The greatest military leader within 300 years


April 25, 2003, 01:29 PM
Whom would you say is the greatest military leader within the last three hundred years and why?

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April 25, 2003, 01:49 PM
I wouldn't say.

Too much depends on time, chance, and circumstance.

Many "great" leaders found themselves in situaitons that were hard to screw up, and many others had to make the most of the crappy hand they were dealt.

April 25, 2003, 01:52 PM
Rommel. Many times he was outgunned, outmanned, and outflanked and yet he would somehow win. Well at least he did in Africa. Fortunately, some historians say that Hitler countermanned many of his European orders otherwise the freeing of Europe would have lasted much longer.

April 25, 2003, 01:58 PM
Robert E Lee.

Considered on both sides to be superior leader. Defeat doesn't mean you're not the best. Look at what he had to work with compared to what he was up against.

April 25, 2003, 02:02 PM
I think Napoleon for almost conquering most of the world.

H Romberg
April 25, 2003, 02:03 PM
Ditto Smoke, followed by Stonewall Jackson and George Washington. Then again, I AM a Virginian... :D

April 25, 2003, 02:39 PM
Fredrick the Great. Napoleon studied him.

George Washingtion among American military leaders is first among equals. He did not win too many battles, except the ones that mattered and he did win the war. As a ground comander, he understood what Naval warfare could do for him - hence Yorktown. Yorktown was more a Naval victory than a ground victory.

In history, what makes Washington the greatest of all, perhaps, is that he, at the apex of his power, walked away from it, not once, but twice.

April 25, 2003, 02:47 PM

And I'm neither a Virginian nor a southerner.

April 25, 2003, 03:09 PM
Ever watch the HBO Documentary on WWII 101st Airborne? It's a mini-series type movie. It is possible that they beefed him up a bit, but I'd have to say Colnel Richard Winters. He progressed well for what he had to work with.

April 25, 2003, 03:16 PM
I agree with Robert E. Lee. His prowess has not yet been matched.

I did a term paper on Midway last semester, and I was amazed by Ray Spruance. He was not of the same caliber as Lee, but I was quite impressed with him.

April 25, 2003, 03:34 PM
I view this one as easy. My criteria for greatest military commander is who, without a technological paradigm shift, created a solution that had had eluded all of his predecessors in recorded history?

Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during the zenith of the Age of Sail.

Wooden ship warfare in the face of ships festooned with cannon and snipers, vulnerable to explosion and fire, with primitive damage control, has to rank among the most dangerous military pursuits one could undertake in the entire history of the world.

In 1805, Napoleon looked poised to invade England, which, for twelve years, had been the only obstacle that stood in the path of the Grand Armée's complete domination of Europe. By August 1805, Napoleon had some 2,000 ships and 90,000 men assembled along the coast of France, but an aggressive British blockade of the French and Spanish harbors had locked the forces onto the Continent.

After a decade avoiding the decisive naval battle necessary to smash the Royal Navy and clear the way for invasion, Napoleon decided to chance it. Napoleon ordered the most powerful portion of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet to action into the teeth of six centuries of British naval heroics.

Napoleon ordered the fleet at Cadiz, Spain to engage the enemy. With a force of 33 Ships of the Line and 2,640 guns--a fleet heavily outweighing and outgunning the Line ships and frigates of the 27 British blockaders--they sought battle.

Who stood in their way? Lord Admiral Horatio Viscount Nelson. Already an aggressive fighting man by instinct, having only one remaining arm and one good eye from previous encounters with Death by cannonade, he was an object of fear to the Franco-Spanish sailors, and a superstar of his profession.

On October 20 1805, the Franco-Spanish fleet was sighted. To this point in history, the problem of how a fleet could gain total victory over an enemy fleet was one that had never really been solved. Some portion of the enemy fleet, dating back to clashes between the Greeks and Persians, always seemed to escape disaster to return and threaten from port if nothing else. Even the blockaded combined fleet was a drain on the British government.

Just as on land, sea battles were hide bound in tradition. Historically limited by the accuracy and range of shipboard cannon, the customary form of battle was to line up parallel and blast one side or the other into the deep. Nelson threw out the manual, and divided his fleet into two groups, which was heretical and violated the doctrine of mutual fire support. One group would attack sections of the enemy line and destroy them before other ships could come to their aid. The other group would attack the enemy at right angles, another heretical notion as the exposure times to the enemy's broadsides was long and if the wind failed, they would be unable to break through their opponent's lines and then cut off the retreat of the enemy fleet.

