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A 1783 Charles Willson Peale portrait of Greene
"The Savior of the South"|
"The Fighting Quaker"
August 7 [O.S. July 27] 1742|
Rhode Island, British America
June 19, 1786 (aged 43)|
Mulberry Grove Plantation
Chatham County, Georgia, U.S.
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Years of service||1775–1783|
Nathanael Greene (August 7 [O.S. July 27] 1742 – June 19, 1786, sometimes misspelled Nathaniel) was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). He emerged from the war with a reputation as commanding General George Washington's most gifted and dependable officer, and is known for his successful command in the Southern theater of the war.
Born in Warwick, Rhode Island, Greene was elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly and ran his family's foundry. He came to oppose British rule in Rhode Island and formed a militia in 1774. The Second Continental Congress appointed Greene to the rank of brigadier general in the Continental Army in 1775, and promoted Greene to major general in 1776. He served as Washington's subordinate in the New York and New Jersey campaign and the Philadelphia campaign, and was the Continental Army's Quartermaster General from 1778 to 1780.
In December 1780, Greene was appointed to command the Continental Army in the southern theater of the Revolutionary War, replacing General Horatio Gates. He engaged in a successful campaign to harass the British forces under General Charles Cornwallis, limiting British control of the South to the coastal areas. After the war, he declined appointment as Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union central government and received land grants from the several Southern states. He died at age 43 at his Mulberry Grove Plantation in Chatham County, Georgia in 1786. Many places in the United States are named after Greene.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Personal life
- 3 Career
- 4 Later life and death
- 5 Legacy
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early life and education
Greene was the son of Nathanael Greene (4 November 1707 – October 1768), a Quaker farmer and smith, and he was descended from John Greene, Sr. and Samuel Gorton, both of whom were founding settlers of Warwick, Rhode Island. Nathanael was born on Forge Farm at Potowomut in the township of Warwick, Rhode Island on August 7, 1742 [N.S.]. His mother Mary Mott was his father's second wife. His father's sect discouraged "literary accomplishments," so 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 foundry, just prior to his father's death. There he was the first to urge the establishment of a public school and was chosen as a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly in the same year, to which he was re-elected in 1771, 1772, and 1775. He sympathized strongly with the Whig or Patriot element among the colonists.
In July 1774, he married Catharine Littlefield, also known as Caty or Kitty, who was a dozen or so years younger than he. They had six children who survived infancy. He was Quaker by birth, and struggled to reconcile the faith's commitment to pacifism throughout his military career. He continued to serve despite this, as did many other Quakers in the American Revolution.
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.
American War of Independence
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. George Washington assigned Greene the command of the city of Boston after it was evacuated by the British in March 1776.
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. He was placed in command of Fort Constitution (later renamed 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 Constitution. 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 Constitution was put upon Greene, but apparently without his losing the confidence of Washington, who himself assumed the responsibility.
At the Battle of Brandywine, Greene commanded the reserve. At Germantown, Greene's command failed to arrive in good time, having a greater distance to march than the right wing under Sullivan – 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, he became head of the right wing at Monmouth on June 28, 1778.
In August, Greene and Lafayette commanded the land forces sent to Rhode Island to co-operate with 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 condemned Major John André to death on September 29, 1780. Greene spent the winter of 1780-81 at the house of John Tillinghast, an important Newport merchant.
Command in the South
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. The British attacked Horatio Gates' army in the Battle of Camden, South Carolina on August 16, 1780, 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 captured Southern ports to move men and materiel into the interior of North and South Carolina.
When Gates' successor was to be chosen, the Congress decided to entrust the choice to General 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 making him the second-in-command of the entire Continental Army. Greene took command at Hillsborough, North Carolina, on December 3, 1780. 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
The American 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. The campaign changed, starting with the success at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 under Colonel William Campbell (he was later appointed as a Brigadier General in 1781). The entire British force was captured or killed. 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 Kings 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 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
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 reunited 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
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, then pursued Cornwallis and gave battle on March 15, 1781, at the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina, on ground which he had 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 the British. 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 pinned them down 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 which he fought against the British during his time as southern commander. He was greatly assisted by able subordinates, including Polish engineer Tadeusz Kościuszko, brilliant cavalry officers Henry ("Light-Horse Harry") Lee and William Washington, and 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.
