General Nathanael Greene

Today we go back to Revolutionary War days. You may recall that a few weeks ago, I talked about the first citizen of the state of Rhode Island, a man who believed in and practiced religious freedom. His statue stands in The Hall of Fame in Washington. Can you name him? He was Roger Williams.

I told you at that time that another famous son of Rhode Island also had his statue in The Hall of Fame, and I would talk about him at a later date. Do you remember the name of this other representative of Rhode Island? It was Nathanael Greene. Nathanael Greene was born near what is now Warwick, Rhode Island, in 1742. When the Revolutionary War started he was a farmer and a blacksmith with no military experience or background. Greene, however, had read Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on war and volunteered for the Continental Army of General George Washington. The General Assembly of Rhode Island commissioned him a Brigadier General and later this same rank was given him in the Continental Army.

General Greene served through the siege of Boston, and when the British pulled out, Washington named Greene to command the Continental Army that occupied Boston, promoting him to Major General. Greene took part in the defense of New York City, and when Washington was forced to withdraw into New Jersey, Greene commanded the rear guards that protected the retreat.

Greene played an important role in Washington’s surprise assault on the British at Trenton, New Jersey, after the crossing the icy Delaware River on Christmas Eve. He also participated in several other battles before going into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The privations suffered by the Continental Army during this bitter winter and the slow movement of supplies and food to the Army convinced Washington that remedial action was necessary. So he picked Nathanael to become Quarter-Master General, and in this capacity, Greene reorganized the supply system of the Army. After two years, he resigned the position as Quarter-Master General and returned to the Army as a general of line. A very warm letter of commendation was received from General Washington when he resigned.

When General Cornwallis was in South Carolina with an army of about 8000 men to keep the British hold on North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, Washington sent an army under the command of General Gates to clear the British from the South. Gates met Cornwallis at Camden and suffered a crushing defeat. He withdrew to North Carolina where he was relieved of command, and General Nathanael Greene was named to succeed him.

Green waged an aggressive campaign against Cornwallis with the help of Generals Daniel Morgan, Francis Marion and Henry Lee. He won the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, and engaged Cornwallis in a very decisive battle at Guilford Court House near Greensboro, North Carolina. This summer while in North Carolina on vacation, we visited the Guilford Court House battlefield and gained much information about this grueling battle that proved one of the turning points of the war and brought to General Nathanael Greene the name of “The Savior of the South.”

This battle was hard fought, and the Americans withdrew from the field allowing the British to claim victory, but it was a costly victory. Charles Fox, a British statesman said, “Another such victory will ruin the British army.” Having lost a fourth of his army in this battle, Cornwallis withdrew from there to Yorktown where he was forced to surrender, ending the seven year Revolutionary War.

The people of Georgia, in grateful recognition of General Greene’s service to the southern states, presented him with a beautiful plantation, and after the war he and his family moved to Georgia to live the life of a country gentleman.

Green is ranked next to George Washington as an able general, a master of the orderly retreat and the strategic withdrawal, and a grateful people have paid him the high honor by nominating him for The Hall of Fame.

Now here is an unusual fact about our subject. When the war first began, he tried to enlist in the Continental army as a private, but was rejected because he walked with a limp caused by a broken leg that had been improperly set. But he was not to be denied service to his country, so he organized his own brigade of recruits and led them into the army of General Washington.

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