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Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution Paperback – January 10, 2006
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From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Nathanael Greene's historical fame arises from his thwarting of Britain's southern campaign in 1780-81 during the War of Independence. Since the appearance of the previous comprehensive biography more than four decades ago, scholars have collected and published Greene's papers, a project that works to this author's advantage in giving an intimate impression of Greene's qualities, both positive and negative. Much of his correspondence to his wife survives (though hers to him doesn't), enabling Golway to narrate Greene's performance in the battles and campaigns of the war, in most of which he participated. Before the war, Greene was apparently politically inert but became radicalized over British depredations that damaged his Rhode Island enterprises. Although Golway is always attentive to Greene's personal interests (and alludes to Greene's possible embezzlement while quartermaster general of the army), Greene did acquire a nationalist outlook and in fact relocated to the South after the war, albeit to become a slaveholding plantation owner. In a solidly sourced, evenhanded portrait, Golway gives readers a Greene with faults but also with the military strengths on which George Washington relied. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Who knows where events would have lead had he lived. He clearly had Washington's utmost respect and gratitude, and he demonstrated the highest integrity, leadership, dedication, competency, determination, and ability to get things done during times of great stress and deprivation.
Nathanael Greene's "Southern Campaign" is probably the most under appreciated aspect of the War in the books coming out today. The recent best sellers "1776" by McCullough and Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington's Crossing" by Fisher seem to imply that after the surprise victories at Trenton and Princeton the war was all over, but this couldn't be further from the truth.
The next several years were dismal (the winter at Valley Forge was 1777-8), and it wasn't until the war later moved into the South and Greene assumed control that the colonialist learned how to defeat the British--inflict punishment, lead the British away from their supplies, and then retreat into the woods. This was Greene's strategy, and he executed it with utmost ability and skill. This is why a battered Cornwallis headed to Yorktown, to get desperately needed supplies. Washington had the personal touch, but Greene got things done, and Washington knew it and appreciated it. Everyone knew that if Washington was injured, Greene would take over.
The book read very quickly, especially the exciting section on the Southern Campaign. It also presented the more human side of Greene very well--his fondness for his very attractive wife Caty, his fierce loyality to Washington, his weakness for needing to receive recognition for his accomplishments from Washington, his determination to derive personal profit from the war, and his strict aesthetic Quaker upbringing against which he rebelled.
Earlier this year I visited the Greene homestead in Coventry, Rhode Island. It's a very simple home, set on roughly ten acres of land that is amazingly just now being cleared of overgrown brush. I'd definitely recommend a visit. The curators mentioned that there were more visitors from the South than the North. I still have a hard time believing it, but at least now I understand this better. Apparently, down south, Greene is getting his due. It's kind of a shame for the Rhode Island home boy.
The Sept 7, 2005 reviewer mentions that the two maps in the front of the book, indicating where battles were fought, could have been better. I'd have to agree.
This undereducated but intelligent patriot played a crucial role with brilliant strategic management of the American cause in the South. His direction exhausted the British and led to their retreat upon Yorktown and their eventual bagging by George Washington and our French allies.
Galway's book detail's Greene's early life and his start with Rhode Island troops during the siege of Boston. Quickly becoming one of Washington's most dependable generals, he played a crucial role in the Battle of Long Island. His years of toil as the army's quartermaster was indispensable to our cause, but caused him great regret as Greene yearned for the fame and recognition that only field command could bring. A master organizer and well tempered, he was also incredibly vain and quick to perceive slights.
Given his vanity, it is all the more impressive that Greene, when detailed by Washington to rescue the southern effort, was able to resist the urge to undertake offensive forays that might win him laurels if successful but could prove disastrous if not. Thus in his few on-the-field commanding roles, he avoided tarrying in front of the enemy when he had achieved limited objectives and did not risk the army in pursuit of the recognition he craved. His theater strategic command was brilliant. If he did not design the actual battle of Cowpens, his decisions and management of men like General Morgan set the table for his field commanders to wage battles from at least even-up if not superior positions with the British and their loyalists.
A good biography of a patriot who deserves to be much better known.
The author presents, if in a manner occasionally lacking direction, a photograph on a Revolutionary Hero whose fall to the second or third tier of Founder status was certainly not due to his ability, his efforts or his promise. His portrayal is of a common man of the period - constantly concerned with his finances (as were all those we count as leaders of the Independence effort); very guarded and jealous about his reputation (another common trait among these folk); but clearly fallen on one side of the fence dividing Tories and Revolutionaries.
Greene's escapades thru the Carolinas and Virginia, and the cat and mouse game he played with British General Cornwallis, gave the rebels the opportunity to win the war. Without these accomplishments, the British might have indeed, as Washington worried, gain command of the southern colonies, and with that foothold, move their way northward. Instead, Greene's dance led them in a variety of different directions, and ultimately to their fate at Yorktown.
The author has captured in his portrayal of Greene, the marks of a hero, and the flaws and failings of a man. His accounts of Greene's quarrels with Congress, his unwavering pit-bull defense of Washington, and his arguments with, among others, John Adams, color the general as a man of conviction, if not always grace. At the same time, the author shows the easily bruised ego, the roving eye for financial opportunities, and the man who cannot say NO to his beautiful young wife.
The coverage given to Katy Greene is either too much or too little. For the amount of space she inhabits here, the conclusions that can be drawn about her, beyond her fertility, are few.
Overlooking a few editorial miscues (On at least a few occasions, the book refers to Greene's activities in Conventry, RI - instead of Coventry), this book takes you away from the hero worship that is given to a handful of people from this era, and brings home the notion that the war was fought and won, not by Adams or Franklin or Jefferson, but by those whose existence was murky, and whose commitment to this effort lived through circumstances so dire that we can only read about them. We certainly cannot grasp or understand them.
It also tells you about the dangerous nature of those times. That Greene could die within 5 years of the war's end, in his mid 40s, from a sudden illness, reminds us that living in those days was difficult in even the most basic ways.