Nathanael Greene

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This article is about the American Revolutionary War general. For other people with a similar name, see Nathaniel Greene (disambiguation).
Nathanael Greene
Greene portrait.jpg
A 1783 Charles Willson Peale portrait of Greene
Nickname(s) "The Savior of the South"
"The Fighting Quaker"
Born August 7 [O.S. July 27] 1742
Potowomut, Warwick
Rhode Island, British America
Died June 19, 1786(1786-06-19) (aged 43)
Mulberry Grove Plantation
Chatham County, Georgia, U.S.
Buried at Johnson Square
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Continental Army
Years of service 1775–1783
Rank Army-USA-OF-07.svg Major General
Battles/wars

American Revolutionary War

Spouse(s) Catherine Littlefield Greene (wife)
Signature Nathaniel Greene Signature.svg

Nathanael Greene (August 7 [O.S. July 27] 1742 – June 19, 1786, frequently misspelled Nathaniel) was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, known for his successful command in the Southern Campaign, forcing British general Charles Cornwallis to abandon the Carolinas and head for Virginia. When the war began, Greene was a militia private, the lowest rank possible; he emerged from the war with a reputation as George Washington's most gifted and dependable officer. Many places in the United States are named for him. Greene suffered financial difficulties in the post-war years and died suddenly of sunstroke in 1786.

Before the American Revolutionary war[edit]

Nathanael was the son of Nathanael Greene (4 Nov 1707– Oct 1768), a Quaker farmer and smith, and he was the great great grandson of John Greene and Samuel Gorton, both of whom were founding settlers of Warwick, Rhode Island.[1] Nathanael was born on Forge Farm at Potowomut in the township of Warwick, Rhode Island, on August 7, 1742 new style. His mother, Mary Motte, was his father's second wife. Though his father's sect discouraged "literary accomplishments," Greene educated himself, with a special study of mathematics and law. The Rev. Ezra Stiles, later president of Yale University, was a strong influence in the young Nathanael's life.

In 1770, Greene moved to Coventry, Rhode Island, to take charge of the family-owned forge (foundry), just prior to his father's death. There, he was the first to urge the establishment of a public school and in the same year he was chosen as a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly, to which he was re-elected in 1771, 1772 and 1775. It is debatable that he was a member of the General Assembly since there is no mention of his participation in his personal papers and because there were several of his contemporaries with the same name from Rhode Island. He sympathized strongly with the "Whig," or Patriot, element among the colonists.

Marriage[edit]

In 1774, he married Catharine Littlefield Greene, also known as "Caty," of Rhode Island. They had 6 children.

Militia[edit]

In August 1774, Greene helped organize a local militia which was chartered as the Kentish Guards that October. His participation in the group was challenged because he had a pronounced limp. At this time he began to acquire many expensive volumes on military tactics and began to teach himself the art of war. In December 1774, he was on a committee appointed by the assembly to revise the militia laws. His zeal in fighting the British and organizing the militia led to his expulsion from the pacifistic Quakers.[2]

Early years of the war[edit]

Boston[edit]

Main article: Siege of Boston

On May 8, 1775, he was promoted from private to Major General of the Rhode Island Army of Observation formed in response to the siege of Boston. He was appointed a brigadier of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress on June 22, 1775. Washington assigned Greene the command of the city of Boston after it was evacuated by the British in March 1776. Letters of October 1775 and January 1776 to Samuel Ward, then a delegate from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress, favored a declaration of independence.

New York[edit]

On August 9, 1776, he was promoted to be one of the four new major generals and was put in command of the Continental Army troops on Long Island; he chose the place for fortifications, and supervised the construction of redoubts and entrenchments (the site of current day Fort Greene Park) east of Brooklyn Heights. Severe illness prevented him from taking part in the Battle of Long Island. Greene was also a Rhode Island Freemason and bore a masonic jewel, the gift of his Masonic Brother the Marquis de Lafayette, on his person throughout the whole of the revolution.

