Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumpth of the American Revolution


The overlooked Quaker from Rhode Island who won the Revolutionary War'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 ...

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The overlooked Quaker from Rhode Island who won the Revolutionary War'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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“While researching and writing a book about George Washington, I concluded that Nathanael Greene was the most under appreciated great man in the War for Independence, and that he deserved a modern biography that told his incredible story. Now, here it is. Washington once said that, 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

“Terry Golway has done a magnificent job of capturing the personal and professional Nathanael Greene and portraying him as a living, vibrant, exceptionally competent general whose significance has not been widely appreciated until now. The depth and breadth of research are outstanding, and the prose a joy to read. This should be regarded as the definitive biography for years to come.”

—Robert M. Utley, author of The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull

“Terry Golway has written a remarkable book that brings the American Revolution alive for the 21st century reader in a new way. He gives us a Nathanael Greene that we can all understand: a modern man, ambitious but unsure of himself and the new political world he was creating, deeply in love but uncertain about his fidelity to his beautiful wife, not terribly fussy about the ethics of making money. Yet this Rhode Island Quaker risked his life and reputation to rescue the faltering Revolution in the South and incidentally proved himself a brilliant general. This is the American Revolution for adults.”

—Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty! The American Revolution

“If George Washington was the one indispensable man in our Revolution, Nathanael Greene was surely Washington’s one indispensable general. In a spirited, wholly engrossing narrative, Terry Golway summons this underappreciated figure back from the mists and puts the living man before us with all his crochets, self-pity, self-doubt—and the tenacious, high-hearted optimism that, along with a wholly self-taught military master, more than once saved his infant republic. This fine biography includes among its pleasures a love story (with its share of thorns amid the roses), a loquacious subject whose letters, for all their quaint spelling, are full of the eloquently-expressed passions of a gifted, beleaguered man, and perhaps most important of all, a wonderfully vivid reminder of what a reckless, audacious, almost miraculous adventure we Americans embarked upon when we decided we needed a nation of our own.”

—Richard F. Snow, Editor-In-Chief, American Heritage

“Nathanael Greene lost every major battle he fought, and then he died young. Yet he was one of the greatest military geniuses America ever produced. Terry Golway triumphantly resurrects the pugnacious, self-taught optimist who helped Washington win the American Revolution.”

—Richard Brookhiser, author of Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington

Publishers Weekly
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. (Feb. 2) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nathanael Greene's early death in 1786 prevented him from being remembered in the same light as Washington, Adams, Hamilton, and others of that ilk. Golway (So That Others Might Live), a columnist and city editor of the New York Observer, contends that Greene, a revolutionary hero, has been lost to history, and he endeavors to correct this oversight. This book traces the life of Greene, who shed his Quaker roots to become the victorious commander of the American Southern army. Self-conscious of his lack of formal education, Greene strove to be recognized for his hard work. Four tedious years as the army's quartermaster earned him the confidence and praise of Washington, who made him his heir apparent. Finally, Greene's unconventional leadership in the South frustrated the English, and ultimately Greene won the day. Golway superbly intertwines Greene's personal life with his military and business ambitions. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Charles M. Minyard, U.S. Army (ret.), Blountstown, FL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
New York Observer columnist and editor Golway (For the Cause of Liberty, 2000, etc.) rescues a Revolutionary War hero from oblivion, and deservedly so. Nathanael Greene was a Rhode Islander who mysteriously earned a promotion from private to general of militia almost overnight, and who otherwise embodied a bundle of contradictions: he was a nominal pacifist who excelled at warfare, a pious man who was fond of a visit to the alehouse, "a walking incongruity: a self-taught child of the Enlightenment, dressed in the unadorned black garb of a Quaker." When textbooks mention him at all, they tend to cast Greene in a saintly light, whereas Golway accords him all the usual human failings. Among other things, the man wasn't above politics; he grumbled about George Washington's failings as a commander and lobbied hard for position, especially against rival general Horatio Gates, though he skillfully depicted himself as being the unwilling recipient of rank and honor. And he was also, Golway hints, not above earning a dollar here and there by helping mercantile relatives gain access to lucrative army contracts. Greene also had positive qualities, however, that more than matched his shortcomings, one being sheer bravery; he uncomplainingly turned up in the thick of important battles, such as the Continental victory at Trenton and defeat at Germantown, and at the end of the war his mere appearance on the battlefield, apparently, was enough to send his British foes into flight. Greene had a simple view of the war: "We fight, get beat, rise and fight again." That persistence wore down royal forces in the South, with the last battles of the Revolutionary War. At places like Cowpens, the Dan River,Guilford Courthouse, and Eutaw Springs, Greene met everything the British threw at him, and if he lost many battles, he at least kept up a fight that would have been all too easy to abandon. A fitting and welcome monument to a surprisingly complex actor in early American history. Agent: John W. Wright/John Wright Literary Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805070668
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/10/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 10.06 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Terry Golway

Terry Golway, columnist and city editor of The New York Observer, is a frequent contributor to American Heritage, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. His previous books include So That Others Might Live, The Irish in America, For the Cause of Liberty, and Irish Rebel. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2005

    Without Greene, the American Revolution May Well Have Failed

    There is but one painting of Nathaniel Greene and no maps showing the fields of battle, yet 'Washington's General' brings forth the most vivid images of what Washington and his generals must have endured in waging the Revolutionary War, It is a testament to their dedication, ingenuity, and perseverance that they were able to achieve victory in the face of British military superiority and little financial support from the Continental Congress. Terry Golway has elevated Nathaniel Greene and the Southern Campaign to the same level of significance accorded Gettysburg and Midway. And through the extensive correspondence of Greene and others, he is able to protray the principal characters in terms which make them come to life. Indeed, the book reads like a novel, making it difficult to put it down. Even in the absence of maps, Golway describes the onset and progress of battle so clearly that one feels it has only just passed. Nathaniel Greene comes across as a 'real' person, complete with manly passions as well as great ambition and seemingly endless self-pity. Had he lived to participate in the founding of the nation, he would have been remembered along with Washington as one who truly risked 'his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor' in pursuit of the ideal of a free and independent nation. 'Washington's General' is one of the most exciting, illuminating and satisfying books on the American Revolution I have ever read. Terry Golway is to be commended for bringing to our attention a man who history forgot and without whom the Revolution might well have been lost.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 1, 2010

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