Thomas Knowlton: Bunker Hill hero, father of Special Forces
The rag-tag precursor to the Continental Army that fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill for the Colonists can hardly be thought of as an elite Special Forces unit, but the father of today’s modern Army Special Forces cut his teeth right on Bunker Hill as one of the most effective leaders of that celebrated day.
Capt. Thomas Knowlton is a little known hero from the Battle of Bunker Hill who likely could have changed the course of the battle if he had been able to carry through with his plan of attack – but as spectacular as he was on Breed’s Hill June 17, 1775, he is better known as being the father of the elite Army G-2 Special Forces division.
He even appears on the modern shield of that military intelligence wing, though few know him.
Gene Procknow, a prodigious writer about the Revolutionary War and Bunker Hill who has spoken in Charlestown, said Knowlton would have likely become a great hero in the Revolution had he not been killed so early – dying while courageously attacking at the Battle of Harlem Heights in New York.
“People don’t know him very well, but very few people know of him because he died an untimely death during the Revolution in New York,” Procknow said. “He was known for being a very bold and aggressive commander and died at New York leading a very courageous charge. He typified the many great American military heroes who came to prominence without a lot of military training…He got his start on Bunker Hill and was one of the most effective leaders at Bunker Hill…His ability as a leader was cut short by his untimely death.”
Knowlton was born in West Boxford, MA, but grew up in Ashford, CT – having moved there with his family as a youngster. He had no military background, but was eager to join the Connecticut militia and served under Gen. Israel Putnam at Bunker Hill.
At Bunker Hill, Knowlton had about 200 men in his unit and he had big plans that many – including former Vice President Aaron Burr – believe could have resulted in victory had there been enough powder and reinforcements.
“At Bunker Hill, he fought very, very effectively and repelled the British when they came up the Hill,” said Procknow. “When the British were on the run, he wanted to counter attack by going around the British and coming up behind them to have them trapped. If he had more reinforcements and more men he would have cut behind from the water’s edge and surrounded them. It would have been a real trap for the British, but he didn’t have the forces to carry out that plan. Aaron Burr said if Knowlton had been in charge of the battle, there would have been a very different outcome at Bunker Hill. Everyone was working independently and there was no way to supply reinforcements or have a uniform battle plan. Those things came after Bunker Hill with the Continental Army.”
At Bunker Hill, Knowlton was an adjutant in the 2nd Connecticut Militia and later joined the Continental Army as an aid to Gen. George Washington. Many New England soldiers had a bad reputation with Washington – considered to lack training and discipline – but Knowlton was different in Washington’s eyes.
After the formation of the Continental Army, Washington asked Knowlton to lead up an elite intelligence gathering unit of the new army – to be his “eyes and ears” in the effort. He had other great men under him too, such as Nathan Hale.
That was 1776, and it dates as the formation of the first U.S. Army intelligence division, now known as G-2.
“Washington asked him to form the first special forces unit,” Procknow said. “He became the eyes and ears providing intelligence to Washington during the entire New York campaign. He is pictured on the shield of the G-2 army intelligence unit today. For them, he is considered the father of the U.S. Army intelligence service.”
As courageous as he was behind the scenes, he appeared to be even more courageous on the battlefield.
In those days, Procknow said, it must be known that generals didn’t lead the battle from the Pentagon or a far-flung headquarters. They were out front leading the men and in very dangerous positions. That was the case for Knowlton at the Battle of Harlem Heights, where he led his unit in a courageous charge at the enemy. There he sustained a fatal wound that cut his promising military career short, and really hit Washington hard.
“He attacked on unbelievable odds and he was killed,” said Procknow. “Washington really grieved his loss. It was a big deal for Washington and it was a big deal overall because at the time Washington had a very low opinion of New England soldiers. Knowlton stood out for that. He had a really great feel for combat, could manage a battle and kept a clear head despite the chaos.”
More than anything, Procknow said, Knowlton is a great example of why the British were surprised and impressed at Bunker Hill by the fighting acumen of what were really a bunch of untrained farmers. And on that day of June 17, they were going up against the Grenadiers – the mightiest soldiers the British could muster.
“Knowlton was one who had an unbelievably calm manner in the midst of attacks and battles,” he said. “That’s a situation that’s hard to imagine because he and others had no training…That’s one reason why the British were surprised by the effectiveness of the Americans. It was shocking in those times that these people were untrained military folks that could fight effectively against well-trained and well-led British forces.”
It must be remembered that the British lost more soldiers in the Battle of Bunker Hill than they did in any other Revolutionary battle.
Parade Committee gets it done quietly each and every Bunker Hill Parade
By Seth Daniel
The bands march by, the politicians wave, and the kids scurry for candy and super-heroes, but none of that is possible without the 51-week planning effort put in by a few dedicated souls from the Town year in and year out.
