consideration. When Britain declared hostilities, he hesitated not a moment what course he should pursue. No sordid calculation of interest retarded his decision. The quiet of domestic life, the fair prospect of increasing wealth, and even the-endearing claims of family and friends, though urged with the most persuasive eloquence, had no power to divert the determined purpose of his mind.
In the early stages of British hostility, though not in commission, he was not an inactive spectator. At the battle of Bunker hill, as a volunteer he was constantly exposed to danger, in reconnoitring the movements of the enemy, and his ardent mind was engaged with others in preparing those measures that were ultimately to dislodge the British troops, from their boasted possession of the capital of New England.
Scarcely had we begun to feel the aggressions of the British arms, before it was perceived, that without artillery, of which we were then destitute, the most important objects of the war could not be accomplished. No resource presented itself, but the desperate expedient of procuring it from the Canadian frontier. To attempt this, in the agitated state of the country, through a wide extent of wilderness, was an enterprize so replete with toil and danger, that it was hardly expected any one would be found hardy enough to encounter its perils. Knox however saw the importance of the object-he saw his country bleeding at every pore, without the power of repelling her invaders-he saw the nourishing Capital of the North in the possession of an exulting enemy, that we were destitute of the means essential to their annoyance, and formed the daring and generous resolution of supplying the army with ordinance however formidable the obstacles that might oppose him. Young, robust, and vigorous, supported by an undaunted spirit, and a mind ever fruitful in resources, he commenced his mighty undertaking, almost unattended, in the winter of 1775, relying solely for the execution of his object, on such aid as he might procure, from the thinly scattered inhabitants of the dreary region, through which he had to pass. Every obstacle of season, roads and climate were surmounted by determined perseverance ;- and a few weeks, scarcely sufficient for a journey so remote, saw him return laden with ordinance and the stores of war--drawn, in defiance of every obstacle, over the frozen lakes and mountains of the north. Most acceptable was this offering to our defenceless troops, and most welcome to the Commander in Chief, who well knew how to appreciate a service so important. This expedition stamped the character of him who performed it for deeds of enterprize and daring-He received the most flattering testimony of approbation from the Commander in Chief and from Congress, and was, in consequence of this important service, appointed to the command of the artillery of which he had thus laid the foundation,-in which command he continued with increasing reputation through the Revolutionary War.
Among the incidents that occurred during the expedition to Canada, was his accidental meeting with the unfortunate Andre, whose subsequent fate was so deeply deplored by every man of feeling in both nations. His deportment as a soldier and gentleman so far interested General Knox in his favor, that he often afterwards expressed the most sincere regret, that he was called by duty, to act on the tribunal that pronounced his condemnation.
During the continuance of the war, the corps of artillery was principally employed with the main body of the army, and near the person of the Commander in Chief, and was relied on as an essential auxiliary in the most important battles.
There was perhaps no period of the war, when the American cause assumed an aspect so precarious as in the autumn of 1717. Philadelphia, then the centre and capital of our country-preeminent for its wealth, its population and its trade-a place most distinguished for the progress of the arts, was destined to fall within the grasp of our haughty foe. In the campaign that preceded its occupation by the British, General Knox was a conspicuous actor, eager for the contest, yet compelled with his brave companions to lament that the equipments of our army were unequal to the heroic spirits of its soldiers. Trenton and Princeton witnessed his enterprize and valor. At that critical period of our affairs, when hope had almost yielded to despair, and the great soul of Washington trembled for his country's freedom, Knox was one of those that strengthened his hand, and encouraged his heart. At that awful moment, when the tempest raged with its greatest fury, he with Greene and other heroes, stood as Pillars of the Temple of Liberty, till the fury of the storm was past.
The letters of General Knox, still extant, written in the darkest periods of the revolution, breathe a spirit of devotedness to the cause in which he had embarked, and a firm reliance on the favor of Divine Providence ; from a perusal of these letters it is evident, that he never yielded to despondency, but in the most critical moments of the war, confidently anticipated its triumphant issue.
In the bloody fields of Germantown and Monmouth, without derogating from the merits of others, it may be said, that during the whole of these hard fought battles, no officer was more distinguished for the discharge of the arduous duties of his command ;-in the front of the battle he was seen animating his soldiers and pointing the thunder of their cannon. His skill and bravery were so conspicuous on the latter occasion, that he received the particular approbation of the Commander in Chief, in general orders issued by him the day succeeding that of the battle, in which he says, that "the enemy have done them the justice to acknowledge that no artillery could be better served than ours." But his great exertions on that occasion, together with the extreme heat of the day, produced the most alarming consequences to his health. To these more important scenes, his services were not confined ; with a zeal devoted to our cause, he was ever at the post of danger-and the immortal hero, who stands first on the list of heroes and of men, has often expressed his sense of their services. In every field of battle, where Washington fought, Knox was by his side. The confidence of the Commander in Chief, inspired by early services, was thus matured by succeeding events. There can be no higher testimony to his merits, than that during a war of so long continuance, past almost constantly in the presence of Washington, he uniformly retained his confidence and esteem, which at their separation had ripened into friendship and affection. The parting interview between General Knox and his illustrious and beloved Chief, after the evacuation of New York by the British, and Knox had taken possession of it at the head of a detachment of our army, was inexpressibly affecting. The hour of their separation having arrived, Washington, incapable of utterance, grasped his hand and embraced him in silence, and in tears. His letters to the last moment of his life, contain the most flattering expressions of his unabated friendship. Honorable to himself as had been the career of his revolutionary services, new laurels were reserved for him at the siege of Yorktown.-To the successful result of this memorable siege, the last brilliant act of our revolutionary contest, no officer contributed more essentially than the commander of the artillery. His animated exertions, his military skill, his cool and determined bravery in this triumphant struggle, received the unanimous approbation of his brethren in arms, and he was immediately created Major General by Congress, at the recommendation of the Commander in Chief, with the concurrence of the whole army.
