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The Transportation Corps motto, “Spearhead of Logistics,” is a succinct way of saying that the Corps is responsible for the “last mile” of the Army’s supply chain, delivering Soldiers and matériel to the “tip of the spear”—i.e., the front lines. And one of the most inspiring examples of just how crucial this function is can be found more than 165 years before the Transportation Corps was officially established in July 1942.

By November, 1776, George Washington and the Continental Army had been laying siege to Boston and the British troop who had been occupying it since the start of hostilities in April, 1775. Desperate to find a way to dislodge the British from the city, Washington ordered Henry Knox, a Massachusetts militia member, to head an expedition to Fort Ticonderoga and bring back the heavy artillery housed there. Washington’s plan met with the approval of the Continental Congress, which commissioned Knox as a Colonel.

Knox departed from Washington’s camp on November 17. What transpired over the next three months has been described by one historian as “one of the most stupendous feats of logistics” of the eight-year war.

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Leaving Washington’s camp on November 17, Knox first traveled to New York City to acquire supplies before moving on to Ticonderoga. Arriving at the fort on December 5, he did an inventory of the equipment and ordnance that could be relocated; he wound up choosing 59 pieces of equipment including mortars, howitzers, and cannons (their shells ranged in size from four to twenty-four pounds). In all, Knox was going to attempt to transport nearly 60 tons of equipment and weapons back to Boston.

After hauling the equipment overland to Lake George, Knox loaded it aboard a cargo vessel called a gundalow and sailed it to southern end of the 30-plus-mile-long lake; at one point it was thought the vessel had sunk, but it turned out to merely have taken on water and was able to resume sailing after being bailed out. Reaching the lake’s southern shore, Knox loaded the equipment onto 42 sleds that were to be pulled by eighty yoke of oxen. Crossing the terrain required Knox’s men to clear paths in the snowdrifts, slowing their progress as they headed for Albany.

Here, the expedition needed to cross the Hudson River and head east toward Boston, but upon reaching the river on January 4, Knox was stymied because the ice was not yet thick of enough to support the weight of his train. (Knox and his men tried to speed up the freezing process by pouring fresh water on top of existing ice.) Though cannons did break through the ice and fall into the river, Knox and his team were somehow able to recover every single one.

The final hurdle facing Knox was the Berkshires, a mountainous region full of dense forests, swamps, chasms, lakes, streams, and precipices so intimidating that Knox himself said it was “almost a miracle that people with heavy loads should be able to get up and down such hills as are here.” Even when the expedition found roadways—a rare sight in those days—the melting show turned the thoroughfares into muddy morasses. When his New York-based teamsters abandoned him, Knox was forced to hire workers from Springfield, Massachusetts.

Finally, on January 27, Knox arrived with the desperately needed artillery. A little over a month later, Washington opened fire on the British inside Boston with the heavy guns, whose longer ranges meant the defenders could not effectively return fire in kind. After Washington's troops seized Dorchester Heights on March 4 and placed heavy artillery there, the end of the siege was clearly in sight: the British departed two weeks later.

Knox’s logistical masterpiece had drastically altered the tenor of the war, and in less than a year’s time he would oversee another transportation feat that would bolster the Continental Army for years to come: the crossing of the Delaware during the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776.

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