On the eve of our country’s birthday I want to remember and remind why we celebrate the 4th of July and pay some respect to just one of the many brave men and women that were instrumental at the country’s inception. Nathaniel Greene was George Washington’s top general and the man that would have succeeded Washington had he been killed in battle yet Nathaniel had no formal military training and he didn’t even attend college. Nathaniel was a Quaker and his family had somewhat archaic beliefs regarding formal education but Nathaniel was an avid reader and taught himself many subjects. He was also fortunate to have befriended Ezra Stiles, the future president of Yale College. Nathaniel was all for secession but it was only when the British seized his family’s sailing sloop did the revolution become personal. Nathaniel soon helped form a militia and quickly became a respected and fearless leader. Perhaps he is best remembered for his cunning, systematic dismantling of General Charles Cornwallis’ Army. By May of 1780 Cornwallis had seized Charleston then defeated the Continental Army in Camden, SC (about an hour south of Columbia) leaving all of SC and Georgia under British control and with only a small amount of troops in NC, Cornwallis had his eyes set on a march all the way to Virginia. Nathaniel set out to take control of the situation, gathered support and men along the way then sent his lieutenants (Thomas Sumter and Daniel Morgan) to fight a guerrilla war with the predictable British. Cornwallis sent Banestre Tarleton’s cavalry to square off with the guerrillas. Nathaniel Greene had set a trap and Tarleton’s ego led him right into it and at the battle of Cowpens in 1781, Daniel Morgan soundly defeated Tarleton. If you’ve seen the Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, that character is loosely based on Morgan and the climactic scene mimics the battle of Cowpens (and the British never burned a church full of people). Yet Morgan and Sumter were acting on orders from Greene, the second in command of the Continental Army, a man with a limited formal education and no formal military training who over the course of a year and a half split the British Army in half, captured almost 4,000 troops, bottled up the British in Wilmington and reclaimed SC, NC and Georgia from British command. Cornwallis was highly educated, he attended Eton and later Cambridge then the military academy of Turin and would go on to become the Viceroy of Ireland and Governor General of India, and his troops were highly trained and disciplined regular Army yet Greene harassed and exploited him relentlessly. Cornwallis eventually limped into Yorktown expecting to find a British fleet and salvation but was soon greeted by a French fleet and a heavily reinforced Continental Army. He was in no condition to put up much resistance and after a short siege, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington on October 17th, 1781. Nathaniel Greene didn’t win a tactical victory during his command of the Southern Army time, he lost battles but won the war and when asked to describe his tactics he replied, “We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”
Later when the country was expanding Nathaniel Greene’s name was so revered that many towns were named for him, Greenville, SC being one of them.
Although the Declaration was first signed on July 4th, 1776 the colonies didn’t have their independence until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3rd, 1783. On the anniversary of our declaration of independence hoist a cold beer to the brave men and women that made it all possible. I’ll raise mine to Nathaniel Greene.