The history of the American Revolution will be read with intense interest through all time whether presented as a ponderous whole or in sections. Its most attractive form to the impatient and romantic reader is the delineation of noble and god like individual action. Numerous bold exploits were performed--hair-breadth escapes made by the private soldier that had an exciting ephemeral history worthy of record which is now buried with the meritorious actor and his immediate acquaintances. Some thrilling stories will have a more protracted existence in the annals of tradition but will ultimately lose their freshness, wither and die. Truthful living tradition belongs to the red man--not to us. In all nations--from the barbarous up to the refined civilized, the glory of the battle field has been awarded to the leaders who planned--not to the soldiers who executed. In our republican land of professed equality partial inroads upon this rule have been made. In our common militia and volunteer companies the soldier is often equal and sometimes superior to his commanding officer in point of talent and weight of character. This can rarely be the case among an oppressed people and still more rarely would the existing fact be admitted. During the revolution merit was clothed with its true dignity more than now. Many who stood upon this first legitimate stepping stone to office ascended from the ranks of the army to high commands--from the retired walks of life to the legislative halls and posts of honor in the various departments of government. The frame-work of the most liberal military system is adverse to the recognition of individual merit below the officer. The case must be very extraordinary to be officially announced. Hence large standing armies bind in the fetters of ignorance a vast amount of intellect that would be brought into mellow life and usefulness in a free enlightened republican government like our own.
Among the Heroes of the American Revolution whose merit brought him into notice was Nathaniel Greene, born at the town of Warwick, Rhode Island, in 1741. His parents were respectable members of the Society of Friends--of course opposed to the profession of arms. His father was an anchor manufacturer and gave his son a limited chance to obtain a common education. With this the mind of Nathaniel was not content. He pursued his studies every leisure hour and with his extra earnings purchased books. He mastered the Latin with but little aid from an instructor. The history of military chieftains he read with great delight. When he arrived at manhood he was a good mechanic and a bright scholar. For a time he followed the business of making anchors for vessels but was soon called to the more important work of aiding in the construction of the sheet anchor of FREEDOM. At an early age he was elected a member of the legislature where he became a conspicuous advocate of equal rights and boldly opposed the usurpations of mother Britain. His course obtained for him an expulsion from the Society of Friends and the esteem of every patriot. I respect the Quakers but not this paradox in their creed. They profess to love liberty--but few of them are willing to pay its price in coin--none of them can bear arms without excommunication.
On his return from the Assembly Nathaniel enrolled himself a private in a military corps that was suggested and formed by himself and chartered under the title of the Kentish Guards. It was placed under the command of Gen. Varnum. In 1775 the little patriotic state of Rhode Island raised three regiments--in all sixteen hundred rank and file--officered by the most distinguished military characters of the colony. No one could have been more surprised than young Greene on receiving the commission of Brigadier General. He was put in command of this small brigade and immediately marched them to head quarters at Cambridge, Mass. He applied himself closely to the study of military tactics and soon became an excellent disciplinarian--an able officer. For correctness of evolution, subordination and good order--his was a model brigade. His merits were quickly discovered by the acute Washington who often consulted him with confidence in cases of doubt and difficulty. This confidence he communicated to Congress. It arose from two strong points--Greene had superior talents and was a Christian. On the 26th of August 1776 Greene was commissioned a Major General of the regular army of the United States and put forth his noblest exertions to promote the interests of his bleeding country. At the battles of Trenton and Princeton he exhibited great skill and judicious conduct. At the battle of Germantown he commanded the left wing of the army and received the unqualified approbation of Washington for his coolness and bravery. In March 1778 he accepted the appointment of Quarter Master General retaining his rank and right to command in time of action according to the seniority of his commission. At the victorious battle of Monmouth he commanded the right wing of the army and led his troops to the onset with the terrific force of an avalanche.
In the siege of the British garrison at Newport, R.I. he served under Gen. Sullivan. When it was found necessary to retreat in consequence of the dispersion of the French fleet by a storm which prevented it from rendering the contemplated aid, the army was greatly indebted to the judgment and skill of Gen. Greene in extricating it from a perilous position.
