Neither his round figure nor his credentials as a Boston bookseller seemed to indicate Henry Knox's talent for soldiering. But Knox had had an interest in things military ever since adolescence, and during the Revolution he proved to be one of George Washington's most trusted and resourceful generals. The success of his hazardous attempt, in late 1775, to transport captured British field guns from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston for use against the English forces there earned him the title "father of the American Army artillery." Following the peace with Britain, Knox added further to his distinction by becoming this country's secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation--a post that he continued to hold during Washington's presidency.
The orphaned nephew of artist Charles Willson Peale, Charles Peale Polk acquired his painter's skills largely by copying the works of his uncle. Among the replicas he made was this portrait of Knox--the original of which has disappeared. In the likeness, Knox wears the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization composed of officers in the Continental army which he helped to form following the Revolution.