Friday, December 23, 2016

Notes From the Northern Department: Henry Knox, Philip Schuyler, and the Noble Train of Artillery

by Ian Mumpton 
Cambr Nov. 16 1775
You are immediately to examine into the state of the Artillery of this army & take an account of the Cannon, Mortars, Shels, Lead & ammunition that are wanting; When you have done that, you are to proceed in the most expeditious manner to New York; There apply to the president of the provincial Congress, ... & Get him to procure such [artillery and ammunition] as can possibly be had there.  After you have procured as many of these Necessaries as you can there, you must go to Major General Schuyler & Get the remainder from Ticonderoga, Crown point, or St Johns—If it should be necessary, from Quebec, if in our hands—the want of them is so great, that no trouble or expence must be spared to obtain them—I have wrote to General Schuyler, he will give every necessary assistance, that they may be had & forwarded to this place with the utmost dispatch—I have given you a Warrant to the paymaster General of the Continental army, for a Thousand Dollars, to defray the expence attending your Journey, & procuring these Articles, an Account of which you are to keep & render upon your return. Given under my Hand at Head Quarters at Cambridge this 16 day of November Annoque Domini 1775
Go: Washington
Endeavour to procure what Flints you can.

Henry Knox, 1784 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale
In late November, 1775, Colonel Henry Knox was dispatched to the Northern Department with orders to secure the artillery at Fort Ticonderoga for transportation to the siege of Boston, where, as Washington confided to Philip Schuyler on the 24th of December, “it is much wanting for the Works we have lately thrown up.” The proposed route was to follow the Hudson river south to Albany before cutting east across the Berkshire mountains. This winter journey would prove to be a test of the revolutionaries’ resolve and resourcefulness. The decision to attempt to haul artillery over rough terrain in the middle of winter might seem odd to modern readers, however despite the challenges, winter was actually the best time to haul heavy loads overland in the 18th century. In the winter months, frigid temperatures turned rough, muddy roads into hard-packed, snow-covered routes able to support heavy wagons or, even more efficiently, sleds. Knox expressed this to Washington in a letter sent from Fort George on the 5th of December:
I arriv’d here Yesterday & made preparation to go over the lake this morning but General Schuyler reaching here before day prevents my going over for an hour or two. He has given me a list of Stores on the other side from which I am enabled to send an Inventory of those which I intend to forward to Camp—The Garriso[n] at Ticonderoga is so weak, The conveyance from the fort to the landing is so difficult the passage accross the lake so precarious that I am afraid it will be ten days at least before I can get them on this side—when they are here—the conveyance from hence will depend entirely on the sleding—if that is good they shall immedia[tel]y move forward—without sleding the roads are so much gullied that it will be impossible to move a Step.
General Schuyler will do every thing possible to forward this business…
The first leg of the journey was by water from Ticonderoga to Fort George, with bateaux, scow, and pettianger (probably a pirogue or canoe-like vessel). This proved to be both arduous and dangerous, with the scow striking a rock and having to be raised from the lake. Twelve days after having sent his first letter from Fort George, Knox wrote to Washington from that site again on the 17th of December. Again, he stressed the necessity of good sleds to complete the journey:
1779 map by Claude Sauthier with modern highlight of
the route taken by the Noble Train of Artillery.
I returnd from Ticonderoga to this place on the 15th instant & brought with me the Cannon &c.... It is not easy to conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the lake owing to the advanced Season of the Year & contrary winds—three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them over untill next Spring, but now please God they shall go—I have made forty two exceeding strong sleds & have provided eighty yoke of Oxen to drag them as far as Springfield… There will Scarcely be any possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on Sleds the roads being very much gullied—At present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 Miles; beyond that there is none—I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come up & expect to begin to move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this & that period we shall have a fine fall of Snow which will enable us to proceed further & make the Carriage easy—if that should be the case I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present to your Excellency a Noble train of Artillery…
In order to keep the artillery train moving, Knox rode on ahead to ensure that there would be enough sleds and beasts of burden to pull the guns through the snow. Knox reached Saratoga by Christmas day, from whence he proceeded a farther eight miles through heavy snowfall before stopping for the night. He resumed his journey the following morning:
In the morning the snow being nearly two feet deep we with great trouble reach’d about two miles we then procur’d Saddles & went to Stillwater, we got a Sleigh to go to Albany, but the roads not being broken prevented our getting farther than New City, about 9 miles above Albany, where we lodg’d. In the morning we sat out & got about 2 miles, when our horses tir’d and refus’d to go any farther. I was then oblig’d to undertake a very fatiguing march of about 2 miles on snow three feet deep thro’ the woods, there being no beaten path. Got to Squire Fisher’s who politely gave me a fine breakfast & provided me with horses which served me as far as Co. Schuyler’s, where I got a sleigh to carry me to Albany, which I reach’d about two o’Clock, almost perish’d with the Cold. In the afternoon waited on Gen’l Schuyler & spent the evening with him.
For the cold and weary Knox, the Schuyler home was a welcome respite. It is uncertain exactly how the Schuyler’s celebrated the holiday season, but they likely participated in the festivities of Twelfth Night, a popular tradition in the 18th century Hudson Valley. Even more welcome for Colonel Knox was Philip Schuyler’s assistance in organizing the transport of the artillery to Albany. Knox needed more sleighs, but was encountering problems from local contacts. A Mr. Palmer had sleds and oxen available, for a hefty price. Schuyler, being more familiar with the local economy and holding the authority that went with the rank of Major General, stepped in to the negotiations. On the 28th of December, Knox recorded in his diary that, "Mr Palmer Came Down, & after a considerable degree of conversation between him & General Schuyler about the price the Genl offering 18s. 9d. & Palmer asking 24s. p’ day for 2 Yoke of Oxen. The treaty broke off abruptly & Mr. Palmer was dismiss’d."