The British power being measurably paralyzed in the north Lord Cornwallis turned his attention to the south where the defences were less--the plunder more. On the 26th of December 1779 he commenced his movement and landed thirty miles from Charleston, S.C. on the 11th of February ensuing. He then commenced the work of destruction and brutality with increased rigor. No respect was paid to private property, religious sanctity or defenceless females. After a spirited defence Charleston was compelled to surrender. The British carried dismay, victory and death in their whole course. Plunder, rapine and murder were the order of the day. _Booty_ and _beauty_ were the watch words of his most Christian majesty's officers and soldiers.
Under these heart rending circumstances Washington directed Gen. Greene to take command of the Southern army. In company with the brave Morgan he arrived at Charlotte on the 2d of December 1780. The so called army numbered 970 regulars--1013 militia, destitute of military stores, unpaid, nearly naked, poorly fed and no government supplies nearer than two hundred miles. Opposed was a powerful army rich in plunder, flushed with victory, liberally paid, abundantly fed, well clothed and amply supplied with military stores of every kind. The front view of the picture was dark and gloomy--on the back ground Greene and Morgan saw the rays of hope shedding their cheering beams on the spire of Liberty. Gen. Greene went to work for dear life. By his amiable deportment he gained the love and confidence of his soldiers--the esteem and respect of the inhabitants. From the surrounding country he gained short supplies and raised a few recruits. He despatched Gen. Morgan with a small force to the western part of the state which gave fresh courage to the patriots of that section. By a falling into the ranks the force of Morgan increased so much that Cornwallis ordered Col. Tarleton to disperse this band of rebels and put all to the sword who did not surrender at discretion. On the 17th of January 1781, Tarleton came up to this rough and ready party at the Cowpens. Although his force was inferior in numbers and two-thirds raw militia, Gen. Morgan determined to stand fire. Sure of an easy victory the proud Britons rushed on to action and were as much astonished to meet with an unbroken line streaming with fire as if they had been brought up all standing against an unperceived wire fence across the high way. Tarleton roared, foamed, raved and commanded his men to _charge_. Again the blazing streams of fire illuminated the lines of Morgan whose troops rushed upon the broken ranks of the enemy with the fury of a tornado. The struggle was short, the victory complete, the amazement of Tarleton paralyzing. Besides the killed, over five hundred of the enemy were taken prisoners and a convenient amount of the munitions of war fell into the hands of the victors. Supposing he had crushed the rebel power in the south Cornwallis was astounded at the result of this hasty recreative expedition. He immediately marched in pursuit of Morgan determined to rescue the prisoners and wipe out the disgrace Tarleton had brought upon the British arms. The hero of the Cowpens was too old a fox to be easily caught. He could do some things as well as others. He was as skilful in retreat as he was desperate in battle. He knew when, where and how to fight. He was courageous, not rash--bold, not imprudent and as watchful as an Argus. He effected a junction with Gen. Greene on the 7th of February. The chagrined Cornwallis advanced rapidly determined to annihilate the little American army at one fell swoop. Greene retreated into Virginia where he added to his numbers and supplies. So confident was the British general of overtaking him that he destroyed his heavy baggage to accelerate his movements. The patriots were not thus encumbered. Many of them had only their arms and remnants of tattered garments, being obliged to place tufts of moss on their shoulders to prevent the friction of the cartouch straps. To the pursuing enemy the Americans seemed an _ignis fatuus_--often to be seen but never reached. The chase was abandoned. In turn Greene annoyed Cornwallis by cutting off his supplies, capturing foraging parties and constantly watching all his movements. His situation became perilous, his numbers were constantly growing less by capture, desertion and disease. His supplies cost blood as well as treasure--the force of Greene was constantly augmenting--the tables were turned--he retreated to Hillsborough where he endeavored to raise new recruits by liberal offers of British gold. The yellow dust had lost its magic charm on Americans--patriotism was the more current coin.
