George Greene was a West Point educated civil engineer and Civil War General. He was best known for his successful defence of Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.
George Greene was born on May 6, 1801 in Apponaug, Rhode Island, one of nine children. His parents were Caleb and Sarah Robinson Greene. The Greene family was prominent in Rhode Island and Caleb Green had been a merchant and ship owner, but the economic conditions of the Embargo Act and the War of 1812 had badly hurt the family’s finances. George had studied at Wrentham Academy and at a grammer school in Providence, but the family’s difficulties prevented him from going on to Brown University, and he moved to New York City and worked in a dry goods store.
It was there that he met Major Sylvanus Thayer, the Superintendant at West Point. Thayer was impressed with Greene and recommended him for an appointment to the Academy. He became a cadet in June of 1819, part of the West Point Class of 1823, graduating second out of 35 cadets. Greene chose to go into the artillery, whcich was unusual as most high ranking cadets were sent into the engineers. On July 1, 1823 he joined the First United States Artillery as a brevet second lieutenant.
Early Military Career
Greene was soon transferred to the Third Artillery and assigned to West point as an assistant professor of mathematics. In June of 1824 he moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he served as Assistant Instructor of Mathematics in the Artillery School for Practice for six months. He returned to West Point and his professorship in the fall. In August of 1829 he hecame assistant professor of engineering for a year before being assigned to Ordnance duty at Fort Wolcott, Rhode Island in November of 1827. One of his students was Robert E. Lee. Greene was moved to Fort Sullivan, Maine in 1828. It was here he met and married Mary Elizabeth Vinton, the sister of his best friend at West Pont. They had three children together. In 1829 he was transferred to Fort Independence, Massachusetts. Greene he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in the Third Artillery on May 31, 1829.
After a short time on recrtuiting service he returned to Fort Sullivan in 1831. He spent four years at Fort Sullivan, with the last four months on Ordnance duty. While there in 1833 Greene’s wife and children all died within a seven month period. He took a leave of absence in September of 1835, and resigned his commission on June 30, 1836.
Greene worked on railroad projects in six states and on water projects in several cities. In New York City he designed the Croton Aqueduct Reservoir and the High Bridge over the Harlem River. Greene also became one of the founders of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects.
While on one of his ralroad projects in Maine Greene met and on February 27, 1837 married Martha Barrett Dana. They would have four sons and two daughters together; three of their sons would serve in the Civil War.
Despite being in his sixties and having been a civilian for over two decades, Greene rejoined the army. The Governor of New York appointed him colonel of the 60th New York Infantry Regiment on January 18, 1862. It was a difficult situation. The officers of the regiment had petitioned to rid themselves of their colonel, William B. Hayward. They had thought their lieutenant colonel would be promoted to take over the position, making for a whole series of promotions as junior officers moved up the chain of command. The introduction of the elderly regular officer upset their hopes.
Greene proved to be firm but fair, and the regiment patrolled along the Potomac, guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. His stay with the regiment was brief, as he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in the rapidly expanding army on April 28, 1862. He was appointed to the staff of Major General Nathaniel Banks, then took over the Third Brigade of Alpheus Williams’ First Division on May 27.
Battle of Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9, 1862
Skirmish at White Sulphur Spring, Aug. 24, 1862
George Greene took a short leave of absence from October 10 until 30, and returned to operations in Shenandoah Valley and between Harper’s Ferry and Acquia Creek until April of 1863.
Battle of Chancellorsville, May 2‑4, 1863
Battle of Gettysburg, July 2‑3, 1863
Pursuit of Lee to Warrenton, Va., July, 1863
The Twelfth Corps, with George Greene, transferred to the Western Theater in October.
Battle of Wauhatchie, Oct. 28, 1863 – Greene was badly wounded in the face. He went on sick leave and was in the hospital until December, when he returned to light duty trying courts-martial. He returned to Sherman’s army, serving as a volunteer on the staff of Major General Jacob Cox in January of 1865 in North Caroina.
Battle of Kinston, Mar. 10, 1865 – Greene’s horse was shot under him while serving on General Cox’s staff.