This daring strategy, which required professional sailing and crew discipline to outmaneuver and outgun superior numbers of ships, changed the entire nature of naval warfare until the airplane, a technological paradigm shift, changed everything for good.

Vignettes of the personal stakes of this type of warfare:

The first shot of the Battle of Trafalgar was fired at the English ship Royal Sovereign at noon. This broadside was received in silence by the Royal Sovereign, who waited until she had drawn astern of the Spanish three-decker, Santa Anna, then raked her decks with a murderous fire of cannonball and grapeshot that killed or wounded 400 of her crew.

Nelson´s ship, Victory was tacking, searching for the French flagship. Eventually, right off Victory's bow, lay the Spanish four-decker, Santissima Trinidad. Guessing correctly that this ship heralded that the French flag vessel must be near, Nelson bore down on the Trinidad. As he did so, the Bucentaure, Admiral Villeneuve´s ship, and seven or eight other enemy ships, opened fire on the Victory. Nelson advanced without firing. By the time Victory had come close enough to rake the Santissima Trinidad with her starboard guns, 50 Spanish sailors were dead and 30 wounded.

It was at this point that the Victory came into collision with the French Redoubtable. Locked together, wrapped in sheets of flame, the two ships drifted slowly through the smoke of battle. Gradually, although the fighting had continued unabated, the smoke cleared a little from the decks of the Victory, and a sharpshooter mortally wounded Nelson, who was taken below.

In the meantime, the Redoubtable's snipers had shot down 40 other British officers and men, killing so many that the French, seeing the weather deck clear of all but dead or wounded, tried to board Victory. The boarders were repelled by reinforcements from the gun decks.

By sunset, Nelson's fleet was lying in two groups with the shattered hulks of the enemy ships surrounding them. The British losses had been heavy; 449 killed and 1,241 wounded. But of the 27 ships of the British fleet, not one had been sunk or captured. All of the combined fleet's 33 ships were destroyed or captured. Napoleon's fleet never threatened again and the invasion of England shelved forever.

Trafalgar underscored England´s supremacy at sea for the next century, during which time the Royal Navy remained the bulwark of the British Empire throughout the Age of Steam and well into the 20th century.

It is difficult, if not impossible to top a military commander who had to break centuries of tradition to thoroughly defeat superior numbers, with only his own efforts standing between his country and an invasion by one of history's greatest land warfare strategists, who had to lead from the very front of murderous fire, and paid the ultimate price for his men and country. Go for it.:D

SoDFW Jason
April 25, 2003, 03:36 PM
Smoke stole my thunder. He was a southern gentleman and a fine leader. I have done LOTS of research on the man, he's fascinating. I'd have to throw in J.E.B. Stuart too.

April 25, 2003, 03:40 PM
I would rate General Wellseley up there as well.

April 25, 2003, 03:43 PM
Well, after boats post, I won't try to put it eloquently other than to say that I had a history teacher that greatly admired Nelson... guess that always stuck with me.

Mike Irwin
April 25, 2003, 03:51 PM
American -- Lee, Patton, Geronimo

British -- Nelson, William Slim

German -- Guderian, Rommel, von Moltke

April 25, 2003, 03:55 PM
Now one picked Saddam? Losing a major war and a decade later losing your entire country while killing less than 1000 of your enemy's soldiers through both wars combined, has to take a knowledgeable tactician. He obviously deployed his troops in such a careful and exacting manner to allow them to be destroyed with minimal effort by opposing forces.

I think General Heinz Guderian was a better than average tactician using the new mechanized form of warfare. No more of the old standing the armies across a field and shooting into each others ranks.

April 25, 2003, 03:57 PM
This would probably have to be broken down into different time periods to be easier. There have been a lot of different military eras in the last three hundred years. My personal opinion though,as a fan of civil war history, would be Stonewall Jackson, followed closely by Lee. Also, though perhaps too recent to develop into a romantic historical figure, General MacArthur was pretty darn succesful also.

Also, I saw someone label Napolean, and maybe that's the really brilliant choice. It takes a special kind of genius to lead a French army to victory.;)

April 25, 2003, 04:10 PM
It takes a special kind of genius to lead a French army to victory.;)

LOL! Maybe Nelson wasn't all that after all, the only institutions historically more lame than the French Army are the French and Spanish Navies.:evil: The US Navy acquitted itself pretty well in both our major encounters with the Royal Navy in the 1770s and the War of 1812.

Nah. I gotta hand it to someone willing to step foot onto the decks of a tinderbox, with little or no cover, and face broadsides, even if fired by press-ganged combatants, which turn the wood into ghastly missiles. The gun decks used to be painted red so that the men wouldn't panic from all of the blood splattered on the bulkheads and sloshing about on the deck.

