Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 30

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 30

Comments
/
/
/
769 Views

This is the grave of Nathanael Greene.

2016-01-12 16.34.34 HDR

Nathanael Greene, Rhode Island’s biggest contribution to the American Revolution, was born in 1742 in Warwick. He didn’t do anything particularly unusual before the American Revolution, although he was a strong sympathizer with the colonists’ cause against the British government. He rose rapidly in Washington’s army, becoming a major general in August 1776 when he was placed in charge of troops on Long Island. When the army retreated from New York City, he advocated burning it to the ground so the British couldn’t use it. Besides, he argued that the city was a loyalist center anyway. Washington was interested in this idea but Congress rejected it. He managed as the quartermaster of Valley Forge, an extraordinarily difficult position. Congress kept interfering in the naming of generals in the South. After picking several disasters, it let Washington pick and he chose Greene. It worked well. Outmanned, he divided his forces, knowing the British would have to do the same, hoping it would lead to a victory. That was achieved at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, where British forces were decimated. He then engaged in a series of actions, including at Guilford Courthouse and Ninety-Six, that forced the British to flee to the coast.

After the war, Greene did what any Rhode Islander with a choice has done for over 200 years. He left. He bought a plantation outside of Savannah, Georgia and moved there full time in 1785. In doing so, he, like many northerners when given the opportunity, changed his mind about slavery. He previously had mostly opposed slavery as a Quaker, although his wife had grown up with them. He advocated freeing slaves in exchange for military service during the War. But after the war, he asked the states of South Carolina and Georgia to buy slaves for him, even as he still said the institution was bad in principle, he needed to provide for his family.

He was however, as a Rhode Islander, unprepared for the heat. He died there of sunstroke in 1786, at the age of 43. After his death, his wife hired a young man named Eli Whitney to teach their children. It was on his plantation that Whitney invented the cotton gin, ensuring slavery would become the backbone of the American economy.

Nathanael Greene is buried in Johnson Square, Savannah, Georgia

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Steve LaBonne

    Speaking of Guilford Courthouse, I have family in Greensboro, and the battlefield park is well worth a visit (as well as being a great place for a walk.)

    • LuckyJimJD

      My favorite local place for a stroll. And an impressive monument to the a General.

    • celticdragonchick

      I usually volunteer at the front desk in the battlefield visitor center on Friday mornings, although I am substitute teaching through the end of the school year so I will will not be back at the battlefield until June.

      It really is a beautiful and well maintained national park, despite whatever the GOP has tried to do to our budget.

  • UberMitch

    After the war, Greene did what any Rhode Islander with a choice has done for over 200 years. He left.

    Just chiming in to confirm this; I was raised in Cranston and split town forever when I was 18.

  • Davis X. Machina

    “No body ever heard of a quarter Master in History as such or in relateing any brilliant Action.” Nathanael Greene to George Washington, 24 April 1779,”

  • CP

    When the army retreated from New York City, he advocated burning it to the ground so the British couldn’t use it. Besides, he argued that the city was a loyalist center anyway. Washington was interested in this idea but Congress rejected it.

    Yeah, I gotta go with Congres on that one.

  • Bruce Vail

    I like the way you say “retreated from Long Island.” It shows a fine appreciation for the art of spinning history.

    The Battle of Long Island was a military disaster. After crushing the rebels, the British chased Washington out of Manhattan and then defeated him again at the Battle of White Plains. It was one of the lowest points of the war (for the Americans).

    Back in the day, I walked the grounds of Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn) on a daily basis. No national military park here, with the streets of the modern city laid right on top of the old battlefield. You, Erik, would have been on the old battlefield during your last book appearance in Brooklyn.

    • The Battle of Long Island was a military disaster. After crushing the rebels, the British chased Washington out of Manhattan and then defeated him again at the Battle of White Plains.

      Yeah, but what choice did Washington really have? He couldn’t just surrender New York without a fight, and given the complete lack of American naval power, there was no way the city could be held. But try explaining that to Congress and a public drunk on expelling the British from Boston.

      Not evacuating Fort Washington was the real blunder. They had plenty of warning and lost something like 2,000 of their better troops for sheer inaction. Other than that, Washington did well to eat that much time off the calendar and keep the army in one piece.

      As for the actual topic of the post, Greene, as I recall, got a lot of votes on this site for most underrated American general, and I wouldn’t disagree. Not a lot of field commanders can handle supply and then go back to being field commanders.

      • Bruce Vail

        I enjoyed visiting historic sites in NYC when I lived there many moons ago. It seems like there is something interesting around every corner…

        • skate

          Every now and then as I walk to work, I recall that at about the halfway mark I am stepping through the area where the first shots of the Battle of Harlem Heights were fired.

    • skate

      The battle was a disaster. The retreat actually well done. Got the surviving army out of Brooklyn and across the East River to Manhattan without the British being the wiser. Comparable to Dunkirk in a way.

      I’ve read somewhere that this was because of an opportune fog that rolled in and hid the escape. The flip side is supposed to be that the British were unable to evacuate Yorktown because the fog there cleared.

    • wengler

      The retreat was a thing of beauty though. They slipped out from there from right under King George’s big German nose rather than getting defeated in detail. Best retreat in American history. 11/10.

      • wjts

        What about Chosin?