Greene was prominent among those who advised a retreat from New York City. He also advocated the burning of the city so that the British might not use it. He justified this by asserting that the majority of property was owned by Loyalists. While Washington agreed with this, the proposal was rejected by Congress.[3] He was placed in command of Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. On October 25, 1776, he succeeded General Israel Putnam in command of Fort Washington, across the river from Fort Lee. He received orders from Washington to defend Fort Washington to the last extremity, and on October 11, 1776, the Congress passed a resolution to the same effect; but later Washington wrote to him to use his own discretion. Greene ordered Colonel Magaw, who was in immediate command, to defend the place until he should hear from him again, and reinforced it to meet General Howe's attack. Nevertheless, the blame for the losses of Forts Washington and Lee was put upon Greene, but apparently without him losing the confidence of Washington, who himself assumed the responsibility.

At the Battle of Trenton, Greene commanded one of the two American columns. After the victory there, he urged Washington to push on immediately to Princeton, but was overruled by a council of war.

Philadelphia[edit]

Main article: Philadelphia Campaign

At the Battle of Brandywine, Greene commanded the reserve. At Germantown, Greene's command, having a greater distance to march than the right wing under Sullivan, failed to arrive in good time: a failure which Greene himself thought would cost him Washington's trust. But when they arrived at length, Greene and his troops distinguished themselves.

At the urgent request of Washington on March 2, 1778, at Valley Forge, he accepted the office of Quartermaster General. His conduct in this difficult office, of which Washington heartily approved, was said to be "as good as was possible under the circumstances of that fluctuating uncertain force." However, he had become Quartermaster General on the understanding that he should retain the right to command troops in the field. Thus we find him at the head of the right wing at Monmouth on June 28, 1778.

Rhode Island[edit]

In August, Greene and Lafayette commanded the land forces sent to Rhode Island to co-operate with the French admiral d'Estaing, in an expedition (the Battle of Rhode Island) which proved unsuccessful. In June 1780, Greene was in command at the Battle of Springfield. In August, he resigned the office of Quartermaster General after a long and bitter struggle with Congress over the interference in army administration by the Treasury Board and by commissions appointed by Congress. Greene had vehemently argued with Congress over how to supply the Continental Army. Congress was in favor of having the individual states provide equipment, which had already proven to be ineffective since the federal government held little to no power over the states. A month before Washington appointed him commander of West Point, it fell to Greene to preside over the court which, on September 29, 1780, condemned Major John André to death. Greene wintered at the Tillinghast house, an important Newport merchant, 1780-1781, located on Mill St. in Newport, Rhode Island.

Command in the South[edit]

Washington & Nathanael Greene

The Congress had been unfortunate in the selection of commanders in the South. It had chosen Robert Howe, and he had lost Savannah. It had chosen Benjamin Lincoln, and he had lost Charleston. In the summer of 1780, near Camden, South Carolina, on August 16, the British attacked Horatio Gates' army, which broke and ran in wild confusion. This defeat effectively ended the American Southern Army as a cohesive fighting force. It left the way clear for Cornwallis to pursue his goals of gathering southern Loyalists and taking the war to Virginia. He planned then to use his southern ports to move men and material into the interior of North and South Carolina.

When Gates' successor was to be chosen the Congress decided to entrust the choice to Washington. On October 5 it resolved "that the Commander-in-Chief be and is hereby directed to appoint an officer to command the southern army, in the room of Major General Gates." Washington delayed not at all in making his selection. On the day after he received a copy of the resolution, he wrote to Nathanael Greene at West Point, "It is my wish to appoint You." The Congress approved the appointment, gave Greene command over all troops from Delaware to Georgia with extraordinarily full powers, "subject to the control of the Commander-in-Chief"; effectively becoming the second-in-command of the entire Continental Army. Greene took command at Charlotte, North Carolina on December 2. Brig. Gen. Isaac Huger of the South Carolina Continentals was appointed his second in command. He was one of the dependable leaders in the state.