Hmm. Facing death by direct hit, shrapnel, fire, or drowning? That's toughness personified.

April 25, 2003, 04:19 PM
Oliver Cromwell...but that's almost 400 years....

Jim March
April 25, 2003, 04:25 PM
Nelson had a big advantage: well trained gun crews and cannons rigged for rapid reloading and fire. In terms of ship size and number he was outclassed - in terms of range, shot-to-shot speed and accuracy he had MAJOR advantages and he used 'em well. That's why he could cross their lines effectively - while they weren't in his broadsides for long that way, he didn't NEED all that long to really screw 'em up good.

I would nominate Cochise of the Chiricahua Apaches. He held off 5,000 US Cavalry with 35 guys :D. Classic case of mountain guerilla warfare. The Chiricahua had been trading guns with Mexico for literally generations; they were a smart, civilized and peaceful bunch as long as you didn't mess with 'em, which allowed more trade for European tech than other tribes had. The Chiricahua were expert marksmen and even had their own reasonably competent gunsmiths.

They were down to 17 still on their feet fighting when the US sued for peace.

April 25, 2003, 04:30 PM
Field Marshal Eric Von Manstein, even his fellow officers (who were some of the best in the history of the WORLD) considered Manstein the best of the best.

After after the loss of his signals intelligence and later El Alamein, Rommel was useless, was only average thereafter. His was never considered "Great" by his speers.

Lee was great but greatness was forced upon him by desperation. Only led and fought semi-professional armies.

Washington was a very poor joke as a general. Many of his own generals and all the British Generals had NO respect for him. Their judgement was well deserved.:barf:

Patton doesn't deserve mention on this post.:barf:

Napoleon, certainly is a contender.

The rest, very good generals who have a small following by the "movie goers" version of history.:)

April 25, 2003, 04:32 PM
Pancho Villa - Yep, that's it, Pancho Villa; he outsmarted the Federales every time, and the people loved him. :D

April 25, 2003, 04:33 PM
Well, to be honest, I have always been more impressed by Nelson's having been maimed before by his enemies and then standing out there on the quarterdeck when locked up with the Redoutable, than I am by the radical notion of splitting forces or crossing the "T." Crew discipline and technological advantages shrink to nothing when the enemy is in your face and both vessels are aflame.

April 25, 2003, 04:49 PM
MacArthur was criminally incompetent. He should have been shot following the fiasco at the Phillipines.

April 25, 2003, 04:49 PM
It takes a special kind of genius to lead a French army to victory.

I believe he said that they "were more than men in victory, worse than women in defeat."

After the fall of Napoleon, the official combat uniform of the French has been a dress. ;)

April 25, 2003, 04:50 PM
Genghis Khan deserves a mention, even though it's 300+ yrs ago. Within 300 yrs., I like Rommel.

April 25, 2003, 04:56 PM
Without a doubt, Lee.

Side Note: Washington never won a major battle. And, sure as heck, never threw a silver dollar across the Potomac river.
He died of pneumonia after having been bled-to-death by leaches as a result of chasing a woman of ill-repute thru the snow one night.
The people at Williamsburg did not argue with me when I brought this up during a tour.

Chris Rhines
April 25, 2003, 05:01 PM
No one has mentioned Wellington yet? The man who took an army full of drunks and petty criminals, led by officers who bought their way up through the ranks, and led it to victory against the single greatest fighting force in Europe?

- Chris

April 25, 2003, 05:46 PM
Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831).


April 25, 2003, 06:10 PM
Well it sure wasn't Custer :neener:

April 25, 2003, 06:18 PM
Blackhawk had it right.

Dumb luck, stupidity at the wrong time, self-delusion, a pallet of really bad options, darkness, chaos, politics, etc.

Hard to predict who will be great. Most often those whom history deem as great come out of the middle of nowhere.

Having said that I must confess admiration for Robert E. Lee. However, I don't think the entire history of Lee is known. I highly suspect he truly magnificant intelligence unknown as of yet to historians. What he was able to accomplish at the right time, in the face of overwhelming odds, consistently and repeatedly is worth of a "hmmmmmm".

April 25, 2003, 07:07 PM
Okay, let's ignore the opinions of the Virginians for a moment :) and look at some simple facts.

R. E. Lee attended the United States Military Academy and graduated 2nd in his class. He earned no demerits there - none - a record that has still not been equaled.

Eventually, at the beginning of the War Between the States, he was asked to lead the U.S. Army. He didn't, but he was the first choice.

