Midway through his two and a half year tour of duty as Quartermaster General of Washington’s army, Nathanael Greene wrote to George Washington: “No body ever heard of a quarter Master in History as such or in relateing any brilliant Action.” A later commander, Erwin Rommel, took a different view. He wrote: “The first essential condition for an Army to be able to stand the strain of battle [is an] adequate stock of weapons, petrol, ammunition. In fact, the battle is fought and decided by the quartermasters.” A modern military historian agrees: “How to feed, how to shelter, how to move an army in the field remain today the first, chief and most persistent problems that a commander has to solve.”
Why was Greene named Quartermaster General? By 1778 Greene had become Washington’s most trusted subordinate; the Army’s supply situation was catastrophic, revealed by the destitution of troops in their camps at Valley Forge; finally, Greene was no stranger to logistics. Like most Continental commanders, he was self-educated in military matters; he had read closely the era’s recognized military classics, and had acted, under Washington’s watchful eye, skillfully and efficiently.
Greene’s talent at logistics had become apparent in the closing months of 1776 when Washington’s army was in full retreat. In addition to preparing Fort Washington and Fort Lee on the Hudson River, he had ordered three month’s provisions for 20,000 men to be placed “upon the Back Road to Philadelphia.” He established a chain of supply depots that was very well placed, lying west of the main road between New York City and Philadelphia. In these actions, Greene was following the doctrine of Frederick the Great, who wrote that “the foundation of an army is the belly. . . the primary duty of a general . . . is always to place magazines and fortified places behind the localities where you are assembling the army.”
Greene did not know (but perhaps guessed) that this supply line would be vital to cover Washington’s retreat to the Delaware, should he choose that route. It is not an exaggeration to say that Greene’s actions here (made without prior guidance from Washington) saved the army and the Revolution in December 1776. Washington still had a force with which to strike at Trenton because provisions had been available along the route to the Delaware. Few took notice of this in the confusion that reigned at the end of the year, but Washington clearly did.
By the time the army encamped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78, supply arrangements had all but broken down. Blame began to settle on the Quartermaster General, Thomas Mifflin, who (except for a brief period in late 1776) had been in this post since the beginning of the war, and even more so on Commissary General Jonathan Trumbull. According to the most authoritative study of the Quartermaster Department, “The best [Trumbull] could do was to attempt to provide the soldiers with sufficient cooked rations to maintain 4 days’ supply on hand.” Washington knew that Greene had done more than this the year before, while preparing to defend (ill-advisedly) Fort Washington on the Hudson. On December 23, 1777, Washington wrote to Congress requesting that two or three members of the Board of War visit the camp to see the situation for themselves and formulate “the most perfect plan that can be devised for correcting all abuses.” Within a month Francis Dana, Joseph Reed and Nathanael Folsom arrived and began to investigate the logistics nightmare.
By the end of January, the committee informed Congress that “the Appointment of a Q[uarte]r Master Gen[era]l is a Matter of great Importance and immediate Necessity,” and recommended (with numerous caveats) Gen. Philip Schuyler for the job. But Schuyler was in such bad odor with Congress that it was obvious he was unsuitable. After consultations with Washington and various others, the committee’s attention began to focus on Greene. Noting in another letter to Congress that the Quartermaster General was the “great Wheel in the Machine,” a person who had to be scrupulously honest and competent, they reported that a “Character has presented itself, which in a great Degree meets our Judgment and Wishes; we have opened the Subject to him, and it is now under his Consideration.” The “Character” was Nathanael Greene.
During most of the month of February 1778, the committee (and Washington) urged Greene to accept the post. Greene was reluctant; he had been a small businessman before the war, and felt that “this large field of Business” was beyond his capability. But he also feared being shifted from the line to a “staff” position. He liked being a combat general, and did not wish to relinquish his position fighting at Washington’s right hand. If he agreed to the appointment, he would be “taken out of the line of splendor.” Only when it was agreed that he would have the aid of two men he respected, Charles Pettit and John Cox, as assistant quartermasters general, and that they would share a one percent commission on all purchases, did Greene relent. In the end, however, it was not personnel or pay that persuaded Greene to accept the post, but his dedication to the Patriot cause, his belief that the Army had to survive, and Washington’s insistence that he was the only man who could do the job. The committee reported to Congress that “Nothing but a thorough Conviction of the absolute necessity of straining every Nerve in the Service, could have brought these Gentlemen into Office upon any Terms.” Congress passed a resolution naming Greene Quartermaster General on March 2, 1778. It was a wise choice; the most renowned student of this topic declares that, of the four Quartermasters General who served (Mifflin, Steven Moylan, Greene, and Thomas Pickering), “Greene was the most effective.”