The capture of Lord Cornwallis closed the contest, and with it his military life. Having contributed so essentially to the successful termination of the war, he was selected as one of the commissioners to adjust the terms of peace, which service he performed in conjunction with his colleagues, much to the satisfaction of his country. He was deputed to receive the surrender of the city of New York, and soon after appointed to the command of West Point. It was here that he was employed in the delicate and arduous duty of disbanding the army, and inducing a soldiery, disposed to turbulence by their privations and sufferings, to retire to domestic life and resume the peaceful character of citizens.
It is a fact most honorable to his character, that by his countenance and support, he rendered the most essential aid to Washington, in suppressing that spirit of usurpation which had been industriously fomented by a few unprincipled and aspiring men, whose aim was the subjugation of the country to a military government. No hope of political elevation- no flattering assurances of aggrandizement could tempt him to build his greatness on the ruin of his country.
The great object of the war being accomplished; and peace restored to our country, General Knox was early, under the confederation, appointed Secretary of War by Congress, in which office he was confirmed by President Washington, after the establishment of the Federal Government. The duties of this office were ultimately increased, by having those of the navy attached to them-to the establishment of which his counsel and exertions eminently contributed. He differed in opinion from some other members of the cabinet on this most interesting subject.--One of the greatest men whom our country has produced,* has uniformly declared, that he considered America much indebted to his efforts, for the creation of a power which has already so essentially advanced her respectability and fame.
Having filled the office of the War Department for eleven years, he obtained the reluctant consent of President Washington to retire, that he might give his attention to the claims of a numerous and increasing family. This retirement was in concurrence with the wishes of Mrs. Knox, who had accompanied him through the trying vicissitudes of war, shared with him its toils and perils, and who was now desirous of enjoying the less busy scenes of domestic life. A portion of the large estates of her ancestor, General Waldo, had descended to her, which he by subsequent purchase increased till it comprized the whole Waldo Patent, an extent of thirty miles square, and embracing a considerable part of that section
* President Adams.
of Maine, which now constitutes the counties of Lincoln, Hancock and Penobscot. To these estates he retired from all concern in public life, honored as a soldier and beloved as a man, devoting much of his time to their settlement and improvement. He was induced repeatedly to take a share in the government of the state, both in the house of representatives and in the council-in the discharge of whose several duties, he employed his wisdom and experience with the greatest assiduity. At that time Maine and Massachusetts composed one great and powerful state. His enlarged and liberal policy as a legislator, was manifested on every question on which he acted, and in every debate in which he took I a part. While at the council board of Massachusetts, on all public political questions, his opinions had great weight with Governor Strong, at that period the worthy chief magistrate of the Commonwealth. Though independent and firm in his political sentiments, like Strong he was disposed to conciliate those who differed from him in opinion, and was wholly free from the spirit of intolerance.
In 1798, when the French insults and injuries towards this country called for resistance, he was one of those selected to command our armies, and to protect our liberty and honor, from the expected hostilities of the French Directory ; happily for our country their services were not required. Retired from the theatre of active life, he still felt a deep interest in the prosperity of his country. To that portion of it, which he had chosen for his residence, his exertions were more immediately directed. His views, like his soul, were bold and magnificent; his ardent mind could not want the ordinary course of time and events ; it outstripped the progress of natural improvement. Had he possessed a cold calculating mind, he might have left behind him the most ample wealth ; but he would not have been more highly valued by his country, or more beloved by his friends.- He died at Montpelier, his seat in Thomaston, 25th of October, 1806, from sudden internal inflammation, at the age of 56, from the full vigor of health.
The great qualities of General Knox, were not merely those of the hero and the statesman; with these were combined those of the elegant scholar, and the accomplished gentleman. There have been those as brave and as learned, but rarely a union of such valor, with so much urbanity-a mind so great, yet so free from ostentation.
