I had the opportunity to sit down with author Salina Baker, who's authored a number of books related to the American Revolution. She has a whole Angels and Patriots series, as well as a number of other novels. She's currently working on a novel that. Focuses on the life of Nathanael Greene, so we took the opportunity to talk about the life of Nathanael Greene.
Please forgive any errors in the transcript. In the past, I spent days laboriously editing these transcripts for special episodes. I debated not adding one at all, but decided to use an automated transcription service. I made some corrections, but did not spend days proofing and correcting the transcript. I figured that a transcript with errors was better than none at all.
Please enjoy our discussion.
Michael Troy (MJT) Salina Baker, welcome to the American Revolution Podcast.
Salina Baker (SBB) Thank you, Michael. Thank you for having me.
MJT: So we're here to talk about. Nathanael Greene, one of the top major generals of the Continental Army. Why specifically did you decide to write a book about General Greene?
SBB: He was an important character in my 4 book series, Angels and Patriots. As I wrote about him and discovered more about him, I just became more and more fascinated with the man that he was and the man that he became. I just thought that he deserved a new book on him and it is a novel but it's historically accurate. That's pretty much where I went with that. Was just to get his name out there. Not that there isn't plenty of information on him because there is, but just wanted to write some.
MJT: I think that's true. I've seen a lot of polls which call him the most underrated person from the American Revolution because he obviously was critical to the ultimate victory. But he doesn't get a lot of credit for a lot of reasons that we'll probably get into later in the talk. Nathanael Greene came from a Quaker family from Rhode Island. Is that right?
SBB: Yes, he did. He was the 4th son of a Quaker preacher and businessman.
MJT: It will strike many of us as odd as a Quaker and coming from a Quaker family becoming a military general. So I guess he wasn't the ideal son that his father wanted, let's say.
SBB: Yes, that's true. His father limited his son's education and math reading and writing because he believed education beyond that led to temptation and sin. And so, Nathanael, as a boy, couldn't really. He began to not be able to tolerate that kind of a thing, and he wanted to learn more things. And he was already kind of a rebellious young man. He would sneak out of his window at night to go to dances and then come back, and his father would punish him for doing it. But he kept doing it anyway. He and his cousin Griffin went to a place in Connecticut that the friends disproved. And they called them on the floor and said. What are you? Guys doing and neither one of them. Talk so the Quaker said, well, you're banned from the meetings. They didn't ban him from the society, just from the meetings. So we kind of started out by rebellious guy.
MJT: I think he never really fitted well with the Quaker lifestyle and was probably just as happy to be separated from them as they. Were from him. What did he do in his early life? Before the war for a career.
SBB: The sons worked their father's business. He had a ship. He had a Wharf. He had a farm and an iron forge. When he was about 28, his father sent him to Coventry, RI. From their hometown of Polyoma to Coventry, which wasn't that far away, Nathanael built a house there and an iron forge was already there. And so he was the owner, operator of the Iron Forge. So he actually pounded these, smelted into anchors. They also owned the ship. Called Fortune, he and his brothers owned it together after their father died in 1770. They kind of were rebellious at that point because at this point the British were taxing. And they would run the fortune out away from Newport to avoid paying the taxes on the cargo and their ship got confiscated. So this kind of launched him into the rebellion, obviously for obvious reasons.
MJT: Was not a big fan of British officials after that.
SBB: No, not at all. In fact, he sued the guys name was William Duddingston, and he sued Duddingston. He did win his case, but I couldn't find anything that said whether he ever actually got the money that he had won. And this actually led directly to the burning of the Gaspee in June of that same year, 1772 Nathanael was accused of being part of it, but that was never proven.
MJT: Right. The Gaspee was Duddington's ship. It was a world naval ship that was burned to the ground by local patriots who were kind of sick of things he was doing the story I'd heard actually. Was that the reason that they went out to the Gaspee that night, that they ended up destroying it was for the sheriff to serve a warrant? For Greene's lawsuit.
SBB: And they were tired of the whole business, so. Right.
MJT: So Greene got very active in the Patriot cause and the Gaspee was in 1772. So this is a few years before the war really got going. But he began to become a lot more active. Things really heated up in 1774 after the British reaction to the Boston Tea Party, which happened in late 1773. The British locked down Boston, essentially closed the port, put a lot of restrictions on the state, and this is where a lot of people throughout the colonies decided it was time to step up their resistance. And my understanding is. Greene was a part of that, especially in Rhode Island.
SBB: Yes, he joined a militia company called the Kentish Guards out of East Greenwich. Actually, his friend, James Varnum, who went on to become an American Revolutionary War general. James was the captain of the Kentish Guards and that they you know. Applied for a. A Lieutenant position and they denied him. And publicly humiliated him by telling him that his limp was embarrassing because he had a limp that they couldn't have an officer limping about.
MJT: Couldn't march so well on the field.
SBB: It wasn't. Yeah, it wasn't soldierly like. He had other problems, physical challenges too. He had asthma and he had a smallpox scar on his right eye that caused eye infections. I'm sure them turning him down for that limp was the first public humiliation he probably suffered.
