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AWI leadership paper Essay

General Nathanael Greene and General William Howe represent two figures that played a significant role in the American Revolution war. It is these two men who amongst others were charged with the responsibilities of bringing victory to their respective countries. Nathanael being in the continental army or in the United States while General William Howe was pursuing the interest of the colony. A look at these two figures a time draw some similarities in their characters and leadership skills yet in some instances they are as different as heaven and earth.

 Immediately towards the commencement of the war Greene, was a small time private emerging from very humble origin with a background that was largely against militarism. It was from this position that he would rise through the ranks to become the most dependable right hand man of the first United States president, George Washington.[1]

            William Howe on the other hand was born in England and joined the military at the young age of seventeen. He had some strong relations with the crown and this is probably what saw him climb up the hierarchy. Most critics agree to the fact that General Nathanael Greene was an astute planner and an excellent

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military strategist. He upheld moral ideals mostly influenced by his strict religious upbringing. At the onset of the war he was member of a private militia known as Kentish Guards, he volunteered to join the Revolution war after the colony forces came to Rhode Island.  Of these two gentlemen in arms, it is General William Howe who faces much criticism from scholars, analysts and war veterans. True to say, Howe made a number of grave mistakes that forever haunted him even after the war but he also made some tremendous accomplishments that would lead to his knighting.

            General Greene on the other hand had a rather flawless career with exemplary records that have seen him remain a war hero on the lips of the historians. Recently in 1980, he joined rather belatedly, the-Quarter Master Hall of Fame. General Greene character would vary slightly from General Howe leadership skills, as he was more decisive and firm in his actions. He was not to be cowed easily ever by his superiors. This can be seen where in 1780 as Quartermaster General, the Congress had been rattled by the increase in the expense in the defense department, which was under Greene’s leadership. Although he was the leader, the structure of the department prevented him from taking command of everything especially the finances. The congress had over looked this and wanted to take him fully liable of the excesses. He was angered by the reforms that were introduced in the department that would see two of his trusted compatriots relieved of their duties. In the face of a threat to dismiss him permanently from service, he insisted on placing his resignation letter, not even the Congress could deter him. [2]

Both General Greene and General Howe were astute planers and strategists, as their specific battle victory have clearly shown. Howe led his army to a convincing win in the Battle of Bunker Hill though he suffered a high casualty number. At first he had underestimated the Americans ability to fight as well as their high number. He had a well laid out plan on how he could defeat the rebels. He hoped that his army, being amply trained and well armed could quash the Americans defense.

This victory cost so much in terms of life and morale. General Howe after this could not risk with such a low number of fighters. He stated this categorically in his report to Lord Gemaine asking for more than 15,000 soldiers or else the war would continue forever with an eminent defeat. One great thing that comes into focus and that should be understood is that before joining the war in Boston, he had publicly acknowledged that he was an anti-colonist. He was known to be sympathetic to the Americans and was understood in his strategies and maneuvers to minimize the spilling of blood.

Critics claim that it is this pro Americanism that may have compounded his strategy. His arrival in Boston would coincide with a trapping of the British army. They had been cornered. It is here that he would display his greatest moves. Earlier on the British had expected an easy fight, as it was to take place in the open. In the command Charleston Neck was to join General Howe and both were very optimistic of a win. His brave character would come out clearly when he instructed his soldiers to watch his moves and not to take a step beyond him, and true to his words, in the whole fight he would remain consciously in front. This was a very challenging fight and most soldiers were in his praise[3].

The Americans had laid a trap upon knowing of the British ascension, waiting till the moment they would close in then firing to them. This caught the British by surprise. Under the leadership and command of Howe, the British soldiered on even with so many of their compatriots wounded; they dodged musket fire until the Americans ran out of ammunition and fled. This victory was very costly to the British but Howe was described as a dedicated, brave and dependable soldier, critics claim however that it is this battle that charged Howe’s strategy in the war. While he had preferred direct confrontational fight before, he took to flanking maneuvers. He did not want to risk wounding his soldiers, as he well understood that replenishments would take a number of days, and time was very precious. He had recognized the capability of the Americans unlike the commanders in Washington who saw him as weak because of suffering such huge casualties. Many were ignorant of the true situation in America preferring to refer to the fighters as a bunch of cotton and tobacco farmers.

Although hailed in some fronts, other strategists especially in London were criticizing Howe for having not ran after the rebels, but the truth of the matter was that they had fled faster than soldiers could manage. However just like Nathanael under similar conditions Howe was quick to take responsibility but also explained why he did not bother pursuing them. His soldiers were tired and wounded and pursuing the rebels could have been foolhardy. He also sought to maintain the order and discipline that came with the British. Here he is seen as a tactical and considerate leader.

Nathanael Green too in an almost similar defeat or miscalculation was also quick to assume responsibility. Having been promoted in October 1776 to take charge of Fort Washington, he was required to defend it till the end. The Congress ratified this decision, which had been backed by George Washington; however, Washington was to later tell him to use his own judgment in carrying out his duties. He was at discretion to choose which among his options was the best. He delegated his responsibilities to the officer below him in command however, Fords Washington was lost and the blame was squarely on his shoulders. However Washington’s confidence in him was unbroken, he had proven before to be a worthy soldier.[4]

Unlike General Howe who shield away from direct confrontation during fighting, Nathanael Green banked on both ambush and direct confrontation as can be seen in his notable victories. Although he lost in the battle of Guilford Courthouse, he nevertheless was able to inflict pain to the British. The American retreat to Virginia is a hallmark to his many accomplishments. Critics and military strategists have hailed this and claims it brings him out as an excellent strategist prior to the retreat, the continental army had been badly beaten and running out of essentials, suffering attacks from Cornwallis who was commanding the British forces. In a tactical maneuver, he divided his men into groups prompting the British to play ball too. The British were badly beaten and a large number of them captured. A council convened by Greene voted to order a retreat so as to replenish their stocks as well as fighters. It was also a strategy to defer a possible confrontation with the British as the continental forces had been badly weakened. His retreat is referred to as the race to the Dan River. Green had amply prepared boats to be readied in the Dan River in Virginia. The British army was hot in pursuit and sought to integrate the forces before they would get to the river. However, Greene’s men crossed the Dan River before the British who by the time they reached there had no boats to cross the deep river. Green emerged victorious.