Led by Arthur Hurley, the Battle of Bunker Hill Parade Committee sets to work planning the Parade one week after the June spectacular unfolds, kicking the effort into high gear in the spring and coming in for a smooth landing in early June.
“A lot of people don’t realize the work that goes into this,” said Hurley. “Everyone likes to come watch the Parade and have fun, and that’s what we want, but they may not realize how much work it takes by only a few people to pull it all off.”
Hurley has been dedicated to the Parade effort for years and is also active in several other organizations, including the American Legion Post.
Some of those who have helped in a great way are Bob Gillen, Bill Durette (who coordinates the military vehicles), Daniel ‘Doc’ Sheehan, Roseanne Sheehan, Kathleen Noonan, Daniel Noonan, Joe Zuffante and Paul Morceau (who helps feed the military marchers after the Parade).
Hurley said on Parade day, one of the most important task for the Committee is lining people up.
One has to understand that a proper Parade isn’t just arranged first-come first serve. Hurley said the arrangement is done in a very meaningful way, such as spacing out bands and keeping the militia units together.
“One thing people don’t realize is the difficulty of getting it all together,” he said. “The Parade is lined up with a purpose. We get the militia re-enactors lined up together with the help of Tom Coots. We do that for effect. I like to have them together because they are much more impressive together. The way things are lined up makes for a better parade. You have to keep bands separated so they aren’t playing against one another.”
Those that are crucial in helping get the lineup coordinated are Sam Morris, Jack Duffy, Al Snow, Mike Kelliher, John Mangrum, Brandon Jackson, and Don Haska.
The Committee is also responsible for coordinating the ceremonies in Hayes Square to start the Parade, which includes a great singing of the ‘National Anthem,’ the musket salute and then what Hurley calls the ensuing “mayhem” as the Parade starts.
The Committee has tireless work to do, and though it isn’t always noticed, Hurley said the payoff is making sure the veterans, the military and the Battle of Bunker Hill is remembered in perpetuity.
“It’s about the Battle of Bunker Hill first and foremost,” he said. “We can’t forget that.”
Roster for the 2018 Bunker Hill Parade
This information is printed as an informational guide only.
The parade lineup is subject to change by the Parade Committee.
BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL PARADE
June 10 12:30 P.M.
Sponsored by Battle of Bunker Hill Parade Committee
Arthur L. Hurley, General Chairman
Under auspices of City of Boston
Honorable Martin J. Walsh, Mayor
Mayor’s Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment
Kenneth Brissette, Director
John J. Tkachuk
Adjutant: Arthur L. Hurley
Past Commander, J. W. Conway Bunker Hill Post 26,
The American Legion
Honorary Chief Marshals
Honorable Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston
Honorable Michael Capuano, Member of Congress
Honorable Maura Healey, Attorney-General of Massachusetts
Honorable Sal DiDomenico, Member, Massachusetts Senate
Honorable Daniel Ryan, Member, Massachusetts House of Representatives
Honorable Lydia Edwards, Boston City Council
Michael Creasey, Superintendent, Boston National Historical Park
Honorable Gerard Doherty
Honorable James Collins
Honorable Dennis Kearney
Honorable Richard A. Voke, Esq.
Honorable Eugene O’Flaherty, Esq.
Aides De Camp
John Thachuck, Gerry Tkachuck, Kevin Tkachuck, Jack Tkachuck, Alexis Tkachuck Mary Tkachuck, Madeline Tkachuck, Beth Tkachuck, Brady Tkachuck
Peter Tkachuck, Helen Lawler, Skylar F. Carpenter, Lois Gallagher, Thomas Dowd, Debra Hurley, John Flaherty, Ron Ridings
Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn,
Local 718 IAFF President Richard Paris
Ed Kelly, 3rd District IAFF
Rev. Daniel Mahoney, Pastor St. Francis DeSales Roman Catholic Church
Rev. Patrick F. Healy, O.F.M., Chaplain Post 26 A.L.
Rev. James J. Ronan, Pastor St. Mary and St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Parish
Rev. Erik Maloy, First Church In Charlestown, Assistant Chaplain Post 26 A.L.
Rev. Thomas N. Mousin, St. John’s Church
John J. Mangrum
Military Support Committee:
Cdr. Robert L. Gillen, USN, Ret., Chairman
Veterans Participation Committee
Dan Sheehan, P.C. Post 26, A.L.
Joseph Zuffante, GAR Post 11
Milton Lashus, Post 26, A.L.
Colonial Militia Committee
Tom Coots, Chairman
Community Fund Raising Committee
Daniel “Doc” Sheehan
Hon. Daniel Conley, District Attorney of Suffolk County
John P. Comer, PNC, A.L.
