“Who won the Battle of Rhode Island?” someone asked me recently. I cautiously answered that I thought it was a draw. The Americans were able to get out of a tough situation with their men and equipment. They retreated from Aquidneck Island but lived to fight another day. They proved they could fight valiantly. The question of who won or lost has always been a sore point for me, especially when people dismiss the importance of the battle simply because it was not a Patriot victory.

Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene

I have been reading “Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution” by Terry Golway. In battle after battle it seems that the Patriots had to retreat and retreat strategically. Golway quotes Greene writing to a French ally, “We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.” I found another similar quote in a letter about the Southern Campaign from Greene to Washington 1 May, 1781: “My public letters to Congress will inform your Excellency of our situation in this quarter. We fight, get beat and fight again.”

I understand a little more today than I did a week ago. Yes, we should celebrate the victories like Yorktown. But… we shouldn’t dismiss the retreats. They kept the Patriots going, wore down the British, and ultimately worked towards gaining Independence.

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”


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Golway, Terry. Washington’s General: n Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. Holt, NY, 2006.