1776

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Nathanael Greene Character Analysis

Nathanael Greene is a young soldier on the American side of the Revolutionary War. He hails from Rhode Island, and grows up teaching himself about reading, writing, and military strategy despite his family’s modest means. In the early days of the Revolutionary War, he quickly impresses George Washington with his intelligence and initiative. As McCullough points out, Greene is emblematic of the American values that the Founding Fathers celebrated: he’s young, ambitious, idealistic, and hard-working. While Greene disappoints Washington on occasion—for instance, failing to defend Fort Washington from British attack—he’s a key figure in the early stages of the American war effort, and one of the few American soldiers who fights with Washington from 1775 until the end of the war in 1783.

Nathanael Greene Quotes in 1776

The 1776 quotes below are all either spoken by Nathanael Greene or refer to Nathanael Greene. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Military Strategy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of 1776 published in 2006.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Nathanael Greene was no ordinary man. He had a quick, inquiring mind and uncommon resolve. He was extremely hardworking, forthright, good-natured, and a born leader. His commitment to the Glorious Cause of America, as it was called, was total. And if his youth was obvious, the Glorious Cause was to a large degree a young man's cause.

Related Characters: Nathanael Greene
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

The chapter begins with a vivid description of Nathanael Greene. As the passage suggests, Greene is a good example of the kind of soldier who thrived during the Revolutionary War on the American side. He comes from a humble background, and he doesn’t have much in the way of a formal education. Even so, Greene is ambitious and hard-working, and he’s proven himself to be a fast learner. He’s young, but so are many of the key figures in the American Revolution. The passage suggests that the American Revolution was in many ways a reflection of American values of hard work, good will, and determination to succeed, while European society at the time placed more emphasis on inheritance, aristocracy, and the continuation of tradition. Thus, the American Revolution wasn’t only an uprising against the British Empire itself; it was also an uprising in defense of the American virtues embodied by figures like Nathanael Greene.

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Chapter 3 Quotes

If the desperate American need for leaders had thrust young men like Nathanael Greene into positions beyond their experience, the British military system, wherein commissions were bought and aristocrats given preference, denied many men of ability roles they should have played.

Related Characters: Nathanael Greene
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, McCullough contrasts the American and British sides of the Revolutionary War, arguing that their vastly different leadership styles reflect even greater differences in the structure of British and American society in the 18th century. In the British army, the best jobs are almost always given to aristocrats or people with high social standing. The problem with this is that the most well-connected people are not always the most qualified for the job. The American army, by contrast, is more meritocratic. High-ranking officials seem more willing to take chances on ambitious young soldiers like Nathanael Greene, no matter their economic background. Perhaps one of the reasons that the American army defeats its British opponents at the end of the Revolutionary War is that it does a better job of enlisting and motivating the soldiers based on merit, whereas the British army is commanded by wealthy but ultimately mediocre figures like General William Howe.

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Nathanael Greene Character Timeline in 1776

The timeline below shows where the character Nathanael Greene appears in 1776. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Rabble in Arms
Colonial Society Theme Icon
In October 1775, an American general from Rhode Island named Nathanael Greene writes that he wishes the American troops had more gunpowder. Greene is an officer in... (full context)
Colonial Society Theme Icon
Greene grew up in Rhode Island. His parents didn’t give him much in the way of... (full context)
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Greene knows that the American troops are untrained. British soldiers consider them “a rabble in arms,”... (full context)
Military Strategy Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
...Lee, who fought alongside Washington in the backwoods. In addition to Washington’s head generals, Nathanael Greene is present. Washington argues that the Americans should attack Boston by water. However, the generals... (full context)
Military Strategy Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Practicality Theme Icon
Colonial Society Theme Icon
...goes on, there’s more and more talk of independence from Britain. In a letter, Nathanael Greene says that many men want “a declaration of independence.” (full context)
Military Strategy Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
...authority in some way. However, he begins working closely with two talented New Englanders: Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox, a colonel from Boston who is well-versed in military tactics. (full context)
Chapter 3: Dorchester Heights
Leadership Theme Icon
Colonial Society Theme Icon
British Society Theme Icon
...to appointing generals than the American army. America gives leadership opportunities to lower-class men like Greene, while Britain’s army reflects the structure of British society, with aristocrats taking the top jobs. (full context)
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...there are still bushels of wheat and hay, along with many horses. Washington puts Nathanael Greene in charge of Boston while he plans his next move. (full context)
Military Strategy Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
...tactician. He has also cultivated relationships with exemplary leaders from New England (such as Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox) and no longer speaks ill of New Englanders as a result. Meanwhile,... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Lines are Drawn
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Leadership Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Practicality Theme Icon
Colonial Society Theme Icon
...the Hudson, they build a second fort, Fort Constitution. As the months drag on, Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox become good friends, and both men’s wives join them in New York.... (full context)
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Leadership Theme Icon
Nathanael Greene becomes dangerously ill, and Washington is forced to relieve his favorite general of his duty... (full context)
Chapter 6: Fortune Frowns
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Idealism vs. Practicality Theme Icon
...that no damage will be done to the city if he pulls out. Privately, Nathanael Greene urges Washington to leave New York as soon as possible, since there’s no telling when... (full context)
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George Washington rides to Harlem Heights. There, he and Nathanael Greene witness the British chasing the American troops. Washington orders a counterattack of three companies of... (full context)
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...with Washington into New Jersey. Finally, Nathanael Green will command the troops in Fort Washington. Greene is confident that he’ll be able to hold out against British forces, while Washington is... (full context)
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...generals on a scouting mission. They hear the noise of cannons assaulting Fort Washington. Nathanael Greene suggests that Washington keep himself safe by staying away from the fort while other generals... (full context)
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...George Washington is said to have wept at the sight of his empty fort. Nathanael Greene’s confidence that Fort Washington could be defended has proven false. But of course, it’s ultimately... (full context)
Chapter 7: Darkest Hour
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Idealism vs. Practicality Theme Icon
...author of the pamphlet Common Sense, has been serving as a civilian aide on Nathanael Greene’s staff, and he is inspired by the troops’ commitment. “These are the times that try... (full context)
Military Strategy Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Practicality Theme Icon
...the general officers who had been involved in the Siege of Boston (Washington and Nathanael Greene) are still serving. Henry Knox also continues to fight for the American side until the... (full context)