Somebody must have thought he was pretty smart ;)

Now, about this semi-professional army nonsense espoused earlier. He was leading the same kind of men he was fighting against - the same kind that prevailed in WWI and WWII. His soldiers might have started out semi-something, but I seriously doubt that they were after a year, or two, or three, or four of bloody conflict.


April 25, 2003, 07:12 PM
Wellington (Arthur Wellesley).

He never lost a battle. Fought on two continents.

Actions of Wellington directly affected how the world is today, from decline of France as world's leading power to colonialism and politics of Europe, Asia, India, the Middle East and the USA. We are in Iraq today because the expansion of England as a global empire.

That can't be said for anyone else listed above.

April 25, 2003, 07:22 PM
More than anyone else the entire fate of WWII and all of world history afterward hinged on the leadership of one man, Sir Hugh Dowding, who was the general who led the British Fighter Command for the Battle of Britain.

If Dowding had died just before the war we'd all be speaking German today.

Why do we never hear of him? This is because in 1940 the British war department was run by a bunch of good old boys who were very good at office politics despite being barely smart enough to piss on the ground. (Here we might recall the more well known General Montgomery.) Dowding was fired as C in C almost immediately after he won the battle and resigned from the RAF in 1942.

April 25, 2003, 07:39 PM
General Lee followed by Geronimo.

April 25, 2003, 08:04 PM
Not only managed to run an army in 2 major Theaters, simultaneously, but managed to pick the Right - vastly different men - for the jobs of running those war theaters. Eisenhower and McArthur. Besides running the Army, he managed to mesh his operations successfully with the U.S.Navy, The British, The Russians, the french and the U.S. State Department....After the Allied victory, he turned the Japanese Occupation over to McArthur
and took over the rehabilitation of postwar Europe himself.
Oh Yea,he was a Virginia man:neener:

April 25, 2003, 09:06 PM
Personally this should be broken down by combat leaders and military leaders.

I would split the combat leaders by Stewart, Jackson, Rommel and Patton. Each of the four were in the field combat leaders to whom few gave order of combat.

Many of you know more of the European history than I do. But this is my read on the situation.

April 25, 2003, 09:15 PM
Wellington led a bunch of drunks and criminals in fights against other drunks and criminals. Wellington wasn't responsible for the victory at Waterloo, he was near (admitted) defeat. It was the timely arrival of the Prussians that saved Wellington's bacon.

Lee's serious fault, he was bias towards Virginians and seldom sought or listened to the advise of others, especially after Jackson was killed. The Civil War is and was viewed by the (professional) European Armies as a war between un-trained militia. Observers were sent and Lee is respected but he is hardly considered the "best" general in 300 years. Lee is a Great American but West Point wasn't a "World Class" academy at that time, so what does it matter then even if you were first in your (small) class?

Washington may have been a "Great" President but he has nothing to recommend him as anything else but a poor military leader. He did have a great ego, he claimed he was not seeking command of the Continental Army, when he showed-up before congress in his Virginia Militia Major's uniform:uhoh: . He was selected for purely political reasons, he was a Virginian. Guess what Virginia Militia officer single handedly started the French & Indian War (historians agree) and signed a confession for the murder of surrendered French negotiators. Washington was angry at he British because they would not give he a Regular Commission in the British Army. The fact that George had NO FORMAL military training didn't seem to be a shortcoming to George. Ever wonder how much George got paid to be our Commanding General? NOTHING! He had an unlimited expense account (records still survive). When Conress coundn't decide how much to pay their new President, George offered to operate on an expense account. Congress quickly voted George a salary.:D

Marshall is the greatest statesman this country has produced. He could have been one of the best generals in the World but he stayed in Washington (as ordered) and never had the chance to show his stuff.

April 25, 2003, 09:16 PM
As far as tactical combat goes Rommel and Patton are my favorites. I haven't studied such things much though.

April 25, 2003, 09:20 PM
No offense, but Patton and Rommel were second stringers, they did make several good movies about them though. I always liked George C. Scott and James Mason.:D

Dash Riprock
April 25, 2003, 09:42 PM
Saxon Pig,

Your great uncle served under Washington? How old are you? :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

April 25, 2003, 10:12 PM

Not one but 2 US ships have been named for him.
Not bad for someone that fought his entire life against the United States.

April 25, 2003, 10:13 PM
Once again, much like I invented the gun, I now claim the crown of greatest military leader ever. All these titles seem up for grabs, why shouldn't I grab them?