But Greene himself was unenthusiastic. Upon being congratulated by Col. Hugh Hughes, Greene replied “What can induce you to think my Appointment is agreeable . . . I know not. My rank in the Army and the Splendor of Command, which I am obliged to discontinue for a time, are no inconsiderable sacrafices. And what have I in return, a troublesome Office to manage, and a new set of Officers in the different districts to seek for.” To Alexander McDougall he complained: “All of you will be immortallising your selves in the golden pages of History, while I am confind to a series of dru[d]gery to pave the way for it.”
Greene assumed his new duties on March 23, 1778. He maintained the organization of his department as it was handed to him by the previous Quartermaster General, Thomas Mifflin. The previous May, Mifflin had reorganized the Quartermaster department, with separate wagon and forage departments reporting to the Quartermaster General. By the time Greene took over, these posts were filled capably by James Thompson and Col. Clement Biddle, respectively. These two concerns constituted the greatest challenges Greene (and the army) faced throughout the Revolutionary War; the editors of Greene’s papers state that “there was a never-ending shortage of all the components of land transport: carts, wagons, sleighs, sledges, oxen, horses, harness, packsaddles, wagoners, carters, and forage.” The situation was so dire that the Camp Committee wrote Congress on February 12 that “almost every species of camp transportation is now performed by men, who without a murmur, patiently yoke themselves to little carriages of their own making, or load their wood and provisions on their backs.”
Greene threw himself vigorously at the problem: supplies had to be brought to the camp at Valley Forge; spring was coming, and with it another campaign season. Indications were that the British were preparing to leave Philadelphia; if they left by land, Washington wanted to pursue: he urged Greene to “strain every nerve” to assemble the necessary supplies and transport. Greene wrote Washington that he had “given extensive Orders, almost without Limitation, for the Purchase” of horses and tents. He wrote to Laurens requesting money to hire more wagoners, who were “not to be got under Ten Pounds per Month. This is a most extravagant Demand, but Necessity will oblige us to comply with it; for that appears to be the current Price given for private Business.” It was well worth it, Greene insisted; “Good Waggoners will be a valuable Acquisition.” He asked Washington’s help in engaging wagoners from Virginia, telling him “time is so short.” He ordered his deputy quartermaster at Head of Elk to hire, purchase, or impress wagons to carry supplies from there to Valley Forge; requested that Pennsylvania exempt from militia fines any person employed by the army as a wagoner; drew up new procedures for hiring wagons and teams; arranged for supplies to travel on the Schuylkill River to reduce the need for animals to draw them. He urged Washington to enlist wagoners for the duration of the war. So successful were Greene’s efforts that Washington reported to Congress that summer that “by his conduct and industry [the Quartermaster Department] has undergone a very happy change, and such as enabled us, with great facility, to make a sudden move with the whole Army and baggage from Valley Forge in pursuit of the Enemy [to Monmouth, NJ] and to perform a march to this place [White Plains, NY].”
“Forage was to the revolutionary army what oil is to the twentieth-century army,” wrote the editors of Greene’s papers. Army Historian Erna Risch agreed that “the heart of the transportation problem was forage supply.” Eighteenth century armies moved by horsepower, and horses required feed. Greene was fortunate in having the assistance of Clement Biddle as Commissary General of Forage. Biddle, working largely unsupervised by Mifflin, had worked up a general plan for a chain of forage depots along the army’s line of operations from the Hudson Highlands through New Jersey to Head of Elk on the Chesapeake. He submitted this plan to Greene, who immediately approved it and fleshed it out, calling for 200,000 bushels of grain “and as much Hay as can be bought” at each of three magazines on the Delaware, the Schuylkill and at Head of Elk; 100,000 bushels each on lines from the Susquehanna to the Schuylkill and from the Delaware to the Hudson River; and 40,000 bushels at Trenton. Washington quickly approved this improvised forage supply system; it was vastly superior to not having a system at all.
