Fat Henry Knox was a gigantic American bookstore clerk who rolled cannon caissons like MDMA tablets, served as the chief Artillery officer of the American Revolution, was a founding father and homeboys with George Washington, served as the first Secretary of War (back when we still had badass offices like that) and was so hardcore in his unstoppable ability to protect the Continental Army with an endless barrage of face-obliterating grapeshot gunfire that nowadays the most secure military facility in the United States – Fort Knox – bears his name.
People like to talk shit about Knox for his weight. Sure, the fact that he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence means he was literally the first fat American, but here's the deal: He was a big dude who kicked the snot out of punks and was so baller that the fort bearing his name is, no joke, literally packed from floor to ceiling with enough gold bricks to back up every single dollar bill ever printed in the United States and still have enough left over to club Kim Jong-Un and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retarded.
As far as I'm concerned if this dude had been rocking that shit in the mid-1990s they might as well have spelled Fat with a Ph, because Fat Henry Knox was basically the first American gangsta.
Run from the police picture that, nigga I'm too fat,
I fuck around and catch a asthma attack,
That's why I bust back, it don't faze me,
When he drop, take his Glock, and I'm Swayze.
Born in 1750 to first-generation Scottish immigrants, Knox grew up in pre-revolutionary Boston. He dropped out of school at age 11 to help his momma after his con-man pops lost the family fortune on shitty business practices then bailed on the family, leaving his wife and 10 kids to fend for themselves. Knox grew up on the skreets, got a miserable retail job working behind the counter of a bookstore, and spent all of his spare time reading about badass shit like cannons and artillery and other things that kill people with explosions.
Within 10 years, Knox was running his own bookstore and was a member of the local militia unit. Sure, he didn't have cannons to work with, but he liked watching the Brits work their guns during military drills outside the city.
Knox wasn't a huge fan of British rule over the colonies, but life got real intense for him in 1770, when he was at some random political rally that got out of control and the redcoats ended up firing a volley of muskets into the crowd, killing five people. From that point on, he was pissed. This, of course, didn't stop him from boning and then eloping with the daughter of the King's Royal Secretary to Massachusetts then going off and signing the Declaration of Independence because, fuck it, insert your favorite misogynistic rap lyric about killing people and banging chicks here.
School of Hard Knox.
The British eventually had enough of the Colonies whining and complaining about every fucking thing the King did, so they send a bunch of dudes over here to kill us all. They occupied Boston in 1775, but not without a fight – Knox, a Private in the Colonial Militia, was on the battlefield at Bunker Hill, charging straight into the British lines with fixed bayonets, completely not giving a damn that he was like a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than any other Colonial infantryman on the field and was probably a really good target for British snipers. It would be Knox's first battle. By the time it was over, he'd have served in every single major engagement in the Northeastern Theater.
After the Brits defeated the Americans at Bunker Hill and occupied Boston, Henry Knox went to General George Washington and offered his services – not as a gunslinger, but as a dude who had read a lot of books about cannons and probably knew how to operate one. Washington was so impressed at having anybody in his entire army who could at least fire one of those damn things, so he and John Adams made Knox a Colonel and put him in charge of the previously-nonexistent Artillery army of the Continental Army.
Of course, there was one minor problem with this.
The Continental Army did not have a single piece of artillery in their entire organization.
No problem. Knox knew how to get shit done. Sure, maybe the Brits had every single firearm bigger than a musket in the greater New England Area, but the rebels had taken Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, and he'd bring those damn guns to the front lines if he had to carry them on his back. Knox rode the 300 miles from Boston to New York, surveyed the fort, and checked out their graveyard of busted cannons. Most of them were unusable, but Knox found 59 guns ranging from 4-pounders to 24-pounders that could be salvaged. All he had to do was drag them 300 miles back to Boston across unpaved roads in the middle of December in upstate New York, and he'd have to be quiet about it because he didn't have any infantry to defend the convoy and if the British figured out what was going down they'd roll up and turn the entire column into a mile-long line of corpses.
Knox found 42 sledges, recruited an army of civilian workers, and proceeded to haul 62 tons of artillery 300 miles through snow and ice in the middle of the winter, in territory that was technically occupied by the enemy. When they went uphill, they all shoved as hard as they could. When they went downhill, they used drag chains and ropes to keep the guns from breaking away, falling down the hill, and probably either breaking and/or killing someone. When a couple guns broke through the ice of a frozen lake and fell to the bottom, Knox engineered a team to ice-fish them out of there.
It took about a month, but the caravan crossed the Hudson River, went over the Berkshire Mountains, and down an old, unmarked, unpaved Indian trail to Boston, where Knox set them up on Dorchester Heights and blew the British out of Boston. When the Continental Army marched into Boston, Knox was at the head of the army. The first thing he heard when he entered the gates, and I shit you not about this, was some loyalist asshole in the crowd shouting a terribly-unclever fat joke at him.