MJT: And he had actually played a key role in establishing the Kentish Guards in the 1st place. So it was kind of doubly insulting to him because he had put a lot of his own time and money into establishing this, this militia group in Rhode Island. But yeah there. Were a number of reasons, I guess the limp was one, but in reality he had no military experience. He hadn't fought in the French and Indian War, whereas Varnum had and things like that. So we're looking at it after seeing all of his greatness. They're looking at it is this is this is some guy with. A limp and no military experience.
SBB: Right and right, he had to go to Boston to buy a musket because he didn't even have a musket, so.
MJT: Yeah, he bought an illegal musket from a British deserter.
SBB: Then he asked the guy to help come train the the guards. I think he did.
MJT: Yeah, I don't know if it was the same British deserter, but he did have a British deserter to come and trained the Kentish Guards and British military drill. After he was denied his lieutenancy in the in the guard, he actually ended up serving as. A private right?
SBB: Yes, he stayed. He was going to leave and he decided to go ahead and stay.
MJT: So then we have Lexington and Concord.
SBB: Well, Nathanael got married in July on July 20th, 1774, to his wife, Katie Littlefield Greene, when the first shots were fired in Massachusetts that on April 19th, 1775, the Kentish Guards were called out. But they got to the Massachusetts border and were called back by the Governor of Rhode Island. So supposedly Nathanael and. A couple of. Other guys went ahead and wrote in closer to Boston to see what was happening and they came back and right after that, the Rhode Island Assembly. Really formed an army of observation and for some reason they chose Nathanael to be their general after all of this business with the Kentish Guards.
MJT: Yeah, he wasn't a good lieutenant, but. Hey, why not general?
SBB: Yeah, right. It and why he was chosen. I don't know. Maybe his family was well off. I mean, not they weren't rich. But they were. Well off and they were influential in the community. And he did have managerial experience. If you want to put it that way, you know with the the Iron Ford. Wanting that. But why they actually plucked him out of the ranks?
MJT: Well, everyone's found that strange - everything I've read about it. And all the experts saying how on earth they came up with Greene to be lead. The Army of Observation is a bizarre one. He was by this time he was in his early 30s and he actually was a member of the Colonial Assembly, I believe so. But the men knew him. The people deciding who were going. To be this the. The military leader knew him and it may have been, you know, a bit like George Washington was with the Continental Congress in that they wanted one of their own, somebody that they knew and trusted at the head of this army, that they were sending off.
SBB: No, I think that that that probably did have a lot too that his distant relative William Greene was involved with the Assembly, as you said, and he eventually became Governor of Rhode Island. So he had some connections.
MJT: He came from a prominent family, but I mean, there was a I mean, there was a militia general in Rhode Island at the time, and he got. Passed right over. So yeah, so Greene takes an army of observation up to Boston, which at this time the British Army is under siege in Boston, being surrounded by this. For me of all sorts of volunteers for various New England colonies that have joined this siege of the British Army, how did Greene stand out at the Siege of Boston?
SBB: He was a real strict disciplinarian with his troops. They encamped on the hill in Roxbury, and he tried to keep them all clean and neat and behave. A lot of the Patriots that were. There at the time were. You know, they were kind of messy and undisciplined and so. And Nathanael was a bit more controlling and he cared very much about his men, but they were raw recruits and a lot of the things that they did shocked him. So I think he stood out. Mostly because he tried so hard to make. His little army. Uh, you know, a good disciplined unit.
MJT: Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, I've heard the Siege of Boston described as as a frat house meets Woodstock.
SBB: It was, pretty much.
MJT: It was thousands and thousands of untrained militiamen. Militia at the time just meant you were some guy in a colony and you showed up four times a year for a little bit of drill. See have all these young men? Going out and. Camping around Boston and there was really no. So strong officer corps or anything and said the men pretty much did whatever they wanted. You know how 20 year old men are? If they're left to their own devices
MJT: Greene was particularly strict with his men and he had all of his tents and very neat rose and was. Very strict about them not going out into the field and just. Relieving themselves wherever they wanted and everything.
SBB: Right, exactly. No card playing. Yeah, he didn't like. Yeah, exactly.
MJT: So I think that really caught the eye of General Washington when he arrived on the scene in July of 1775. And I think that, as they say in the movies, was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Greene and Washington. They seemed to hit it off right away.
SBB: Yes, they did. Nathanael sent a letter of introduction to Washington and they meant. But I can't find anything that said what exactly Washington and that then agreed talked about. I've read a lot of his letters and he doesn't really talk about that kind of the personal that hard. When he first met Washington. But something about the two hit off for sure.
MJT: Washington was kind of getting to know all of the officers that Congress had appointed and Congress had appointed Greene to become a Brigadier, the youngest Brigadier in the Continental Army at the time. So yeah, they. They were getting to know each other. Washington famously was not a big fan of most New England men, but he did seem to get along well with Nathanael Greene.
SBB: They had a few things in common. Neither one of them had a formal education, and Washington also was worked. His mother's farm, when he was a young man or a boy, just like Nathanael had to do with his father. So, you know, maybe some building blocks.
MJT: From a historical perspective, it doesn't seem like Greene's role in this early year of the war was that impressive, at least as far as the battles go. He was absent for Bunker Hill. He was back in Rhode Island recruiting at the time. He did not play a big role in the efforts of Henry Knox to bring the cannons. I believe he was sick at the time and.
SBB: He did. He had jaundice.
