Colonel Israel Shreve was born in 1739 in New Jersey. Before rising to a position of military leadership in General George Washington's Continental Army during the American Revolution, he worked as a farmer in Gloucester County.
On October 31, 1775, Shreve was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Regiment of New Jersey troops. On November 28, 1776, he was promoted to Colonel for the reorganized line, which was now known as the Second New Jersey Regiment, Second Establishment.
The 2nd N.J. Regiment fought at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, and at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. They also spent the cold winter of 1777, short of clothing and food supplies, with Washington's troops at Valley Forge.
On June 28, 1778, Shreve played a part in the strange events of the Battle of Monmouth. Major General Charles Lee led the advance column against the British troops, but gave his men hasty orders to retreat after being startled by a counterattack from the British. He did not give word of his decision to General Washington, who was following behind him with the main army. As an angry Washington met up with columns of confused troops falling back from the front, he pressed the approaching Colonel Israel Shreve for an explanation. "Colonel Shreve answered in a very significant manner, smiling, that he did not know, but that he had retreated by order, he did not say by whose order." Following the Battle of Monmouth, Lee was court-martialled and removed from command.
In July of 1779, Shreve and the 2nd N.J. Regiment joined Major General John Sullivan in his campaign against the Tory-allied Iroquois Indians. Shreve was appointed commander of the expedition's base at Fort Sullivan at Tioga, while General Sullivan and his troops went on a punishing spree against the Indians, burning 40 of their towns and destroying corn, vegetables, and orchards.
According to one source, Shreve was "immensely fat" and such an incompetent officer that in December of 1780 Washington declined to promote him to Brigadier General, saying, "Here I drop the curtain." Shreve retired from the army on January 1, 1781, but for inexplicable reasons remained in command through the rest of the month. In early January, troops in the Pennsylvania Line mutinied over lack of pay and other grievances. When the New Jersey Line followed suit on January 20, Shreve by all accounts botched or neglected handling the situation. At the end of January, Elias Dayton took over as Colonel.
Shreve apparently participated in the General Assembly of New Jersey following the end of his military career. In April 1783, members of the New Jersey Line requested that he represent them to the Assembly on the issue of receiving five years' full pay at the end of their service, rather than half-pay for life.
Shreve returned to farming after the war, eventually settling in the west with his wife and children. He died in 1799.