HP014: Henry Knox

HP014: Henry Knox

Post intro: Welcome and thank you all for listening. I would like to thank everyone who sent in email after the last show. All the feedback was wonderful. Please keep it coming. The email address is historypodcast@gmail.com and the website address is historypodcast.blogspot.com.

Since the last show I was lucky enough to watch The Great Raid a film by John Dahl. I would recommend it for anyone interested in the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and American POW camps. It was based on two books:

  • The Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor by William Breuer ISBN 0471037427
  • Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission by Hampton Sides ISBN 0385495641

I am happy to announce that I recently purchased a microphone online. It should arrive before the next show is recorded. The best part of this is it comes with a pop filter, which I am sure all of you will appreciate. Also, I must admit I am getting a little bored with the old intro which you just heard.

Before we get started I would like to ask everyone to help those in the South in any way you can. You can find out how to help at www.redcross.org.

Today’s show is a request from Ryan. He would like to know more about Heny Knox the US’s first Secretary of War.

Summary: Henry Knox, an American bookseller from Boston became the chief Artillery officer of the Continental Army and most notably the nation’s first United States Secretary of War. He was born to Scott-Irish immigrants William and Mary Campbell Knox in Boston on July 25, 1750. His father was a ship’s captain, engaged in the West Indies trade until his death in 1762. That same year Henry left school at the age of 12 and worked as a bookstore clerk to support his mother. Later he opened his own bookshop, the London Book Store, in Boston. Largely self-educated as an avid reader, he began to concentrate on military subjects, particularly Artillery.

Knox supported the American rebels, the Sons of Liberty, and was present at the Boston Massacre. He volunteered as a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps in 1772 and served under General Ward at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Being a member of the Army of Observation, Henry met and impressed General Washington when he took command. The two quickly became lifelong friends. Knox also became his advisor.

As the Siege of Boston continued, he suggested that the cannon then at Fort Ticonderoga could have a decisive impact. Washington commissioned him as Colonel of Artillery, and gave him charge of the expedition to retrieve them. His force brought them by ox-drawn sled through the Green Mountains and across the frozen Connecticut River. When they returned and placed the cannons overlooking the harbor, the British were forced to withdraw to Halifax on March 17, 1776. After the siege was lifted, Henry undertook the construction and improvement of defenses in Connecticut and Rhode Island to prepare for the British return. He rejoined the main army later during their withdrawal from New York and across New Jersey.

On December 25, 1776 Colonel Knox was in charge of the Delaware River crossing. Though hampered by ice and cold, with Glover’s Marbleheaders manning the boats he got the attack force of men, horses, and artillery across the river without loss. Following the Battle of Trenton, he got the same force along with hundreds of prisoners, captured supplies, and all the boats back across river by the afternoon of December 26. This accomplishment got him promoted to Brigadier General.

Knox stayed with the Main Army throughout most of the active war. In 1777, while the Army was in winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, he returned to Massachusetts to improve the Army’s artillery capability. He raised an additional battalion and established the Springfield Armory before his return in the spring. The arsenal remained a valuable source of weapons and ammunition for the rest of the war. Knox made several other trips to the Northern states as Washington’s representative to increase the flow of men and supplies to the army.

After Yorktown, Knox was promoted to Major General. In 1782 he was given command of the post at West Point. In 1783 he was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati, and led the American forces into New York City as the British withdrew.

The society of Cincinnati is a very interesting topic. Here is a little about them. Originally to become a member you had to fight in the American Reveolution. The French soldiers who fought were also admitted as members. From that point on member ship was given to the oldest son of a former member. The rules for membership have not changed much. You can find more about this select group on wikipedia.

After Washington retired, he was the senior officer of the Continental Army from December 1783 until he left it in June 1784.

The Continental Congress made him secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation on March 8, 1785. He held that position until September 12, 1789 when he assumed the same duties as the United States Secretary of War in Washington’s first cabinet.

As secretary, Knox was successful in the creation of a regular Navy, which was responsible for Indian policy, a plan for a national militia, and created a series of coastal fortifications. He oversaw the inclusion of the Springfield Armory as one of two national facilities. In 1791, Congress, acting on a detailed proposal from Knox, created the short-lived Legion of the United States. In 1797 the legion was disbanded and the army returned to a more regimental system.

On December 31, 1794 Knox left the government to devote himself to caring for his growing family. He was succeeded as Secretary of War by Timothy Pickering.

Knox settled his family at Monpelier, an estate near Thomaston, Maine. He spent the rest of his life engaged in cattle farming, ship building and brick making. Although he had left national service, he represented his new community in the Massachusetts General Assembly. In 1806 he swallowed a chicken bone, which punctured his intestine. He died of infection (peritonitis) 3 days later on October 21, 1806 and is buried in Thomaston.

When Knox was forced to leave Boston in 1775, his home was used to house British officers who looted his bookstore. In spite of personal financial hardships, he managed to make the last payment of 1,000 pounds to Longman Printers in London to cover the price of a shipment of books that he never received.

Two separate American forts, Fort Knox (Kentucky), and Fort Knox (Maine) were named after him. A Knox County has been named from him in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Knoxville, Tennessee is also named for him.

Fort Knox:

A military installation 30 miles southwest of Louisville, Kentucky, Fort Knox was established as a training base during the First World War, and is named for Henry Knox. The majority of United States gold reserves have been carefully guarded at Fort Knox since the Department of the Treasury built the two-story Fort Knox Bullion Depository in 1936 at a cost of almost $600,000. The first shipments of gold arrived a year after completion.

Gold Reserves

The United States gold reserves were established following the Great Depression, as a result of the monetary policy tying the value of currency to the market price of gold. Although the value of U.S. currency is no longer related to the price of gold, the U.S. Mint continues to maintain gold reserves at Fort Knox as well as at the Denver Mint, the Philadelphia Mint, the West Point Bullion Depository, and the San Francisco Assay Office.

The granite, steel, and concrete depository at Fort Knox encases a much smaller vault than might be expected. The actual vault is 105 feet by 121 feet, and stands 42 feet above the ground. It is constructed of steel plates and beams encased in concrete, while the building’s outer wall is made of granite and concrete. The door to the vault weighs more than 20 tons, and no one person knows its entire combination. The depository has its own emergency power plant and water system, and guard boxes protect its four outside corners.

No visitors are permitted in the depository, and only two U.S. presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, have been inside the vault. In 1974, a small group of congressmen visited the vault to ensure that President Nixon had not sold off quantities of U.S. gold after the Watergate scandal.

The gold bars in the depository weigh about 27 pounds each, and approximately the same size as a brick. They are stored unwrapped, and must be handled with care to prevent abrasion or scratching. Their value fluctuates with the open market price of gold. Valuable documents have also been placed in the vault from time to time for safekeeping, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the original copy of the Gettysburg Address, and a copy of the Magna Carta, which was held for Great Britain during World War II.

Museum and Schools

Fort Knox also houses the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, one of the largest in the U.S. Army’s museum system. Open to the public, the museum exhibits materials related to mechanized cavalry and armor dating from the American Civil War to the present.

A number of local colleges and universities, including the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Eastern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University, operate satellite campuses at the Fort Knox Military Reservation.

Source: Our States: Geographic Treasures, 2003, p1, 3p

George Washington’s Cabinet

Henry Knox supported the creation of a national militia but this idea was not accepted by Congress. Knox had served with Washington in the Revolutionary War, during which he became Washington’s advisor. He supervised Washington’s troops as they crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, to defeat the Hessian soldiers at Trenton.

Source: Monkeyshines on America, Nov2002 U.S. Events 1776-1812, p6, 1p

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