Unwilling to be long separated from the noble lord, Green paid him a visit on the 15th of March. The interview took place at Guilford court house between one and two o'clock P. M. and continued nearly two hours. Owing to the militia that formed the front line flying at the sight of the red coats the Americans were obliged to give ground and make it a drawn battle--but the meeting was a sad one for Cornwallis. His loss was 532 killed, wounded and missing, among whom were several of his most distinguished officers. So crippled was the British army that a precipitate retreat to Wilmington was ordered leaving those of the wounded who were not able to march. The loss of Gen. Greene was about 400 killed and wounded. Cornwallis claimed the victory--one not very auspicious to his military glory or royal master. Gen. Greene commenced offensive operations. He determined on attacking Lord Rawdon who was strongly fortified at Camden S. C. with 900 men. The American forces amounted to only 700 and encamped within a mile of the British lines cutting off all supplies from the enemy. Anticipating a reinforcement to the little army of Gen. Greene and being on short allowance his lordship made a sally on the 25th of April and boldly attacked the offending invaders. For some time victory perched upon the brow of Greene--his cavalry had taken over two hundred prisoners. One of his regiments made a move which compelled him to retreat with a loss of about 200 killed, wounded and prisoners. The loss of Lord Rawdon was 258. So flushed was the British general with this dear victory that he fled from Camden leaving his sick and wounded to the care of those who he knew would care for them. The back handed victories of Guilford and Camden so paralyzed the enemy that they soon abandoned a number of small fortifications--large quantities of military stores and concentrated a considerable force at the strong garrison of Ninety Six. On the 22d of May Greene commenced a siege upon that place but modestly retired to give place to three regiments of strangers fresh from England. Before doing this he made an unsuccessful assault at a cost of about 150 men. But for the reinforcements the garrison would have shortly surrendered.
During the ensuing two months nothing but skirmishing occurred. On the 9th of September the army of Gen. Greene had increased to 2000 men. The division of the British army under Col. Stewart was posted at Eutaw Springs. An immediate attack was made by the Americans in the following order. As he approached the enemy Gen. Greene formed his troops in two lines--the first composed of Carolina militia under Generals Marion, Pickens and Col. de Malmedy. The second was composed of regulars under Gen. Sumpter, Lieut. Col. Campbell and Col. Williams. Lieut. Col. Lee covered the right flank with his legion--Lieut. Henderson covered the left with the state troops. The cavalry under Col. Washington and the Delaware troops under Capt. Kirkwood were held in reserve. Scarcely was the line of battle completed when the British rapidly advanced. The Americans met the onset with the bravery of veterans but were compelled to give way. The battle raged with fearful fury. All depended on a sudden and desperate movement. Gen. Greene ordered the Virginia and Maryland regulars to advance with trailed arms--facing a shower of musket and grape shot. The order was instantly obeyed--they broke the lines of the British and drove them some distance to a thicket of trees and brick houses where they rallied and took a stand. The Americans took over 500 prisoners and remained on the field of battle. Under cover of night Col. Stewart retreated towards Charleston leaving 70 of his wounded and 1000 stand of arms. His total loss in men was near 1200--that of Greene 500 in killed and wounded. The English had the largest force in action. For this display of skill and bravery Congress presented Gen. Greene with a British standard and gold medal. What was dearer to him than all else--he received the high approbation of Washington and his country. From that time the torch of kingly power rapidly decreased until its last flickering light expired. For a time Charleston was occupied by the crown troops--offensive operations they dare not undertake only by small and transient _booty_ and _beauty_ squads.
It may seem mysterious to the young readers why soldiers fought so valiantly who were poorly paid, scantily fed and scarcely clothed. Hundreds of them were entirely naked at the Eutaw battle. Their loins were galled severely by their cartouch boxes. It was considered a great favor to obtain a folded rag to lay on the scarified part. Their food was often a scanty supply of rice or a few roasted potatoes. The officers suffered alike with the common soldiers. Gen. Greene was in the southern field seven consecutive months without taking off his clothes to retire for a night. _Love of liberty and love of their leading general and his brave officers_ kept these soldiers together and rendered them desperate on the field of battle. This removes the mystery. If all could be made to realize the price of our Liberty, political asperity and party spirit would hide their polluting forms under the mantle of shame and retire to the peaceful shades of oblivion. Reader--never forget the blood, treasure and anguish your Liberty cost.