MJT: Right. So at the time they were, you know, getting all the cannons up on on the hill to force the British to leave Greene really wasn't a part of any. Of that. But he did stay there for the whole throughout the winter, a lot of men wanted to go home at the end of the year. Greene I know, was struggling. One of the reasons he was absent at Bunker Hill was that he was back in Rhode Island trying to recruit more recruits. They had. They had built send an army of observation from Rhode Island of 1500 men and I don't think they ever got. Much above 1000.
SBB: Yes, that's where he was when he and they called him back right away that night. Well, on June 18th, he got the message. That Bunker Hill. And the really the only role he played with the whole Dorchester Heights was, I believe him. And John Sullivan, General John Sullivan. We're supposed to be ready with, I'm going to say it wrong. Are toll boats in case the British decided to make some kind of invidious type, you know, landing there around around there somewhere. I can't remember exactly where they were, but he was definitely not on on the height.
MJT: This is Washington's crazy plan, which thankfully he matured overtime. But. His plan was that they were going to put all these cannons up on Dorchester Heights, and the British would come out with. This is to the. South of Boston and probably try to take those heights. And while they were doing that, there was another team which I think Greene was a part of north of Boston, which was going to take. Ships and row across Boston Harbor in the face of British. Artillery land and then attack Boston proper. While the British were supposedly involved in the South Boston thing, it would have been. A bloodbath if it ever.
SBB: Yes, it would have been a bloodbath, for sure.
MJT: I mean, fortunately, the British never actually launched their attack on Dorchester, so Washington launched this horrible counterattack, which probably would have been the end of.
MJT: Greene he probably would have been killed with what happened next, so this was rough.
SBB: He was doing what he's told.
MJT: But the British did retreat and the army moved down to New York and a lot of New England officers ended up. Staying in New England. The second in command of the Army armies ward never left New England, but Greene did. Greene had kind of tied himself to General Washington and really stuck with him for the next few years.
SBB: When Washington's army moved to New York, Nathanael was given command of the string of forts on Brooklyn Heights on Long Island across. East River, or the harbor from Manhattan these originally, I think were started by General Charles Lee, who was Nathanael's direct commander during the Siege of Boston. So Nathanael was given the string of these forts and he worked really hard to make sure they were. Fortify and whatnot. And then the British start sailing into New York Harbor. They just keep coming and coming and coming. William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, just shipped after ship. Nothing Daniel has spent a lot of time with his troops. He's disciplined them, he's told him not to plunder the citizens and whatnot, and also some of them were running around swimming naked. Which he said was not acceptable anyway.
MJT: There are a bunch of frat boys, I'm telling you.
SBB: They're exactly a bunch of frat boys. I imagine he probably chuckled over the. Complaint but whatever. Just when the British were dropping all these anchors, Nathanael gets sick. I'm not sure where he had typhoid or dysentery, but it was every his troops were sick and a lot of the army was sick. It was prevalent all the way up to Kings Bridge. They had to take him off a Long Island. And take him to Manhattan to. A sick house? He. Was so ill he. Was in and out of delirium. There's just no way he was. Going to be able to. So they sent General John Sullivan over there to take command. Washington did. Well, then you know how and and his British troops and the Hessians and everybody launched an attack on Long Island. And Putnam takes over General Putnam, and of course, we know what happened there. The whole thing was a disaster in in Washington's army was beat.
MJT: Yeah, it did not go well, but yeah. And Greene had actually been responsible for setting up the defenses online before he got sick. So even though he wasn't there to take the fall when the British ended up succeeding, it again did not look impressive for this. This young general who's in his early 30s, and I guess just before the battle. Had been promoted to Major General.
SBB: Yes, just before exactly.
MJT: So he is by far, I think the youngest Major General in the army at this point. He's in, I think he's about 32 years old at this time.
SBB: Yeah, yes. And he has no battlefield experience whatsoever at this point.
MJT: So Washington still sees something in him, and he puts him in command of Forts Washington and Lee, which Fort Washington was in Upper Manhattan and Fort Lee was across the river in in New Jersey.
SBB: Just back up a little bit. They did have a there was a battle at Harlem Heights in September, and it was actually more of a skirmish, I guess. And at the end it was actually there and. That was his first battle. Washington was dividing his army up and moving them here and there, and so he sent nothing. And I don't know why he sent Nathanael there to command the two forts. Again, he's a new general. He's headquartered at Fort Lee, Fort Washington, on the New York side of the Hudson, is in the direct command of Colonel Robert Magaw. They were supposed the two forts were supposed to be able to stop British ships from coming up the Hudson, and that didn't happen. They sailed by in November, and both forts opened fire, but the ship just kept going, and so Washington was saying they had lost the battle of White Plains. Greene was not at the Battle of White Plains, but. Washington had just lost half. And Washington was like, well, if you know, these forts can't stop these ships, then they're not defensible. Greene said no. He believes they are defensible. And assures Washington that they can get the men. Off if the. Forts are attacked. That's not what happened. How launches A3 pronged attack in Fort Washington falls?
MJT: Right. And this is the largest American battle losses in the entire war up until Charleston in 1780. They lost two or three thousand men.
SBB: Yes, 2000 or 3000.
