During the winter of 1775-1776, Henry Knox undertook an expedition to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve quite a few cannons to bring back to Boston to aide in the Revolutionary War efforts.

On the way back, twice a cannon fell through ice into a river 10-30 feet, and both times Knox successfully retrieved the cannon from the freezing water.

How on earth was this possible with the limited technology of the time?? Nobody could dive into the water, so how could they have fastened anything to the cannons with which to pull them up?

  • Why do you say no-one could dive into the water? Read up on Eble's Engineers and Sappers at the Battle of Berezina in 1813: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Baptiste_Ebl%C3%A9 – Pieter Geerkens Jan 9 '14 at 13:49
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    Isn't it likely that they tied ropes around the cannons before crossing the river, on the off-chance that the ice wouldn't hold? (You would expect that for the second time in particular....) – Jørgen Jan 10 '14 at 8:44
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    You need plenty of ropes and ties to a cannon to pull it in the first place. – Oldcat Jan 10 '14 at 17:35
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    I'm pretty sure the limited technology of the time included hooks... – Nate Eldredge Jan 12 '14 at 18:32

Henry Knox's diary of the expedition (pages 16 - 19) mentions a cannon falling through the ice, apparently from inadequate precautions having been taken, and that it was recovered. As no mention is made in the diary of how the recovery was performed, it is possible that no written record remains of the precise technique.

Myself, I would start by tying a slip knot and threading it over the back of the barrel and around the trunnions. Then use the oxen to pull it from the mud.

However, one must remember that every New Year's Day, all across the continent, Polar Bear Swims are engaged in by folk from the very young to the very old. If one has the means at hand to get warm again promptly, then unlike Eble's Sappers and Engineers at the Battle of Berezina, 1813, there is absolutely no need for the experience to be mortal. I myself, as a youth, swam in water colder than 4 Celsius for 60 seconds, with no ill effects (and 12 beer better off).

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They dove into the water. Presumably they set up a fire to warm them up afterwards.

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    Source? Citation? Details? – Mark C. Wallace Jan 10 '14 at 1:34
  • Once a cannon is totally submerged in water, the only way to get a pull rope attached is for someone to get wet. Ask the original poster for sources and citations about why this is impossible. – Oldcat Jan 10 '14 at 17:37
  • If this is so, then how did divers see without goggles or flashlights, particularly with only a minute's air per dive? – temporary_user_name Jan 10 '14 at 18:36
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    If the water was clear, you can see. If it was murky you would have to do it by touch. Regardless, I don't see it as impossible or even improbable. Divers have been working underwater since ancient times without modern technology. – Oldcat Jan 10 '14 at 19:23

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