General Nathanael Greene
3rd Quartermaster General
March 1778-August 1780
Greene was born in Rhode Island in 1742 of Quaker parentage. From boyhood he was
trained to work in the mills and the forge owned by his father. While he
attended no college, he displayed an aptitude for study, and his reading was
guided by Ezra Stiles, who became president of Yale.
face of the impending struggle with England he had helped to organize a militia
company in 1774, but his fellow members denied him a lieutenancy because of his
limping gait, and some went so far as to suggest that even as a private he would
detract from the smart appearance of the company. Greene was deeply mortified,
but his character is revealed by the fact that he remained in the company as a
1775 he was a member of the General Assembly as he had been in 1770 to 1772.
When the news of the Battle of Lexington arrived, Greene and his fellow
militiamen set out for Boston. Although the Loyalist governor recalled them,
Greene and three others continued on.. It was there that Greene's ability began
to be realized. The private became a brigadier general in the Continental Army
on June 22, 1775. For the next three years he was in constant service as a field
the general in whom Washington most confided. Though resolute and firm, Greene
was a pleasant man, who controlled a naturally impulsive and nervous
temperament. A man of great integrity, he later treated with scorn the
accusations made against him as Quartermaster General.
Mifflin began to neglect his Quartermaster duties, General Washington relied
more and more upon General Greene's energy and wisdom in matters of supply. The
dire distress of the army at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78 forcibly
called the attention of Congress to the necessity of filling the vacancy in the
Quartermaster's Department. Under pressure from Washington, Greene reluctantly
agreed to accept the post. Congress met the conditions of his acceptance
and permitted Greene to retain his rank of Major General in the line and
appointed John Cox and Charles Pettit his assistant quartermasters general.
entered upon his duties with characteristic energy and began preparations for
the spring campaign. He attacked the knotty problem of transportation, he
established a chain of forage depots and he struggled to obtain funds from
Congress for the purchase of horses, wagons, forage, tents, and other necessary
supplies. So effective were his measures that the condition of the soldiers was
much improved and their movement greatly facilitated, enabling them to pursue
the British promptly when they evacuated Philadelphia in 1778. During the
campaign that summer, Greene often combined the functions of Quartermaster
General with the duties of a field commander.
activities as Quartermaster General required unremitting, annoying, and
thankless labor. The mounting expense of the Department alarmed him and gave
rise to considerable criticism. Congress, concerned with reducing expenses,
appointed three commissioners late in January 1780 to introduce such reforms as
were necessary in the Department. In the midst of making preparations for the
campaign soon to be launched by Washington, Greene learned that Congress
insisted upon holding the Quartermaster General personally and financially
liable for the acts of his subordinates. Greene flatly rejected this doctrine,
and when he observed that the reorganization at the same time took away his two
trusted officers, Pettit and Cox, he immediately sent in his resignation, on
July 26. 1780. His letter of resignation so angered Congress that there was even
talk of dismissing him from the service entirely. This move failing, Congress
elected Timothy Pickering to the office of Quartermaster General on August 5,
Greene returned to commanding troops. In the fall of 1780, when Congress
suspended General Gates from his command after his crushing defeat at Camden,
South Carolina., and asked Washington to name a successor, he promptly chose
Greene. General Greene proved himself competent and thwarted the plans of
trained British professionals, such as Generals Rawdon and Cornwallis,
brilliantly leading the southern army to victory.. His military exploits brought
him the renown he had sought, and ranked him second to Washington in military
leadership. The administrative ability he exhibited as head of the
Quartermaster's Department, his quick, comprehensive grasp of complex details,
and the indomitable energy and industry with which he carried out his duties
make him rank among the ablest of Quartermasters General.
Green died when he was forty-four, less than three years after the war ended.
His early death was attributed to a sunstroke suffered while viewing, bald
headed, the extensive rice plantation of a friend. He had expended much of
his personal fortune in support of the war in order to keep the southern army
form starving. He died on June 19, 1786, and was buried in the cemetery
of Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah. In 1902 his remains were
reinterred beneath the Greene monument erected in Johnston Square, Savannah.
General Greene was inducted into the Quartermaster Hall of Fame in 1989.
Nathanael Greene letter to George Washington, 9
Lee, 9 November, 1776.
Excellency's letter of the 8th, this moment came to hand. I shall
forward the letter to General Stevens by express. The stores at Dobbs's
Ferry I had just given orders to the Quartermaster to prepare wagons to
remove. I think the enemy will meet with some difficulty in crossing the
river at Dobbs's Ferry. However, it is not best to trust too much to the
expected difficulties they may meet there.
the letter that will accompany this, and was to have gone last night by
Major Mifflin, your Excellency will see what measures I took before your
favor came to hand. The passing of the ships up the river is, to be
sure, a full proof of the insufficiency of the obstructions in the river
to stop the ships from going up ; but that garrison employs double the
number of men to invest it that we have to occupy it. They must keep
troops at King's Bridge, to prevent a communication with the country;
and they dare not leave a very small number, for fear our people should
the whole, I cannot help thinking the garrison is of advantage; and I
cannot conceive the garrison to be in any great danger. The men can be
brought off at any time, but the stores may not be so easily removed;
yet I think they can be got off, in spite of them, if matters grow
desperate. This post is of no importance only in conjunction with Mount
Washington. I was over there last evening. The enemy seem to be
disposing matters to besiege the place ; but Colonel Morgan thinks it
will take them till December expires before they can carry it. If the
enemy do not find it an object of importance, they will not trouble
themselves about it; if they do, it is open proof they feel an injury
from our possessing it. Our giving it up will open a free communication
with the country, by the way of King's Bridge, that must be a great
advantage to them and injury to us. If the enemy cross the river, I
shall follow your Excellency's advice respecting the cattle and -forage.
Those measures, however cruel in appearance, were ever my maxims of war,
in the defence of a country ; in attacking, they would be very improper.
this express, several packets from Congress are forwarded to you.
shall collect our whole strength, and watch the motions of the enemy;
and pursue such measures, for the future, as circumstances render
I have your Excellency's permission, I shall order General Stephen on as
far as Aquackanock, at least. That is an important pass. I am fortifying
it as fast as possible.
am, dear Sir, your most obedient,
very humble servant,