MJT: And yeah, all taken prisoner, most of whom died in British prison ships over the next couple of years. So it really was a devastating loss. One could have seen this as possibly being the end of Greene's military career that Washington had actually ordered him to remove the soldiers from Fort Washington, but then said. But you have discretion because you're on the ground and can see what's going on. If you think differently, that's fine. So it kind of gave him an out there. But Greene used his discretion to maintain the Fort, which led to the loss of all these men. And you could argue Washington did much the same thing in Brooklyn, where he almost had his entire army trapped and managed to get them across the river in a in a miracle retreat.
MJT: I think maybe Greene thought he could do the same thing across the. Hudson, but he didn't have Washington's luck, I guess.
SBB: Yeah, he and Israel Putnam did go back right before Fort Washington was attacked. Him and General Putnam and General Mercer went across back to Fort Washington to see it was happen. And they didn't see the danger. Washington went on and came across the Hudson with troops, and they all went back to Fort Lee. And then that's when Howe attacked Fort Washington.
MJT: Washington and the other officers, I think was Knox and Greene and Mercer were actually. On the New York shore, when the British attacked and they were very close danger of being captured themselves, and they all kept saying to General Washington that he needed to leave and they would stay. And but he didn't want to leave without them. And he finally convinced all of them to get out of there before they became the most valuable POW's of the war.
SBB: Exactly that's probably would have ended the war. You know. You talked on these generals. I believe Henry Knox was not with them. I think he was trying to get cannon across at the time.
MJT: Oh, OK.
SBB: Because and Nathanael wrote him and said - That's a famous line. I was mad that sick and sorry over the whole fort falling and he needed to hear a good word from his friend which was Henry Knox. He wanted to know what the other generals were saying about him. And they were saying some very bad things about and that they know Greene that he didn't deserve to be a general, that his Rhode Islanders didn't deserve to be in the army. They were very vicious at him. But Washington stood by his side.
MJT: He did, and Greene didn't have too much time for self reflection because then the very next thing he had to do was evacuate for leave before he had another disaster there.
SBB: Exactly yeah, they were taken by surprise with that one, too. He was asleep when he got the news that Cornwallis had gotten up on the Palisades. I guess about 6 miles away or so.
MJT: Cornwallis had done a pretty amazing pre dawn raid to get across the river and they were on top of the Americans before the Americans knew what was happening.
SBB: Right. Even though Washington had already said we need to evacuate, they had an and they know had sent stores through new. Jersey, in case the army had to retreat through New Jersey, he had done that previously. So there was a little preparation, but they pretty much just left everything and ran.
MJT: The next few weeks are the Continentals essentially running across New Jersey, and the British chasing them until they get back across to Pennsylvania, and this time it's almost the end of 1776. And the British go into winter quarters. And of course, we all know what happens on Christmas 1776. What was Greene's role? In all of that.
SBB: He led one of the columns they when they all got across, they marched for a while together and then they separated. I can't remember where it was on Burlington Road or somewhere, and he took a call him off and John Sullivan took a call him off. John Sullivan went down the River Road and then he went on the pen Pendleton Road or Pennington. Or something in any way. So they converged on Trenton. The two columns came around and converged on Trenton in the morning. So that was basically.
MJT: Washington was still leaving Greene as one of his division commanders in this main attack. He he was still holding a very important position which shows Washington still very much had confidence in this young man despite challenges he faced so far. So yeah, they succeeded in, of course, capturing the the Hessians at Trenton and then going on to take Princeton where? One of Greene's closest friends in the Army, General Mercer, is killed. But throughout all of this, Greene is pretty much staying by Washington's side. I think it around this time his wife, 80, joins them. Is that right?
SBB: Well, she joined them with the siege of Boston, and then she went home and had a baby and came back to take care of him when he had jaundice. And then she arrived in the camp at Morristown, which was in the winter of 1777. After Trenton and Princeton, when the army winter in Morristown, NJ, she came to visit him there as well.
MJT: Katie Greene was a very young woman. She was, I think, 12 years younger than Nathanael, who was pretty young himself. I think she was 19 when they got married just before the war. But she kind of became the life of the party at the camp. I understand. General Washington was very taken with her.
SBB: Very much so. She could speak French. You know she liked dance. The men just loved her. They were all just smitten over her. She's very convivial and and beautiful. Yeah, she was a bright ray of sunshine in camp and Nathanael didn't really show any jealousy over it. I think he was just really proud of her. He loved her very, very much.
MJT: And I don't think anything untoward was going on, she. Was just a popular.
SBB: No, no.
MJT: Person that everybody liked to see at the party. And of course, to note Greene's relationship with George Washington at the time she brought their first child with them, who was named.
SBB: George Washington Greene.
MJT: George Washington Greene. So the admiration between both men certainly went both ways. The following year we get into the Philadelphia Campaign and Greene is still one of General Washington's top division commanders as General Howe takes his troops to Maryland and marches up toward Philadelphia.
SBB: They were doing a lot of running back and forth trying to figure out where Howe was going to land. Once he did land at head about Maryland, Nathanael did a lot of reconnoitering with his aides. With Washington, he knew Lafayette by then, of course, the big thing he did was a lot of scouting to see what was going on in the countryside, and that was his biggest role, pre Brandywine battle. But during the Battle of Brandywine, he was basically held in reserve. He had a 1200 Virginian regiment under his command, and he was basically held in reserve. And during that battle, which lasted all day, Washington's right flank was turned. All the men, John Sullivan and all his guys were up on Birmingham Hill and they started to retreat. So Nathanael came riding to the rescue at the last minute with his Virginia regiment. Cornwallis was chasing the army. These guys were just running and it was just, you know, crazy. And at the end of road to the rescue and his Virginia Regiment stopped Cornwall's pursuit. That saved a lot of lives there. Because otherwise who would have known what would have happened when if Cornwallis had actually caught up with these fleeing patriots.