Maurice “Mon” O’Shea, P.P., BHCC
Commissioner William B. Evans, BPD
Commissioner Joseph E. Finn , BFD
Commissioner Giselle Sterling, Boston Veteran Services
Secretary Francisco Urena, Massachusettes Veteran Services
John A. Whelan
Raymond C. O’Brien, PDC, VFW
Formation of Parade
Boston Fire Department
Air Supply Unit
Fire Alarm Bucket Truck
Chief Marshal’s Element
Chief Marshal John J. Tkachuk
Battle of Bunker Hill Parade Committee Staff
Chief Marshal’s Aids De Camp
Chief Marshal’s Family’s Trolley
Patriots Brass Ensemble
Martin J. Walsh
Mayor of Boston
The National Lancers
Mounted Militia Calvary
Honorary Chief Marshal
Congressman Michael Capuano
Formation Area: Navy Yard adjacent to U.S.S. Constitution
Saint Alfio’s Band
Sponsored by Congressman Michael Capuano
U.S. Army Color Guard
U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard
U.S.S. Constitution Color Guard and Marchers
U.S.S Constitution Model
U.S. Navy Silver Dolphins Color Guard and Drill Team
U.S. Navy Submarine Force Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
USS Submarine Model
U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard
U.S. Coast Guard Float
Northeast Italian Band
Junior Reserve Officers Candidates Corps Of Cadets
JROTC Joint Service Color Guard
Composed of JROTC Awards Of Excellence recipients
U.S. Army JROTC
East Boston High School
Community Academy of Science and Health
South Boston Excell High School
U.S. Navy JROTC
J.D. O’Bryant High School
Massachusetts National Guard
Honorary Chief Marshall
Representative Daniel Ryan
North End Marching Band
Sponsored by Representative Dan Ryan
Formation Area: Navy Yard
J.W. Conway Bunker Hill Post 26
Al Snow, Commander
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Disabled American Veterans
Abraham Lincoln Post 11 GAR
Ipods for Wounded Veterans
Chelsea Soldiers Home Honor Guard and Vehicles
USS Cassin Young Association
USS Constitution Crew Family Members
Cassin Young Volunteers
Paralyzed Veterans Of America
New England Chapter
The Grand Republic Fife & Drum Corps
Boston National Historical Park
Superintendant Michael Creasey
BNHP Ranger Color Guard
Honorary Chief Marshall
Attorney General Maura Healey
First Responders Element
Formation Area: Chelsea Street(between Vine and Medford Sts.)
New Hampshire Police Association
Pipes and Drums
Boston Police Department
Boston Fire Department
Boston Emergency Medical Services
Honor Guard and Vehicles
National Park Service Police Department
AMTRAK Police Department
Transit Police Department
Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department
Brian Boru Pipe Band
Everett Police Department
Everett Fire Department
Malden Police Honor Guard
Sutherland Pipe Band
Methuen Police Department
Cruiser Of Hope
Somerville Police Department
Somerville Fire Department
The New Liberty Jazz Band
Bunker Hill Community College Police Department
Suffolk University Police Department
Massachusetts General Hospital
Honorary Chief Marshall
American Military History Element
Formation Area: Militia on Tufts Street
Middlesex County Volunteers Fife & Drum Corps
Sponsored by The Flatley Company
Charlestown Militia Company
Sponsored by The Cooperative Bank
Westbrook Fife & Drum Corps
Watertown Provincial Guard
William Diamond Fife & Drum Corps
The Stow Minutemen
Concord Minute Men
His Majesty’s First Regiment Of Foot Guards
Fifth Massachusetts Battery
20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
Worcester Sound & Lights
Military Band Organ
Governor Charlie Baker & Lt. Governor Karyn Pollito
Historic Military Vehicles Form on Bridge Side of Chelsea Street between Vine Street and Medford Street
World War II 1st Infantry Division
World War II Re-enactors
World War II Jeep
World War II 1 st Infantry Division Jeep
World War II Jeep
World War II Dukw Amphibious Truck
World War II Scout Halftrack
World War II Quad 50 Halftrack
Vietnam 2 ½ Ton Truck
Iraq War British Scorpion Reconnaissance Tank
Iraq and Afghanistan Re-enactors
World War II Weapons Carrier
Honorary Chief Marshal
Boston City Councilor
Sponsored by City Councilor Lydia Edwards
Boston City Councilor
Candidate for Congress
Formation Area: Lower Bunker Hill Street (between Vine Street and Lowney Way)
Charlestown’s Graduating Seniors
“Follow Us To College”
Charlestown Mother’s Association
Boston City Councilor at Large
Candidate for Suffolk County District Attorney
Massachusetts Multiple District 33 Lions Clubs
Charlestown Lions 33 K Club
Lions Eyemobile 33N Club Woburn
Abington Lions 33 S Club
Dan D Lion
Boston Chinatown Lions 33 K
The Goulding School of Irish Step Dancing
Candidate for Suffolk County District Attorney
Merrimac Valley Concert Band
Candidate for State Auditor
New Health Charlestown
Marchers and Vehicle
DM Productions Presents:
Playing Your Favorite Patriotic Songs
Candidate For U.S. Senate
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
Charlestown High School
Candidate For Suffolk County District Attorney
Waltham American Legion Trolley Band
John F. Kennedy Family Service Center
Tony Barrie Band
MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center
New Magnolia Jazz Band
US United Lifetime Queen
Formation Area: Hunter Street
Mayor Thomas Hannan
Hannan’s Island, Massachusetts
7th Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps
The Amazing Hinky
Bay Colony Ghostbusters
Aleppo Shriners Cape Cod
Big Apple Circus Clown
The Cycling Murrays
Green Power Ranger
Spartans Drum & Bugle Corps
Bunker Hill Associates continue events this week
The Bunker Hill Associates are going continuing the torrid pace of Charlestown Pride Week for the remainder of the week, with several events still on the slate.