The strategic retreat[edit]

The army was weak and badly equipped and was opposed by a superior force under Cornwallis. Greene decided to divide his own troops, thus forcing the division of the British as well, and creating the possibility of a strategic interplay of forces. Starting with the success at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 under then Colonel William Campbell (he would later be appointed as a Brigadier General in 1781) the campaign changed. The entire British force was captured or killed (100% of all opposing forces). A new strategy led to General Daniel Morgan's victory of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, where nearly nine-tenths of the entire British force were killed or captured. Many of the same forces who were at King's Mountain also came to Cowpens.

With over 800 prisoners, Morgan began a strategic retreat, moving north towards the Salisbury District where he was joined by Greene at Cowan's Ford on the Catawba River where a force of Patriot Militia fought a small engagement against Cornwallis's forces. Greene then wrote to Huger to direct his troop movement from Guilford Courthouse. Arriving on February 9 at Guilford, Greene summoned his field officers to a council of war of his chief officers and put forward the question of whether the army should give battle. It was voted that for the time being, the army should continue retreating to gather more forces, and defer engagement with Cornwallis. On the tenth he wrote to Patrick Henry requesting troops, "If it is possible for you to call forth fifteen hundred Volunteers & march them immediately to my assistance, the British Army will be exposed to a very critical and dangerous situation."

"In all probability you will find me on the North side of Dan River. I must repeat it, the present moment is big with the most important consequences, & requires the greatest & most spirited exertions."

The race to the Dan River[edit]

The Council of War letter (this copy made contemporaneously with original) that Greene sent of the proceedings to Samuel Huntington, the president of Congress. Written at Guilford Court House on February 9. 1781. This is a scan of the photograph from the National Archives.

Greene at this same time formed a special light corps to be commanded by Col. Otho Williams to cover the main army’s retreat. In a letter to George Washington on February 9, he described the "light army" he had formed under Williams as composed of: "cavalry of the 1st and 3rd Regiments and the Legion amounting to 240, a detachment of 280 Infantry under Lieut. Col. Howard, the Infantry of Lieut. Col. Lee's Legion and 60 Virginia Riflemen making in their whole 700 men which will be ordered with the Militia to harass the enemy in their advance, check their progress and if possible give us opportunity to retire without general action." Also saying "I called a Council, who unanimously advised to avoid an action, and to retire beyond the Roanoke immediately. A copy of the proceedings I have the honor to inclose." The re-united army only numbered two thousand and thirty-six men, including fourteen hundred and twenty-six regulars. Col. Edward Carrington joined the command, with the report that boats had been secured, and secreted along the Dan River in Virginia, so as to be collected on a few hours' warning. The British army was at Salem, only twenty-five miles from Guilford. This was on the tenth of February.

By the fourteenth, Greene's army had outrun the British and crossed the Dan River at Irvine's ferry in Halifax County, Virginia with boats being delivered from Boyd's ferry in Halifax and from Dix's ferry in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Cornwallis got the news in the course of the evening. The river was too high to cross without boats, and every boat was on the farther shore. Greene had won the race.

"This American retreat, which extended across the breadth of North Carolina, is considered one of the masterful military achievements of all time." Dennis M. Conrad, Project Director and Editor, The Papers of General Nathanael Greene

In a letter to General John Butler, Greene writes "I have some expectation of collecting a force sufficient in this County to enable me to act offensively and in turn race Lord Cornwallis as he has done me."