Don Gwinn
April 25, 2003, 11:36 PM
Seriously, people, this is cute and all, but if you're putting a puke smiley next to the name of George Washington, you're working a little hard at being counterintuitive. I don't care if you don't like his military tactics, but to refer to Washington in that manner for ANY reason is silly . . . . in my opinion.

Double Naught Spy
April 26, 2003, 12:36 AM
How 'greatest' is defined will definitely bias the potential pools of military leaders. Are they those that won the most battles, most significant battles, conquered more land, was successful but had only minimal losses, or what?

I would argue that the greatest overall was Shaka (sp?) Zulu. Using comparative primitive weapons (metal tipped spears, hide shields, clubs, etc.), he managed to conquer much of Africa and did so on foot, not with vehicles or riding on animals. In fact, the Zulu empire was able to stave off the much better armed British Empire for many years and they did have beasts of burden, vehicles (wagons pulled by beasts), etc.

Shaka had what has to be one of the most shrewd battle strategies of any military leader and his strategies were brilliant. After attacking an opposing village or group, Shaka gave the losers a choice. They could all be killed or agree to join Shaka. Most joined. So he was able to conquer a place and then make allies of the inhabitants. In doing so, his army grew as did the population of his empire. The evergrowing army needed more and more supplies. These were supplied by the non-warriors of the villages conquered and made allies.

Something funny about his strategy was just how well it worked. As his ranks grew, so did his reputation. Upon coming upon a village that was to be attacked, in several cases the villagers knew he was coming and when they say his giant forces, surrendered without a fight and joined him.

So, Shaka was able to conquer a large area of Africa, dramatically increase his power, defeat enemies, make allies of enemies, and hold off militarily superior forces with nothing better than iron and stone age technology. As with all empires, one of the biggest limiting factors of controlling a large empire was how well information was transmitted and received. Like the Inca, Shaka relied on message runners. As the empire got larger, the ability to move information via message runners took longer and longer until which time the information was too old to be useful. Also, without written language, the messages had to be short enough to be able to be learned, remembered, and then transmitted to the next runner in the sequence such that the runners would not confuse, add to, or delete attributes of the message.

Mike Irwin
April 26, 2003, 02:19 AM
"Washington was a very poor joke as a general. Many of his own generals and all the British Generals had NO respect for him. Their judgement was well deserved."


Well, there are TWO ways of looking at this...

Washington may never have won a "major" battle (depends on what you define as major by Revolutionary terms), but he did something one HELL of a lot more important, and by all accounts, more difficult...

He kept the British from destroying his armies. He was a GENIUS when it came to the tactical retreat.

When you get right down to it, that is really all that he had to do.

In that sense, Washington had a lot in common with the leaders of the Vietnamese Communist factions.

Lost every major battle they were in, yet won the war by simply tiring out the opponents.

It's likely that no other man in the Colonies could have done what Washington did -- negotiate with Congress, keep the disparate and often squabbling factions of his army from breaking apart or actually fighting each other about various colonial/state land claims, and maintaining its viability as a fighting force in the field.

By doing so, he constantly had the British reacting to him.

Mike Irwin
April 26, 2003, 02:21 AM

If I'm not mistaken, MacArthur was also an Engineer.

Dash Riprock
April 26, 2003, 03:45 AM
Prolly the best large unit commander (political hack) that we ever had was Eisenhower. Keeping all the egos stroked and the alliance together was a very tough job.

The best pure combat commander was probably Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was an absolute POS as a human being, but his guerilla tactics have never been matched.

April 26, 2003, 04:57 AM
Lord Nelson

The planet is 70% water. Control the sea, control the world.

Do the math.;) :p

April 26, 2003, 07:27 AM
You seem to be bending over backwards to "spin" how Washington's military abilities are mis-underdstood or he was a man ahead of his time in tactics. Bull, he chose to use standard European military tactics and tried to fight a European type war here in America, and was bested by the British professional soldier, it's a no brainer. He was good at retreating because he had so much practice and no other options, since when do we praise generals for "retreating" better than anyone else?

April 26, 2003, 08:00 AM
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. With almost no resources, he ran the U.S. Army ragged for years. Probably the best guerilla fighter of all time. He's now on the $100 Savings Bond.

April 26, 2003, 09:05 AM
MacArthur was a tyrannical POS undeserving of "hero" status, a wanna be Napoleon. Not only should he been shot as a result of the Philipines fiasco, he should have been shot after firing on the unarmed Bonus Marchers during the 1930's thereby preventing the Philipines Fiasco from ever happening.

My list: Lee, Nelson, Geronimo.