March to Goldsborough, Mar. 18‑25, 1865 – in command of 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 14th Corps.
On March 13, 1865 he was given a promotion to brevet major general in the Volunteer Army for “Gallant and Meritorious Service” in the rebellion. Accompanying Sherman’s army from North Carolina to Washington, he served in the Defences of Washington from May 20 until June 23 of 1865. Until April of 1866 Greene served on court martial duty. He resigned from the United States Army on April 30, 1866.
Post Civil War Civilian Life
Greene worked on a wide variety of engineering projects during the rest of his long life. He was:
- Engineer in charge of the Croton Water Works Extension, and of the construction of the Reserve Reservoir in Putnam County, N. Y., May 1, 1866, to May 11, 1868.
- Chief Engineer and Commissioner of the Croton Aqueduct Board of the City of New York, May 11, 1868, to Apr. 30, 1870. (Inspected the length of the 30 mile aquaduct on foot.)
- Asstanr Engineer, Department of Public Works of the City of New York, May 1, 1870, to Jan. 11, 1871.
- Engineer engaged in making surveys, plans, and estimates for Central Underground Railway, New York City, 1871‑72.
- Chief Engineer of Public Works of Washington, D. C., to devise the Sewerage System for that city, Aug. 24, 1871, to June 24, 1872.
- Consulting Engineer of the Department of Public Parks, New York city, for communications across Harlem River, and other constructions, October, 1872, to September, 1873.
- Engineer for approving plans for construction of Elevated Railway in New York city, 1873.
- Engineer for examining surveys and estimating cost of Ship Canal from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River, 1873.
- Member of Engineer Commission for testing working and construction of Water Meters for the City of New York, 1873
- Engineer for examining projects for extending and improving the Water Works of Detroit, Michigan.
- Topographical Engineer of the Department of Public Parks, for surveying and laying out streets, etc., in the 23d and 24th Wards, New York City, June 1, 1874, to Nov. 5, 1875.
- Engineer for plans and constructions of communications across Harlem River, Nov. 5, 1875, to Oct. 3, 1877.
- Consulting Engineer on the construction of Water Works for Yonkers, N. Y., 1874‑75.
- Member of Engineer Commission to examine projects for the Sewerage of Providence, R. I., 1875‑76
- Engineer for enlarging the Water Works of Troy, N. Y., 1877.
In addition, Greene was president of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1875 to 1877 and president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. He was appointed as a member of the Board of Visitors to the U. S. Military Academy in 1881
Martha Greene died in 1883 at the age of 74. Their oldest son, Samuel Dana Greene, was the second in command of the USS Monitor during its famous battle with the CSS Virginia at Hampton Rhodes. Charles Thurston Greene was a lieutenant acting as his father’s aide at Gettysburg; he later lost his leg to an artillery shell but remained in the army until 1870. Francis V. Greene commanded a brigade in the Spanish American War in the Phillippines. Only George Sears Greene Junior failed to serve in the military; he had volunteeres but his father would not permit it as he wished to be sure of continuing the family name.
One Last Reenlistment
On August 2, 1894, Greene briefly returned to the army by Act of Congress on August 2, 1894 as a First Lieutenant in the First United States Artillery. This was arranged by Congressman Daniel Sickles so that Greene’s family could benefit from his military pension – for all the brigades and divisions Greene had commanded through the war, his highest substantive rank in the U.S. Army was First Lieutenant. At age 89, it probably made him the oldest lieutenant in any army in history. He retired from active service again on August 11, 1894.
Death and Memorials
George Sears Greene died on January 28, 1899 in Morristown, New Jersey at the age of 98. He is buried in the Greene Family Cemetery in Apponaug (Warwick), Rhode Island. A two ton boulder was brought from Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg and placed atop his grave.
In 1906 the State of New York erected a monument to Brigadier General George Greene on Culp’s Hill on the Gettysburg battlefield. In 1910 a bronze memorial plaque to Greene was placed inside the south entrance of the Rhode Island State House.