Food, supplies, horses, wagons, forage: the army needed them all, quickly, however and wherever they could be found. Greene was forced to rely on hired purchasing agents of dubious reliability, “Gentlemen skilled in mercantile Business to make Purchases to whom I have not offered a Deputation in the Quarter Masters Line.” They worked, like himself and his staff, on commissions, percentages of the purchase price of the commodities they bought. The declining value of the Continental dollar, the increasing resort to credit, the resulting inflation and the skyrocketing prices of goods in short supply and high demand, all contributed to the explosion of expenditure by the Quartermaster and Commissary Departments. Supply had cost the United States some $5.4 million in 1776; it had doubled the following year to over $9.2 million; by 1778, it had quadrupled to over $37 million. Congress grew increasingly alarmed and, goaded by Mifflin and other critics, blamed Greene, suspecting him and his aides of inflating purchases to turn a huge profit. Stung, he fumed to Washington that “I am more and more convinced there is measures taken to render the business of the quarter masters Department odious in the Eyes of the people, and if I have not some satisfaction from the Committee of Congress respecting the matter, I shall beg leave to quit the Department. I think I shall leave it upon as good a footing as is possible to put it under the present difficulties.”
Greene wrote these words in Philadelphia, after meeting with the Supply Committee of Congress on April 22, 1779. Faced with a proposal to cut funding for the Quartermaster Department, Greene vigorously defended himself and his aides, arguing that, under the circumstances, his staff could not be held responsible for the dishonesty of some of the purchasing agents. He then called Congress’s bluff by threatening to resign. “They are not disposd to grant my request at all.” Instead, Congress quietly agreed to keep the present commission system in place along with the present Quartermaster General, for the excellent reason that no reasonable replacement for either was in view.
Greene soldiered on, but was still troubled by Congress’s refusal to protect him and his department from lawsuits stemming from debts contracted by purchasing agents. Shocked by a report that 1779 supply expenses would exceed $200 million, Congress resolved that the states launch investigations into the financial dealings of everyone in the Quartermaster’s and Commissary’s departments. Greene reacted by writing to his trusted deputy Charles Pettit, “It is my full determination to resign as soon as I can get out of the business without exposing myself to ruin or disgrace.” He went further:
The little support we have had from Congress, the difficulty of procuring aid from the different States renders the business very difficult to manage. These embarrassments together with the bad state of our money, and the difficulty of procuring assistance from the line of the army has discouraged me. In this employment I have very little to gain and every thing to loose [sic]. It is true that emolument is an object of some consequence, and it is equal to my utmost wishes, but yet not greater than I think we richly deserve. 
In September, Congress ordered that no new bills of credit be issued for any reason, hoping to halt the hyperinflation of Continental currency and gain some control of the budget. The result was chaos: without money, nothing could be purchased, even (especially!) on credit. Congress suggested the army send directly to the states for relief; the states refused. Forage officers were being sued, impressment was forbidden by state authorities, the Army’s animals began to starve. Greene wrote to another deputy, John Cox, “What to do or which way to turn I know not. . . . We can no more support the army without cash, than the Israelites could make bricks without straw. The impolicy of Pharoh brought death upon the first born in Egypt, and this of the Congress will have the same effect upon themselves.” Despairing, he wrote directly to Congress what the editors of his papers call a “conditional resignation.”
It has been my wish, for a long time, to relinquish the office of Quarter Master General. . . . I am desirous of returning to the line of the Army. . . . [T]he principal source of all our difficulties, is the state of our Money: the depreciation of which locks up almost every species of supplies, deprives us of the opportunities of making contracts, or of gaining credit, and obliges us to employ innumerable Agents to collect from the People, what they would be glad to furnish, was the representative of property upon a more stable footing. . . .
In this distressing situation, without Money, and without credit – necessity obliges me to give Congress this information, and to ask their advice, what are we to do?
Congress ignored him, continuing to stall. They seem to have been equally stymied by the whole situation. That winter of 1779-80 at Morristown was the worst of the war, even more harrowing for the army than the legendary Valley Forge winter two years earlier. The summer of 1780 arrived, Washington intended to launch an attack against British-occupied New York City, and Greene had still no reply to his repeated requests to resign. Instead, Congress sent a committee to headquarters to investigate the Quartermaster Department; they soon perceived Greene’s difficulties, and wrote him a gratifying letter that concluded: “In Justice to you Sir we Embrace this Occasion to declare that after having Examined your arrangement of the Quarter Master Generals department, we are Convinced the measures you have adopted and the principles on which those measures were founded, were well calculated to promote service whilst they fully evinced your attention to the public interest.” This only persuaded Greene that a “cabal” was determined to blame him for the supply problems facing the army.
