Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786

Alternative names
Birth 1742-07-27
Death 1786-06-19

Biographical notes:

Revolutionary War officer.

From the description of Papers, 1778-1786. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 19593641

Army officer.

From the description of Nathanael Greene papers, 1775-1785. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70979865

Nathanael Greene was a major general in the Continental Army. He was promoted to Quartermaster General in 1778.

From the description of Papers, 1778-1780. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122684058

Revolutionary general; served as field commander, member of Washington's staff, quartermaster general, and commander of the Southern theater of the Continental army.

From the description of Letter : New Windsor, to Nehemiah Hubbard, 1779 Aug. 9. (Buffalo History Museum). WorldCat record id: 57346714

Nathanael Greene commanded the Southern Department of the Continental Army from December 1780 to December 1781.

From the description of Orderly book of Nathanael Greene, 1781, Apr. 1 - July 25. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 228736097

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) was born in Rhode Island. He worked in his father's iron foundry until 1770. He served as Deputy to the General Assembly from 1770 to 1772, and again in 1775. On July 20, 1774, Greene married Catharine Littlefield. He helped to organize the Kentish Guards at the start of the Revolutionary War. Greene served as Brigadier=General in the Continental Army, beginning June 22, 1775; his military career flourished. For his services during the Revolutionary War, the State of Georgia gave Greene Mulberry Grove plantation near Savannah, where he died in June 1786.

From the description of Nathanael Greene letters, 1781-1782. (Georgia Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 79874672

Nathanael Greene (1742-86), American Revolutionary general.

From the description of Collection of correspondence of Nathanael Greene, 1775-1786. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 228734075

American general.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : "Head Quarters on the high Hills of Santee" [South Carolina], to Cesar Rodney, Governor of Delaware, 1781 Aug. 22. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270500078

Rhode Island legislator and army officer.

From the description of Papers of Nathanael Greene, 1781-1782. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71068502

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) served as Brigadier General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He is best known for forcing the British commander Cornwallis into a costly attack at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina on March 15, 1781.

From the description of Nathanael Greene letters, 1781. (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 175280410

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) was a Revolutionary War general.

From the description of Papers, 1770-1798. (American Antiquarian Society). WorldCat record id: 191259391

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) was a Revolutionary War major general in the Continental Army.

From the guide to the Nathanael Greene Letters, 1778-1783, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)

American Revolutionary leader.

From the description of Autograph document signed in third person : South Carolina, to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 1782 May 9. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270497589

Biographical Note

  • 1742, Aug. 7: Born, Warwick, R.I.
  • 1770 - 1772 : Served in the Rhode Island General Assembly
  • 1774: Married Catharine Littlefield Organized and served as a private in a militia company known as the Kentish Guards
  • 1775: Served in the Rhode Island General Assembly Appointed brigadier general, Rhode Island militia Appointed brigadier general, Continental Army
  • 1776: Commanded the army of occupation in Boston, Mass. Promoted to major general, Continental Army
  • 1778: Appointed quartermaster general, Continental Army
  • 1780: Resigned as quartermaster general Appointed commander of the Southern Department succeeding Horatio Gates
  • 1785: Moved to Mulberry Grove, near Savannah, Ga.
  • 1786, June 19: Died, Savannah, Ga.

From the guide to the Nathanael Greene Papers, 1775-1785, (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

Nathanael Greene rose from the rank of private to major-general in a short time to become one of the leading commanders in the Continental Army, and the only officer George Washington saw as capable of leading in his absence. Greene served as a field commander, member of Washington's staff, Quartermaster General, and commander of the Army in the Southern Theater. However, this military hero of the Revolution did not come from a military background, but was raised in the pacifist beliefs of a Quaker family.

Greene was born on July 27, 1742 in Potowomut, Rhode Island to Nathanael and Mary Mott, who believed that their children would learn more from manual labor than school. At an early age, Greene went to work in his father's iron forge. Though lacking a formal education, Greene was innately intelligent and taught himself to read, developing a love of books - particularly military history and theory.

Greene's first venture into public affairs came during the colonial crisis of the 1760s and and 1770s. After serving in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1770 to 1772, he was among the organizers of the Kentish Guard in 1774, a militia unit formed for the protection of Rhode Island in anticipation of war. When he was rejected as an officer because of a limp he received from a childhood accident, he enlisted as a private. Greene also served on a committee authorized by the General Assembly to prepare Rhode Island's defenses, and in his spare time continued to study military science.

