American Revolution: Colonel Christopher Greene

Colonel Christopher Greene. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Christopher Greene - Early Life & Career:

Born May 12, 1737 at Occupessatuxet, RI, Christopher Greene was the son of Judge Phillip Greene and his wife Elizabeth.  Raised and educated locally, Greene married his third cousin, Anna Lippett, on May 6, 1757 and the couple would go on to have nine children.  Following his father's death in 1761, he inherited the family's mill business and estates.  Operating the mill for the next fourteen years, Greene also served in the Rhode Island General Assembly between 1772 and 1774.

  As tensions with Great Britain increased, he was chosen to serve as a lieutenant in the newly-formed Kentish Guards, a local militia unit, in 1774.  

Christopher Greene - The American Revolution Begins:

With the Battles of Lexington and Concord and beginning of the American Revolution the following April, Green sought to serve in the rapidly growing American forces.  In May, he received a commission as a major from the General Assembly and led a company of Rhode Island men to join the forces that were besieging Boston.  Later that summer, the commander of the Continental Army, General George Washington, appointed Greene to lead an infantry battalion that had been formed to take part in Colonel Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec.  Accepting, he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel.  Embarking men on September 19, Greene and the rest of Arnold's command sailed north to the Kennebec River in modern-day Maine.

Christopher Greene - Kennebec & Quebec:

Moving up the Kennebec, Arnold intended attack Quebec in conjunction with American troops advancing from Lake Champlain.  Pushing into the wilderness, Greene's men, along with those from Lieutenant Colonels Daniel Morgan and Roger Enos' battalions, soon found the going increasingly difficult.

  Suffering from disease and an acute lack of food, only Morgan and Greene's men succeeded in reaching Canada as Enos' troops voted to turn back.  Approaching Quebec on November 14, Arnold demanded the city's surrender.  This was refused and the Americans commenced a loose siege. 

With the arrival of reinforcements under Brigadier General Richard Montgomery on December 3, the two American commanders commenced planning an attack on Quebec.  Striking on the night of December 30, the American assault was repulsed and Montgomery killed.  When Arnold fell wounded in the fighting, Greene pressed on and was captured.  Held by the British for eight months, he was later exchanged.  Returning south, Greene obtained a commission as a major in Colonel James Varnum's regiment.  This unit was attached to a division led by his third cousin, Major General Nathanael Greene.   

Christopher Greene - Fort Mercer & Battle of Red Bank:         

Serving under Varnum for the remainder of the year, Greene saw action during a string of American defeats around New York City and later took part in the victories at Trenton and Princeton.  Following a reorganization of the army in early 1777, Greene assumed command of the regiment, now designated the 1st Rhode Island, with the rank of colonel.

  That fall, Washington moved the army south to protect Philadelphia from General Sir William Howe's army.  While the bulk of the army assumed a position west of the city, Greene's regiment was detailed to garrison Fort Mercer on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.  Together, Forts Mercer and Mifflin, the latter on nearby Mud Island, served as the principal defenses against the British approaching the city by water.

On September 11, Howe defeated Washington at the Battle of Brandywine and a few days later occupied Philadelphia.  Seeking to open the river to British shipping, Howe directed his forces to move against the forts.  While efforts to reduce Fort Mifflin commenced in September, it was not until late the following month that Colonel Carl von Donop's 1,200 Hessians were ordered to cross the river and strike Fort Mercer.

  Arriving on October 22, von Donop twice demanded that Greene surrender.  Refusing, Greene and his men prepared for the Hessian assault which was supported by Royal Navy warships in the river.  In the resulting Battle of Red Bank, Greene's men threw back repeated attempts by the Hessians to storm Fort Mercer and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy including mortally wounding von Donop.

Christopher Greene - Rhode Island:

Greene and his men held Fort Mercer until November 20 when, following the loss of Fort Mifflin, he determined that his position had become untenable.  Abandoning the fort, his regiment narrowly escaped before Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis arrived with superior forces.  Rejoining Washington's army, Greene and his men went into winter quarters at Valley Forge.  In February 1778, Greene departed Valley Forge and returned to Rhode Island to aid in recruiting additional troops.  As the colony suffered from a small population, the General Assembly voted to allow the enlistment of African American and Native American slaves.  These recruits would be paid an equal wage to white enlistees and would be granted their freedom at the end of the war.  As with the broader population, Rhode Island's small number of slaves proved insufficient to form a new unit entirely drawn from this source.  

When fewer than 200 men were obtained, the General Assembly reversed its earlier decision.  Those who had already enlisted were provided to Greene for inclusion in a new 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

  Working to train his new command, Greene anticipated fighting later that summer as word had arrived that French fleet was bound for Rhode Island.  As part of preparation for these operations, his regiment was attached to Major General John Sullivan's command at Providence.  With the arrival of Vice Admiral Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing and his fleet at the end of July, Sullivan and Nathanael Greene devised a plan for a coordinated Franco-American attack on Newport.

Moving forward in early August, the plan unraveled when the French departed to chase a British fleet led by Vice Admiral Lord Richard Howe.  Advancing onto Aquidneck Island, American forces paused to await d'Estaing's return.  On August 20, the French admiral's fleet appeared and d'Estaing, to the American's anger, told Greene and Sullivan that he was proceeding on to Boston to make repairs.  This, coupled with news of British reinforcements moving north, led the Americans begin withdrawing from the island.  Learning of this, the British commander at Newport, Major General Sir Robert Pigot, dispatched troops to attack the retreating enemy.  In the subsequent Battle of Rhode Island, Christopher Greene temporarily directed a brigade in the American center, while his regiment, led by Major Samuel Ward, Jr., performed well under fire.

Christopher Greene - Final Campaigns:

In the wake of fighting in Rhode Island, Greene's regiment marched south and joined Washington's army north of New York City.  As the bulk of the fighting shifted to the southern colonies, he and his men were largely inactive and conducted patrols in the Hudson Valley.

  On May 13, 1781, Greene's headquarters near the Croton River was attacked by a force of Loyalists.  Badly wounded in his house, he was dragged into the woods by the enemy where he was killed and his body mangled.  Those at the time speculated that this treatment was in retribution for leading African American troops.  Greene's remains were interred at the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Yorktown, NY and marker placed in the Captain Samuel Greene Lot in Warwick, RI.  In recognition of his service during the war, Congress voted Greene a sword which was presented to his family by Secretary of War Henry Knox in 1786.    

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Colonel Christopher Greene." ThoughtCo, Aug. 20, 2015, Hickman, Kennedy. (2015, August 20). American Revolution: Colonel Christopher Greene. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Colonel Christopher Greene." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 21, 2017).