Battle of Guilford Court House[edit]

Monument to General Nathanael Greene, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

After only a week's encampment at Halifax Court House, Greene had sufficient promises and reports of help on the way to recross the river. Greene and the main army re-crossed the Dan River into North Carolina on the 22nd. Greene then pursued Cornwallis and gave battle on March 15, 1781, at the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina, on ground he had himself chosen. Greene's army engaged Cornwallis's Army. At the height of the battle as the Continentals started to turn the British flank Cornwallis ordered his artillery to fire grapeshot into the thick of the battle killing as many of his own men as Greene's. Greene ordered his army to execute a tactical retreat and left the field to Cornwallis, but inflicted a great loss of men to Cornwallis. Three days after this battle, with his army battered and exhausted, Cornwallis withdrew toward Wilmington, North Carolina. Greene's generalship and judgment were again conspicuously illustrated in the next few weeks, in which he allowed Cornwallis to march north to Virginia and himself turned swiftly to the reconquest of the inner country of South Carolina. This he achieved by the end of June, in spite of a reverse sustained at Francis Rawdon's hands at Hobkirk's Hill (2 miles north of Camden) on April 25. From May 22 – June 19, 1781 Greene led the Siege of Ninety-Six, which ended unsuccessfully. These actions helped force the British to the coast.

Greene then gave his forces a six weeks rest on the High Hills of the Santee River, and on September 8, with 2,600 men, engaged the British under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart at Eutaw Springs. Americans who fell in this battle were immortalized by American author Philip Freneau in his 1781 poem "To the Memory of Brave Americans." The battle, although tactically a draw, so weakened the British that they withdrew to Charleston, where Greene penned them during the remaining months of the war.

Greene's Southern Campaign showed remarkable strategic features. He excelled in dividing, eluding and tiring his opponent by long marches, and in actual conflict forcing the British to pay heavily for a temporary advantage, a price that they could not afford. However, he was defeated in every pitched battle he fought against the British during his time as southern commander. He was greatly assisted by able subordinates, including the Polish engineer Tadeusz Kościuszko, the brilliant cavalry officers Henry ("Light-Horse Harry") Lee and William Washington, and the partisan leaders Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Elijah Clarke, and Francis Marion. In the end Greene and his forces liberated the southern states from British control. When the Treaty of Paris ended the war, British forces controlled a couple of southern coastal cities, but Greene controlled the rest.

Post-war activities[edit]

Greene was an original member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati and served as the Society's president from its founding in 1783 until his death.

North and South Carolina and Georgia voted Greene liberal grants of lands and money, including an estate, "Boone's Barony," south of Edisto in Bamberg County. This he sold to meet bills for the rations of his Southern army. After twice refusing the post of Secretary of War, Greene settled in 1785 on his Georgia estate, "Mulberry Grove", in Chatham County 14 miles above Savannah. He died at 43 years old on the estate on June 19, 1786, of sunstroke.

Greene was singularly able and, like other prominent generals on the American side, a self-trained soldier. He was second only to Washington among the officers of the American army in military ability, and the only general, other than Washington and Henry Knox, to serve the entire eight years of the war. Like Washington, he had the great gift of using small means to the utmost advantage. His attitude towards the British was humane and even kindly: he even generously defended Gates, who had repeatedly intrigued against him, when Gates's conduct of the campaign in the South was criticized.

Quotations[edit]

  • "I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom or sell my life in the attempt."[4]
  • "It had been happy for me if I could have lived a private life in peace and plenty, enjoying all the happiness that results from a well-tempered society founded on mutual esteem. But the injury done my country, and the chains of slavery forging for all posterity, calls me forth to defend our common rights, and repel the bold invaders of the sons of freedom." Nathanael Greene to his wife, Catharine Littlefield Greene.
  • "We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again."
  • "Learning is not virtue but the means to bring us an acquaintance with it. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Let these be your motives to action through life, the relief of the distressed, the detection of frauds, the defeat of oppression, and diffusion of happiness."
  • "Permit me then to recommend from the sincerity of my heart, ready at all times to bleed in my country's cause, a Declaration of Independence, and call upon the world and the Great God who governs it to witness the necessity, propriety and rectitude thereof."
  • "We are soldiers who devote ourselves to arms not for the invasion of other countries, but for the defense of our own, not for the gratification of our private interests but for public security"
  • "I hope this is the dark part of the night which is generally just before day."
  • "I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price we did Bunker Hill."