MJT: Right. I mean, nobody really gets credit for a loss, but Greene's role at holding the line was very important - keeping the army together to fight another day in this holding action to allow the rest of the army to retreat was critical to that.
MJT: Of course, the British, after winning Brandywine, go on a few weeks later to take Philadelphia and the Continental Army wants to stay nearby, so they move out to a place called Valley Forge, and that's as an understatement, a tough winter for them.
SBB: In the beginning, after all the snow and everything where they could actually get some supplies in, he was actually in charge of forging operations. There were some, a lot of like Connecticut regiments out in the field. That was his basic responsibility. Besides, you know, taking care of his brigades there, his men. At the time, the Quartermaster General of the Army, the Continental Army, Thomas Smith win, quit. This was during the Conway Cabal when they were trying to bring Washington down. And they were trying to bring the thing of. Greene down with. Him saying that they know Greene was was holding Washington's ear and. It was just. This big finger pointing thing going on there. And so and that kind of settled down, they needed a new quartermaster general and the committee from Congress came to. Camp to see you know about the the state of the. Army during this time Nathanael was in charge of this Grand Forge. He was given specific. Instructions from Washington where to forge? He went out there. He established headquarters. He checked out to see what was going on. Sent Anthony Wayne here and there. And so when he got back to camp, they pressed him to become the Quartermaster general of the army. He did not want this. At all. He didn't want to be taken from the line, miss. He didn't want to be chained to a desk with the drudgery of paperwork, but he took the position because of the army and because of Washington. He want he wanted to do his duty to what he thought was right.
MJT: I forget who it was now, but Congress wanted to appoint someone else's quartermaster. It was somebody that Washington absolutely did not. One and he basically begged Greene to take the job because he couldn't come up with anybody else that Congress might find acceptable to fill the role. Basically, this was during the whole Conway cabal, as you said, and a lot of people in Congress were trying to replace Washington with the Hero of Saratoga, Horatio Gates. Greene, as you said, was very closely tied with Washington. So a lot of people in Congress are saying, well, Gates won these all these great battles. Washington's losing all these battles. Why don't we replace the loser with a winner and bring it, you know, let Gates bring in his team and and take over the army. And that was the whole struggle. Over the course of the winter that Washington and. I mean, we're fighting and as I said, they were trying to make other appointments and and push Washington into a corner. And one of the things Washington did was he wanted somebody he could trust in the quartermaster role, and that's why he turned to Greene. Then of course, going from quartermaster to a line officer is kind of a reduction. I mean quarter masters don't make history line officers.
SBB: That's exactly what he said too. Nobody ever heard of a quartermaster in history? He did tell the committee at Congress that he wanted to retain his major generalship and his field command, if it was. Applicable so they. Read that.
MJT: Not only is quartermaster kind of a thankless job, in good times, there were soldiers literally starving to death at Valley Forge, because they just didn't have enough food, and Congress had no money to buy food. And so you you were basically asked to be a miracle worker, and if you pulled off the miracle. So people had dinner. So what? That's not a very exciting. Thing as opposed to winning a battle?
SBB: Right. But yes, like you said, is is necessary evil. I mean, they had to be clothed and they they needed a. It wasn't just the men either. It was the the horses. It also needed to be fed and cared for, so there was a lot to it. The Quartermaster also established campsites and things, so it was a huge job. And of course he had deputies and whatnot.
MJT: Leadership had been lacking up until that point. Mifflin, who had had the job, was kind of pushed out because they thought he was incompetent. So Greene becomes quartermaster. How long did he have that job?
SBB: Two years - he tried to resign several times out of frustration in Congress. For them, Congress started changing their policies. They took away a lot of his deputies. They took away a lot of his money and they were pressing the states to supply provisions and the states, of course, balked at that. And that they don't just speak, he said. Basically said it's impossible to do business. This is just impossible. And he finally read another other letter of resignation July 17. He made Congress extremely mad. It was a tough letter and he did tell them though, because they had accused him and his deputies of misappropriation of their commissions and he basically told Congress you've hurt my feelings, he wrote this in the letter. It was part of it, but then he turned around and pulled rank and said. I'm a high-ranking general in this army, but Washington supported him. He went to Washington and said this is what I'm going to do and Washington said you have my blessing. You can do whatever you need to do because he knew bring was unhappy.
MJT: Very few of the generals were ever happy with Congress, but Greene, especially, was always bumping heads with them. He had gotten in trouble before when he joined in a petition with several other top officers about the appointment of so many French office. Years and yeah, he was constantly complaining about the quartermaster and I’ve got to side with Greene on this one. Congress was expecting this entire army to be fed and not giving them any money. They were giving them some worthless Continental dollars which nobody wanted to accept, and so they always had to pay inflated prices for everything because. I guess if you won't take one Continental dollar, maybe you'll take three. But Congress was seeing all this money burn away and not really as it was their own incompetence and their lack of a fiscal policy and effective fiscal policy that was making it happen. So of course their line is well, the problem must be waste, fraud and abuse in the Quartermaster Corps. And that's what happened to poor old Greene, they're saying. All right, well. He gave you all this money? Where's all the food? And he's like you didn't give me money. You gave me paper and I'm not stealing it. Nobody even wants your paper.
SBB: That's why his letter was so horrendously blunt, and they threatened to throw him out of the army, too.
MJT: The Continental Congress was going to take his letter as a resignation from the Continental Army. He was resigning quartermaster, but they were like, well, we don't want you anymore then. And it was really Washington's intervention that kept them from going that.
SBB: Yes, and he had already irritated. He and Henry Knox and a few other generals like you said about the French officers had threatened to resign. That was in 1777, and John Adams demanded an apology and Knox and Greene and Sullivan said we're not apologizing. Because they said we can't pick up with this. So he already had, like you. Said rubs with Congress.
MJT: Right. I mean, Congress is big concerned and all that is we're the civilian control of the government and if we're letting officers dictate to us how we're running our government, then we're losing civilian control of the government.
SBB: Right, exactly.
MJT: So that was the argument on the other side of things, whereas the officers were just saying, hey, you guys are complete bumbling fools. We need to do something. Same here. Yeah, so it was more of a practical versus ideological issue. So this is 1780 by this time where Greene is almost kicked out of the army, but not but he is no longer the quartermaster. And at this time, we see the greatest loss of the war for the Americans. General Benjamin Lincoln is captured with an army of 5000 in Charleston, SC. And Congress needs to send a new leader to the South, and Washington wants Greene to be that leader. Congress is not so sure. So what do they do?
SBB: They sent Horatio Gates.
MJT: The man that Washington absolutely hates by this time is going to go down to South Carolina, and it's going to repeat his great victory at Saratoga by defeating the British and the South. And he gets as far as Camden and things don't go so well. Yeah, there's a there's a huge British victory at Camden. Gates's army virtually disintegrates the the men who weren't captured just escape. Run away, throw away their guns. They literally just run into the swamps and don't stop until they get home - hundreds of miles away.
MJT: And Gates is no different. He gets on his horse. Which is actually a a racehorse that somebody had lent him. And he rides hundreds of miles in a couple of days just running from the field as fast as he possibly can. And that kind of ends his military. Because you don't get a good reputation as a general if you just run. Away from all your men in the middle.
SBB: Yeah, for whatever reason, you know, he kind of claimed, well, I was going to go get reinforcements. Well, that's ridiculous. And then the battle’s lost. And your second in command is dying and yeah.
MJT: Yeah, it was a huge disaster. So at that point, Congress still doesn't want to appoint Greene because they still don't like him, so they just basically give Washington authorization to do whatever he wants as a part. As far as appointing a southern commander. Probably knowing full well who he's going to pick at this point.
SBB: Hmm, probably yes.
MJT: So Greene becomes the third Southern well, probably the 4th or 5th southern.
SBB: Fourth, yeah.
MJT: Commander, there were a few before General Lincoln. But we've had two commanders in a row now, major very important major generals, Benjamin Lincoln and Horatio Gates take large armies to the South and have them utterly decimated. And Greene is now up for strike. #3. He's taking a large army to the South, and actually not so large anymore to see what he can do.
SBB: Yeah, he accepts the command and he breaks it to Katie that he's going South and. Of course, she hates that. And he takes General Baron von Steuben with him as his second in command, and they go down there, get to Virginia. He leaves Steuben in Virginia to try to raise, you know, militia and provisions. They tried to raise it along the way, and they didn't do a very good job because the states were uncooperative. And so, Nathanael, leave Steven there and he goes and searches for the army and he finds him in Charlotte, NC and they are like you said. They're starving. They're sick. The Colonel of the Hall and Williams is kind of holding them together. And Horatio Gates is there and they have a civil change of command. Not nothing formal, but a civil change of command and gate sleeves. So now Greene has this alarming.
SBB: He's in charge of.
MJT: It's mostly militia at this point. It's not even a whole lot of Continental soldiers that have any kind of experience. One thing he does pick up that benefits him is there was an important Colonel from Virginia who had resigned his Commission.
SBB: I think Edgar Carrington.
MJT: No, I'm actually thinking of Morgan. Sorry I was failing on his name.
SBB: Oh yeah, that's right.
MJT: Daniel Morgan, Congress actually promotes Morgan to brigadier at this point as part of the way of encouraging him to come back to the army.
SBB: Daniel Morgan. It does. All right.
MJT: Morgan had been critical at several key northern battles, including. Saratoga with his riflemen. He was kind of overlooked for promotion. And had a number of ailments, so he just decided to hang it up and retire. And Gates had actually begged Morgan to join him on his way down to Camden. And Morgan said no, I'm done. Greene finally did convince Morgan to join him, and they headed South, and Morgan famously fought the Battle of Cowpens. Which military? Try to still teach to their students to this day because it was just such an amazing battle and Greene actually repeats the same strategy a few weeks later at another. Well, salmon. But Greene does not do particularly well on the battlefield as far as winning battles and taking ground.
SBB: He does terrible job of it. What he did do was he after captains. Cornwallis was furious. He's in command of the Southern Army, the British Southern Army. And he chased his Greene’s little army all over the place across the Dan River. The rest of the Dan. And then they finally meet at Guilford Courthouse. And that's where Nathanael tried to imitate what Morgan had done. Cornwallis's army was decimated even though they were the victors at Guilford Courthouse.