Compounding the problems, Knox further recorded that, “...the snow is too deep for the Cannon to set out, even if the Sleds were ready.” In the meantime, with negotiations stalled, Schuyler and Knox sought other means for acquiring the necessary sleds and draft animals. Schuyler, always the businessman, not only refused to pay Palmer’s high prices, but sought to hire other local residents and their sleds for half of Palmer’s price. Knox recorded in his journal that, on the 29th, Schuyler “...sent out his Waggon Master & other people to all parts of the Country to immediately send up their slays with horses suitable, we allowing them 12s. p’ day for each pair of horses or £7 p’ Ton for 62 miles.”

It is unclear who the “Waggon Master” refers to, but as mentioned in a previous article, many of the men enslaved by the Schuyler family were skilled at driving carts and sleds. As there is no surviving record of Schuyler hiring a wagon master, it is likely that this person was one of the enslaved servants, possibly Lisbon or a man named Lewis who, five months later, was lent to Benjamin Franklin as a driver for a trip from the Schuyler’s home to New York City. In either case, by the 31st, “...the Waggon master return’d the Names of persons in the different parts of the Country who had gone up to the lake with their horses in the whole amounting to near 124 pairs with Slays…”

Knox’s difficulties were far from over, however, as his appraisal of the sleds available indicated that they would not be strong enough for the heaviest cannon. Beyond this, there was still the difficulty of bringing the guns to Albany, which required four crossings of the Hudson River. Generally this could be accomplished by hauling the guns over the frozen river, but the heavy snowfall over Christmas was followed by a sudden thaw (turning the roads from snow-packed highways to slushy, muddy tracks) that made such crossing extremely risky. Despite efforts to thicken the ice at the crossings, one of the guns broke through the ice at the Halfmoon Ferry just north of Albany. While it was retrieved, this delayed the project. On January 5th, Knox wrote to Washington that although they had been able to move some of the artillery:
…a cruel thaw, hinders from Crossing Hudsons River which we are oblig’d to do four times from Lake George to this Town—the first severe night will make the Ice on the river sufficiently strong ’till that happens the Cannon & mortars must remain where they are most of them at the different crossing places & some few here—these inevitable delays pain Me exceedingly as my mind is fully sensible of the importance of the greatest expedition in this Case—In eight or nine days after the first severe frost they will be at Springfield from which place we can get them easily transported Altho there should be no snow—but to that the roads are So excessively bad Snow will be necessary… General Schuyler has been exceedingly assidious In this matter, as to myself my utmost endevers have been & still shall be use[d] to forward them with the utmost dispatch.

Schuyler likewise reported to Washington on the same day, saying, “The first of the Cannon arrived here on Wednesday & the whole is on Its Way, but detained by the Weakness of the Ice in Hudsons River, occasioned by the uncommon Mildness of the Weather for several Days past, one frosty Night if not deferred too long will however put Every Thing in Order...” Fortunately, the cold returned soon, and the great train of artillery was once more on the move. On the 7th of January another gun went through the ice, but was retrieved the following day with the assistance of “the good people of Albany”. Finally, on January 9th, Knox reported in his journal:
 Got several spare slays also some spare string of horses, in case of any accident. After taking my leave of General Schuyler & some other of my friends in Albany, I sat out from there about twelve o’Clock & went as far as Claverac, about 9 miles beyond Kinderhoock. I first saw all the Cannon set out from the ferry opposite Albany.

Knox’s journey would take a further eighteen days before the artillery train finally arrived at Cambridge. Organizational issues and bad weather had turned the projected two-week expedition into one of over ten weeks, but the guns were finally in place. Despite the difficulties, Knox retained some fond memories of the enterprise, especially of his time in Albany and with the Schuylers. On the 5th of January, in addition to his letter to Washington, Knox also wrote to his beloved wife, Lucy, describing the town of Albany and the Schuylers’ house:
Albany, from its situation, and commanding the trade of the water and immense territories westward, must one day be, if not the capital, yet nearly to it, of America. There are a number of gentlemen’s very elegant seats in view from that part of the river before the town, among them I think General Schuyler’s claims the preference; the owner of which is sensible and polite…
The same day, while waiting for the weather to turn cold enough to solidify the ice on the river crossings, Knox had also visited the Cahoes falls on the Mohawk River. His description of the natural splendor of this local wonder is simply too beautiful not to include:
Those stupendous falls, inferior to none except the except the Grand one of Niagara, are form’d by the whole body of the Mohawk River falling at one pitch from a perpendicular of eighty feet. It is the most superb & affecting sight I ever saw… The time I saw it was about 9 o’Clock in the morning, when the beams of the sun reflected on the whole Icy Scene around. Vast Icicles of twenty feet long and three or four feet thick hung in pendants from the neighboring rocks, which were form’d from the rain and melted snow falling from the neighboring heights, & and a very severe frost coming up which arrested the Water in its fall… It look’d like one vast torrent of milk pouring from a stupendous height. Its fall occasion’d a very thick mist to arise, which look’d like a shower of rain, & I was told that in Summer time a perpetual rainbow was to be seen here. After having gaz’d & wonder’d for a long time I return’d to Albany… not a little humbl’d by thoughts of my own insignifigance.
The Cohoes Falls in Winter
 The very best holiday wishes to all of our readers from Schuyler Mansion and Notes from the Northern Department. There are a few more posts going up before the new year, and 2017 will bring more historical excitement as well, so stay tuned as we continue to explore the history of the Schuyler family in 18th century Albany!

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