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 Nathanael Greene

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Nathanael Greene

  • Birth 7 Aug 1742 Warwick, Kent County, Rhode Island, USA
  • Death 19 Jun 1786 Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA
  • Burial Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA
  • Memorial ID 418

Revolutionary War American Major General. He is remembered for his successful military command in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War that forced British General Charles Cornwallis to abandon the Carolinas and relocate to Virginia. The son of a Quaker farmer and blacksmith, he was self-educated, with a special study of law and mathematics. In 1770 he moved to Coventry, Rhode Island to operate the family-owned foundry prior to his father's death. There, he was the first to urge the establishment of a public school and in the same year he was chosen as a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly. In August 1774 he helped to organize a local militia which was chartered as the Kentish Guards. His participation in the group was challenged because he had a pronounced limp. He soon began to acquire many expensive volumes on military tactics and began to teach himself the art of war. In December 1774 he served on a committee appointed by the assembly to revise the militia laws and his zeal in attending to military duty most likely led to his expulsion from the Quakers. On May 8, 1775, he was promoted from private to Major General of the Rhode Island Army of Observation that was formed in response to the British siege of Boston and the following month he was appointed a brigadier of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress. General George Washington assigned him 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 immediately took the task to find the appropriate 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. He advised a retreat from New York City and 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 the Continental Congress. He was placed in command of Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River and 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 British General Howe's attack. Nevertheless, he shouldered the blame for the losses of Forts Washington and Lee, but apparently without him losing the confidence of Washington, who himself assumed the responsibility. At the Battle of Trenton, New Jersey he 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. At the Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania on September 11, 1777 he commanded the reserve forces in the American loss to British General Sir William Howe and at the Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania the American forces lost again partially because his forces failed to arrive on time, a failure which he thought would cost him Washington's trust. But when his forces did arrive, he 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, has been characterized as "as good as was possible under the circumstances of that fluctuating uncertain force." However, he had accepted the position with the understanding that he should retain the right to command troops in the field and on June 28, 1778 he commanded the right wing at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey when the American forces attacked the rear of the British Army under Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton. While the battle was a tactical British victory, as its rear guard successfully covered the British withdrawal, strategically it was a draw, as the Americans were ultimately left in possession of the field, and had, for the first time, demonstrated that the American forces could effectively fight against the British regulars. In August 1778 he and the Marquis de Lafayette commanded the land forces sent to Rhode Island to cooperate with the French admiral d'Estaing, in an expedition which proved unsuccessful. On June 23, 1780, he was in command at the Battle of Springfield, Connecticut, one of the last major engagements of the Revolutionary War in the north and effectively put an end to British ambitions in New Jersey. In August 1780, 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. A month before Washington appointed him commander of West Point, and it fell to Greene to preside over the court which condemned Major John André to death for spying on September 29, 1780. The Summer of 1780 had seen the disintegration of the American forces in the South, with major defeats at Charleston and Camden, South Carolina at the hands of the British General Charles Cornwallis. In the Fall of 1780 Washington gave him, and Congress approved, the appointment as commander over all American troops from Delaware to Georgia with extraordinarily full powers, "subject to the control of the Commander-in-Chief," effectively becoming the second-in-command of the entire Continental Army. He assumed command at Charlotte, North Carolina on December 2, 1780. With a weak and badly equipped army he decided to divide his own troops to force the division of the British as well, and creating the possibility of a strategic interplay of forces. Starting with the success at the Battle of Kings Mountain, South Carolina on October 7, 1780 under Colonel William Campbell the campaign swiftly changed and the entire British force was captured or killed. This was followed with General Daniel Morgan's victory at the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781, where nearly nine-tenths of the entire British force were killed or captured. On March 15, 1781 he engaged British forces under Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, near present-day Greensboro, North Carolina. Even though the British won the battle, the final outcome forced Cornwallis, who was depending on heavy recruitment of American Loyalists in the area, to withdraw to Wilmington, North Carolina and eventually to Yorktown, Virginia. After the end of the Revolutionary War, the states of North and South Carolina and Georgia gave him grants of land and money, which he used to help pay the debts for the rations of his Southern Continental Army. After refusing the post of Secretary of War on two occasions, he settled in 1785 at his Georgia estate "Mulberry Grove" near Savannah, Georgia, where he died of sunstroke at the age of only 43. He shares the distinction with George Washington and Henry Knox of being the only American generals who served from first campaign of the Revolutionary War to the last. Numerous cities, counties, parks, and ships across the US have been named in his honor. A large bronze statue of him stands on a marble pedestal by the steps of the Rhode Island State House and an equestrian statue designed by Francis H. Packard stands at the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse near what is now Greensboro, North Carolina.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 418
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Nathanael Greene (7 Aug 1742–19 Jun 1786), Find A Grave Memorial no. 418, citing Johnson Square, Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .