Per Scriptum E. Wesley -- Mackinac Center Intern
General Washington is often celebrated as the fighter for liberty during the War for American Independence, but we often forget about those who made his fame possible. Although Washington's charisma is irresistible, it was General Greene who eventually knit North and South together in order to bring about American independence. A Northerner himself, Greene's success in replacing Gates' command in the South eventually led to Southern liberation from British control.
Nathanael Greene was born on August 7, 1742 to a family who was one of the first settlers of Rhode Island. Greene had a passion for books (those who do usually end up changing the world), and although his education was limited, he became very knowledgeable about the Bible. The Bible defined his moral character and entire life. It was axiomatic to everything he did. Greene saved his money to invest in more books, until he owned a rather large library. Military science caught his utmost attention, and he added this topic to his ever growing library.
Greene's dependability earned him a seat in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Debating in committee were Greene's finest political moments, as his common sense and firm reasoning convinced those around him. As tension between America and Great Britain heightened, the colonies organized military units to face emergencies, and Greene joined the Kentish Guards company. As a side note, During this time he married Catharine Littlefield, who was from a good Rhode Island family.
After hearing of Lexington and Concord, Greene rushed down with a commissioned force of 1,600 Rode Islanders to Boston. Major General Greene, with his Rhode Island band, had beat Washington and the Continental Congress at organizing a trained force of freedom fighters. Being trained enough to fight by June 1775, they waited in Boston for Continental organization. Washington came in July with the new Continental army plan, and Greene was promptly demoted to Brigadier-General.
Greene took this demotion gracefully, and formed a life long friendship with Washington. However, while General Greene was sent to Long Island, Washington re-promoted him to Major-General. During the war, General Greene's invaluable services would become notable at the Battle of Brandywine, the winter of Valley Forge (Greene serving as Quartermaster-General), and at the Andre trial during the Benedict Arnold affair. But General Greene's command in the South became his greatest war success.
Conditions in the South were not good for the patriots before Greene took command. The British under General Lord Cornwallis intended to take the entire South and head north to defeat Washington. They conquered Georgia and South Carolina before the Continental Congress responded by giving General Gates the job of throwing the British out of the South. Gates turned out to be a total failure, and after the defeat at Camden, the Congress asked Washington to suggest a good candidate to replace Gates. Washington turned to Greene to get the job done. General Greene placed prominent men throughout the South to recruit and refit what was left of the Southern patriot army. During the winter of 1781-1782, Greene kept the British on a chase through rivers and steams. In March of 1782, Greene led the British to Guilford Court House, and chose the proper ground for the fight. Forming three lines, Greene put a line of militia up at the front, another line of militia in a second line (with officer supervision), and a line of regulars in a third line. The British took the field, but with a crushing loss of 633 killed, wounded, or missing. Greene followed this up with a campaign in South Carolina, taking several strongholds and growing his army significantly by boosting South Carolinian morale. Winning the field at Eutaw Springs also crippled the Tory morale, and soon Charleston was the only British stronghold in South Carolina. Governor Rutledge gave his sincerest thanks, "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 state legislature also awarded Greene a gift of 10,000 guineas. As Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Charleston was evacuated, leaving South Carolina free. General Greene then marched through North Carolina and Georgia, expelling the British from the South.
By August of 1783, General Greene gave up his command as a victorious hero. North Carolina had given him 5,000 guineas, and Georgia had awarded him 24,000 acres of perfect land. Washington gave Greene his sincerest appreciation for completing the overwhelming commission to save the South, and Congress gave him their warmest recognition. Upon returning home to Rhode Island, Greene decided to farm the land that his hard work and faithfulness to liberty had earned him.
In the following years, Greene soaked in the beauty and fruitfulness of his plantation, "Mulberry Grove," being rejoined again by his wife and precious children. The fifes, drums, and guns of war had been silenced, and his new surroundings resembled a garden of Eden. Describing it he wrote 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."
However, these happy golden years were about to be tragically cut short. While on a business trip, Greene had spent too many hours in his friend's rice fields and died of a heat stroke on June 19, 1786 after returning to his home. The entire country was shocked. Business stopped, and America mourned the loss of her newest hero. The legacy of Nathanael Greene is one of steadfastness, stability, common sense, clear reasoning, decisive action, and eternal faithfulness to the cause of liberty.
Image from Wikipedia