Later life and death
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 in 1786. He was succeeded by his son George Washington Greene, his grandson Dr. Nathanael Greene (who served as president of the Rhode Island Society) and then by his great great grandson George Washington Greene Carpenter.
North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia all voted Greene liberal grants of lands and money, including an estate called "Boone's Barony" which was south of Edisto in Bamberg County, South Carolina, and Mulberry Grove Plantation near Savannah, Georgia. He sold Boone's Barony to pay 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 at Mulberry Grove. He died there at age 43, on June 19, 1786. For 114 years his remains were interred at The Graham Vault in Colonial Park Cemetery of Savannah, alongside John Maitland, his arch-rival in the conflict. On November 14, 1902, through the efforts of Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati President Asa Bird Gardiner, his remains were moved to a monument in Johnson Square in Savannah.
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 Horatio Gates, who had repeatedly intrigued against him, when Gates' conduct of the campaign in the South was criticized.
There are many cities, counties, and parks named in honor of Nathanael Greene across America.
Four Coast Guard revenue cutters named for him.
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 oil portrait of Nathanael Greene hangs in the State Room in the Rhode Island State House, and a statue stands outside the building's south facade.
His statue, with that of Roger Williams, represents the state of Rhode Island in the National Hall of Statuary in the Capitol in 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.
Another statue stands in the middle of the traffic circle between Greene Street and McGee Street in downtown Greensboro.
Greeneville, Tennessee and Greene County, Tennessee are 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.
On August 7, 2015, his 273rd birthday, the General Society of the Sons of the Revolution dedicated a statue to General Greene on the Washington Memorial Chapel grounds located in Valley Forge National Military Park, Pennsylvania.
- *Austin, John Osborne (1887). Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. pp. 88, 302, 344. ISBN 978-0-8063-0006-1.
- John Milsop (2004). Continental Infantryman of the American Revolution. Osprey Publishing. p. 11.
- Golway pp. 92–93
- The Papers of General Nathanael Greene[permanent dead link]
- Siry, Steven E. (2006). Greene : Revolutionary General. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 86. ISBN 9781574889123. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
- "Hungry for History? Savannah Square by Square" - YouTube, May 16, 2016]
- Nathanael Greene at Find a Grave
- Nathanael Greene at Find a Grave
- Golway pp. 285
- Nathanael Greene at Find a Grave
- Statue of Nathanael Greene in Downtown Greensboro. Greensboro Daily Photo (February 19, 2009). Retrieved on July 23, 2013.
- Francis Vinton Greene, "Life of Nathanael Greene, Major-General in the Army of the Revolution". (New York, 1893), in the Great Commanders Series
- Golway, Terry. Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. New York: Holt, 2005. ISBN 0-8050-7066-4.
- Greene, George W. The Life of Nathanael Greene, Major-General in the Army of the Revolution. 3 vols. New York: Putnam, 1867–1871. Reprinted Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972. ISBN 0-8369-6910-3.
- McCullough, David. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2671-2.
- Haw, James, "Every Thing Here Depends upon Opinion: Nathanael Greene and Public Support in the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution," South Carolina Historical Magazine, 109 (July 2008), 212–31.
- Johnson, William, "Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene", (1822)
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Greene, Nathanael". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Price, Charles F. Nor the Battle to the Strong: A Novel of the American Revolution in the South. Savannah: Frederic C. Beil, 2008. ISBN 1-929490-33-X.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
- Siry, Steven E. Greene : Revolutionary General. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006. ISBN 9781574889123.
- Ward, Christopher. War of the Revolution 2 Volumes. New York 1952
- 'Primary sources'
- The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. University of North Carolina Press:
- 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 to May 21, 1783. ISBN 0-8078-2713-4.
- Vol. XIII: May 22, 1783 to June 13, 1786. ISBN 0-8078-2943-9.
- Biography of Greene
- A letter from Nathanael Greene with his acceptance of command over the Southern Army from the Papers of the Continental Congress
- Stanton Park at the National Park Service Web site (Greene statue in the background)
- Historic Valley Forge biography
- American Revolution homepage
- Army Quartermaster Foundation, Inc.
- Statue of Greene in Washington, D.C.
- “Eulogium on Major-General Greene” (1789) by Alexander Hamilton
- Gen Nathl Greene descendants, as listed in a family tree on RootsWeb
- Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, by William Johnson
- Nathanael Greene Monument historical marker
- Nathanael Greene, Maj. Gen. Continental Army historical marker
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