Savannah, Georgia, is a city of well-appointed squares, the first and largest being Johnson Square, in Derby Ward where the settlers erected the city's first 40 houses. There is a bench dedicated to the city's most famous son, Johnny Mercer, the singer and songwriter likely best known for, "Moon River" or "Days of Wine and Roses," which both won best song Oscars. In Savannah's showpiece square stands an obelisk to Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene. In 1825, French General Marquis de Lafayette lade the cornerstone for the memorial.
Greene was Washington's most trusted general. It was trust well placed. In 1781, Greene saved the South, which drove Cornwallis to Yorktown.
Born on August 7, 1742, Greene was a great-great grandson of both John Greene and Samuel Gorton, founders of Warwick, Rhode Island, where the future general was born. A Quaker whose religion was pacifist and wary of education, he nonetheless studied science and mathematics. Just prior to his father's death, he placed Greene in charge of the family owned foundry in Coventry, Rhode Island. Elected to the state general assembly, he became involved in the Patriot cause. He became a member of the Kentish Guard and later raised a regiment for the Continental Army.
In July 1774, he married Catharine Littlefield, who at 19 was 14 years his junior. But she was a delight and proved herself valuable as he moved in colonial society. George and Martha Washington became friends and the Greenes named their first children George and Martha.
Following Lexington and Concord, he moved his regiment to Boston, remaining until the British evacuated the city. Washington's arrival to command all the troops in area cemented their relationship. He would be at Washington's side in the Battle of Long Island, retreating in the night with the general. Greene would cross the Delaware and fight in the victories at Trenton and Princeton. He and his wife would winter at Valley Forge. He took command of the Continental Army briefly when Washington dealt with Benedict Arnold turning traitor.
By December 1780, the Continental Army in the South was a shamble under the inept leadership of Washington's rival, General Horatio Gates. To be fair, most of the troops were untrained. arriving to take command, Greene had no time to drill them as Washington had done with his troops that winter and spring at Valley Forge.
But Greene had General Daniel Morgan and his rifle troops. The Battle of Cowpens turned the tide for the Patriots. Cornwallis retreated eventually to Yorktown, Virginia. But a lack of ammunition and the expiration of enlistments as spring planting season began left Greene unable to pursue the enemy. However, at summer's end, Greene raised an army of 2,000 soldiers and demolished the British in the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina, the final battle in the Carolinas. South Carolina Governor John Rutledge wrote, "We have now full and absolute possession of every part of the state; and the legislative, judicial and executive powers are in the exercise of their respective authorities."
The states of Georgia and South Carolina were so grateful that they gave Greene an estate confiscated from Loyalists, the Mulberry Grove Plantation. However, as his Quaker upbringing forbid him to use slaves, He died of sunstroke on June 19, 1786, at 44. His widow hired Phineas Miller in 1788, who used slaves and turned the enterprise around. He hired his friend, Eli Whitney, in 1793 who later invented the cotton gin.
But it is the Quaker general the people of Savannah commemorate. He saved the South.
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