MJT: They were technically. The victors in that they held the field, but I think Guilford was the one where Cornwallis ended up firing on his own men because the two men were so intermingled. And he thought that the Americans were going to win.
SBB: I've read that in a lot of places where they he supposedly turned the cannon on them and I always wondered if that really happened, but I don't know.
MJT: But I mean the bottom line. Was the British and Cornwallis held the field? So technically they're the victors, but at a great cost of men that he could not afford to lose. He his army is slowly dwindling, whereas Greene is slowly raising more and more militia and getting more and more men to join him. Cornwallis's army is shrinking and Greene's army is grown.
SBB: And it's also when he's chasing Greene around South Carolina and North Carolina, they're getting farther and farther away from their supply lines. So when he, when Cornwallis retreats down to Wilmington, NC, after Guilford Courthouse, that's closer to supply lines and kind of leaves South Carolina open.
MJT: Right. And Cornwallis is on his way up to Yorktown, which we all know doesn't go well. For him but. Greene does not follow Cornwallis into Virginia. He heads South into a relatively undefended. South Carolina at this point.
SBB: The British are still in Charleston and Savannah and Wilmington, NC. Greene decides to do is he's going to wipe out these British supply depots, and that's what they he starts doing. He sends the militia generals Light Horse Harry Lee to go and attack onto these. Forts along the rivers, and he systematically destroys the British supply lines and their lines of communication. And finally brings his army down until they've got them kind of locked into Charleston, but they're not under siege. They're just kind of locked in there.
MJT: Right, but this is the successful Continental strategy in a lot of places, in a lot of times is that the British can take a large area because they have a large body of troops to hold it so they can hold a big city. But if they can't hold the area around the city, it really doesn't do them a lot of good because they can't recruit people. They can't collect food. They can't do all the things they need to do to maintain their garrison. That's what Greene successfully does in South Carolina, which several other officers have tried to do and failed, but he succeeds. And taking out all these outposts and forcing the British into one big city where they really can't do much damage outside of it.
SBB: Yes, exactly. Even though he's, like you said, he's lost a lot of the battles. He's relentless and he's not going to let South Carolina fall. What he did was unbelievable because he had militia coming and going. His army was starving and he just. He never stopped writing letters. He never let up and he was extremely concerned about reestablishing civil authority in Georgia and South Carolina. Because it had collapsed and the Governor John Rutledge was in exile. He was often in camp with Nathanael Greene. So they had a good relationship and it was, this was really important to get the civil authority up and running again, in Greene's mind.
MJT: Right. There was a lot of concern, I think that this war seemed to be coming to an end. But, if the British retained control of Georgia and South Carolina, we might have granted independence to 11 states, and two would have remained British colonies as, as did many others like the colonies in what became Canada remained British. South Carolina and Georgia easily could have remained British colonies after the war. Had the Americans not been able to retake it and we mostly have General Greene and his army to thank for that.
SBB: Yes, that's and that was exactly what Nathanael's concern was. What you just described was that there would be peace and that the British were still holding those two states.
MJT: I think Greene's really last big hurrah as far as battles go was Eutaw Springs.
SBB: I love that battle. I've been to that battlefield a lot. Yes, they lost the battle. Well, they both claimed victory, but it was quite an intense battle lasted for four hours and there were huge losses. I think they're both sides lost, like 1400 men. But yeah, that was his last hurrah. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for that battle.
MJT: And Greene had really realized this was a war of attrition and whether he held a field at the end of the battle or not really didn't matter. What mattered was that the British Army kept losing men that they could not replace and that they were slowly dwindling. And yeah, Eutaw Springs was a big part of that.
SBB: And if he was, showing strength in the state. The civilian population would also be more apt to be on the patriot side because they were having their own civil war down there. The civilians were, and that was also a great concern.
MJT: Yeah, I mean, there were certainly lots of people who were hardcore patriots or hardcore loyalists on either side, but there was a huge portion of the population that was mostly: I just want to farm and not have my land seized and all that. If the British were in control, fine. Let me go farm my fields. And if the Americans were in control, fine, let me go farm my fields. And so maintaining that the appearance to the population that, yes, we the Americans are in control, certainly was a big help to getting those people on their side, at least for them.
SBB: Right, right.
MJT: So the war comes to an end.
SBB: Charleston's evacuated and the war comes soon in, and then he goes home to Rhode Island. Katie, his friend at the house in Newport. So they move in there. In 1782, he was not getting any money from the Continental Congress or the states to clothe his men, and he ended up having to sign a personal $30,000 loan, not loan. It was a guarantee to a merchant who was supposed to provide clothes to his army. And the merchant did some money making schemes and lost his credit and Nathanael had to step up and and do basically signature loans and say here, here's, you know, my guarantee and everything went wrong. He did get the clothing, but everything went wrong. And so he was in horrible, horrible debt. He had to borrow money from Robert Morris, the Marquis, a bunch of his friends. And he was crushed under this debt.
MJT: See, this is a common complaint of a lot of Continental officers is they put their personal money and credit on. The line to save their troops at a desperate time and they're looking to the Continental Congress to reimburse them as soon as they can. And the Continental Congress just kind of says don't know what you're talking about. Don't really want to. We've got no money.