Greene's military knowledge, likeable personality, and political influence caught the attention of the Rhode Island assembly, and in 1775 he was appointed over veteran officers of the Seven Years' War as general of the Rhode Island Army of Observation. In the following weeks he organized three regiments and led them to Boston where he reported to George Washington. It was here that Washington first became impressed with Greene, and saw his potential for greater responsibilities in the Continental Army.

Greene's first year in military service however was less then distinguished. Following stalemates with the British at Boston and New York, he was placed in charge of preparing the defenses of Long Island, N.Y. In August 1776 he was promoted to major general, but fell ill and could not take the field when William Howe attacked in September. In November Greene was given command of Forts Washington and Lee across from New York City. When British troops threatened the works Greene decided not to evacuate, which resulted in the capture of both forts and 2,800 Continental troops. Despite these setbacks, Greene redeemed himself in December by providing invaluable assistance to Washington during the American retreat through New Jersey and the attack on Trenton.

Throughout 1777 Greene became increasingly indispensable to Washington as both a field officer and a member of his staff. During the early summer he thwarted Howe's attacks in New Jersey. When Howe opened the Philadelphia Campaign by landing his army in Maryland, Greene played important roles at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and while the army was encamped at Valley Forge he assumed a key role in supplying the troops. Thomas Mifflin had resigned as quartermaster general of the army in October 1777 over criticism from Congress and poor health. Hard pressed to find a replacement, Washington turned to Greene to handle matters of supply. Out of respect for Washington's wishes Greene reluctantly accepted the position of quartermaster general in March 1778 on the condition that he maintain his rank as a field commander and be able to appoint John Cox and Charles Pettit as his assistant quartermasters-general. Although Greene believed the position was beneath him, he managed to improve the movement of supplies to the troops. During his two years in command of the department, Greene set up forage depots at key locations, took on the problem of transportation, and wrestled with Congress to get money to purchase the supplies the army needed. While Greene and his assistants struggled to supply the army in the face of inflation, they were accused of profiteering by Congress. Shortly thereafter, Greene learned that Congress had elected to hold the quartermaster general personally and financially responsible for the actions of his subordinates. After two years of continuous, aggravating, and thankless work this was the final act for Greene. On July 26, 1780 he resigned as quartermaster general.

Returning to his field command on June 28, 1778, Greene took command from Charles Lee who had ordered a retreat against Washington's wishes during the the Battle of Monmouth. Greene assisted John Sullivan in planning his Rhode Island Campaign in 1778, and on June 23, 1780 he was in command at Springfield, NJ when British troops under Baron Wilhelm von Knyphausen advanced from New York City. Greene's chance for independent command came in October 1780. Congress had relieved Horatio Gates as general of the southern army after allowing the British under Lord Cornwallis to take control of South Carolina and Georgia. In an effort to prevent the loss of North Carolina and Virginia, Congress authorized Washington to select Gates' replacement. Without hesitation Washington selected Greene, who immediately set out for the south. During the journey he added Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee's legion to his command and placed Baron Friedrich von Steuben in charge of organizing men and supplies. Greene arrived at Charlotte, N.C. on December 3 to relieve Gates of his command. Knowing that Cornwallis was waiting for reinforcements at Winnsboro, S.C., Greene decided to attack before they could arrive. With the assistance of Daniel Morgan, he launched a campaign in early 1781 that included the Battle of Cowpens on January 17 and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, both American victories, that forced Cornwallis to withdraw to Virginia, while Greene took what remained of his command south after militia departures.

For the remainder of the war Greene worked with partisan forces against 8,000 British troops garrisoned throughout South Carolina and Georgia. Despite facing a larger force, he was able to force the British to withdraw from their interior posts to the coastal cities. Even after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown Greene continued to contend with British forces who held Charleston and Savannah until 1782, and to restore peace between patriots and Loyalists who continued to battle one another. It was not until after the peace treaty was signed that Greene was able to end his military career.

In 1783 Greene returned north a hero. In appreciation of his military service in the south, Greene received large estates from South Carolina and Georgia. After spending two years in the north Greene and his wife decided to settle in Georgia on their plantation Mulberry Grove.

The last years of Green's life were troubled by resurfacing accusations of profiteering during the war, and by a large debt which resulted when a note he had cosigned came due. Even though the charges of profiteering were disproved, but the debt remained. Greene died at Mulberry Grove on June 19, 1786 from an infection, leaving his family in financial uncertainty until Congress liquidated his debts ten years later.

From the guide to the Nathanael Greene Papers, 1777-1780, (American Philosophical Society)


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