The Patriot Resource - American Revolution


Continental General Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene Born: July 27, 1742; Potowomut (Warwick), Rhode Island
Died: June 19, 1786; Savannah, Georgia

Battles: Trenton, Guilford Courthouse



The Southern Campaign: 1780-1781
Greene stopped in Philadelphia on October 27, 1780, to request cavalry and supplies from Congress, but received little of what he requested. On December 2, 1780, Greene arrived at Charlotte, North Carolina. He took command from General Gates on the following day in a ceremony that was a difficult moment, but handled with dignity and restraint by both men. Greene had a tough task, because the British victory at Camden had left them in control of South Carolina and Georgia with a clear path into North Carolina and Virginia. He first set about rehabilitating his forces, since he only had about 800 men fit and fully equipped for duty out of the 1,500 that were present.

To buy time to rebuild the strength of his tattered army, Maj. General Nathanael Greene split his force, placing the smaller, more mobile second half under the command of Brig. General Daniel Morgan with instructions to "give protection ... and spirit up the people in December 1780." This allowed Greene to be a greater threat to Lt. General Charles Cornwallis and bolster militia support. Greene kept the two units close enough to unite for a fight, but planned to avoid a major engagement while continuing to harass the British until he had an advantage.

Greene coordinated his efforts with militia leaders Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, and Elijah Clarke. He also attempted to coordinate with Thomas Sumter, but Sumter was a prickly character and when Greene grew impatient with his manner, Sumter refused to cooperate and instead continued to conduct his own independent operations. Meanwhile, General Cornwallis recognized Greene's strategy and sent Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton after General Morgan to either wipe him out or push him back close enough to Cornwallis' own main army.

Lt. Colonel Tarleton and General Morgan met at the Battle of Cowpens, North Carolina on January 17, 1781, where Tarleton was thoroughly defeated by Morgan. Afterward, Morgan rejoined General Greene's main force and they began a retreat to the Dan River, which was the border of North Carolina and Virginia. It would become known as the 'Race to the Dan'. Greene was able to march the two hundred miles to Virginia in a month in miserable rainy weather that turned roads into little more than mud and turned small creeks and streams into small rivers.

General Cornwallis immediately began a pursuit in hopes of catching Greene and bringing about the major engagement that he desired and for which Greene was as yet ill-prepared. In his attempt to catch up with Greene, General Cornwallis burned his baggage train and overextended his supply lines. His army was strung out for miles as Cornwallis did not wait for the slower elements to keep up. The effort was in vain, however, because Greene had prepared for crossing the swollen Dan River by having boats ready to move his army across. Cornwallis' only option for crossing was to march further upriver and ford the river, but he recognized that he would not be able to catch Greene, so he retreated south and made camp for the winter in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

In March, when General Cornwallis turned southward to resupply and recruit Loyalist help, General Greene crossed back over the Dan River into North Carolina and cautiously followed. The two forces met at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina on March 15, 1781. Greene had chosen the ground. Though he ceded the field of battle to Cornwallis, thus appearing defeated, Greene had inflicted heavy casualties on Cornwallis and withdrew before the more experienced British forces turned the tide and inflicted their own casualties.








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