Major General George Sears Greene

Inducted: 2003
Born: 1801
Died: 1899

Greene, George Sears, 1801-1899

George Sears Greene, distinguished military leader and civil engineer, was born in Warwick’s central village of Apponaug on May 6, 1801, the son of Caleb Greene, a shipowner and relative of General Nathanael Greene and Sarah Robinson.

The family’s military heritage influenced George to attend West Point where his great skill in mathematics and engineering was discovered and developed. After graduation in 1823, Greene became a professor of mathematics and engineering at his alma mater and then served in the artillery at several posts around New England.

In 1828, Greene married Elizabeth Vinton who died four years later. He took a second wife in 1837, Martha Dana, daughter of Congressman Samuel Dana of Massachusetts, with whom he had six children. Two of his sons became distinguished civil engineers like their father, and a third, Samuel Dana Greene, served as executive officer of the ironclad Monitor during the Civil War.

In 1836, Greene left the army to become a noted and successful civil engineer. For the next two decades he devoted most of his effort to the construction of railroads throughout New England. In 1856, Greene accepted a position with New York City’s Croton Aqueduct Department where he gained acclaim for designing the Central Park Reservoir and other improvements to New York’s water supply system. With the outbreak of Civil War, the sixty-year-old Greene rejoined the army, receiving a commission as colonel of the 60th New York Regiment in January, 1862. Within months he was elevated to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers and fought in numerous Civil War engagements, most notably Antietam and Gettysburg. The leading scholarly history of the Battle of Antietam describes Greene as “a tough old warhorse who believed in hard drill and discipline in camp and hard driving on the battlefield.” Greene has been signaled out by military historians as one of the three most effective Union generals at Antietam, the bloodiest day in American military history.

In the following July at Gettysburg, Greene’s troops bravely held off the Confederates at Culp’s Hill and prevented them from turning the right flank of the Union army. In a reference to Colonel Josua Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Infantry, Greene has been called “Gettysburg’s Other Second-Day Hero.” In October 1863, Greene was shot through the face–a wound that kept him out of military action until he joined Sherman’s army in its triumphal march through the Carolinas in the Spring of 1865.

Returning to civilian life in 1866, Greene embarked on the most significant years of his engineering career. From 1866 to 1871, he continued his expansion of the New York City water supply, then served as chief engineer for the District of Columbia, and as consultant for the construction of water or sewer systems for such burgeoning cities as Yonkers and Troy, New York, Detroit, and Providence. From 1875 to 1877, Greene served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, an organization that he had helped found in 1852. Before he died at Morristown, New Jersey on January 28, 1899, he was the oldest living graduate of West Point.

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