Finding that the wary Greene could not be conquered by force of arms British gold was once more put in requisition by the enemy. Several native foreigners had deserted to the English and were induced to form a plan to deliver up Gen. Greene and his principal officers. A sergeant and two domestics attached to the person of the General were bribed and in correspondence with the British. A time was fixed to deliver him and every officer of rank to the enemy. As usual a guardian angel was there. A female heard some unguarded expressions from the sergeant and promptly informed Gen. Greene. The troops were at once ordered on parade--the sergeant was arrested--confessed his guilt, was condemned and shot. When led to execution he warned all not to sully their glory or forego the advantages they would speedily realize from the successful termination of the war and if a thought of desertion was in their bosoms to banish it at once and for ever. He acknowledged the justice of his sentence--distributed his little all among his comrades--gave the signal and paid the penalty of his crime. Thus was a base and cowardly plot detected by angelic woman--the ringleader executed and the southern army saved from probable destruction. Not a single native American was concerned in this conspiracy.
Another circumstance occurred shortly after this that marred the happiness of Gen. Greene for a little time. The appointment of Col. Laurens to a command in their little army gave great umbrage to the officers generally who immediately tendered their resignation to the General. He affectionately recommended them to appeal to Congress for redress and not desert the noble cause of Liberty prematurely. They seemed determined in their course--he reluctantly received their commissions. On being separated from him their attachment was fully revealed to them. They found it impossible to leave their beloved General--again took their commissions and followed his advice. No officer could gain the affections of those under him more fully than did Gen. Greene. Kindness and even handed justice to all were amongst his marked characteristics. He shared the hardship and glory of the field with his soldiers. He did all in his power to supply their wants and alleviate their distress. By example and precept he taught his men to meet calamity with heroic fortitude, pointing to the goal of liberty as a final rest from the toils of war--to realms of bliss beyond the skies as the eternal rest of the virtuous and good.
Early in October the last lion was caged at Yorktown. There the struggle closed--there the victorious Cornwallis--the pride of mother Britain, was humbled, the shouts of victory and the clarion of freedom sounded and the sons of Columbia crowned with laurels of enduring fame. The battles of Gen. Greene were finished. He had served his country long and faithfully. He had surmounted the mighty barriers that opposed him--he had contributed largely in breaking the chains of slavery--Liberty had triumphed over despotism--his country was free, and was acknowledged independent by the power that had long sought to enslave it. Gentle peace shed fresh lustre on the care-worn countenances of the sages and heroes and diffused her refulgent rays from the shores of the broad Atlantic to the silver lakes of the far west.
On his way home Gen. Greene was hailed with grateful enthusiasm in every town through which he passed. On his arrival at Princeton Congress was in session there. As a testimony of respect for his valuable services that body presented him with two pieces of ordnance taken from the British army. The state of Georgia presented him with a valuable plantation near Savannah. The State of South Carolina conveyed to him a large tract of rich land which he sold to enable him to pay debts contracted to obtain supplies for his soldiers. In the autumn of 1785 he removed to his plantation in Georgia anticipating all the enjoyment of domestic felicity. This was of short duration. On the 12th of June 1786 he was attacked with inflammation upon his brain caused by a stroke of the sun and on the 19th of that month his spirit returned to the bosom of his God. Thus closed the brilliant career of one of the most distinguished sons of the Revolution. From his childhood to his grave he was the pride of his friends, a shining light to his country--a blessing to our nation. He was a prudent and brave general, an accomplished gentleman, a good citizen, an honest man, a consistent Christian. His character was pure as the crystal fountain--his fame enduring as the records of time. His examples are models for imitation, his history is full of instruction, his merits worthy of our highest admiration. His faults were completely eclipsed by the brilliancy of his superior worth.
Source: Sages and Heroes of the American Revolution, by L. Carroll Judson: Copyright, 1854 Available for download at the Project Gutenberg website.