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Major General Nathanael Greene

Second only to George Washington, with whom he shared the distinction of being the only two Continental generals to have served throughout the entire War of American Independence, Greene distinguished himself in the Northern Campaign on the battlefields of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He also served the Army in the capacity of Quartermaster General. His greatest contribution to the war came as commander of the Southern Department (1780-1783). Arguably the war's greatest strategist, he successfully waged a war of attrition against the Crown forces in the South. He utilized both regular and partisan forces against his enemies at Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk's Hill, Ninety-Six, and Eutaw Springs.

Nathanael Greene was born on 27 July 1742 (Old Style) in Potowomut, Rhode Island. Because of Quaker beliefs about education, Greene was only taught reading, writing, and business math. Later, he would comment on this early aspect of his life, "I lament the want of a liberal Education."

On 20 July 1774, Greene married Catharine Littlefield, of Block Island. She was an attractive woman from a good family, and they had six children together.

On 22 June 1775, Nathanael Greene was commissioned as the youngest brigadier general in the Continental Army. A month later, he took command of Prospect Hill during the Siege of Boston. But, he missed the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775 while petitioning for more supplies in Rhode Island. In a letter describing the battle, he exclaimed, "I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price we did Bunkers Hill." While in Boston that Greene first met George Washington. Even during their initial meeting, Washington was greatly impressed. Greene was similarly taken, and he named his firstborn after Washington. After the British evacuated Boston, Greene took command of the city.

At the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777, Greene led his division four miles in under fifty minutes through broken country to set up a defensive line that allowed Major General John Sullivan’s division to retreat. After Major General Horatio Gates was defeated by the British Army at the Battle of Camden (16 August 1780), Washington appointed Greene the new Southern Commander. Greene met Lieutenant General Charles Earl Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on 15 March 1781. Cornwallis succeeded in driving Greene from the field, but he suffered severe casualties in a Pyrrhic victory. When the British Parliament learned of the battle, Charles James Fox exclaimed, "Another such victory would destroy the British Army." Weakened, Cornwallis withdrew to Wilmington, North Carolina and eventually on to Yorktown, Virginia, where he was defeated by a joint Franco-American force.

Next, Greene led his army back into South Carolina and began the 'War of the Posts.' In only twenty months, Greene succeeded in capturing all of the British posts taking 3,500 prisoners and splitting the British Army in half, bottling them up in Charleston and Wilmington. He led his main army in three more engagements, the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill (25 April 1781), the Siege of Ninety-Six (22 May-19 June 1781), and the Battle of Eutaw Springs (8 September 1781), the bloodiest engagement of the entire war. Although he succeeded in completely destroying British authority in the southern states, he never achieved a single tactical victory. His lack of success in winning a battle is best summed up in his own words, "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again."

After the war, Greene moved his family to his new estate, Mulberry Grove, just north of Savannah, Georgia. He attempted to settle down to the life of a Southern planter, while spurning attempts by prominent Georgians to involve him in local politics.

Greene died at the age of forty-four on 19 June 1786 of a stroke, possibly caused by overexposure to the sun, whilst visiting the plantation home of a friend. His remains and those of his son, George Washington Greene, rest beneath a monument in Johnson Square in downtown Savannah. Eventually, Congress would pay off his debt and erect a monument to his memory in the nation's capital.

The Greene Papers Project, which has been in existence since 1971, is publishing the nearly 10,000 letters and orders written by and to Nathanael Greene.


Website: Major General Nathanael Greene (http://members.aol.com/JonMaltbie/NatGreene.html)

Website: Nathanael Greene Mini-Edition (http://adh.sc.edu/ng/ng-table.html)

Website: Who Served Here? General Nathanael Greene (http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/greene.html)

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