Major General Nathanael Greene: A Study in Leadership Culminating at Guilford Courthouse


  • Gerald Krieger National Defense University


This manuscript argues that Major General Nathanael Greene's adaptive leadership style demonstrated an effective use of irregular forces, allowing him to achieve strategic victory in the southern theatre of the American Revolution.  Greene’s understanding, of what is now considered, the operational environment, helped him solve complex wicked problems. Greene coined the term, “fugitive war,” to capture the core of his tactics in the Carolinas, which focused on augmented capabilities of his European-styled traditional Continental army. His keen recognition of the importance of the environment and logistics during the campaign leading up to the Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781) was superb, highlighting his strengths as a military leader. Greene’s previous tenure as quartermaster solidified his understanding of logistics, while his awareness of the value of boats, vice horses, demonstrated his ability to think in unconventional ways. Greene understood the precarious state of his army in the face of a superior force. The situation dictated patience to attrite slowly the British army under Cornwallis. Greene needed time to recruit an American army, while also waiting for the British to make a tactical error that he could exploit. This submission differs from other scholarship on the topic because it focuses on Greene's thorough understanding of the operational environment, providing unique insights from the past, which are helpful today. His novel use of irregular forces, allowed him to use his conventional Continental army to great effect. Past battles highlight leadership skills, emphasizing unique solutions to complex problems, to apply to modern tactical challenges.  This study will help future leaders and students of military history grasp the value of novel approaches to complex problems. This paper utilizes historical narrative while highlighting leadership characteristics that would be useful to emerging senior leaders as a study of adaptive and original approach to a remarkably contemporary complex problem set. It also demonstrates enduring links among strategy, operations, and tactics.