“Fifty years ago this month, the city’s 150th anniversary celebration featured a little bit of everything, including lots of trouble and a funny name.
“‘Even the kids know how to pronounce sesquicentennial,’ one editorial writer quipped. ‘(But) not one in a thousand can tell you what it means.’
“Over 10 days in May, sesquicentennial meant things like a nightly outdoor pageant complete with a cast of 1,250; simulated atomic bomb blasts; a dog that walked a 15-block parade on its hind legs; merchants handing out wooden nickels [with Nathanael Greene‘s name misspelled]; a marching band playing ‘Dixie;’ and pie-eating, beard-growing and husband-calling contests.
“Organizers even ‘prohibited’ women from wearing makeup and jewelry in public unless they bought certificates that allowed them to.
“‘It was like Mayberry,’ said Gayle Fripp, the Guilford County historian. ‘Andy Griffith could have been there.’
“But the headline turned out to be the weather. Because of heavy rains and sparse crowds, the celebration wound up mired in red ink and mud to match….”
— From “’58 festivity a washout” by Donald W. Patterson in the Greensboro News & Record (May 17, 2008)
By the time the city’s bicentennial celebration rolled around, the agenda reflected enormous civic and cultural upheaval. “Dixie” had disappeared from the playlist, for instance, and if wooden nickels had been issued they probably wouldn’t have been limited to dead white men.
Should Greensboro historians be offended to see a local craft brewery cheekily refer to its revered general as Natty? I don’t think so!
Nor do I think megabrewer Anheuser-Busch should have challenged — unsuccessfully — Natty Greene’s trademark application just because its own brand roster had staked out Natty Light, Fatty Natty and Natty Daddy.
“In apt summary of his remarkable way of war, [Nathanael] Greene wrote, ‘There are few generals that have run oftener, or more lustily than I have done… But I have taken care not to run too far, and commonly have run as fast forward as backward, to convince our enemy that we were like a crab, that could run either way’….”
“In many ways Greene’s strategy and mindset anticipates that of another great self-taught soldier: Vietnam’s Vo Nguyen Giap. Like Greene, Giap had unshakable belief in the cause for which he fought, and was able to transmit that faith to his officers and men. And like Greene, Giap integrated the activities of local militia, guerrilla bands, and conventional army forces to wear down adversaries with greater military skill and strength than his own forces possessed. Giap, too, suffered many setbacks.
“But by the time the U.S. Army squared off against Giap in 1965, it had all but forgotten Greene’s extraordinary achievement in the South — and thus was largely tone deaf to the perils and possibilities of unconventional war.”
— From “Nathanael Greene: The Revolution’s Unconventional Mastermind” by James A. Warren at the Daily Beast (Nov. 27)
“History never remembers who the quartermasters were: That was Nathanael Greene’s retort when George Washington pressed on him the job of quartermaster of the Continental Army in 1778.
“And though Greene yielded to Washington’s plea, he was right. Despite doing a near-miraculous job in rebuilding the fragile supply network of the American Revolution, he is most remembered for his handling of Continental troops in the battle at Guilford Court House in North Carolina in 1781, the set-piece of Mel Gibson’s movie ‘The Patriot.’”
— From “The Civil War’s Unlikely Genius” by Allen Guelzo in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 2)
Even after his success at Guilford, history sometimes balked at remembering Greene.
On this day in 1917: Gen. Leonard Wood visits Charlotte to inspect possible sites for a World War I training camp.
The result will be Camp Greene, built on 2,500 acres and named for Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene. The camp trains soldiers for less than two years, but rouses Charlotte’s economy and hastens its rise from small-town obscurity.
“As early as 1848 local leaders had advocated [according to Greensboro’s Whig newspaper] ‘a Monument erected to the memory of [Gen. Nathanael] Greene, and devoted to the perpetual Union of these States.’ Who could object to such a monument, ‘connected as it is with the South?’ ….
“Unlike the memorials at other Southern battlefields, that at Guilford Courthouse would ‘make us sacrifice our narrow, sectional prejudices and differences, which are worth nothing, for the preservation and continuance of… brotherly love, and national harmony…’
“Even with lifetime memberships of only one dollar, the Greene Monument Association raised only $600 and never constructed a monument before the Civil War rendered moot its attempt to preserve the union by erecting obelisks.”
.— From “Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic” by Thomas A. Chambers (2012)
Whatever your opinion of the long-disputed Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, this bronze-clad sculpture of deliveryman Captain James Jack is quite a piece of advocacy art.
I can think of two other examples of equestrian statues in North Carolina: Gen. Nathanael Greene in Greensboro and R. J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem. Are there more?