        • liberalrob

          I would also rate Thomas’ rearguard at Chickamauga and the tactics used during the initial phase of the Battle of the Bulge among the U.S. military’s better retreats.

    • JBL

      There’s a plaque somewhere in a public park, though, right? I used to go there some time as a kid, I think.

  • Bruce Vail

    The Greene family was redeemed from its flirtation with slavery during the Civil War. A second cousin, George Sears Greene, became a Union general and was a hero of Gettysburg. His stout defense of Culp’s Hill is said to have been crucial to holding the Union line on the 2nd and 3rd days of the battle, making an essential contribution to the US victory.

  • caphilldcne

    So disapponted to hear about his turn to slavery. He’s memorialized with a statue in Washington DC’s Stanton Park (I live three blocks away) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanton_Park. The park of course is named for Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s War Secretary. He needs a statue! Btw if you wanna visit an American Grave you could do worse than Elbridge Gerry and Lenny Matlovich in Congressional Cemetery Just a few miles away. Also they allow dogs.

  • Colin Day

    The book What If 2 mentions Washington’s escape from Brooklyn Heights. The American army was trapped in Brooklyn Heights, with its back to the East River. Then the weather turned, and the Americans were “cold, wet, and miserable.”

    “But in their misery lay their salvation”

    The nor’easter prevented the British fleet from ascending the East River and cutting off the American retreat. Washington staged a brilliant retreat, himself crossing his army across the East River, to live to retreat (and eventually fight) another day.

  • Bruce Vail

    Greene didn’t actually buy a plantation near Savannah. The State of Georgia purchased the derelict site and gifted it to Greene in consideration for his meritorious service in the Revolutionary War (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulberry_Grove_Plantation).

    Turns out Greene was a good general but a not-so-good businessman. While Rhode Island’s Brown brothers made a fortune out of the war, Greene lost money with his investments in privateering (legalized piracy). Georgia, not Rhode Island, came forward with a nice gift for the distinguished general….

    • Bruce Vail

      Interesting details of Greene’s career in Patriot Pirates, by Robert H. Patton, which details the role of privateering in the Revolutionary War.

      Odd coincidence that I happened to be skimming through this book just this week…

  • Jim in Baltimore

    If Greene is buried there, where’s Johnson buried?

  • dp

    There you were, rocking along with a happy grave, and you had to bring up the slavery thing!

    Few of our forebears aren’t tainted in one way or another, and recognizing it is the first step in changing it.

  • wengler

    American generalship tends toward mediocrity just like its Presidents. Nathaniel Greene wasn’t one of them.

  • Scott P.

    he, like many northerners when given the opportunity, changed his mind about slavery.

    Worth pointing out that at the time of the Revolutionary War, Rhode Island had a larger population of slaves by percentage than any other state in New England, over 6%. It was also a major destination for the slave trade. Gradual emancipation was passed in 1784, a year before Greene left. By contrast, slavery was banned in Georgia until 1750.

  • mch

    I take an interest here because I have recently learned some family history, beyond by father’s vague and inaccurate “two brothers from MA went to RI, then one went on to MN — oh WI was in there somewhere first.” In short, my “h” forebears came to RI after their homes and work in Charlestown were burned by the Brits at Bunker Hill. (Who knew that their forebears came from Devon in the 1600’s? I did not, until recently. I hardly knew any of these people existed.) During the Rev, they were in Salem, out of which they privateered. (One h was captured and is listed among the Br captives held in Brooklyn — I haven’t been able to determine if he died there.) Anyway, a privateering son moved to RI after the Rev (he was a tanner). His son followed his sons and daughters to WI in 1838 (yes,1837’s panic is prob. relevant here, as is the Erie Canal). By 1860 my line had moved on to MN — lots of prairie-ploughing — a bankruptcy, too. (An eldest son died in the CW — disease.)

    Erik knows my h last name, so to let him know: no, not one of THOSE h’s! If I am related to to any of those RI h’s (and I probably am), it is distantly to Devon in the 1600’s.

    My father’s two brothers’ fallacy…. Well, not entirely a fallacy. Two brothers did go to WI in 1838 together, but one got eclipsed in the 1880’s stories that celebrated individual frontiersman. Really interesting the ideology at work there in the public storytelling (newspapers, county histories and such), which I have written up for family but have no idea how to write up properly for a larger audience.

    Strange thing. One son of RI born h, who seems to have been the spearhead of the extended family move to WI starting in 1838, married a girl born in AL whose parents were from RI! Said girl kneaded 100 loaves of bread a week to send my grandfather and his siblings to college in the upper Midwest, so I will not naysay her, despite her way of romanticizing slavery. But why did her father (a smith) move from RI to AL in the 1850’s? There’s some little North-South strumming of micro history going on here!

  • Bruce Vail
    • mch

      We do have to revisit the Quakers. In many ways, they were Puritans on steroids. Later, after having made a fortune on slavery, some (not all, not least Southern Quakers) went all anti-slavery. Well and good.

      Meanwhile, spend a few hours with Friends meeting minutes (available online). They make the Dorchester selectmen of the 1600’s look like tolerant men, forgiving of human frailty.

      When did this left worship of Friends begin? Truly curious. It’s weird.

  • JBL

    This post is really great, thanks!

  • Pingback: Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 45 - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

It is main inner container footer text