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Nathanael Greene

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Subject: List of U.S. county name etymologies (E–I), American Revolutionary War, Siege of Ninety-Six, Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War, John Gunby
Collection: 1742 Births, 1786 Deaths, Accidental Deaths in Georgia (U.S. State), American People of English Descent, American Quakers, Burials in Georgia (U.S. State), Congressional Gold Medal Recipients, Continental Army Generals, Continental Army Officers from Rhode Island, Deaths from Hyperthermia, Foundrymen, Greene County, Georgia, Greene County, Ohio, Members of the Rhode Island General Assembly, Militia Generals in the American Revolution, People from Coventry, Rhode Island, People from Kent County, Rhode Island, People from Savannah, Georgia, People of Colonial Rhode Island, Quartermasters General of the United States Army
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Nathanael Greene

Nathanael Greene
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
Georgia, U.S.
Buried at Johnson Square
Georgia, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Continental Army
Years of service 1775–1783
Rank Major general

American Revolutionary War

Spouse(s) Catharine Littlefield

Nathanael Greene (August 7 [named for him. Greene suffered financial difficulties in the post-war years and died in 1786.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Personal life 2
    • Marriage 2.1
  • Career 3
    • Militia 3.1
    • American Revolutionary War 3.2
      • Boston 3.2.1
      • New York 3.2.2
      • Philadelphia 3.2.3
      • Rhode Island 3.2.4
      • Command in the South 3.2.5
      • The strategic retreat 3.2.6
      • The race to the Dan River 3.2.7
      • Battle of Guilford Court House 3.2.8
  • Later life and death 4
  • Legacy 5
    • Memorials 5.1
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life and education

Nathanael was the son of Nathanael Greene (4 November 1707 – October 1768), a Potowomut in the township of Warwick, Rhode Island, on August 7, 1742 new style. His mother, Mary Mott, 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 Rhode Island General Assembly, to which he was re-elected in 1771, 1772, and 1775.

It is debatable whether 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.

Personal life


In July of 1774, he married Catharine Littlefield, also known as "Caty", who was a dozen or so years younger than he. They had five children who survived infancy.



In August 1774, Greene helped organize a local

Military offices
Preceded by
Stephen Moylan
Quartermaster General of the United States Army
Succeeded by
Timothy Pickering
  • 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.
  • Collection of Nathanael Greene letters
  • “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

External links

  • 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.
'Primary sources'
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • Ward, Christopher. War of the Revolution 2 Volumes. New York 1952


  1. ^ *Austin, John Osborne (1887). Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. pp. 88, 302, 344.  
  2. ^ John Milsop (2004). Continental Infantryman of the American Revolution. Osprey Publishing. p. 11. 
  3. ^ Golway pp. 92–93
  4. ^ The Papers of General Nathanael Greene
  5. ^ Nathanael Greene at Find a Grave
  6. ^ Nathanael Greene at Find a Grave
  7. ^ Golway pp. 285
  8. ^ Nathanael Greene at Find a Grave
  9. ^ Statue of Nathanael Greene in Downtown Greensboro. Greensboro Daily Photo (February 19, 2009). Retrieved on July 23, 2013.


See also

On August 7, 2015, his 273rd birthday, the General Society Sons of the Revolution dedicated a statue to General Greene on the Washington Memorial Chapel grounds located in Valley Forge NMP, Pennsylvania.

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

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.[9] 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.

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.

[8] 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

There are many 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.

Greene's grave in Johnson Square, Savannah, Georgia


For his actions at Eutaw Springs, the Continental Congress awarded him a Gold Medal.[7]

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.


After twice refusing the post of Johnson Square in Savannah.[6]

Edisto in Bamberg County, South Carolina. This he sold to pay bills for the rations of his Southern army.

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.

Later life and death

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.

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.

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.

Monument to General Nathanael Greene, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

Battle of Guilford Court House

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."

"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.[4]

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.

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.

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.

The race to the Dan River

"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."

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."

The American army was weak and badly equipped and was opposed by a superior force under 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.

The strategic retreat

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 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 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 near 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.

Washington & Nathanael Greene

Command in the South

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 wintered at the Tillinghast house, an important Newport merchant, 1780–1781, located on Mill St. in Newport, Rhode Island.

Rhode Island

At the urgent request of Washington on March 2, 1778, at 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.

Painting by Charles Willson Peale

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 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.

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 his losing the confidence of Washington, who himself assumed the responsibility.

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.

New York

On May 8, 1775, he was promoted from private to 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.


American Revolutionary War


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