SBB: You're right, you're right. A lot of the generals did do this. It wasn't just Greene, but.
MJT: Greene was hit particularly hard by it.
SBB: Yes, he was. And they did give him the state of Georgia gave him plantation called Mulberry Grove in South Carolina, gave him a plantation called Boonsberry. And of course, the cost of running that was money he didn't have, but he went home to Rhode Island. Eventually, he and Katie decided that, well, he was trying to clear. His debt. And this wasn't happening, and he had to keep going back S to talk to lawyers. John Banks, the guy that he was supposed to provide the clothing, died during this time. And so Nathanael's hopes of ever clearing his debt with him just dropped to 0. So. So he and Katie finally decided their best bet was to move south to the Mulberry Grove plantation, which they did in October of 1785. And by this time they had five children, so he was very concerned about how he was going to take care of his family. He also had bought land on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, which he was trying to start cutting timber and even trying to sell it to France. But he was having trouble getting hiring people capable people to do this. Cut this lumber and timber.
MJT: Yeah, this was before the the US Constitution was ratified. Says that really the Continental Congress or the Confederation Congress, whatever you want to call. At this point. Just had no money and they made all these promises to officers about what they were going to get after the war. And they were just not coming through with any of them. And these men who had sacrificed, you know, nearly a decade of their lives in, in military service were just bankrupt at this point and just doing anything they could to rebuild their lives.
SBB: Yes, when they moved down there, Katie got pregnant again, had their sixth child. She fell and the baby was born early and died. And so they they were. Having some tragedy going on. Mulberry Grove was coming along well, but he still had no money. He wrote to Henry Knox and he said that his family was in distress and he had no idea how he was going to get out of it. And he felt embarrassed. He was embarrassed because he was in this situation. And couldn't get him extricate himself from it. And you're right, Congress would not pay him his money. So they were trying to. Develop their rice crop there in Mulberry Grove. He and Katie went to Savannah to meet with their lawyer, Nat Pendleton, and a London firm was demanding the money from Greene. Let me. Back up. I'm sorry I jumped to. He was getting letters from this London firm that was involved with the whole John Banks clothing business and they were demanding money from him and saying we need our money. You need to pay up and he didn't have it. So he finally met one of their representatives in Savannah and went there in June. Of 17, six, they went on June 11, went staying on the way home to Mulberry Grove. They stopped at a neighbor's home at plantation. And and Nathanael walked the field with his neighbor. So they could talk about. You know, he was learning, he was learning how to be a rice planter. And he didn't wear a hat under the sun on the ride home, he complained he had. A headache. He went home and went to bed. Well, things got worse. His head started as well and they called the Doctor. The doctor bled him. You know the usual treatments that did nothing of the day and he was diagnosed with some stroke. And his neighbor was actually General Anthony Wayne, who had gotten a plantation as well from the state of Georgia and Anthony Wayne. Died because he was so sick that Dana was sick and he sat with Katie. In four days, they sent the kids away. So now they are dropped into unconsciousness and he died on the morning of June 19th, 1786 and he's 43.
MJT: Right. He's only 43 years old at this point. He made it through the whole war and sunstroke did him in. I mean, poor Katie was only what, 30-31 years old time. She's already a widow with six kids and a bankrupt estate.
SBB: Yeah, Right. Well five because the last baby died.
MJT: Right. One of them passed away.
SBB: You know, the baby just died two months before Nathanael died. So she's got this. Now she's faced with all this stuff and she's away from home and hasn't lived in Georgia that long.
MJT: Right. No family around or anything. One of the real shames is, I mean many of our founding fathers. Many of the great generals went on to do amazing things after the war and we probably would have expected the same of Greene. But he didn't get the opportunity because he, as you say, passed away in 1786, only a couple of years after the war ended. So. Yeah, I mean, it's a. Real shame, and of course, well, I guess. Nice extra about this or interesting extra is Katie Greene actually took on an interesting tenant after General Greene passed away.
SBB: She took on Eli Whitney, then the inventor of the cotton gin. They had a tutor tutoring their children, the Greenes. His name was Phineas Miller. She and Phineas encouraged Eli Whitney to work on his invention. And they actually financially backed him. She ended up marrying Phineas Miller in 1794 or something. I can't remember the exact date, but yes, they were involved in Eli Whitney's cotton gin as you mentioned.
MJT: Yeah, which really changed the course of the South for decades. Salina, this has been really interesting. Thanks for joining me today. As we said, you have a new book coming out on the life of Nathanael Greene that that's called The Line of Splendor, which as you said, was taken from the quote that he made about not wanting to leave the front lines.
SBB: Yes, from a letter he wrote to Pennsylvania politician Joseph Reed. He said “they have taken me from the line of splendor.”
MJT: When can we expect this book to be released?
SBB: I'm hoping by the end of 2023 it's under edit right now, but these things take a long time so. Hopefully by then and I plan on keeping everybody informed.
MJT: Well, great. We look forward to it. Salina. Thanks.
SBB: This has been really a lot of fun. Thank you so much, Michael, for having me.
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Salina Baker's novel about Nathanael Greene is expected to be published later this year. She has also written the Angels and Patriots series, as well as The Shipbuilder and The Trancendent. For more about Baker and her work, please visit https://salinabbaker.com