Greene’s last straw was a Congressional plan to reorganize the Quartermaster Department passed on July 15. It proposed a drastic reduction of personnel and other measures designed to trim the costs and increase the accountability of the department. Among other things, commissions for deputy quartermasters were to be replaced by salaries; Greene feared he would lose Cox and Pettit, his trusted assistants. In a letter to President of Congress Samuel Huntington, Greene once again protested Congress’s interference with his department, its lack of confidence in him personally, and above all, its refusal to provide the money to supply the army. “Systems without Agents are useless things, and the probability of getting one should be taken into consideration in framing the other,” he wrote. “Administration seem to think it far less important to the public Interest to have this department well filled and properly arranged than it really is, and as they will find by future experience.” Congress now accepted Greene’s resignation with some anger. But this soon dissipated as news arrived that General Horatio Gates had been defeated at Camden, South Carolina, and Washington vigorously urged that Greene be appointed his successor as commander of the Southern Army. Greene’s two and a half year ordeal as Quartermaster General was over.
Greene was correct in saying that quartermasters were never remembered for glorious actions. His brilliant Carolinas campaign drove British forces from the South and set the stage for their surrender at Yorktown in 1781. Although Greene might not have perceived this, his role as Quartermaster General had kept Washington’s army in the field despite great difficulties, and made the winning of American independence possible. Most gratifying to Greene was the appraisal of George Washington, who wrote:
When you were prevailed on to undertake the Office in March 1778 it was in great disorder and confusion and by extraordinary exertions You so arranged it, as to enable the Army to take the Field the moment it was necessary, and to move with rapidity after the Enemy when they left Philadelphia. From that period to the present time, your exertions have been equally great, have appeared to me to be the result of system and to have been well calculated to promote the interest and honor of your Country. And in fine I cannot but add, that the States have had in you, in my opinion, an able, upright and diligent Servant.
Nathanael Greene inherited a supply department that was suffering from structural flaws and from neglect by his predecessor. With the aid of well-chosen subordinates, a more vigorous administration of the army’s supply network evolved during the summer of 1778. Greene also changed previous practice by opting to remain in camp with the army, which allowed him to see for himself the army’s supply state. However, Greene also strongly believed that to adequately support the army, more manpower was needed in procuring and transporting supplies, and this caused a ballooning of the size of the Quartermaster Department together with the hiring of “contractors,” purchasing agents who were not always trustworthy in their business dealings. This in turn led to an explosion in the cost of running the department (aggravated by skyrocketing commodity prices and the plummeting purchasing power of the Continental currency). Congress grew alarmed, suspecting that Greene and his subordinates were pocketing huge commissions. In fact, Congress, ensconced in Philadelphia, was largely clueless about how an army was run or what was needed to sustain a long-term military effort. Greene ultimately saw himself as working not for Congress, but for George Washington and his army. Those in a position to observe his administration of the Quartermaster Department (his aides, two Congressional investigating committees, and Washington himself), were unanimous in their verdict that Greene was competent, honest and effective as Quartermaster General of the United States Army.
 Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene (hereafter NG) to General George Washington (hereafter GW), April 24, 1779, in The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, 13 vols. eds: Richard K. Showman and Dennis Conrad (Chapel Hill: Univ. North Carolina Press, 1976-2006), vol. 3, 427. Hereafter cited as NG with appropriate volume and page numbers, e.g. 3:427. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization are presented as in the original. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, North Africa, August 1942, quoted by Matthew Crilly, “El Alamein Train Station: Logistics,” http://www.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/21/creteegypt/standegypt11.htm. John Keegan, A History of Warfare (NY: Vintage, 1994), 63. The author wishes to thank Dennis Conrad for helpful comments on the original version of this article, presented as a paper at the Society for Military History conference in Frederick, Maryland in April, 2007.