April 26, 2003, 09:24 AM
It's gotta be Sherman. Then again, I never did like Atlanta.

April 26, 2003, 09:56 AM
someone said Nathan B Forrest
as i hate to admit it he is up there....dont much care for him though
another person no one has mentioned is Benedict Arnold
bad person, great tactition, saved the Revolution by building a junior varsity navy and holding off the British
not saying he was the best though

April 26, 2003, 12:01 PM

April 26, 2003, 02:01 PM
Tiger Woods.

April 26, 2003, 02:10 PM
Tommy Franks. :uhoh:

April 26, 2003, 02:20 PM
Longstreet is seldom mentioned but he WAS a general ahead of his time. If Lee would have taken Longstreet's sound advice at Gettysburgh, the South may have won the battle and the war. Sherman was good also and unlike Forrest, commanded a large army.

Giap, I know of no good argument against him other than he commanded regulars and irregulars in unconventional warfare. He certainly was World Class.

Nelson was great but he started with a much better trained Navy than the French(or anyone else) had at the time. It was the British Navy's far superior gunnery that won Nelson's victories, not his brillant leadership.

Geronimo, Forrest, Chief Joseph, Shaka Zulu were all outstanding SMALL unit leaders and history is dotted with hundreds of those in every region of the World.

Frederick the Great should be a contender but he was a maniac. He felt the sole purpose of the Prussian was to serve him either as a soldier or as a heavily taxed citizen. He was the first to develope a "total war" economy. Hitler ended the way Frederick should/would have if the allies hadn't fallen apart near the end. He lucked out.

Mike Irwin
April 26, 2003, 02:56 PM
"He was good at retreating because he had so much practice and no other options, since when do we praise generals for "retreating" better than anyone else?"


How about when that individual continually manages to elude the grasp of much larger, much better equipped, much better trained, and much better led armies and still wins the BIG prize, Tele?

Keeping an orderly retreat, and keeping your army INTACT during such a retreat, is not only tough, it's virtually impossible.

There were a number of reasons that you're overlooking for the need to train, and when fighting, fight in a European style at that time.

First and foremost is that training in unit tactics instills discipline, which is critical no matter what the situation -- attack or retreat.

Second is how else would they have trained? The image of the American rifleman popping up from behind rocks and the like is a quaint one, but it wasn't, and couldn't, be the foundation for an Army.

In order for the United States to be recognized and gain the military assistance of foreign powers, it had to largely adopt the ways and means of those military powers. In the 18th century that mean using muskets instead of rifles, and using groups of men trained to march close to the enemy, hold their ground, and fire in vollies.

Even Wellington and Napoleon didn't break out of that mold, so do that mean that they weren't great military leaders?

Third, Washington was in command of the American army for around 8 years. In that time, units under his direct command won 3 battles -- Trenton (relatively minor, but one hell of a morale booster, which was more important), Princeton, which could be considered a major land battle in Revolutionary terms, and most importantly, Yorktown.

Princeton had a much greater effect, though. It caused the British to rethink their military strategy in the Northern colonies, and it led directly to the American victories at the Battles of Bennington and Saratoga which, if you remember your history, were the two victories that proved to the French, Spanish, and Dutch that the United States did have a logical chance at winning the war.

Finally, though, it was Washington's entrapment of Corwallis' army at Yorktown, his hammer against the anvil of the French fleet, as it were, that finally made, after all those years of retreating, the Treaty of Paris possible.

You're right, Washington wasn't a great field General, but he also never led anything even remotely resembling a quality field army. He was a political choice, chosen because he was a Virginia, but more importantly because he had the respect of his peers in Congress and the respect of the men he led.

Winning all of the battles sometimes just isn't important when, in the end, you still win the war.

Washington understood that. He understood that no matter what, he had to maintain a viable army in the field, and force the British to expend time, money, and effort to come after him.

I'm trying to find the refererences, but I think I once read something written by Ho Chi Mihn on this subject, which directly references George Washington's ability to lose the battles and win the war.

Looks like Ho Chi Mihn also understood that, because there's a single Vietnam today, not two.

Mike Irwin
April 26, 2003, 03:04 PM
Sherman and Sheridan both get high marks for one reason -- they understood the concept of total war, and employed it.

Destroy anything that may be of even the slightest military use to your enemy, and you cripple his ability to wage war.

Sheridan's destruction of the Shenandoah Valley, which supplied the almost all of the food for the Confederate armies in the north, is a perfect example of that strategy.

Union troops had been in the Shenandoah a number of times before the summer of 1864, but had left the food production capacity of the valley largely untouched.

