In my book, Fighting Fathers: The Battlefield Leaders Who Made American Independence, I devote considerable attention to the exploits of General Nathanael Greene, one of George Washington’s most trusted subordinates.
Familiar with the military arts from an early age thanks to his voracious reading, Greene faced a difficult task as he sought to convert militiamen into disciplined troops as war with the British broke out. By July 1775, however, his men, now a true fighting force, deployed to Boston. Washington met Greene there, and the two forged an immediate and lasting friendship.
In 1777, Greene showed great courage in the Battle of Brandywine. Later that year at Valley Forge, Washington chose Greene to be his Quartermaster General, placing him in charge of provisioning the Army at its lowest point. Greene attacked the task with his usual energy and professionalism, but conflicts with Congress led to his resignation from the position in 1780.
Washington then selected Nathanael Greene to fight the British in the South, replacing General Horatio Gates after a crushing defeat. Greene led his exhausted and depleted troops with valor, hounding the British until they left the Carolinas. After Cornwallis’ surrender in 1783, General Greene retired to Savannah, Georgia, where he had been given 24,000 acres in gratitude for his service. He died suddenly in 1786, at the age of 43, sending the entire nation into mourning.
After 25 years of service in the U.S. Army, Alan Cate now chairs the History Department and teaches at the University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio.