Janet Uhlar | Reasons I Committed to Revising General Greene’s Story (part two)

Reasons I Committed to Revising General Greene’s Story (part two)

Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin (a well-known and respected founding father) all but abandoned his post prior to the winter of 1777/78. This is the reason the Continental Army was in such desperate need for basic supplies when they entered Valley Forge on December 19, 1777. Men were sick and dying for want of these supplies. Six months later the Continental Army would face the British on the field of battle at Monmouth Courthouse (June 28, 1778) and hold their own against the might of the British Army.

How did a dying, starving, naked, poorly supplied army accomplish this? Every American school child knows the answer — the Baron von Steuben came to Valley Forge and drilled the troops, turning them into a well-trained army. HOW DOES ONE DRILL AND TRAIN DYING MEN?

It seems, no one bothered to ask. Or, perhaps it was that no one cared to tell. The answer to this compelling question is Nathanael Greene. He submitted to the pleas of General Washington and Congress to take what he considered a demotion from battlefield commander to quartermaster general. Within three weeks he had supplies coming in to Valley Forge. Now Von Steuben had troops strong and equipped to train.

Greene agreed to remain in the post for one year. Though Congress had granted the term, they disregarded Greene’s agreement when the year ended. Greene was forced to serve for a second year. During his appointment as quartermaster general Greene worked diligently to supply the army. Some in Congress resented his diligence — and his determination to be free of the post as originally agreed upon. (Upon visiting Congress as quartermaster general along with General Washington, Greene stated in a letter that he and Washington counted more than a dozen tables over-laden with food while the troops were expected to sustain themselves on rations. He and Washington noted the fine suits the congressmen wore, as the army struggled to obtain proper clothing to cover their bodies against the elements.)

Quartermaster General Greene’s persistence offended some in Congress. They felt General Greene was insubordinate in his constancy to properly supply the troops and remind them of the terms originally agreed upon. Members of Congress called for hearings to determine if Nathanael Greene should be discharged from command and from the Continental Army.

After almost a week of hearings, it was determined by a narrow margin that Nathanael Greene would be relieved of the quartermaster general post and again take up his position as battlefield commander.

Within a few months’ time, the same members of Congress who determined to remove Nathanael Greene from the army — along with those who supported him — would seek him out to command the Southern Campaign. Two generals had already made the attempt and failed. It was time to assign the pivotal task to Greene — a commander that had already proven his dedication to the army and his ability to accomplish the impossible.

The March to Valley Forge, December 19, 1777, Painted by William Brooke Thomas Trego
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1883. On display at the Museum of the American Revolution

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