Born in Warwick, Rhode Island,Nathanael Greene came from a family of Quakers. He was expelled from the Quakers, who stressed peace, because he held an over¬ weening interest in military studies. When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, he was one of the first men named a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Greene rose to major-general in 1776.
He went on to serve as quartermas¬ ter of the Continental Army (1778-1780). His greatest and most important assignment came in 1780, when George Washington (see no. 62) named him commander of the southern forces of the army.
Greene traveled south in the wake of a resounding British vic¬ tory at Camden, South Carolina. His predeces¬ sor, General Horatio Gates, had been utterly defeated and the south¬ ern forces were in com¬ plete disarray at the time of Greene’s arrival. To make matters worse, British General Cornwallis was about to march into North Carolina and disperse the last remnant of colonial resistance in that state.
Confronted by a nearly impossible situa¬ tion, Greene disregarded every textbook on warfare. He chose to divide his already out¬ numbered army and march north to the Dan River in two columns. He led one column, and the other was led by General Daniel Morgan.
Cornwallis pursued Greene while Colonel Banastre Tarleton went after Morgan and his men.Greene’s planning paid off handsomely at the Battle of Cowpens, where Morgan fought a defensive battle and routed Tarleton.
Reeling from this blow, Cornwallis had his men burn their baggage and set off in hot pursuit of Greene. On hearing this news, Greene rejoiced “Then he is ours!” Knowing the speed with which his lightly equipped American troops moved,.
Greene stayed just out of reach of the British, and crossed the Dan River a few hours prior to the arrival of the British. He took all the boats with him, and Cornwallis could only stare and wonder at the escape of the Americans.
After receiving supplies and reinforcements, Greene again crossed the Dan River and marched to attack Cornwallis. The two armies fought bruising battles at Hobrik’s Hill and Guilford Courthouse (1781). Each time Greene withdrew, leaving Cornwallis in posses¬ sion of the field with little to show for it but large casualty lists.
Explaining his military strategy in a letter, Greene wrote, “We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.” No one has better expressed the simple method of guerrilla war¬ fare which Greene employed in the southern campaigns.
By the time the war ended, Greene had chased the British out of all the south except the coastal towns of Charleston and Savannah.
His maneuvers forced Cornwallis to march north to Virginia, where he surren¬ dered to George Washington. Greene retired to an estate near Savannah, Georgia. He died soon after the war.