COVENTRY, R.I. — History buffs have one wish on the 275th birthday of a Revolutionary War general: That he’ll get the recognition he deserves.
Nathanael Greene was a major general in the Continental Army and a trusted adviser and good friend to George Washington. Historians say his decisions were crucial to the American victory in the South campaign, yet many people haven’t heard of him.
The anniversary of his birth will be marked Saturday at his homestead, a national historic landmark built in 1770 in Coventry, Rhode Island.
David Procaccini, president of the homestead, says Greene is an “important national hero” and he’s trying to get that message out.
Greene has been largely overlooked for many reasons, said Greg Massey, who co-edited a collection of essays about Greene.
Greene oversaw the Army’s supplies for part of the war, which was not a glamorous position. Greene also fought in the South. Especially after the Civil War, historians tended to write about the Revolutionary War through a northern lens.
Greene wore down British forces but never decisively won a major battle. He died shortly after the war. Had he lived, he would’ve likely been one of the early leaders of the federal government.
“We put a lot of stock in our independence, as independent people,” said Massey, a history professor at Freed-Hardeman University. “He’s one of the essential people to the winning of the independence.”
After the Army retired to Valley Forge, Washington asked Greene in 1778 to become the quartermaster general to improve the system of supplies. Greene accepted, though he knew such a position wouldn’t bring the military fame that many generals sought.
“It would be good if Americans knew about the contributions of someone so humble as to be willing to take a job like quartermaster when it was necessary to save the Army,” said Philip Mead, chief historian at the Museum of the American Revolution. “The willingness to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of your country, that’s an aspirational value in that period and in ours.”
Greene then assumed command in the South. He fought the British in the Carolinas, weakening their forces enough so that the British commander, Charles Cornwallis, had to move to Wilmington, North Carolina, and then on to Yorktown, Virginia, where his forces were trapped by French and American troops in 1781.
“That’s the last big battle of the war. They were still fighting, but the British government began negotiating for peace,” Massey said. “Greene isn’t at Yorktown but everything he did set the stage for that. Without him, that didn’t happen.”
Massey describes Greene as one of the great American generals.
Procaccini is using social media to try to draw people to the homestead, hosting more events and improving the property. Attendance has been increasing in recent years. On Saturday, there will be historical reenactors at the site to talk to the public about the war. The ceremony includes a cannon salute and speeches.
Procaccini said it’s an opportunity to tell people about the sacrifices that Greene and men like him made in forming the nation.