With Grant and Lee at Petersburg, and Early in the Shenandoah, Sheridan could accomplish two things -- by driving Early out of the valley Union troops could come into Lees rear and force him to abandon Petersburg or be surrounded, and more importantly cut off Lee's food supplies.

The strategy worked like a charm.

April 26, 2003, 03:49 PM
Seems to me the ideal next thread is a "Most Over Rated Military Leader" with reason why. :D

On topic, however, best:
Identifying leaders: Marshall
Strategic retreat: Washington
Most with least: Lee
Attack: Patton/Sherman
Ego: MacArthur (Inchon was brilliant, however)
Influential thinker: Alfred Thayer Mahan
Under appreciated: George Crook
Over rated: Monty / MacArthur

This whole discussion would also work well if limited just to American Civil War generals.

April 26, 2003, 04:55 PM
IMHO, Napoleon Bonapart, without a doubt!

He is the Father of Total Warfare. He created the "rout" and sent light cavalry to pursue retreating enemy to kill them, capture them and insure they could not return to fight again.

He revolutionized French military organization with massed artillery to kill and scare the enemy at the critical point of attack (other nations spread out their cannons), skirmishers to demoralize the enemy, massed infantry columns to penetrate the long, thin fring lines of the day, Heavy Cavalry for shock affect long before the use of Panzer columns and Light Cavalry to follow up victories, ride down the fleeing enemy and turn defeat into a rout.

He was a master of logistics, keeping his troops adequately supplied, addressing junior officers by their names (yes, he remembered them!) and understood the psychology of fighting men, ruling them "with an iron hand in a velvel glove" and "with a mile of ribbon." He was a master at developing the Espirit de Corp with elegant uniforms, ribbons and medals that made men fight for glory.

His armies were capable and did perrform 40-mile forced marches -- a STUNNING distance to mobilized thousands of men and equipment -- leaving enemies stunned that French armies could be scouted in a safe location one day and be attacking their flank the next.

He rewarded merit and understood that his greatest Marshalls came from the "smartest of the brave".

He studied the battles of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. As a result, he thoroughly understood the best terrain for both attack and defense. His study of the Punic Wars resulted in his bold crossing of the Alps, copying Hannibal, in attacking Italy. Would Lee have been so bold? I doubt it.

He throroughly understood how geopolitics affected his military ambitions to unify Europe. In fact, Napoleon's long term goal was to create a "United State of Europe" with a free, democratic people by destroying the long-entrenched Monarchies.

He absorbed conquered nations and ruled them along Roman lines, allowing local Governors to rule the local populations, though they answered to him and to France. He built roads, schools and hospitals everywhere he went. He invited conquered nations to embrace French culture without forcing them to do so.

He had blunders but generally recovered from them. His only mortal blunder was in attacking Russia. He never personally opposed Wellington in Spain. When he directed Spanish operations, he whooped the British thorougly. If he had stayed in Spain instead of launching the Russian invasion, the British would have been expelled from the nation in a few months. Of course, he would have had to conquer Portugal to keep them out.

If Clausewitz is considered to be a military genius, considered whre he got all his ideas. His theories were all developed while fighting against Bonapart and the French. He was codifying what Napoleon did to the Prussians during those wars!

The last 300 years has seen amazing military minds. It is impossible to compare them or to take them out of the context of the training they had available and the military technology or their coutries and the relative strengths of their opponents. But none have proven more bold, decisive or brilliant than that of Bonapart, IMHO.

April 26, 2003, 05:17 PM
Robert E. Lee followed by Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Their records speak for themselves.

April 26, 2003, 05:30 PM
Without the French "Washington's Victory" at Yorktown would never have happened. Why did Cornwallis refuse to surrender in person and when he sent a subordinate to do the dirty deed his subordinate did his best to surrender to the French Commander, an intended act of supreme insult to Washington. What would cause this behavior by a British General in an age of "gentleman warriors" as practiced by the educated elite? Arnold never had this insult rendered to him at Saratoga but then Arnold didn't need the help of the French to win his victory. Without Arnold's victory at Saratoga, Washington would have been hanging from a tree, or had been on the run, again.

April 28, 2003, 03:19 AM
1700's I would choose Arnold up until he turned traitor. Winningest General for the Americans and a great strategist and tactician. Kudos for Saratoga and Valcour Island battles. Hell the guy built a small American Navy on Lake George to face the Brits.

1800's I would choose "Stonewall" Jackson. Gettysburg might have turned out differently had he been there.

1900's I would choose Matt Ridegeway. Turned it all around against the Commies in Korea.

