Greatest General

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by dwmoeller1, Feb 13, 2007.

  1. dwmoeller1

    dwmoeller1
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    Who do you think was the greatest general of all time and why?

    Or if you have more than one throughout history, then who was the greatest general of the ancient/classical world, the medieval, the modern world (since firearms), the 20th century? Why?
     
  2. Rufus_1611

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    I have two from the 20th century, Smedley Butler and Dwight Eisenhower.

    Smedley for his War is a Racket book where he says...

    "WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."​

    and Dwight Eisenhower for his Military-Industrial Complex Speech (was president at the time). Where he says...

    "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."​
     
  3. dwmoeller1

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    Why do you consider to be among the greatest of the 20th century. For instance, what made Eisenhower - a general who never commanded on the field - greater than say Montgomery or Rommel?
     
  4. Rufus_1611

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    It's a matter of how you define greatness. If a great general is one who is good at destroying their enemy, then perhaps Montgomery or Rommel might be the guys. However, if a great general is one who used his position to gain a higher position and demonstrated greater loyalty to the people and nation he served than the institutions he belonged to, then I prefer the two I cited.

    P.S. If Rommel was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, as some allege, then he gets points for greatness in my book.
     
  5. Lacy Evans

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    #5 Lacy Evans, Feb 13, 2007
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  6. dwmoeller1

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    Very true. Hence the reason for the thread :)

    I wouldn't necessarily define these as great (for what is worth, I consider neither of these examples to be great generals. Greatly hyped generals - the former by himself mostly and the latter by the media and WWII buffs - but not great generals. Decent to above averagage operational level leaders and tacticians at the best.). However being able to win battles would seem to be somewhat essential to defining a great general - after all, thats typically the generals main job.

    That seems more of an argument that he is a great man. Is a great men necesarily a great general? Can one be a great man yet a poor or not so great general?
     
    #6 dwmoeller1, Feb 13, 2007
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  7. Bible-boy

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    Robert E. Lee hands down.
     
  8. dwmoeller1

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    Why?


    BTW, Sherman could have beaten Lee :)
     
  9. Bible-boy

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    Because he (Lee) took a smaller, under equipped army, and beat the day lights out of every Union General they threw at him. He consistently out generaled them. Grant is the only Union General that ever understood how Lee operated and how to beat him by simply keeping the pressure on until the Army of Northern Virginia simply depleted its limited resources and man-power.

    Sherman and Grant were cut from the same cloth. Maybe, just maybe Sherman could have given Lee a run for his money... ;)
     
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  10. LadyEagle

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    Thomas Jonathan Jackson
     
  11. Bible-boy

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    That's a good'n too! Oh and did I mention that I am from VA?
     
    #11 Bible-boy, Feb 13, 2007
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  12. dwmoeller1

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    All true...but then it is quite arguable that every general that was thrown at him was either incompetent (Hooker and Burnside) or, at best, simply mediocre (McClellen). He was an audacious tactician certainly, but his grasp of warfare seemed largely limited to a better than average, even brilliant, use of outmoded (Napoleonic) tactics. Consider the first time he faced a competent general (ie. not enamoured of Napoleonic tactics) not prone to panic and in relatively even numbers was at Gettysburg...he lost.

    Again true.

    However, let me also point out that this was largely successful because of Lee's failure of generalship - his desire to keep Richmond safe, a largely unimportant location (either militarily, politically, or morale wise), at the cost of his army. While an arguably brilliant tactician (he was never really tested and thus the risks he took never had a chance of maturing as they might have against even a competent opponent), he failed in true generalship by letting sentimentality win out over the strategy and logisitics.

    Does that failure make him a bad general? No, but, IMO it makes his claim for being a great (much less the greatest) highly arguable.

    Sherman and Grant had many things in common, true. But Sherman had a *much* better grasp of modern warfare than Grant. As far as generalship goes, there is little in common between the two beyond their lack of brilliance as battlefield tactician (an area in which Lee certainly outpaced both of them). But Sherman's grasp of grand strategy, theater strategy, logistics, and morale far surpassed bullhead Grant and outshone (in as far as can be determined considering the fact they never faced each other) even Lee. Lee might have been able to outmaneuver Sherman on the battlefield, but the risks he took in other battles probably wouldn't have paid off...in fact, given Sheman's propensity to plan well for the unexpected or 'bold' moves of the enemy, they probably would have cost him sorely. But even if he didn't do a Gettysburg againt Sheman, Sherman would certainly have winkled him out of any defensive position and then brought the hammer down on him...and without the cost in men or cost in time that Grant required.
     
