Greene, Nathanael

Greene, Nathanael
born Aug. 7, 1742, Potowumut, R.I.
died June 19, 1786, Mulberry Grove, Ga., U.S.

American general.

He served in the colonial legislature and as commander of the colonial militia (1775). He led troops in the Continental Army at Boston and New York, then fought in the battles at Trenton, Brandywine, and Germantown. He succeeded Gen. Horatio Gates as commander in chief of the southern army (1778), and his strategy so weakened the British troops that Gen. Charles Cornwallis abandoned plans to conquer North Carolina (1781). Greene began the reconquest of inner South Carolina, and by late June 1781 he had forced the British back to Charleston. He presided at the court-martial of John André in the Benedict Arnold affair (1780).

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▪ United States general
born August 7, 1742, Potowomut, Rhode Island [U.S.]
died June 19, 1786, Mulberry Grove, Georgia, U.S.
 American general in the American Revolution (1775–83).

      After managing a branch of his father's iron foundry, Greene served several terms in the colonial legislature and was elected commander of the Rhode Island army, organized in 1775; he was made a major general in 1776. Greene served with George Washington (Washington, George) in the Siege of Boston (Boston, Siege of) (1775–76), in the fighting in and around New York City (1776), and in the retreat across New Jersey after the British capture of Fort Washington (November 1776). He also led troops at Trenton (Trenton and Princeton, battles of) (December 1776) and, the following year, at Brandywine (Brandywine, Battle of the) and Germantown (Germantown, Battle of).

      After briefly serving as quartermaster general, Greene succeeded General Horatio Gates (Gates, Horatio) as commander in chief of the southern army in October 1778. Opposed by a superior force under Lord Cornwallis (Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess and 2nd Earl, Viscount Brome, Baron Cornwallis of Eye), Greene developed a strategy that relied on mobility and maneuver. Irregular forces kept the British extended, while Greene preserved his small main army as a “force in being” to lure Cornwallis further away from his coastal bases. Greene ultimately risked dividing his own force, encouraging the British to divide theirs as well. His strategy led to General Daniel Morgan (Morgan, Daniel)'s victory at Cowpens (Cowpens, Battle of), South Carolina (January 17, 1781). Although Greene was defeated at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Guilford Courthouse, Battle of), North Carolina (March 15, 1781), the British were so weakened by their victory that Cornwallis abandoned his plan to conquer North Carolina and instead marched north into Virginia.

      Taking the offensive, by the end of June Greene had forced the British back to the South Carolina coast. On September 8 Greene engaged the British under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart at Eutaw Springs (Eutaw Springs, Battle of), where the British were so weakened that they withdrew to Charleston. He held them there during the remainder of the war.

      Greene contributed significantly to restoring civil government and public order to a south wracked by years of guerrilla war. Committed to the rights of property, he opposed the dispossession and persecution of loyalists (loyalist). South Carolina and Georgia recognized Greene's achievements by liberal grants of land and money. He settled in 1785 on an estate near Savannah—ironically the former property of a loyalist official.

      As quartermaster general, Greene was accused of profiteering when inflation required paying more than authorized for goods. He supplied the southern army in part by cosigning notes with a contractor whose bankruptcy and death left Greene responsible. Greene denied charges of impropriety, which remain unproven in an 18th-century context of boundaries between public and private affairs that were at best hazy. He did his unsuccessful best to liquidate the debts until his early death in 1786 from what might well have been a stress-induced heart attack. Nathanael Greene, however, is not remembered for his bookkeeping, but as Washington's designated successor and a strategist without peer on the American side of the Revolution.

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Universalium. 2010.

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