2000's Tommy Franks. First big winner of the century!;) :D

Detachment Charlie
April 28, 2003, 03:03 PM
Field Marshall Zhukov,
brutally unrelenting in his drive toward the objective.

Ian Sean
April 28, 2003, 03:33 PM
I have always been a fan of defensive warfare, my pick is "smiling" Albert Kesselring. Luftwaffe general who defended Italy with total brilliance. Retreat, manouver, regroup and retrench. Allied forces never were able to successfully exploit a breakthrough in Italy (even with total air superiority).. Replaced von Rundstet in March 45 after Adolf fired him (again).

John G
April 28, 2003, 03:58 PM
Zhukov is definetly in the top ten. I also like Otto Skorzeny, and Karl Donitz. If Dontiz was given what he wanted (a fleet focused on subs, not capitol ships) in the late 30's, England may have been cut off, and WW2 would have ended very differently.

April 28, 2003, 04:11 PM
"Smiling Albert", Rommel's superior. I had foregotten about him. His deeds were great by any measure and IMHO he is a contender. The reason I feel Von Manstein should get the title of "Greatest General" is that most of his speers (most of whom were great in their own right) felt he was the best. Thats one heck of a resume and recomendation, how can you argue with over half the German General Staff and a goodly number of his enemies?

Zhukov was a man of his time and was what was required by the Russians in order to survive and later win. But he was no more brilliant than a 5 watt light bulb, he led the "mob" that overwhelmed the German Heer, he never out generaled them. Their was a "little monster Stalin" in Zhukov, thats why they got along so well until after the war.

April 28, 2003, 04:55 PM
led the scorched earth retreat of the beaten Russian army and the eventual demise of Napolean's Grand Army and it's invasion of Russia.

Napolean may have been great, but this guy outsmarted him...


April 28, 2003, 08:17 PM
Geronimo,Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.

Eamonn Wright
April 29, 2003, 12:14 AM
Leonidas........Battle of Thermopolye

Oliver Cromwell? I put him with Saddam & Hitler for the atrocities he committed against the Irish in his effort to wipe out their culture as well as their entire race.

April 29, 2003, 03:38 AM

Marshall was from Uniontown, PA.


April 29, 2003, 04:50 AM

His empire made Alexander's look like chump change..

Napoleon... whatever...

April 29, 2003, 10:37 AM
If no one has listed her, I would like to nominate Janet (Scorched Earth) Reno.
I thank you,

4v50 Gary
April 29, 2003, 07:43 PM
Of all times? Ghengiz Kahn. Ruled virtually all of Asia, most everything in the Near East and a lot of Europe. Didn't do it with charm, wit or his winning personality either.

For our Revolution I hand it to Greene. 3rd General (after Lincoln and Gates) sent to fight the British in the Carolinas. Never won a battle but darn if he didn't win the campaign. For tacticians, I the Old Wagonner Daniel Morgan wins accolades (Cowpens).

For the Civil War, not the Gallant Hood (remember Franklin). While Bobby Lee was great strategist, as a tactician, the ineptitude of his opponents (McClellan, Pope, Burnsides, Hooker) should be taken into consideration. Uncle Joe Johnston once said of Lee after Fredericksburg (1st battle), "No one would have attacked me if I was there." Should not have fought at Gettysburg (original plan was to draw the Union army into a battelfield of their chosing). Lee's army was never as effective as when Old Jack (Jackson - fatally wounded at Chancellorsville) was around.

Nah, gotta go with Grant. He knew that victory would only follow after Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was destroyed and was realistic enough to know the price (Cold Harbor - opps). Too bad for his soldiers who paid though (ouch).

Good Southern tacticians are Forrest & Cleburne (botched at Shiloh but got a whole heckuva lot better afterwards).

For World War II I like Nimitz. In our nation's darkest hour, he unleashed the weapon that would help bring Japan to her knees - the submarine.

Mal H
April 29, 2003, 08:09 PM
Subby, You're correct, George Catlett Marshall was born in PA, but his heart was in Virginia. He is directly related to Chief Justice John Marshall and he went to Virginia Military Institute. Interestingly, John Marshall was born and raised only a few miles from where I live (Catlett, VA).

April 29, 2003, 08:17 PM
I have always had a soft-spot for Grant. Talk about a rags to riches story. I'd like to say Grant succeeded because he was the only Union commander that didn't have to look over his shoulder at the politians in Washington but he sure did a "great" job out West to earn that 3rd star. Grant's military career demonstrates to me that an "average" person can achieve greatness with guts and determination.

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