General Francis Vinton Greene

Inducted: 2010
Born: 1850 - Died:

Greene, F. V. (Francis Vinton), 1850-1921

Francis Vinton Greene, son of General George Sears Greene and Martha Dana, was born in Providence on June 27, 1850. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1866, and graduated first in his class in 1870. He married Belle Eugenie Chevallie in 1879 and they had six children. He was descended from the prominent Rhode Island Greene family, which included Major General Nathaniel Greene of Revolutionary War fame. His older brother Samuel Dana Greene served as the executive officer aboard the USS Monitor during the first clash of iron-clad warships at Hampton Roads Virginia during the Civil War. His father, General George Sears Greene, was both the oldest and one of the most capable Union generals at the Battle of Gettysburg. He held the union right flank at Culp’s Hill and defeated all Confederate attempts to break his lines.

After graduating from West Point, Francis Vinton Greene was commissioned in the Artillery. He transferred to the Corps of Engineers in 1872 and reached the rank of captain in 1883. From 1872 to 1876, he served as astronomer on the team that surveyed the 49th parallel–the boundary between the United States and Canada. Then he was appointed military attaché at Moscow in 1877 and accompanied the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War. For his achievements with the Russian Army, he was awarded the Order of St Anne (Third Class) and the Order of St.Vladimir (Fourth Class). Between 1879 and 1882 he wrote two books on his Russian experience and one on the Mississippi River campaigns of the Civil War. From 1879 to 1885, he served as chief assistant to the engineer-commissioner of the District of Columbia dealing with public works within the district. He returned to the U.S. Military Academy in 1885-1886 as an instructor of artillery.

Prompted by a slow promotion process, he resigned his commission in 1886 and became involved in a newly-emerging industry, asphalt paving. Greene joined the Seventy First Regiment of the New York National Guard in 1889 with the rank of major. When the unit volunteered for service in the War with Spain, Greene became its colonel. In May, 1898 he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and was ordered to the Eighth Corps. There he assumed command of a brigade that invaded the city of Manila. After the city surrendered Greene served on the commission that arranged the formal surrender and was promoted to major general. He returned from the Philippines in September and again left the army in February 1899.

After the brief conflict with Spain, Greene returned to the asphalt business. By 1903, his business acumen, military experience, and civic involvement led to his appointment by reform mayor Seth Low as police commissioner of New York City, where he served from 1903-1904. His military background was the key to achieving major reforms in organization and discipline of the NYPD. He next moved to Buffalo for further business opportunities. There he served, in succession, as president of two construction and two power companies.

After retiring, General Greene became a civic leader for many causes and resumed his literary career. His most important historical books were a Life of Nathanael Greene, Major General in the Army of the Revolution (1893) and The Revolutionary War and the Military Policy of the United States (1911).

Francis Greene died in New York City on May 15, 1921. He and his wife Belle are interred in Section I of Arlington National Cemetery. Today he joins his father and his distinguished ancestor, Nathanael, as a member of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

– General Richard Valente (Ret.)

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