Major General Nathanael Greene

The Man after Whom Greene County, Arkansas Was Named

Nathanael Greene  

Nathanael Greene, American General in the Revolutionary War who was an aide and confidant of Gen. George Washington.  Greene was born in Warwick, R. I., on Aug. 7, 1742, the son of a prosperous Quaker farmer and ironmaster.  His leadership in the later stages of the campaign in the South proved him to be a great general, second in ability only to Washington and in some ways at least his equal.  He had little formal schooling, but he was an avid reader, and under the guidance of Ezra Stiles, a clergyman, later president of Yale College, he acquired a good education.          

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 successful close.

In 1785 he retired near Savannah to a plantation given to him by Georgia.


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one of the most trusted generals of the Revolutionary


Gary and Bonnie McClure
Paragould, Arkansas


July 31, 2012