north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      By the winter of 1780, the principal objective of British strategy in America was to conquer the southern colonies. Since capturing Savannah in 1778, the British had total control over Georgia. In May 1780 Charleston fell, and the following August, Major General Charles Cornwallis, destroyed an American army led by General Horatio Gates, the “hero” of Saratoga. After trouncing Gates’s force, Cornwallis turned his attention towards North Carolina, convinced that the remaining southern colonies would fall like dominoes. In September 1780 he entered North Carolina. British patrols ranged through the countryside foraging for provisions and taking any livestock found. On September 20, William R. Davie, a North Carolina militia officer, attacked one of Cornwallis’s patrols at Wauchope Plantation in Union County. Six days later Cornwallis’s advance guard engaged and pushed aside North Carolina militia at the Battle of Charlotte.

      After the encounter at Charlotte, Cornwallis returned to South Carolina, sending two expeditionary forces out from the main army. The first group, led by Patrick Ferguson and consisting of mostly Loyalist provincial troops, was destroyed on October 7 at the Battle of Kings Mountain by a force of American militia from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, including “overmountain men” from the backcountry. The second would later be destroyed in January 1781 at Cowpens, South Carolina

      In the interim period between the two battles, overall command of the Southern Army, as the American regular forces in the southern states were known, had fallen to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. Greene, formerly quarter-master general of the Continental Army, was appointed to the position by Gen. George Washington on October 22, 1780. Greene did not actively take command until December 1780, joining the Army which was in position near Camp New Providence near Charlotte.

      Born in 1742 in Rhode Island, the son of an iron foundry owner of the same name, Greene was raised in a Quaker household that denounced warfare. Greene nevertheless developed a keen interest in military history and tactics as a young man, and was expelled from his Quaker meeting in 1773 for having attended a military parade. Subsequently joining the local militia, he took an active role in early efforts towards American independence. Upon the outbreak of war, Greene moved swiftly through the American ranks, and was promoted to brigadier general in 1775 during the Siege of Boston. The following year, at the age of 34, he became the youngest officer promoted to major general in the Continental Army.

      Greene would become one of Washington’s closest confidants and respected commanders during the war. As commander of the Southern Army, he performed remarkably well, and proved himself a genus of strategy and logistics. His command of American forces led directly to the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781, and ultimately American independence.

      Following the American Revolution, Greene retired to a plantation provided to him by Georgia in recognition of his services during the war. On June 19, 1786, Greene died from the effects of a fever and sunstroke that had overcome him while he inspected a neighbor’s crops. He is buried beneath a monument in Johnson Square at Savannah, Georgia. Greene’s wife, Catherine, continued to operate the plantation, "Mulberry Grove," where shortly after Greene’s death a young Yale graduate named Eli Whitney took a job tutoring. Whitney subsequently invented the cotton gin on the plantation.


References:
John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse (1997)
Franklin B. Wickwire,Cornwallis: The American Adventure (1970)
Burke Davis, The Cowpens-Guilford Courthouse Campaign (1962)
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