In 1770, Greene moved to Coventry, R. I., to
manage his father's forge. He served in the Rhode Island Assembly
from 1770 to 1772 and again in 1775. He was expelled from the Quaker
meeting in 1773 for attending a military parade. In 1776 he
participated in the defense of New York City, was promoted to Major
General, and, in December, played an important role in Washington's
surprise attack on Trenton. During 1777-78 he worked closely
with Washington at Morristown, Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge,
and Monmouth. He was appointed Quartermaster General in 1778 and
served in that position until 1780.
~ Early Military Career
Foreseeing trouble between the American colonies
and Britain, Greene helped to organize a local military company in
1774. He suffered from a stiff knee, which caused a slight limp, and
because of this the company felt that he should not be an
officer. He served simply as a private.
In May 1775, after the outbreak of the Revolution,
the Rhode Island Assembly authorized the raising of a force of 1,500
soldiers, and Greene was named Brigadier in command. In early June
the brigade joined Washington's army besieging Boston. Greene served
through the siege and then was sent by Washington to take charge of
the defenses of New York City pending his arrival.
After the Battle of Long Island (Aug. 27–28,
1776), during which he was seriously ill, Greene advised that the
Americans should retreat from New York to avoid being trapped on
Manhattan Island by the British. His advice was not taken, and the
army had a narrow escape.
Washington had come to depend on Greene, and their
relationship soon became confidential. Before long, Greene was
virtually second in command. He took an active part in all the
army's operations until March 1778, when Washington asked him to
leave the fighting line and assume the duties of Quartermaster
General, which had been poorly handled. Greene agreed
reluctantly and served for more than two years, except for a brief
interval when he fought in the Battle of Monmouth (June 28, 1778).
In July 1780, Greene returned to active service. In the
autumn he presided at the trial of Maj. John André, the British spy,
who was hanged.
Greene's generalship was largely responsible for
the triumph of the American forces in the South. After the Americans
were defeated in the Battle of Camden, S. C. (Aug. 16, 1780), Greene
was chosen to succeed Gen. Horatio Gates in command of the Southern
war theater and in early December he took over the leadership of a
shattered and destitute army.
He quickly reorganized it and devised a strategy
of retreat northward into North Carolina, goading Lord Cornwallis,
the British commander, into following him. His strategy
succeeded in dividing the British forces, making possible the
victory at Cowpens in January 1781. Within eight months Greene freed
most of the Carolinas from British control. At the Battle of
Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, Greene suffered a defeat, but
his troops fell back in good order without serious loss. Cornwallis,
who was far from his base, was compelled by lack of supplies to
withdraw. Greene had lost the battle but won the campaign. His
strategic skill thereafter brought the war in the South to a
In 1785 he retired near Savannah to a plantation
given to him by Georgia.