Friday, July 8, 2016

Greatest Kabinettskriege Commanders: Ranks 10th-6th

Dear Reader,

As you may or may not have heard, I am undertaking to rank the greatest army commanders of the Kabinettskriege age. You can find a full list of the potential candidates here.  These are the following categories upon which these generals are being judged:

A) Battle win-loss record, reckoned against total number of battles fought as commander.
B) Achievement and Sustainment of strategic/political aims
C) Charisma/inspiration of soldiers under their command
D) Scale of operations under their personal command
E) Display of originality/flexibility in thinking

This post will list the highest scoring members from the pool in the previous post, ranked from lowest (10th) to highest (6th). Without further adieu, here are the winners:

10. Peter I, Tsar of Russia, "the Great"
A) 2.25/5 B) 5/5 C) 3/5 D) 4/5 E) 3.5/5                                                                                Total: 17.75

An revolutionary monarch, more than a battlefield commander, Peter I is nonetheless noteworthy, taking up the 10th spot on our list. Although he was defeated at Narva (admittedly, after he had left the battlefield) Peter defeated Karl XII at Poltava, a battlefield encounter which decisively ended chances of Swedish victory in the Great Northern War. As a military leader, he expanded his realm with great speed, giving Russia a port on both the Baltic and the Black Sea. He cared about his men, and according to a least one chronicler, his last sickness was brought on by a heroic swim to help save his soldiers on a floundering naval vessel. Despite his force of personality, many of the reforms he enacted were a result of more soldiers more experienced in the technical art of war, brought in from German speaking lands. Despite not being tactically innovative for his time, he did overhaul the Russian way of war, bringing them into modern military practise. Peter spent nearly his entire life in uniform, from his "toy regiments," all the way to becoming commander-in-chief of a green-coated, modern, Russian army.

Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne by Circle of Philippe de Champaigne.jpg

9. Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne
A) 3.75 B) 4/5 C) 3/5 D) 4/5 E) 3.25/5                                                                                Total: 18/25

Historian John Childs has described Turenne as, "arguably the greatest soldier of the seventeenth century." (Childs, Warfare in the Seventeenth Century, 225.) A general who cut his teeth in the bloody fighitng of the Thirty Years' War, Turenne won battle after battle for Louis XIV in the later half of the seventeenth century. The Dutch "rampjaar," or disaster year, of 1672, when the Dutch state nearly collapsed under external military force, was largely due to Turenne's successful military actions, He often emerged victorious against superior forces. He was largely responsible for the Louis XIV's successful rise to sole power, crushing the Parisian Fronde at the Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine. Turenne's victory over Conde at the same battle explains why Turenne. rather than Conde, made the cut. He led increasingly large armies, as Louis XIV solidified his hold on power. A warrior who was beloved of his men, Turenne was able to keep abreast of a number of developments in field and siege warfare.

8. George Washington
A) 2.25/5 B) 5/5 C) 5/5 D) 3/5 E) 3/5                                                                             Total: 18.25/25

Never the greatest battlefield commander, George Washington nonetheless had a spectacular military career. His first independent commands met with disaster, and the capture of his entire force. However, like many of the men on this list, Washington learned from his mistakes, and went on to lead a ill-trained group of part-time soldiers through the steps of becoming a trained professional army. Did he have help? Certainly. But at the end of the day, if we blame him for the military failures of his command (Jamaica Pass,  Brandywine, Germantown, to name a few...) we should also credit him with his successes (Trenton, Princeton, Yorktown). He did defeat the military efforts of a powerful empire, earn the love and admiration of his soldiers, and go on to lead a new nation. Washington is emblematic of the results which can be a achieved when an average commander is left in command long enough to gain considerable experience. That trust earns him his ranking.

7. Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst
A) 4.25/5 B) 4.5/5 C) 2.5/5 D) 5/5 E) 2.1/5                                                                    Total: 18.35/25

Historian of the ancient world Christian Meier wrote of Pompey, "he was... the only man who understood warfare on the grand scale, on land and sea." Jeffery Amherst then, is the Pompey of eighteenth century. What, you say? Surely that claim would be better suited to William Pitt, the ambitious Secretary of State who created policy during 1757-1761 period? I would respond, then, how can we explain Britain's lack of success before this period, then? The overall strategic goals had not changed- indeed, operations were carried out against most of the same major strategic positions. It was Amherst, then, (with some assistance from Admiral Boscawen) who facilitated British success against Fortress Louisbourg, Fort Ticonderoga, and Montreal. He understood warfare on the frontier, and successfully conquered Canada for his King. He oversaw planning for another complex amphibious operation against Martinique. Amherst's military achievements are significant, as Fort Louisboug, and Fort Carillon, were no paper tigers of a defeated France in North America. The French military success reached its peak in 1758, just before Amherst's appointment. Also- was he an Indian hater? Yes.  Did his letters advocate what we would today call ethnic-cleansing? Yes. But, these more grizzly parts of his character do not detract from the way we are examining him now: as a commander. Often lost in sight of more flashy characters such as James Wolfe, Amherst deserves to be remembered as an exceptional strategic planner, and very capable military commander.

Prinz Ferdinand Braunschweig.jpg

6. Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
A) 4/5 B) 5/5 C) 3.5/5 D) 3.5/5 E) 3/5 

Thanks to his life-long friendship with his brother-in-law, Frederick II, King of Prussia, Ferdinand was able to dialogue on military matters with not only Frederick, but many of the other respected military minds of the age. If only for his winter campaign of 1758, Ferdinand deserves to be placed on this list. Taking command of a dispirited, recently surrendered force, Ferdinand was able to regain the strategic initiative and place the war back in the balance. Though occasionally defeated by the French, who possessed their own excellent leader in the form of the Duc de Broglie, Ferdinand steadily pushed back larger French armies, and made a name for himself. Ferdinand had a unique challenge of leading a coalition force of Hessian, Brunswick, British, Hanoverian, and Prussian forces. He is, in my opinion, the most successful leader of disparate coalition forces to date. Though he did not advance the art of war in theory, he was a highly successful practitioner of Frederick II's search for the decisive battle. The victory at Minden, his brainchild, is one of the greatest battlefield achievements of the Kabinettskriege era.

So, with that, we have completed the next five. Do you agree with my rankings? Have I left someone out? Let me know if the comments below.

Thanks for Reading,



  1. I suspect this list may inspire more comments. ;-) As is likely, as one goes higher up the list the more there would be disagreements with placement. There two here for example that might not have even made my top 15. But it is an enjoyable exercise and I appreciate the reasoning behind your placement. Do carry on.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael! Yes- as I went down the list, I was rather surprised by the results, based on the 5 criteria. Were Duc de Villars and Karl XII of Sweden probably better battlefield commanders than 10. 8, and 7? I would say so. But when weighted with these criteria, things become a bit more uncertain.