Knox had won the battle, but the Father of American Artillery still had a hell of a job ahead of him. He had a bunch of guns, but none of them were the same caliber. Hell, some were British, some were French, and others were these weird-ass American-built ones made by some jerkwad Unabomber crackpot blacksmith in his garage. He also had an army of guys who had never worked a cannon before, but he recruited 1200 semi-competent soldiers, taught them how to shoot the thing, and then pumped them up so hard that by the end of the war the Continental Artillery became famous for being the last rebel units to withdraw from any battle.
As you read that paragraph, it's important to remember that prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill Henry Knox's entire body of knowledge on artillery came from books he read and not from any first-hand life experience on the subject.
"Yeah, uh… any of you guys know how to work this thing?"
Knox also thought it might be cool if the artillery could, you know, move around with the rest of the infantry to support them, which is something that hadn't been really done very much during this time of history, probably because cannons were a thing most armies actually had and they weren't being forced to make due with an artillery arm that was about half the size of what it should be. So, since he was already basically an expert on moving cannons from place to place, this became Knox's speciality.
The best example of this is at the Battle of Trenton, when Washington crossed the Delaware River in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to kill a bunch of Germans in their sleep. Sure, we always see that pic of Washington standing in a rowboat looking epic with a sword, but what you don't see is Fat Fucking Henry Knox somehow bringing 18 full-sized field artillery pieces across that same river in those same shitty little boats. Knox crossed the river, set up his guns in the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, then shot the Hessians point-blank when they walked out of the houses they were quartering in. When they tried to charge him, he smoked them with his nine (pounder). Then he sailed his shit BACK across the river.
18 cannons, each one weighing about 2400 pounds.
In these boats.
Knox was promoted to Brigadier General, and proceeded to continue kicking every ass he could find in a 300-mile radius from his position. At the Battle of Princeton, he covered the American withdrawal after they were routed by British infantry, and Knox's gunners did such a badass job of it that it actually turned the entire tide of the battle around and the Americans ended up winning. At Brandywine the Brits launched charge after charge and eventually overran the American positions, and those artillerymen suck in the middle who didn't die working their guns fell back and launched attacks to try and re-capture them (and were, by and large, killed in the process). When the Brits took stock of the guns they'd captured, the Regimental commander sent a letter to his commanding officer that basically read, "What the fuck is going on here I have no idea how the hell they run an artillery battalion when none of their guns are even the same caliber."
Knox made up for the loss of these guns at the Battle of Monmouth, when he personally rode back-and-forth across the entire battlefield moving his guns around and directing the batteries while enemy snipers took potshots at him.
During breaks in the fighting, Knox created the Springfield Arsenal in Springfield, Mass – a facility that produced cannons and rifles through the Revolution, Civil War, and World War II. They were manufacturing U.S. Army M-14s when that plant finally shut down in 1968. Oh yeah, and he also set up a school to instruct military personnel in 1779, teaching artillery operation and tactics in what is, for all intents and purposes, the first military academy in American history.
Knox served through the war, and was the guy who directed the artillery barrages during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. He ordered "ricochet shot", meaning the ball would be shot at knee level in such a way that it would blow apart legs and knees, then bounce and continue going with enough force to cripple more people. His first shot of the siege killed a British General. At 800 yards, he not only leveled the city, but he destroyed every British artillery piece and a bunch of ships they had stationed in the harbor. The British commander surrendered Yorktown without a fight, ending the American Revolution.
After the war, Brigadier General Fat Henry Knox was briefly the Commander-in-Chief of the American Army, but was then appointed to President Washington's cabinet as the first Secretary of War. He set up a militia that became the National Guard, created the United States Navy, suppressed a revolution in Massachusetts, then talked a bunch of shit about how the new Constitution kicked ass. He retired in 1794 after 20 years of service to his country.
Knox died in 1806 from a ruptured appendix. Nowadays Fort Knox, the home of a large portion of American gold deposits and supposedly the most heavily-fortified position on American soil, bears his name.
Fittingly, in 1964, an attempted breach of Fort Knox by global supervillain Auric Goldfinger was saved by British secret agent James Bond, thus bringing this entire story full-circle.
"General Knox, who has deservedly acquired the character of one
of the most valuable officers in the service, and who combating almost innumerable
difficulties in the department he fills has placed the artillery
upon a footing that does him the greatest honor."
- George Washington
National Parks Service
The Knox Museum Bio
Who Served Here?
Bilias, George Athan. George Washington's Generals and Opponents. Da Capo, 1994.
Brooks, Noah. Henry Knox, a Soldier of the Revolution. G.P. Putnam, 1900.
Puls, Mark. Henry Knox. Palgrave, 2008.