Like General Howe, Nathanael also emerged as a leader who was committed to the welfare of his men and that of his country. He had deep respect for those above his command. During the revolution war, it was clear that a number of high-ranking officials in the continental congress were not comfortable with George Washington’s shinning star, they were willing to frustrate him within and outside congress. Washington trusted Greene whom he saw as dependable, he appointed him a Quartermaster General despite his insistence that he wanted active service. Now the conspirators after seeing Greene’s devotion to Washington, they sought to influence him to turn against Washington in vain. He was also ready to resign of his duties after a clash with the congress over inadequate resources for his men. The congress was approving a plan to have the individual states deal with the supplies but Greene wanted the continental congress to provide him with the resources directly. This shows that he was ready to stand by his soldiers in the knowledge that limited supplies would put into jeopardy, the national mission as well as put his men in a compromising and risky position.

Just like Nathanael, General Howe emerged as a leader who believed in his plan and was not ready to be influenced by outsiders. In his career in the American Revolution, he had faced criticism and urged to make some decisions or move but remained adamant, later emerging victorious. There was a time he was instructed by authorities in London to move the forces to New York form Boston. Many had expected him to destroy Boston but he showed his humane side and left the city intact. On reaching New York, his forces did not immediately attack the American contrary to what majority and superiors had wanted. Many had thought that the attack would be immediate before the Americans built on their fortifications. However, Howe had other ideas as he awaited the badly needed re-enforcements from Germany. He also wanted his men to acclimatize, as the climate conditions were not conducive to them. Others however see him as being lax in his decisions.[5]

However, unlike General Greene who was strong willed no matter the odds, General Howe emerged as a leader who lacked in spirit especially to pursue the unknown. He was too cautious of the war especially with his forces outnumbered not to risk diminishing the invincibility reputation the British Army had so far managed to create for itself. This was to be criticized by even his juniors who sometimes saw him as indecisive. The issue of the American fortifications always crops up whenever his weaknesses are debated upon. In the battle of long island, he did not pursue the continental army even after having defeated them, majority wanted to go after. Many agree that had the pushed them further, they would have been defeated and forced to surrender. [6]

In this particular case, Howe can be considered to have been timid and too considerate for a soldier who was charged with the responsibility of protecting the colony. He was not willing to take a risk and attack the continental army hoping to do so in the break of dawn. However in morning, Howe was in for a rude shock for Washington had evacuated his men in the dead of the night.

However the victory in the long island remained a hallmark in his career. Although he was able to defeat Washington’s men by killing more than two thousand, it is this specific victory that saw him knighted by the then king George. His miscalculation in not pursuing the continental force is to forever haunt his decisiveness and strategies. He was unable to take advantage of the loose nature of the Americans organization and probably annihilate them, ending the war.

Like General Howe, many strategists had believed that with the victory in Long Island the war would be over, many had overlooked Washington’s astuteness. Unlike Nathanael who emerges as a soldier who was capable of covering everything, General Howe comes out as a highly unimaginative leader that let out his only window of opportunity of clashing the rebellion. It remains his main weakness and failure. He had opposed the war and probably that might be the reason behind his reluctance to annihilate the rebels hoping to win later in one major decisive battle. This reluctance also has portrayed Howe as lacking in the spirit and self-confidence of Nathanael, enough to motivate the army. He kept on asking for more soldiers doubting whether the few he had would deliver, and postponing engagements until he got replenishments. Nathanael too had an ill equipped army but still was not evading a confrontation.

Both Nathanael and General Howe emerged to be such strong and brave characters. Although Howe may be lacking in spirit and drive, they both were observed to be resilient, committed, unwavering and principled leaders. However General Howe had a number of weaknesses that led to his failure. He lacked in self-confidence and was indecisive in his exploits unlike Nathanael who was resolute and also a risk taker, clearly motivating his men.


MacKesy, Piers, The War for America, 1775-1783. (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska, 1993), 34
• Wood, W.J., and John S.D. Eisenhower, Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781. (NY: Da Capo, 1995), 26.
• Scheer, George F., Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It. (NY: Da Capo, 1988), 19
• Stephenson, Michael, Patriot Battles – How the War of Independence Was Fought. (NY: HarperCollins, 2007), 44
• Ferling, John, Almost a Miracle – The American Victory in the War of Independence. (NY: Oxford Press, 2007), 38
• Billias, George Athan, George Washington’s Generals and Opponents. (NY: Da Capo, 19940), 46

[1] MacKesy, Piers, The War for America, 1775-1783. (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska, 1993), 34

[2] • Wood, W.J., and John S.D. Eisenhower, Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781. (NY: Da Capo, 1995), 26.

[3] Stephenson, Michael, Patriot Battles – How the War of Independence Was Fought. (NY: HarperCollins, 2007), 44

[4] • Billias, George Athan, George Washington’s Generals and Opponents. (NY: Da Capo, 19940),46

[5]Ferling, John, Almost a Miracle – The American Victory in the War of Independence. (NY: Oxford Press, 2007), 38

[6] Scheer, George F., Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It. (NY: Da Capo, 1988), 19

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