Thursday, July 7, 2016

Who Were The Greatest Commanders Between 1648-1789: Ranks 15th-11th

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 (15th) to highest (11th). Without further adieu, here are the winners:

15. Peter I, Tsar of Russia, "the Great"
A) 2.25/5 B) 5/5 C) 2/5 D) 4/5 E) 3.5/5                                                                    Total: 16.75

A 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 practice. 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.[1]

14. Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
A) 3.75/5 B) 3/5 C) 5/5 D) 2.5/5 E) 3/5                                                                   Total: 17.4/25

Well known to students of American history, Charles Cornwallis commanded several campaigns against the rebel American forces in the course of the American War of Independence. Perhaps most famous for his surrender at Yorktown, it is important to keep in mind that Charles had a winning military record, and was continually entrusted with sensitive, if not overall, military commands after his failure at Yorktown. His post-revolutionary campaigns in India show a keen military mind, capable of success. Indeed, he did much to win parts of India for the British crown, if he played a role in the loss of the American colonies. Popular with his troops, Sgt. Roger Lamb remembered that in the campaign in the American south, Cornwallis, "fared like a common soldier."[2] Cornwallis' failure to be appointed to supreme command against Revolutionary France, and his inability to find a way out the dire straights at Yorktown, contribute to his D) and E) scores, respectively.[3]

13. Franz Moritz von Lacy
A) 3/5 B) 3/5 C) 2.5/5 D) 4/5 E) 5/5                                                                          Total: 17.5/25

Franz Moritz von Lacy, the son of Russian (Irish) general Peter von Lacy, was the consummate professional soldier of the eighteenth century. His independent commands came late in the Kabinettskriege era, commanding a force briefly in the Seven Years' War, during the successful relief of the besieged fortress of Olmütz in Moravia. He had a chance to truly prove himself during the War of Bavarian Succession in 1777, when his mastery of positional warfare brought Frederick II to a standstill. Despite not retaking Silesia for Maria Theresa int the Seven Years' War, Lacy was a highly competent soldier, and would carry out reforms which made the Austrian private soldier the equal of the Prussian in the 1770s. A quiet, and rather bookish man, Lacy was never intensely popular with his troops, but they trusted his sound judgment. A master of logistics, Lacy took to commanding the huge armies of the War of Bavarian succession with relative ease, indeed, with more ease than Frederick II. Finally, Lacy's careful planning was behind the greatest Austrian victory of the Seven Years' War, the approach by separate columns and surprise attack at Hochkirch. His attack by converging tactical columns would change the face of warfare, and be utilized by figures like George Washington. [4]

12. Karl X Gustav, King of Sweden
 A) 3/5 B) 4/5 C) 2.5/5 D) 3/5 E) 5/5                                                                       Total:17.5/25

"Who?" you hear yourself saying. A forgotten Swedish national treasure, this bad boy often gets lost in the press to flip from Gustav II Adolph right to Karl XII. He also has a pretty cool anti-tank weapon named after him. Karl X Gustav commanded Swedish armies in the 1550s, during the Second Northern War. In this conflict, he initiated a expansion of Swedish territory, including the parts of Southern Sweden which make up the modern state of Sweden today. In this conflict, he prosecuted a successful campaign against the Poles, starting a period of Polish history called "the Deluge." Though he commanded fairly small armies by later standards, he used with them great originality, most famously in his "March Across the Belts," when he led an army across the frozen Baltic Sea into Denmark, despite the terror and protest of many of his generals. The scheme went off swimmingly (errrrr, not, no soldiers drowned) and Denmark signed a peace treaty which created the modern boundaries of Sweden. He did lose the Swedish colony in Delaware though, so that's a bummer. His achievements would later be squandered by his glorious though ineffective grandson, Karl XII.[5]

11. William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe
A) 4/5 B) 2/5 C) 3.5/5 D) 3/5 E) 5/5                                                                  Total: 17.75/25

William Howe remains a controversial figure among historians, not least because he lost his dog to the Continental army. Many scholars second-guess the generals' decisions, and blame him for British failure in the revolutionary war. These criticisms may well have some merit, as his score for B) denotes. As a military commander on the battlefield, Howe achieved some notable results. From 1775-1778, the span of his military career in America, he personally commanded British troops against American rebels 10 times and was victorious on the battlefield 7 of them. This is a significant achievement. In particular, his recovery of the situation at Germantown, and his flanking movements at Brandywine and Long Island show tactical acumen. He was well beloved by his men, particularly his light infantry forces, for which he had a special affection. As commander-in-chief of British troops in North America, Howe commanded a wide array of forces and did not always coordinate them to full effect. In particular, his lack of support for General Burgoyne's army may have led to British failure in the War for Independence. On the other hand, Howe's instance that the British army operate in open order allowed British forces to perform to a very high standard in the early American War of Independence. An educated man, Howe wrote a treatise on light infantry tactics. His numerous and successful record in battle, as well as the doctrinal emphasis which allowed the British to achieve some success in the Revolutionary War, earn him his place in this ranking.[6]

What do you think of the line-up so far? Do you agree that these men deserve the place they have earned in the rankings? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1]See Christopher Duffy's Russia's Military Way to the West, and James Cracraft's The Revolution of Peter the Great. 
[2] Roger Lamb, Journal, 381.
[3] The literature on Cornwallis is large. I enjoy Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy's, The Men who Lost America, and Franklin and Mary Wickwire's older two volume study of Cornwallis, entitled, Cornwallis. 
[4] To this date, Lacy has no biography. See relevant portions of Christopher Duffy's By Force of Arms. 
[5] Since Karl X Gustav has no English language biography, I will recommend: Michael Robert's, The Swedish Imperial Experience, Robert I. Frost, The Northern Wars, and Paul Douglas Lockhart, Sweden in the Seventeenth Century. 
[6] See Ira Gruber's, The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution, and Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy's, The Men who Lost America.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting choices. There will always be disagreements about rankings, or where a personal favorite is placed, but I have no quibbles with the group so far. :-) Please carry on.