In sketching the life of such a man, it is not the least interesting part, to recall his private virtues. Long will he be remembered as the ornament of every circle in which he moved, as the amiable and enlightened companion, the generous friend, the man of feeling and benevolence ;-his conversation was animated and cheerful, and he imparted an interest to every subject that he touched. In his gayest moments he never lost sight of dignity ;-he invited confidence, but repelled familiarity. His imagination was brilliant, his conceptions lofty ; and no man ever possessed the power of embodying his thoughts in more vigorous language ; when ardently engaged, they were peculiarly bold and original, and you irresistably felt in his society, that his intellect was not of the ordinary class. Yet no man was more unassuming, none more delicately alive to the feelings of others. He had the peculiar talent of rendering all who were with him, happy in themselves; and no one ever more feelingly enjoyed the happiness of those around him. Philanthropy filled his heart; in his benevolence there was no reserve-it was as diffusive as the globe, and extensive as the family of man. His feelings were strong and exquisitely tender. In the domestic circle they shone with peculiar lustre-here, the husband; the father and the friend, beamed in every smile-and if at any time a cloud overshadowed his own spirit, he strove to prevent its influence from extending to those that were dear to him. He was frank, generous and sincere ; and in his intercourse with the world, uniformly just. His house was the seat of elegant hospitality, and his estimate of wealth, was its power of diffusing happiness. To the testimony of private friendship, may be added that of less partial strangers, who have borne witness, both to his public and private virtues. Lord Moira, who is now perhaps the greatest general that England can boast of, has in a late publication spoken in high terms of his military talents. Nor should the opinion of the Marquis Chattelleux be omitted. " As for General Knox," he says, " to praise him for his military talents alone, would be to deprive him of half the eulogium he merits ; a man of understanding, well informed, gay, sincere and honest-it is impossible to know without esteeming him, or to see without loving him,-thus have the English without intention, added to the ornaments of the human species, by awakening talents where they least wished or expected." Judge Marshall, also, in his Life of Washington, thus speaks of him, " Throughout the contest of the revolution, this officer had continued at the head of the American artillery, and from being colonel of a regiment, has been promoted to the rank of major general. In this important station he had preserved a high military character, and on the resignation of General Lincoln, had been appointed secretary of war. To his great services, and to unquestionable integrity, he was admitted to unite a sound understanding ; and the public judgment as well as that of the chief magistrate, pronounced him in all respects competent to the station he filled. The president was highly gratified in believing that his public duty comported with his private inclination, in nominating General Knox to the office which had been conferred on him under the former government." As a proof of their estimation of his literary attainments, the president and trustees of Dartmouth College conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws.
Perhaps in no instance of his life, was his warmth of heart and strength of attachment, more fully exemplified, than at the closing interview of the principal leaders of the war, when they were about to take a final leave of each other, never, probably, to meet again. It was most natural that the recollection of past scenes should awaken the liveliest emotions-the bosom of the soldier is the residence of honor and of feeling, and no man cherished them more fondly than Knox. He proposed to his brethren in arms, that some course should be adopted to keep alive the generous attachment, which was the fruit of their long intercourse and mutual toils and dangers ; the proposal accorded with the feelings of the principal officers of the army, who united in forming the Cincinnati, a society whose object was to cement and perpetuate the friendship of its founders, and transmit the same sentiment to their descendants. Pure as are believed to have been the motives of those who associated in forming this society, there were not wanting some, who, from ignorance or illiberality, professed to doubt the purity of its character and the correctness of its objects. But it is a fact derived from the highest authority,* that it had from its commencement, the unqualified approbation of the Commander in Chief, expressed in the most decided language. Such sanction as that of Washington, could not fail to do away every suspicion of its unfairness, and to establish the rectitude of its motives and principles.
* Governor Brooks.
General Knox was a supporter of Christian institutions, and contributed much, by his liberality and his example, to promote the preaching of the gospel. It always appeared to afford him the highest pleasure to bear testimony to the excellence of Christianity, and he often expressed his firm belief that its exalted principles were intended to correct the heart, and to purify the life ; to make man what he ought to be in this world, and to prepare him for the more elevated enjoyments of the future. He most firmly believed in the immortality, and the immateriality of the soul.
From his reflections on religion, committed by him to paper, it is evident that his thoughts were often and intensely employed on the all important concerns of a future state of existence; that he firmly believed in an overruling Providence, and that he was created and sustained by its power and goodness. He considered the order, harmony and beauty of creation, as affording the most convincing proof of wisdom and design. He thought the universal distribution of blessings among mankind, furnished conclusive evidence of the goodness of the Being from whose bounty they flow. But it was a subject on which he reasoned for himself, unfettered by the arrogant dogmas of the churchmen, or the metaphysical subtleties of the schools. He expressed exalted pleasure in the full conviction, that the arm of Almighty Power was extended for the protection of the whole family of man, without respect to Jew or Gentile. The exclusive pretensions of the various sects and denominations in the church, he considered the fruits of human invention, and altogether unworthy the wisdom of the Almighty Mind.
Elevated by the aspirations of his own exalted mind, he believed our residence on this globe, which he considered but an atom in creation, as only the commencement of a progressive state of existence, still rising towards perfection from sphere to sphere, till by successive gradations of intellectual and moral improvement, we are prepared for the presence and enjoyment of the All Perfect Being who created us.
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