The overlooked Quaker from Rhode Island who won the American Revolution's crucial southern campaign and helped to set up the final victory of American independence at Yorktown
Nathanael Greene is a revolutionary hero who has been lost to history. Although places named in his honor dot city and country, few people know his quintessentially American story as a self-made, self-educated military genius who renounced his Quaker upbringing-horrifying his large family-to take up arms against the British. Untrained in military matters when he joined the Rhode Island militia in 1774, he quickly rose to become Washington's right-hand man and heir apparent. After many daring exploits during the war's first four years (and brilliant service as the army's quartermaster), he was chosen in 1780 by Washington to replace the routed Horatio Gates in South Carolina.
Greene's southern campaign, which combined the forces of regular troops with bands of irregulars, broke all the rules of eighteenth-century warfare and foreshadowed the guerrilla wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His opponent in the south, Lord Cornwallis, wrote, "Greene is as dangerous as Washington. I never feel secure when I am encamped in his neighborhood. He is vigilant, enterprising, and full of resources." Greene's ingenious tactics sapped the British of their strength and resolve even as they "won" nearly every battle. Terry Golway argues that Greene's appointment as commander of the American Southern Army was the war's decisive moment, and this bold new book returns Greene to his proper place in the Revolutionary era's pantheon.
"Washington said if he went down in battle, Greene was his choice to succeed him. Read this book and you will understand why." -- Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington
Born into a prosperous Quaker family in Rhode Island, Greene (1742 1786) had no formal education and remained at his family's forge into his 30s, when he abruptly abjured pacifism as the Revolution gathered steam. Through thorough research, Golway (So Others Might Live: A History of New York's Bravest), who has written for American Heritage, makes Greene's numerous and complex accomplishments accessible, committing few excesses of patriotism (and fewer of psychobiography). From the Revolution's earliest stages, Greene was appointed commanding general of the Rhode Island contingent in the Patriots' siege of Boston; Golway shows him as one of Washington's most trusted subordinates, with a mixed record as a field commander and a good one as a very reluctant quartermaster-general (a job that made making bricks without straw look simple). In the war's darkest days, in late 1780, Greene was appointed commander in the Southern theater, where the British had nearly swept all before them. Without ever winning a major battle, Greene, Golway shows, kept his army in the field, supported Patriot militias and suppressed Tory ones, undercut British logistics, eventually forced Cornwallis north to Yorktown and besieged Charleston. Along the way he married and had a lively family life, became a slave-owner (through owning land in Georgia) and then died of sunstroke and asthma. Golway makes a convincing case that Greene should be better known.