May 30—GREENSBURG—The Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library recently hosted Gerald Carbone of Rhode Island for a lecture on Greensburg’s namesake and Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene.
While Greensburg, Indiana was named after Greensburg, Pennsylvania, the original Greensburg was named for Nathanael Greene.
Carbone was a journalist for 25 years, mostly for the Providence Journal. He was recognized as an expert on the life of Nathanael Greene and wrote a book on the subject. An unsung hero of the war, Greene was responsible for the blows dealt General Charles Cornwallis and his British forces until they were forced to seek reinforcements and resupply at Yorktown where Cornwallis surrendered.
“Without Nathanael Greene, there is no United States of America,” Carbone said. “I can’t prove that conclusively because there was a Nathanael Greene and there’s a United States…and about the only other person you could reasonably say that without that person , there’s no United States, it’s George Washington. I’ve written books about both men and I can say with certainty that of the two, Nathanael Greene was the better general.”
On December 1, 1780, Washington had told Greene to head south toward North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The British had taken Savannah and Charleston. Their plan was to come from the South, invade Virginia, and cut off the North to let it die without Southern contributions. Greene was the fourth general to head south with the same mission and the only one who would not lose his army in the effort.
The battle had been raging for five years at this point. Benedict Arnold had been exposed as a traitor and morale was dropping. General Greene received what amounted to about 800 outfitted and equipped men.
Greene split his troops into two groups and used this strategy to keep the British troops stretched out. After Union General Daniel Morgan’s victory at Cowpens, South Carolina in 1781, General Cornwallis reportedly ordered his troops to burn their tents and pour their rum to lighten their load in order to hunt down Greene’s forces. Cornwallis had an army six times larger than Greene’s, but Greene had scouted and was able to ferry his troops up the River Dan only hours before Cornwallis’ arrival, narrowly avoiding a fight.
Greene wrote at the time: “If Cornwallis perceives in his mad plan to cross the country, we will ruin him. Here is a fair field of glory ahead.”
Greene then sent his army to the Guilford courthouse and waited for the battle to come to him.
“Greene doesn’t win this battle. In fact, Greene probably never wins a battle, and I talk about him like he’s a great general,” Carbone said. “But he didn’t care about holding that ground. He wanted to inflict maximum attrition on Cornwallis and keep his own army alive.”
Cornwallis was so weakened by this victory that he abandoned his plan to reconquer the colony and marched north into Virginia. Cornwallis would later travel to Yorktown. Greene threw away the rulebook by turning his back on a superior force and marching his army into South Carolina to eliminate the British outposts there.
This strategic weakening of British forces led to the most vicious fighting of the American Revolution with the most casualties on both sides. Here Greene fought Lt. Col. Alexander Stewart’s forces at Eutaw Springs where the British were so weakened that they retreated to Charleston where Greene held them off for the remainder of the war.
“Greene kept his army in the field until he finally arrived victorious at Charleston in 1783, having saved not only the whole South, but the whole of the United States,” Carbone said. “He’s your guy. The bookish, bobo, asthmatic child of a preacher becomes a general of genius on par with Scipio, Caesar and Alexander the Great – and you have the wisdom to name a town after him, in a roundabout. way.”
Contact Josie Clark at [email protected] or 812-651-0873.