To win their independence, Americans had to create an effective artillery service able to challenge the British on the battlefield. They had to secure cannon barrels, gun carriages, limbers, ammunition wagons and a wide array of other specialized equipment. They had to create a system to maintain that equipment. They had to obtain a steady supply of gunpowder and artillery projectiles. And they had to recruit and train men to serve the guns effectively.

They had to do all of this with little experience or preparation, while fighting a war with a major European power with a well-trained professional army, the world’s largest navy, factories to manufacture munitions, craft facilities to build and maintain equipment, and a well-established system for recruiting and training artillerists.

Creating an effective American artillery service was the work of many people. They were led by one extraordinary young man. Henry Knox left school at twelve and went to work as a clerk in a bookstore to support himself and his mother. In 1771, at the age of twenty-one, he opened his own bookstore. He studied the military books he sold in his shop, joined a militia company and managed to shoot two fingers off his left hand at the age of twenty-three. Shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Knox slipped out of Boston with his young wife, Lucy, and joined the militia army surrounding the city. With the knowledge he had extracted from books, Knox designed and oversaw the construction of patriot fortifications. The twenty-five-year-old Knox soon came to the attention of George Washington, the forty-two-year-old, newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. They quickly formed one of the most important partnerships of the American Revolution.

Boom! Artillery in the American Revolution traced the development of the Continental Artillery during the Revolutionary War, a process shaped by broader technological and organizational changes in artillery that transformed it into a dominant force on European and American war battlefields. The artifacts, books, maps, manuscripts and other objects in the exhibition were drawn from the collections of the Society of the Cincinnati, most importantly from the Robert Charles Lawrence Fergusson Collection, which documents the art of war in the eighteenth century.