Memorials[edit]

Greene's grave in Johnson Square, Savannah, Georgia

There are countless cities, counties, and parks named in honor of Nathanael Greene across America. In addition, there have been four Coast Guard revenue cutters named for him. There was also the Navy's USS Nathanael Greene, a James Madison-class nuclear submarine (decommissioned in 1986). Other vessels include an Army cargo ship, hull number 313 (1904), Liberty class steam merchant (1942), which was sunk by a U-boat during World War II, and a 128-foot Army tug, USAV MG Nathanael Greene (LT 801), which is still in service today.

A large bronze statue of Nathanael Greene stands on a marble pedestal by the steps of the Rhode Island State House. A large oil portrait of Nathanael Greene hangs in the State Room in the Rhode Island State House.

A monument (under which his remains are interred) to Greene stands in Johnson Square in Savannah (1829). His statue, with that of Roger Williams, represents the state of Rhode Island in the National Hall of Statuary in the Capitol at Washington; in the same city there is a bronze equestrian statue of him by Henry Kirke Brown at the center of Stanton Park. A small statue of Greene by Lewis Iselin, Jr. is part of the Terrace of Heroes outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He is also memorialized by an equestrian statue designed by Francis H. Packard at the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse near what is now Greensboro, North Carolina, the city named after him. Another statue stands in the middle of the traffic circle between Greene Street and McGee Street in downtown Greensboro.[5] Greeneville, Tennessee is also named after him. In 2006, the city of Greenville, South Carolina, also named for him, unveiled a statue of Greene designed by T. J. Dixon and James Nelson at the corner of South Main and Broad Streets.

In 2000, a six-foot tall, bronze statue of Greene by sculptor Chas Fagan was unveiled in St. Clair Park, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ *Austin, John Osborne (1887). Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. pp. 88,302,344. ISBN 978-0-8063-0006-1. 
  2. ^ John Milsop (2004). Continental Infantryman of the American Revolution. Osprey Publishing. p. 11. 
  3. ^ Golway p.92-93
  4. ^ William C. Kashatus, Conflict of conviction: a reappraisal of Quaker involvement in the American Revolution (1990), p. 45.
  5. ^ Statue of Nathanael Greene in Downtown Greensboro. Greensboro Daily Photo (February 19, 2009). Retrieved on July 23, 2013.

References[edit]

Primary sources
Vol. I: December 1766 to December 1776. ISBN 0-8078-1285-4.
Vol. II: January 1777 to October 16, 1778. ISBN 0-8078-1384-2
Vol. III: October 18, 1778 to May 10, 1779. ISBN 0-8078-1557-8.
Vol. IV: May 11, 1779 to October 31, 1779. ISBN 0-8078-1668-X.
Vol. V: November 1, 1779 to May 31, 1780. ISBN 0-8078-1817-8.
Vol. VI: June 1, 1780 to December 25, 1780. ISBN 0-8078-1993-X.
Vol. VII: December 26, 1780 to March 29, 1781. ISBN 0-8078-2094-6.
Vol. VIII: March 30, 1781 to July 10, 1781. ISBN 0-8078-2212-4.
Vol. IX: July 11, 1781 to December 2, 1781. ISBN 0-8078-2310-4.
Vol. X: December 3, 1781 to April 6, 1782. ISBN 0-8078-2419-4.
Vol. XI: April 7, 1782 to September 30, 1782. ISBN 0-8078-2551-4.
Vol. XII: 1 October 1782 1783 to May 21, 1783. ISBN 0-8078-2713-4.
Vol. XIII: May 22, 1783 to June 13, 1786. ISBN 0-8078-2943-9.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Stephen Moylan
Quartermaster General of the United States Army
1778 - 1780
Succeeded by
Timothy Pickering