 NG to John Hancock, Oct. 20, Board of War to NG, Oct. 22, NG to GW, Oct. 24, NG to [Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin], Oct. 27, NG to GW, Oct. 29, 1776, NG 1:318-323, 326-327, 328 n. 1. (The letter to Mifflin was actually a letter to GW; see W.W. Abbot et al., eds., The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Va., 1985-2004), vol. 7, 39, note; cited hereafter as PGW 7:39). “The Instructions of Frederick the Great to His Generals,” in Thomas. R. Phillips, ed., Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time (NY: MJF Books, 2006), 323-324; David A. Tretler, “The Making of a Revolutionary: General Nathanael Greene, 1742-1779” (diss., Rice Univ., 1986), 199. Washington approved NG’s arrangements. Col. Robert H. Harrison to NG, Nov. 3, 1776, NG 1:330-331. Washington’s biographer Douglas S. Freeman felt it was “entirely probable” that Greene’s skill and foresight in establishing depots in New Jersey influenced Washington “particularly in Greene’s favor.” Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography. vol. 4 (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), 245, note; Editor’s note, NG 1:331.
 Erna Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army: A History of the Corps, 1775-1939(Washington: U.S. Army, 1989), 6-8, 11; NG 2:262, n. 7.
 This account relies on the helpful summary found in NG 2:308-310, n. 2. For NG’s account of his appointment, see relevant correspondence: NG to Henry Knox, Feb. 26; to William Greene, Mar. 7; to Gen. George Weedon, Mar. 7; to Joseph Reed, Mar. 9, 1778; NG 2:294,303, 304-305, 307. For the text of the appointment see Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington: 1904-37), vol. 10, 210. Erna Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 30.
 NG to Col. Hugh Hughes, Apr. 16, 1778, NG 2:342-343. NG to McDougall quoted in editor’s note at NG 2:308-310; Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army, p. 40; Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 40-43.
 On Mifflin and Quartermaster Department reorganization, see editor’s note, NG 2:312-313; Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army, 41, 43-45, 77-78. NG to Col. Clement Biddle, Mar. 23, 1778, and accompanying note 1, NG 2:319-320. Camp committee letter to Congress quoted in Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 72, and in Quartermaster Support of the Army, 45. NG to GW, May 3, GW to NG, May 17, 1778, NG 2:372 and n. 1, 373, 394-395; NG to Henry Laurens, Mar. 26, 1778, NG 2:322; NG to GW, Mar. 26, 1778, NG 2:323. See also James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953(Washington: U.S. Army, 1966), 62. GW to Laurens, Aug. 3, 1778, PGW 16:238-239. For an excellent, detailed overview of the supply and transport problems plaguing the Continental Army, see E. Wayne Carp, To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775-1783 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1984), 55-63.
 Editor’s note, NG 2:319; Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 97. On forage depots, see NG 2:107; Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army, 46; NG to Col. Clement Biddle, Mar. 30, GW to NG, Mar. 31, 1778, NG 2:327, 329.
 NG to President of the Board of War, May 27, 1778, NG 2:414. On supply costs, see Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army, 54-55. NG to GW, Apr. 22, 1779, NG 3:423. Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 47. On rising food prices driven by speculation, see Carp, To Starve the Army at Pleasure, 64-65. For a breakdown of expenditures see Table 3.1, Carp, To Starve the Army at Pleasure , 69. On the decline of the Continental dollar, Carp, To Starve the Army at Pleasure, 68-69.
 NG to GW, Apr. 24, 1779, NG 3:426-427, and n. 9, 428; GW to NG, Apr. 24, 1779, NG 3:429; Huston, The Sinews of War, 11. Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army, 54, 56; Resolution of July 9, 1779, Journals of the Continental Congress, vol. 14, 812-815; NG to Col. Charles Pettit, Aug. 18, 1779, NG 4:327-328. Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 49-50.
 NG to Col. John Cox, Nov. 28, 1779, NG 5:122-123. NG to Samuel Huntington, Dec. 12, 1779, NG 5:164-167 and accompanying notes.
 On the winter of 1779-80 at Morristown, NJ, see Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army, 56-58. NG’s request for a reply to his resignation is found at: NG to Huntington, Jan. 13, 1780, NG 5:265; see also NG to Huntington, Feb. 16, 1780, NG 5:391-393. Committee at Headquarters to NG, Jul. 16, 1780, NG 6:113-114. Emphasis in original. See also Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 52-53.
 NG to Samuel Huntington, Jul 26, 1780, NG 6:155-157. For Greene’s resignation, see “Headnote on NG’s Resignation,” NG 6:150-155. See also Thomas L. Wells, “An Inquiry into the Resignation of Nathanael Greene in 1780,” Rhode Island History 24 (1965): 41-48. For the test of Congress’s reorganization plan see Resolution of July 15, 1780, Journals of the Continental Congress, vol. 17, 615-635. See also Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army, 57-58.
 GW to NG, Aug. 15, 1780, NG 6:217.