How do generals win wars? Nathanael Greene, commander of American forces in the South, helped the Patriots to victory by developing a brilliant strategy that wore down the British Army.
Greene, born in Rhode Island in 1742, was from a Quaker family of ardent pacifists. With rebellion brewing in the colonies, he helped form a local militia company called the Kentish Guards but was denied entry as an officer because he walked with a limp. He joined as a private. By May 1775, he was a Brigadier General in Rhode Island’s militia and soon became a Brigadier General in the Continental Army, rising rapidly to the rank of Major General. His talent for procuring supplies and planning logistics made him an invaluable Quartermaster General during the winter at Valley Forge.His success in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Brandywine, earned him George Washington’s confidence. After the devastating Patriot loss in the Battle of Camden, Washington chose the dependable Greene to take command in the South. He accepted the post in October 1780 and arrived in North Carolina in December. Knowing he was outnumbered by Cornwallis’s British troops, Greene split the American forces into independent commands that could raid enemy outposts, disrupt their supply chain, and hamper their communications. This tactic forced Cornwallis to divide up his army as well and led to the Patriot victory at Cowpens. Although Cornwallis defeated him at Guilford Courthouse, Greene inflicted so much damage to the British army that they were forced to withdraw to the coast. Cornwallis surrendered his battered forces to Washington at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, enabling Greene to recapture areas of the South that had been under British occupation and leading to the British evacuation from Charleston in December 1782.
After the war, the state of Georgia presented Greene with an estate, Mulberry Grove, in gratitude for his heroism. He died there in 1786.
DATE OF BIRTH - DEATH
August 7, 1742 - June 19, 1786
For more on the life of Nathanael Greene, visit Battlefields.org.