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.

October 6, he was appointed to succeed the traitor Arnold in the command at West Point. In this station, however, he continued only until the 14th of the same month, when he was chosen by General Washington to take the place of General Gates, in the chief direction of the southern army. From this moment, when he was placed in a situation where he could exercise his genius without control, dates the most brilliant portion of Greene's career. The ability, prudence and firmness which he here displayed, have caused him to be ranked, in the scale of our revolutionary generals, second only to Washington. December 2, 1780, Greene arrived at the encampment of the American forces at Charlotte, and, on the 4th, assumed the command. After the battle of the Cowpens, gained by Morgan, January 17, 1781, he effected a junction with the victorious General, having previously been engaged in recruiting his army, which had been greatly thinned by death and desertion but the numbers of Cornwallis were still so superior, that he was obliged to retreat into Virginia, which he did with a degree of skill that has been the theme of the highest eulogy. He, soon afterwards, however, returned to North Carolina, with an accession of force, and, March 15, encountered Cornwallis at Guilford court-house, where he was defeated; but the loss of the enemy was greater than his, and no advantages accrued to them from the victory. On the contrary, Cornwallis, a few days afterwards, commenced a retro grade movement towards Wilmington, leaving many of his wounded behind him, and was followed for some time by Greene. Desisting, however, from the pursuit, the latter marched into South Carolina, and a battle took place, April 25, between him and lord Rawdon, near Camden, in which he was again unsuccessful, though again the enemy were prevented by him from improving their victory, and, not long after, were obliged to retire. May 22, having previously reduced a number of the forts and garrisons in South Carolina, he commenced the siege of Ninety-Six, but in June the approach of lord Rawdon compelled him to raise it, and retreat to the extremity of the state. Expressing a determination to recover South Carolina, or die in the attempt,' he again advanced, when the British forces were divided, and lord Rawdon was pursued, in his turn, to his encampment at Orangeburg, where he was offered battle by his adversary, which was refused. September 8, Greene obtained a victory over the British forces under Colonel Stewart, at Eutaw Springs, which completely prostrated the power of the enemy in South Carolina. Greene was presented by congress with a British standard and a gold medal, as a testimony of their sense of his services on this occasion. This was the last action in which Greene was engaged. During the rest of the war, however, he continued in his command, struggling with the greatest difficulties in consequence of the want of all kinds of supplies, and the mutinous disposition of some of his troops. When peace released him from his duties, he returned to Rhode Island; and his journey thither, almost at every step, was marked by some private or public testimonial of gratitude and regard. On his arrival at Princeton, where congress was then sitting, that body unanimously resolved, that two pieces of field ordnance, taken from the British army at Cowpens, Augusta, or Eutaw,' should be presented to him by the commander-in-chief. In October, 1785, Greene repaired, with his family, to Georgia, some valuable grants of lands near Savannah having been made to him by that state. He died June 19, 1786, in his 44th year, in consequence of an inflammation of the brain, contracted by exposure to the rays of an intense sun. General Greene possessed, in a great degree, not only the common quality of physical courage, but that fortitude and unbending firmness of mind, which are given to few, and which enabled him to bear up against the most cruel reverses, and struggle perseveringly with, and finally surmount, the most formidable difficulties. He was ever collected in the most trying situations, and prudence and judgment were distinguishing traits in his character. In his disposition, he was mild and benevolent; but when it was necessary, he was resolutely severe. No officer of the revolutionary army possessed a higher place in the confidence and affection of Washington, and, probably, none would have been so well calculated to succeed him, if death had deprived his country of his services during the revolutionary struggle.