I continue the story of the illustrious General for whom our county is named.
After getting the Post at West Point in good order, he decided he would go home for a while; having been away from his family and friends for some years and unable to manage his property as desired. His plans changed when his friend and commander General Washington asked him to come as soon as possible to Philadelphia where he was given the command of the Southern army.
The fighting was intense, the Colonial army was greatly outnumbered, and often outwitted, but Greene was a careful soldier and was able to get most of the troops across the Catawba River near Guilford before Cornwallis arrived with his army and cannon.
Cornwallis continued the pursuit. Although the Americans had anticipated some of the moves, there were skirmishes which had not been anticipated, but they continued to hold their own.
There was a heavy rain storm, however the Americans managed to get all the troops and most of the wagons across the river before it flooded. The British were on the opposite side of the river with armament. Fortunately, the camp was sheltered by rising ground with rocks large enough for the sentinels to hide behind. The British began to fire their cannon at the American encampment. The following is quoted from the Life of Nathanael Greene which was published in 1849.
“It is related of Greene, for example, that he had taken up his quarters in a little cabin, which was partially sheltered by a pile of rocks, a small distance from the river. Here, while his military family were amusing themselves in drawing straws, or doing what else they thought proper to beguile the time, the general was more busily employed in preparing his despatches. At length however, as if the British had guessed his hiding-place and were anxious to disturb his occupation, their cannon were pointed to the cabin the roof of which, alone, was apparent to their aim. Very soon the bullets were seen to strike the rocks in the rear, and to skip about the neighborhood. Soon they travelled nearer and nearer, until the clapboards of the roof began to fly in all directions. . . His pen never rested but at the appearance of some new applicant, who receive his answer, distinguished by equal calmness and precision, the pen of the general being again set in motion the moment of id departure,”
At last the war was ended and so in August 1783, General Greene at last headed home from Charleston He had been engaged in the service of his country for many years. His reputation was such that as he passed along the road toward home he was greeted with cheers from a grateful population.
He appeared before Congress and asked permission to return to Rhode Island stating “that it was now going on nine years since he had an opportunity to visit his family and friends or pay the least attention to his private fortunes.” Permission was granted and his arrival in Rhode Island was something of a triumph, but his financial status was poor. In June 1784 he went to South Carolina with the intention of moving his family to that location, but he had previously guaranteed some of that land to further the war effort and sold the property at a loss.
In 1785, he moved the family to Mulberry Grove on the Savannah River, a gift from the State of Georgia. It was here that he found a refuge. He enjoyed working in the gardens and supervising the fields. He wrote about the shrubbery, pigeon house and poultry yard with enthusiasm. He boasted 60 acres of corn and 130 acres of rice. This was perhaps the happiest time of his life. He finally had his family nearby and was able once again after many years in the army to be able to live a life of comparative leisure.
On his return from business dealings in Savanah he stopped on his way home to visit with William Gibbons who also grew rice and was considered a mentor to Greene giving helpful advice on how to grow the crop to best advantage. The date was June 12, 1786. It was exceptionally hot that day with the sun beating down on the two planters. General Greene complained about the pain in his head, but decided to proceed to his home. The next day, the pain was more severe and so a physician was called in. In accordance with some of the treatment of the day, he opened a vein but the inflammation continued and Nathanael’s head was swollen and his face became redder. Other physicians were called, but none knew the proper treatment for the ailment.
He died probably from sun poisoning on Monday June 19, 1786 at the age of 44.
The entire country mourned his passing. He was buried in Savanah in an unmarked grave. Congress decreed at the time that a monument should be erected in his honor either in Savanah or Philadelphia, but it was not done.
Many years later in 1902, his coffin and that of his son George Washington Greene were reinterred in Johnson Square. A beautiful marker was constructed and placed over the graves to honor the soldier who had given so much of his life for his country.
Though this is not related to the genera’s life, it is interesting. After the death of the general, a graduate of Yale University went to Savanah to be tutored. While he was there, he worked for Greene’s widow, Catherine, on her Mulberry Grove Estate. It was during this time that he invented a machine which would revolutionize industry in the southern states. His name was Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.