Born on August 7, 1742, in Warwick, Rhode Island, Nathanael Greene comes from one of the oldest families who settled in this region. This means that his predecessors helped establish a colony. The Greene family members were Quakers and his ancestor John Greene Sr. was chased away from the Massachusetts Bay Colony after the conflict with the Puritans.
Nathanael was a passionate leader, which was not the ideal trait of a devout Quaker, and the church disapproved of such actions. He was eventually expelled after he showed the support for the armed rebellion against England. Nevertheless, he remained a Quaker for the rest of his life.
In 1770, he was elected to the General Assembly of Rhode Island, and as the tensions between the colonies and England were on the rise, he established a militia group called the Kentish Guards. In 1774, he married Catharine Littlefield and had six kids with her.
When the General Assembly ordered a force of 1,600 men to be called into service, Greene was placed to be the commander, and in 1775 he and his troops were stationed near Boston. He was the one who welcomed Washington to the site, and their friendship began almost instantly. His rank reduced from Major-General to Brigadier-General, but he was happy that he served under Washington.
After that Greene and his troops got sent to Long Island to prevent a possible British attack, the Brits eventually launch an attack on New York, and the Americans had to retreat. Once again, Greene becomes Major-General. In 1777, Greene took part in the Battle of Brandywine, and during this period, the Brits and the Americans were going back and forth with one side taking and losing the territory and then the other…
In the winter of 1777, the colony army needed food and Washington appointed Greene to look after it. He was not thrilled with becoming Quartermaster-General because he wanted to be in the active service. And here is the official statement, issued in 1778: “The Honourable Continental Congress have been pleased to appoint Major-General Greene, Quartermaster-General in the army of the United States — reserving his rank of Major-General in the same.”
Some officers wanted to bring down Washington, but they also wanted to see Greene, one of his most trusted people gone. He was not an easy man to sway, and his loyalty remained one of his biggest assets. The conspiracy was crushed by Washington supporters. In spring, 1778, at Valley Forge, Washington sent a letter to the leading officers, asking whether they should attack Philly, New York or some other place in this region directly or them “remaining quiet in a secure, fortified camp disciplining and arranging the army till the enemy began their operations, and then to govern ourselves accordingly, which of these three plans shall we adopt?”
Green was for the option to keep the main body of the army in the camp, and he believed that with 4,000 good men, New York could fall to their hands. However, Philadelphia withdrew in June 1778 which changed the plans for the colonies. The two sides fought again, this time in the Battle of Monmouth. The brits retired from the battle.
Meanwhile, Greene has convinced Washington to resign his position, and he was commanding again. He replaced Benedict Arnold as the commander of West Point, and he continued to be Washington’s most trusted people, representing him at meetings, speaking in Washington’s name. At that time South Carolina was invaded and conquered by the Brits whose plan was to win the south and work their way up to the north to finish off Washington. But this was easier said than done.
After the victories of the British in the south, Washington, pressured by Congress, appointed Green to deal with the situation. The situation in the south was poor, and Greene found a skeleton of an army, and he needed to restore it the best way he could. He started working immediately, and he managed to do some of the things, but Greene and his army were not ready to face the enemy. He had to evade the opposing forces, and he always tried to keep them going near the river and streams that could rise rapidly. With the water on one said and Greene and his men on the other side, it was just a matter of time to push the attack.
Greene notified Washington about his plans and that he would stop retreating soon, attacking the British forces. This is what Washington answered: “I returned the last evening from Newport, to which place I had been upon a visit to Count de Rochambeau. Your last letter has relieved me from much anxiety, by informing me you had saved all your baggage, artillery and stores, notwithstanding the hot pursuit of the enemy, and that you, in turn, were following them. I hope your reinforcement may be such as will enable you to prevent them taking part in the upper country, and hinder the disaffected from joining them. You may be assured that your retreat before Cornwallis is highly applauded by all ranks, and reflects much honor on your military abilities.”
The two sides fought in the heavy wooded area, the terrain Greene selected, and he managed to inflict a lot of damage to the British forces which started with the retreat. Now, Greene was in pursuit, but he had to give up on it because he had to replenish his forces and supplies.
Washington wrote a letter to Greene on April 18, 1781, from New Windsor in part as follows:
“Your private letter of the 18th ultimo came safe to hand. Although the honors of the field did not fall to your lot, I am convinced you deserved them. The chances of war are various and the best concerted measures, and the most flattering prospects, may and often do deceive us; especially while we are in the power of the militia. The motives which induced you to seek an action with Lord Cornwallis are supported upon the best military principles; and the consequences, if you can prevent the dissipation of your troops, will no doubt be fortunate. Every support, that it is in my power to give you from this army, shall cheerfully be afforded; but if I part with any more troops, I must accompany them or have none to command, as there is not at this moment more than a garrison for West Point, nor can I tell when there will be.”
What follows is the series of battles and skirmishes as well as sieges as Green attempts to make the British flee South Carolina. He was having a larger army now, but it needed more supplies as well as weaponry. Among the most important clashes was the Battle of Eutaw Springs in 1781. It was a surprise attack, but the British forces were not completely destroyed, which was an initial plan. However, the Brits were weakened and it was just the matter of time when they would be defeated. Nathanael Greene received congratulations from Governor Rutledge who said: “We have now full and absolute possession of every part of the state; and the legislative, judicial and executive powers are in the exercise of their respective authorities.”
The British started retreating, and soon, both North and South Carolina were taken by the Americans. And these were the key regions because, after that, a victory was assured in Georgia. Meanwhile, Greene received rewards from the state, and the legislature of North Carolina granted him 5,000 guineas while Georgia gave him 24,000 acres of choice land.
The peace was established in 1783. He was recognized as the hero by the Congress and Washington expressed his gratitude as well. In 1785, he settled on his plantation with his wife and children and a year later, he wrote a letter to a friend:
“The garden is delightful. The fruit trees and flowering shrubs form a pleasant variety. We have green peas almost fit to eat and as fine lettuce as you ever saw. The mocking birds surround us evening and morning. The weather is mild and the vegetable world progressing to perfection. We have in the same orchard apples, pears, peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums of various kinds, figs, pomegranate and oranges. And we have strawberries which measure three inches around.”
He went to Savannah on June 12, 1786, but when he returned home, he got ill and died. The entire nation mourned the passing of great general and even better man – Nathanael Greene.