Does your mom ever walk into your room and say, Wow! It’s so clean in here. Or is it more like, Uggh! You have to pick up those clothes, make your bed neater and take out the trash. I am sure that you have experienced the latter at times, but hope that the first is becoming your standard. Why have your parents emphasized keeping your room and belongings neat and tidy? Is it just to teach you obedience, or are there more lessons behind this good habit?
One of the greatest leaders of the American Revolutionary war, General Nathanael Greene, was respected by George Washington because he enforced cleanliness among his troops.
Nathanael Greene was born into a prominent Rhode Island Quaker family. His father built a business on the Hunt’s River that ran through their property. They ground grain and forged iron into massive fishermen’s anchors with the power from a dam they built on the river. Nathanael’s father raised him and his five brothers to be content with little and work hard. They all grew up to work on the family business, and when their father died in 1770, Nathanael became the new owner.
Greene moved to Coventry where his father had built a new 14-room house to better manage the men working the forge. Not unlike those who worked for him, he did not have much schooling. Gerald Carborne writes in his biography on Nathanael Greene that he “was accustomed to hard work, having grown up stoking the furnaces of his father’s forges, plowing his fields, and grinding grist in the mill at the family’s main homestead in Warwick.”
Greene did not allow this lack of education to hinder him from developing a love for reading. His father thought reading was a waste of time, but Nathanael believed reading was critical for education. Those who knew him well said, “Nobody could get the substance out of a book as he could.” This reading habit not only filled in education Greene lacked, but also developed his understanding of military tactics and leadership. He read books on science, human understanding, geometry, civil society, Roman history, the laws of England and business. When visiting Boston, Greene would visit Henry Knox’s famous “London Book-Store” and purchased books on military tactics.
By the summer of 1774, Greene was very much aware of the British-American tensions in Boston (a day’s hard ride from where Greene resided). He wrote at the time: “The soldiers in Boston are insolent beyond measure. Soon, very soon, expect to hear the thirsty Earth drinking in the warm blood of American sons.” Greene was already completely turned against the British due to an incident in 1772 when British seamen raided cargo from one of Greene’s ships. He won 600 pounds in his lawsuit against the British lieutenant who had seized their sailboat, rum and molasses.
When the British were encamped in Boston in 1774, the men of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, formed a militia. Nathanael bought a gun in Boston and joined the other 53 men—very few of whom had any military experience. Greene brought back a British deserter from Boston to train these men. By October of 1774, they obtained a charter from the General Assembly to form the Kentish Guards. Though Greene did not gain the sought-after position of lieutenant, he continued to drill with the guards through the spring of 1775.
After the war officially broke out in April, Rhode Island’s General Assembly voted to form an army of 1,500 men and made Nathanael Greene the army general. Despite Greene’s lack of experience, they knew he had studied military books, trained with the Kentish Guards and, most importantly, was accustomed to leading men. Carbone writes, “In choosing a general, the Assembly was not seeking the most popular man, they were seeking the most capable, and they chose a strong, introspective, intelligent man with a demonstrated ability to lead.”
Nathanael Greene was now leading not 100 but 1,000 men—and they were still seeking 500 more recruits. With only six months of training in the Kentish guards and absolutely no combat experience, Greene had the task of turning these average laborers into militia men. After establishing his camp headquarters on a British loyalist’s estate in Roxbury, he returned to Rhode Island in an attempt to recruit more men.
When Greene returned to Roxbury, unsuccessful, he found his army in complete disarray. The men were being fed moldy bread and beef mixed with horsemeat. Not only were they underfed, they were dirty and undisciplined. This was unacceptable. Greene decided to make the most of his 1,000 inexperienced recruits and cracked down—hard. He led them in daily drills on how to properly move in formation and fire muskets. He enforced the rules of his forge—no swearing or card playing; clothes must be cleaned and faces shaved. This immediately transformed the disorganized camp into a fairly clean, orderly training operation.
After the battle at Bunker Hill, George Washington arrived at Cambridge on July 2, 1775. He was not impressed by the troops and described them as, “an exceedingly dirty and nasty people.” But the “Roadislanders” stood out. Nathanael Greene’s camp was neat and tidy. Their tents were all in a row, they drilled daily and were well ordered.
Greene wrote to his closest brother, “My task is hard and fatigue great. I go to bed late and I rise early. But hard as it is if I can discharge my duty to my own honor and to my country’s satisfaction, I shall go through the toil with cheerfulness. My own officers and soldiers are generally well satisfied, nay I have not heard one complaint. The general officers of the neighboring camps treat me with the greatest respect much more than my station or consequence entitle me to.” Because Greene was diligent to rule himself and his men well, he was promoted to brigadier general at the age of 32. George Washington saw the character that Greene demonstrated by enforcing his men to be neat and tidy.
After the patriots regained Boston in March of 1776, Washington put Greene in charge of the city. By April 1, 1776, Nathanael Greene commanded five regiments. Carbone writes, “He had as yet done nothing spectacular, but in the early days of George Washington’s army, simple competence—the ability to keep a clean, well-regulated camp—stood out.” Because Greene enforced cleanliness and order among his men, he gained more and more responsibilities. Washington saw the character of a strong leader in Nathanael Greene.
The way you keep your room, do your laundry or make your bed reflects your character. If you rule yourself well—keep a clean room—you will receive more responsibility. The character of discipline carries through to all areas of life. God loves order and cleanliness, and He loves seeing those qualities in His teens. Learn from the example of Nathanael Greene and be sure to keep your room clean.