- On Thursday, at 2 p.m., the Zelma Lacey House will host an ice cream social. •Then, at 7 p.m., the Peter Looney Concert sponsored by the Associates and Mayor Martin Walsh will take place. This year, President Kim Mahoney has helped to combine it with the Chief Marshal’s Block Party that took place last year. So, it will be a family night with the concert and Chief Marshal Jack Tkachuk contributing to the family fun. The Associates will also be bringing back traditional Irish music and Irish step-dancing.
There will also be face painting, free ice cream by the Boston Police, free pizza, balloons and other treats – much of which is provided by Chief Marshal Tkachuk.
- On Friday, there will be the Bunker Hill Flag raising outside City Hall at noon on Congress Street.
- The Veterans Square dedications in conjunction with the Abraham Lincoln Post and the American Legion Post are slated for 4 p.m. This year, as part of the week’s activities on Friday, they will dedicate hero squares to Gene Doe at the corner of N. Mead Street and Bunker Hill Street, and Jack Kelly Sr. will be honored at Grant Court and N. Mead Street.
Doe served in both the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam war, completing 468 parachute jumps during his career. He served three tours in Vietnam and was wounded 10 times. Kelly Sr. was a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and is an ex-POW.
- The Chief Marshal’s Night Before Banquet will take place at 7 p.m. in the Knights of Columbus.
- Saturday, June 9, will feature the Edna Kelly’s Doll Carriage Parade at the Eden Street Park, 10 a.m. – one of the oldest and most cherished events of the week. •The Business Association Street Fair at the Bunker Hill Mall will start at 9 a.m. and run most of the day.
- At 6 p.m., the Concert on the Monument will take place.
- Sunday, of course, is the big day and the final event for the Associates, when they kick off their breakfast at 8:30 a.m. in the Knights of Columbus Hall. There, Lt. Col. (Ret.) John Collier will speak and share his amazing story.
- The Boys & Girls Club Bunker Hill 5K will start at the organization’s High Street building at 10:30 a.m. Runner can register at BGCB.org or at the Club.
- And certainly not to be forgotten is the reason for all the week of fun – the Battle of Bunker Hill Day Parade, which kicks off from Hayes Square at 12:30 p.m. and is organized by the Battle of Bunker Hill Parade Committee.
USS Constitution to be closed on June 9
USS Constitution will be closed 1 pm – 4 pm Saturday June 9 due to a private crew event and will re-open following the ceremony.
All Constitution visitors are encouraged to view artifacts from ‘Old Ironsides’ and experience numerous interactive galleries at the USS Constitution Museum, located next to ‘Old Ironsides’ in the Charlestown Navy Yard.
While USS Constitution is closed, the World War II-era destroyer USS Cassin Young (DD 793) will be open for tours 10:00am – 4:30pm. The ranger-staffed NPS Visitor Center, featuring an introductory film on the history of the Navy Yard and “Serving the Naval Fleet” exhibition, is open daily 9:00am – 5:00pm.
Constitution will resume its normal hours on Sunday June 11, 10 am – 6 pm.
Constitution, America’s Ship of State, actively defended sea lanes against global threats from 1797-1855. The World’s Oldest Commissioned Warship Afloat, Constitution embodies 220 years of maritime heritage and unwavering service to her country. Now a featured destination on Boston’s Freedom Trail, Constitution and her crew of active duty U.S. Navy Sailors offer community outreach and education about the ship’s history and the importance of naval sea power to more than 500,000 visitors each year. Constitution is berthed at Pier One in Charlestown Navy Yard.
For more information, visit www.history.navy.mil/ussconstitution or www.facebook.com/ussconstitutionofficial.