Nathanael Greene

Revolutionary war hero Nathanael Greene was born on August 7, 1742, at Potowomut in Warwick, Rhode Island. Before the Revolution, Greene managed his father’s iron foundries and is said to have served in the Rhode Island colonial legislature. Self-trained in military tactics and science, he was instrumental in the formation of a unit known as the Kentish Guards in October 1774, serving as a private until his commission in May 1775 as a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Army of Observation. In June of the same year he was commissioned with the same rank in the Continental Army with command of troops during the siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776.

Gen. N. Greene/Edwin sc. Between 1800 and 1850 (?). From the original painting by C. W. Peale in the Philadelphia Museum. Prints & Photographs Division.

After taking command of the troops on Long Island in 1776, he was commissioned by George Washington as major general in August 1776 but saw little action due to a severe illness. For the next four years, General Greene participated in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, endured the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, and served as quartermaster general while continuing to serve in the field.

Prior to taking command of the southern campaign of 1780-82, General Greene was commander of West Point, replacing the disgraced Benedict Arnold. During this period, he presided over the trial and execution of Major John André.

Plan of the operations of General Washington, against the Kings Troops in New Jersey…. William Faden; London, 1777. American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750 to 1789. Geography & Map Division.

In January 1781, Greene contributed significantly to the defeat of British General Lord Cornwallis at Cowpens, South Carolina. Greene forced Cornwallis, whose army far outnumbered the Americans, to divide his troops and defend his territory on two fronts. The British subsequently retreated to Charleston, where they remained until Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781.

Statue of American Revolutionary War Major General Nathanael Greene…. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, 2010. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive. Prints & Photographs Division

Greene and Washington remained close friends after the Revolutionary War. Upon Greene’s death in 1786, Washington expressed his deep admiration and affection for Greene by offering to raise his son, George Washington Greene:

I would fain hope…that upon a final settlement of his affairs there will be a handsome competency for Mrs. Greene and the children. But should the case be otherwise, and Mrs. Greene, yourself, and Mr. Rutlidge would think proper to entrust my namesake G: W: Greene to my care, I will give him as good an education as this country (I mean No. America) will afford; I will bring him up to either of the genteel professions that his friends may chuse, or his own inclination shall lead him to pursue, at my own cost and charge.

George Washington to Jeremiah Wadsworth, October 22, 1786, partial manuscript. Series 2 Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 13. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division.

After the war, Greene returned to Rhode Island to find his foundry business neglected and his general financial situation precarious. When the state of Georgia honored him for his service to the state with the gift of a plantation, Mulberry Grove, the retired general moved his family south. He also built a cottage at Cumberland Island in Camden County, Georgia. General Greene died of a stroke after walking in the hot sun on June 19, 1786.

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