The Quaker and the Gamecock
Nathanael Greene, Thomas Sumter, and the Revolutionary War for the Soul of the South
Casemate, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2019, 240 pages
Book Review published on: July 17, 2020
Growing up as a kid in the middle of South Carolina, you learn about the heroes of the American War of Independence in history class such as Thomas Sumter. Families take camping trips to parks or drive by historical markers that memorialize them, but you never really learn about the people these markers and stories represent. In his book The Quaker and the Gamecock, Andrew Waters really explores the personal backgrounds of Gen. Nathanael Greene and Gen. Thomas Sumter as they fought the British occupation of South Carolina. While this book does a wonderful job of explaining the different engagements and strategies of both men, Greene as commander of the Continental army in the South and Sumter as commander of the South Carolina militia, it is really an analysis of how differences in personality impacted the leadership and conduct of both men and the relationship between them as commanders.
Reading the book, I immediately went to the back roads of my youth and the trips to many of the locations mentioned in the book—Fishdam Ford, Blackstock, Cowpens, Camden—with my father, who was interested in history and spending time with family.
Waters sets the stage by discussing the background, education, religion, and families of both men and the impact these would have on forming their approaches to leadership. The book then chronicles the events of the war in South Carolina through both of their departures from service. The book’s final chapter discusses the lasting impact of “war years” on both men for the rest of their lives. The time line essentially starts after Sumter is wounded at the Battle of Blackstock and how it changed the tide of leadership in the South Carolina militia. Greene came to command of the Southern Department of the Continental army after Gen. Horatio Gates was defeated at Camden. Both of these leadership changes occurred at nearly the same time.
Greene, a Quaker by birth from Rhode Island, was self-educated and a military man from a young age with military relationships to George Washington. Sumter was raised in Virginia but lost his father at an early age, and his mother remarried twice. He had no formal education but spent some enlisted time in the British army during the Seven Years’ War and the Cherokee War. Sumter was assigned to escort a Cherokee chief to London to meet King George III. On his return, he traveled throughout South Carolina and fell in love with the land. He eventually settled there and became a wealthy landowner and businessman. This made Sumter understand that the center of gravity in South Carolina was protecting the agricultural mindset of the local people.
Waters inspects the differences in the two leaders’ upbringing and the strategies to evict the British. He does a great job of including sections of their correspondence and explaining their meaning as they were linked to either strategy or the men’s personal views. Sumter was a firebrand and loose cannon who was appointed by the governor of South Carolina but yet was subordinate to Greene. While Sumter was recovering from his wounds at the Battle of Blackstock, Daniel Morgan was promoted to general and won a huge victory at Cowpens over the British; Francis Marion was also promoted. These actions came as insults to Sumter and affected his campaign plans. The essence of the work Waters so eloquently puts in words is how Sumter navigates his change in strategy, obtaining the resources from Greene to accomplish his goals, and conflicts with Greene having a different strategic viewpoint for the same end state.
While the first part of the book is focused on the relationships between Greene and Sumter, the middle of the book moves to describing the campaign plans and battles of both leaders and how their relationship obstructed each other. Waters also brings in Gen. Andrew Pickens and Francis Marion, two South Carolina militia leaders and their relationship to both Greene and Sumter. Waters is very fair in his analysis of when Marion and Sumter delayed support to Greene for personal reasons such as the siege at Camden and for reasons that could not be determined such as the Siege of Ninety-Six. The descriptions and details of the operating environment for the Continental army, British soldiers, and militias are very insightful to the tactical- and operational-level reader. The one downside of the book is several redundancies early in the book that, while needed to connect the actions and analysis, throw off the reader to “I’ve read that before” thoughts. The organization of the chapters and style of the author make this book a very easy read that is great for anyone teaching leadership either for the military or business executives. I learned much more about these two American heroes and have a list of new places to visit during my next trip over the holidays to South Carolina. I also took away a new perspective on personal leadership to keep in my kitbag based on the wartime partisan games and leadership of the Quaker, the Gamecock, and the Swamp Fox in the Palmetto state.
Book Review written by: Col. James Kennedy, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia