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Nathanael Greene

Nathanael Greene was born in Potowomut (later Warwick), Rhode Island. He was largely self-educated and developed an early interest in military science. As a young man he managed a foundry owned by his father. In the early 1770s Greene served in the Rhode Island assembly and in 1775 was elected commander of the local militia. When news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord arrived, Greene led his troops to the Boston area. During the siege of the city, he earned the respect of George Washington and was placed in command of the city following the British withdrawal in March 1776. In August 1776, Greene was promoted to major general. He was absent from the fighting at Long Island on account of illness, but saw action elsewhere in New York. He was assigned responsibility for Forts Washington and Lee, both of which were lost to the British in November, and he accompanied Washington in the retreat across New Jersey. Greene later served at Trenton, Brandywine Creek, and Germantown, and went into winter quarters at Valley Forge with Washington in December 1777. In February 1778, Greene was named quartermaster general and demonstrated considerable skill at procuring supplies for the army. Some controversy developed around his alleged overpayment for some items, but it was found that his actions were logical responses to wartime inflation. Greene simultaneously conducted operations in the field, serving at Monmouth and later in Rhode Island. Greene replaced Benedict Arnold as the commander at West Point in early 1780. He also headed the board of general officers that condemned John André to death. In August 1780, American forces under Horatio Gates suffered a serious defeat at Camden. Gates had been the choice of the Congress, which then deferred to Washington on appointments. The commander-in-chief selected Greene to lead the Southern effort. He successfully reorganized the campaign and, with the able assistance of Henry Lee and Daniel Morgan, was frequently able to outmaneuver the larger force of Lord Cornwallis. A bold decision to split his army forced the British to do likewise, resulting in Morgan’s victory at Cowpens in January 1781. A later loss at Guilford Courthouse resulted in sapping British strength and a forcing a change in their war plan. A victory at Eutaw Springs in September compelled the British to withdraw to Charleston, where they remained for the duration. In his post-war life, Greene worked in the South to heal the heavy toll taken by protracted guerilla warfare. He took the unpopular position of opposing the seizure of Loyalist property, hoping that wartime passions would cool. Greene experienced severe financial hardship as a result of having signed personally on notes for the purchase of supplies during the war. A dishonest partner died and left Greene with full responsibility, which caused him to lose his home. A grateful Georgia legislature awarded him with a land grant outside of Savannah, where he developed Mulberry Grove. Nathanael Greene is well regarded by many military historians for possessing some of the strongest organizational and strategic skills of any of the American commanders in the War for Independence.