Nathaniel Greene

NATHANIEL GREENE, a major-general in the American army, was born, M ay 22, 1742, near the town of Warwick in Rhode Island. His father was an anchor smith, and, at the same time, a Quaker preacher, whose ignorance, combined with the fanaticism of the times, made him pay little attention to the worldly learning of his children, though he was very careful of their moral and religious instruction. The fondness for knowledge, however, of young Greene was such, that he devoted all the time he could spare to its acquisition, and employed all his trifling gains in procuring books. His propensity for the life of a soldier was early evinced by his predilection for works on military subjects. He made considerable proficiency in the exact sciences; and, after he had attained his twentieth year, he added a tolerable stock of legal knowledge to his other acquisitions. In the year 1770, he was elected a member of the state legislature, and, in 1774, enrolled himself as a private in a company called the Kentish Guards. After the battle of Lexington, the state of Rhode Island raised what was termed an army of observation, in order to assist the forces collected in Massachusetts, for the purpose of confining the British within the limits of Boston, and chose Greene its commander, with the title of major-general. His elevation from the ranks to the head of three regiments, may give some idea of the estimation in which his military talents were held. June 6, 1775, he assumed his command before the lines of Boston; and, not long afterwards, General Washington arrived, to take the command in chief of the American forces. Between these two distinguished men an intimacy soon commenced, which was never interrupted. Greene accepted a commission from congress of brigadier-general, although, under the state, he held that of major-general; preferring the former, as it promised a larger sphere of action, and the pleasure of serving under the immediate command of Washington. When the American army had followed the enemy to New York, after the evacuation of Boston, they encamped, partly in New York and partly on Long Island. The division posted upon the island was under the orders of Greene; but, at the time of its unfortunate affair with the enemy, he was suffering under severe sickness, and General Sullivan was in command. When he had sufficiently recovered his health, he joined the retreating army, having previously been promoted to the rank of major-general, and was appointed to command the troops in New Jersey destined to watch the movements of a strong detachment of the British, which had been left in Staten Island. December 26, 1776, when Washington surprised the English at Trenton, Greene commanded the left wing of the American forced, which was the first that reached the town, and, having seized the enemy's artillery, cut off their retreat to Princeton. Next summer, Sir William Howe having embarked with a large force at New York, for the purpose of landing on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, and thence marching to Philadelphia, Washington hastened to oppose him; and, September 11, the battle of the Brandywine took place, in which the Americans were defeated. In this affair, Greene commanded the vanguard, together with Sullivan, and it became his duty to cover the retreat, in which he fully succeeded. After General Howe had obtained possession of Philadelphia, the British army, in consequence of this victory, encamped at Germantown, where an attack was made upon it by Washington, October 4, 1777, in which Greene commanded the left wing. The disastrous issue of this attempt is well known; but it has been asserted, that the left wing was the only part of the American army which had the good fortune to effect the service allotted it that day. The next service upon which General Greene was engaged, was that of endeavoring to prevent lord Cornwallis from collecting supplies, for which he had been detached into the Jerseys, with 3000 men; but, before Greene could bring him to an action, he had received reinforcements, which gave him so great a superiority, that the American general was recalled by the commander-in-chief. In March of the following year, Greene, at the solicitation of Washington, accepted the appointment of quarter-master-general, on two conditions; that he should retain his right of command in time of action, and that he should have the choice of two assistants. At the battle of Monmouth, in the ensuing month of June, he led the right wing of the second line, and mainly contributed to the partial success of the Americans. After this, he continued engaged in discharging the duties of his station until August, when he was sent to join Sullivan, who, with the forces under his command, aided by the French fleet under D'Estaing, was preparing to make an attempt upon Newport in Rhode Island, then in possession of the enemy. The command of the left wing of the troops was assigned to Greene. The enterprise, however, failed, in consequence of some misunderstanding be tween Sullivan and D'Estaing; and the consequent retreat of the American army was covered by Greene, who repulsed an attack of the enemy with half their , number. When General Washington, alarmed for the safety of the garrisons on the North river, repaired to West Point, he left Greene in command of the army in New Jersey. The latter had not been long in that command, before he was attacked, near Springfield, by a force much superior to his, under Sir Henry Clinton; but the enemy were repulsed, though they burned the village. This affair happened June 23.