  13. dwmoeller1

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    Jackson, IMO, was (in as far as can be told from his limited number of battles) a Rommel - a brilliant corps commander but unfit to lead an army because of his extremely tentative grasp on several larger aspects of extended warfare. A better subordinate a general couldn't ask for, but it seems to me the 'greats' should be limited to more well-rounded leaders.

    Maybe if he had stuck around longer I would rank him up there with Prince Eugene of Savoy.
     
  14. dwmoeller1

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    For the 'greats' it seems one should limit themselves to those who never suffered a strategic defeat unless due to overwhelming numbers/resources (thus throwing out Lee), had beaten, at least once, a general who could classified as at least 'highly competent' (again throwing out Lee and Jackson), and demonstrated a well-rounded grasp of all aspects of warfare (once again eliminating Lee and Jackson).

    Ancient/Classical: Scipio Africanus
    Modern: Wellington, Marlborough, Sheman
     
  15. Bible-boy

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    When talking about Robert E. Lee you said all of the above. As I read through it guess what I was hearing...

    Blagh blagh blagh, Lee, blagh, blagh, blagh...:laugh: Just kiddin. You raised some good points. There are a lot of factors that have to be considered with Gettysburg. Lee had lost Jackson (his right arm), Stewart failed Lee, and other subordinate Generals failed to take the high ground on Little Round Top when it was open for the taking etc. You make good points about the contrast between Grant and Sherman.
     
    #15 Bible-boy, Feb 13, 2007
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  16. Dustin

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    Best over all: Probably Napoleon. He was easily the best of his time.

    Alexander the Great comes to mind.

    Since the Civil War has been discussed, I'd like to add ( a bunch of southerners) Patrick Cleburne to the list, best division commander on either side.

    Nathan Bedford Forrest
    John Bell Hood (when he was the ANV)
    John B. Gordon (he was an excellent division commander and took a corps effectively until the end of the war)


    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Dustin
     
  17. Lacy Evans

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    Greatest general or coolest car?
     
  18. dwmoeller1

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    LOL :)

    1. Lee lost Jackson: Of course, if Jackson was so necessary to Lee's success then just how great was Lee? :) Sure, he lost his best subordinate but he still had a slew of more than competent ones.

    2. Stuart's failure: One of Lee's biggest failings as a general was his failure of leadership - he always had an inordinate amount of difficulty keeping his subordinates in line. Yes, the loss at Gettysburg can be blamed on his subordinates failures...but his subordinates had a habit of failing him and he not reigning them in. So his subordinate's failures were not simply a fact of the battle but a continual and reoccuring fact which he never was able to deal with properly. He was too genteel, if you will.

    The point still remains...the loss of Gettysburg (esp. Picketts charge) was a failure of him as a general. He was all about Napoleonic tactics and he could use them well, even brilliantly. But their success for him in past was largely due to the fact that his opponents were reading from the same basic playbook...and he was much better at them than they were. With Gettysburg he met an average but steady general who gained the high ground. Lee kept at his old tactics when the situation no longer warrented them (of course, few generals at that time beyond Sherman realized the true impact of the breechloading rifle on tactics) and he lost both tactically and strategically.
     
  19. dwmoeller1

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    If he was the best, he was pretty inconsistent. Why do you rate him higher than the general who had no strategic defeats and beat him in the end - Wellington?

    A good one. He definitely used his advantages to the greatest effect.

    I like qualifiers like that :)

    Definitely one of the best light cavalry leaders ever.

    Why Hood?
     
  20. Bible-boy

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    Nathan Bedford Forrest...

    What I like about him is that he was not a West Point Military Man. He just had a knack for fightin. He was daring. When surrounded and his officers asked what to do he told them to divide the forces and charge both ways!
     

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