Friday, July 8, 2016

Who Were The Greatest Commanders Between 1648-1789: 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. Prinz Henri von Preussen (Prince Henry of Prussia) 
A) 3/5 B) 5/5 C) 3/5 D) 2/5 E) 4.9/5                                                                     Total: 17.9/25

Ahh, Henri. He was never going to be at the top of the list, but when Frederick II of Prussia is your older brother, sometimes it's hard to get out of the shadow. Many Prussian officers looked to Henri as a greater commander than Frederick, especially near the end of the Seven Years' War. Henri's victory at the Battle of Freiberg in October of 1762 greatly assisted the Prussian position at the negotiating table, formed part of a wider Prussian resurgence later in the Seven Years' War. Taken together, and considering his lack of command role in other battles, this explains his A) and B) score respectively. In terms of inspiration, he was a controversial figure.  Henri was more open about his sexual orientation as a gay man than his more enigmatic brother. Henri was an educated man, and encouraged young officers to learn French, "lest they be considered some sort of Germanic beast."[1] Many Prussian officers greatly admired Henri, who took over the mantle of a humane, educating force in the Prussian army after the death of FM Schwerin. In the dark days of 1761, Prussian officers hoped that Henri might offer some sort of way out of the seemingly impossible military situation. He never commanded more than a  theatre of operations, and Frederick often sent him lower quality troops, reserving the best regiments for his personal command. However, at Freiberg, Henri embraced the new Austrian method of attack in column, as demonstrated at Hochkirch. His educated and innovative mind greatly assisted the Prussian prosecution of the Seven Years' War.[2]

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 fighting of the Thirty Years' War, Turenne won battle after battle for Louis XIV in the latter 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.[2]

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 an 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 achieved when an average commander is left in command long enough to gain considerable experience. That trust earns him his ranking.[3]

Image result for Leopold Joseph von Daun

7. Leopold Joseph, Count von Daun
A) 4/5 B) 2/5 C) 3/5 D) 5/5 E) 3/5                                                                  Total: 18.35/25

Though disparaged by Frederick the Great, Leopold Joseph von Daun earned his place within the ranks of the great commanders of the Kabinettskriege era. He commanded one of the largest armies in the field during the course of the Seven Years' War, and defeated Frederick while holding army level command for the first time at Kolin in 1757. His victory at Breslau was overshadowed by the defeat of other generals at Leuthen. He and Frederick met again at Hochkirch in 1758, when Daun approved and executed Franz Lacy's plan to attack the Prussian camp in dispersed columns. This was highly successful, and Daun also captured a smaller Prussian army at Maxen the following year.  Daun's ability was placed under heavy strain in the later Seven Years' War, after he was wounded at the defeat of Torgau in 1760. Eventually, Frederick was able to maneuver and fight Austrian forces out of Silesia, leading to Daun's relatively low B) score. Despite this, Daun remained one of the few Austrian commanders who could defeat Frederick II consistently on the battlefield. [4]

Prinz Ferdinand Braunschweig.jpg

6. Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
A) 4/5 B) 4/5 C) 3.5/5 D) 3.5/5 E) 3/5                                                         Total: 18.5/25

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.[5]

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] Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 10.
[2] Sadly, the best biography in English remains Chester Easum, Prince Henry of Prussia: Brother of Frederick the Great. 
[2] There is disturbingly little to read on Turenne in English. Jean Bérenger's 1987, Turenne, remains a good biography for French speakers.
[3] Not surprisingly, Washington has generated an incredible amount of scholarly attention. I enjoy Edward Lengel's, General George Washington: A Military Life, and the relevant portions of Jon Ferling's Almost a Miracle. 
[4] With a lack of biographical material in English, see Christopher Duffy's, By Force of Arms. 
[5] In English, readers will find that Reginald Savory's, His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany is old but intriguing. German readers will enjoy Mediger and Klingbiel's, Herzog Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Lüneburg und die alliierte Armee im Siebenjährigen Krieg. 


  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.

  2. Thinking Loudon was superior to Daun and Lacy

    1. With respect, I disagree. Daun had overall command and more success against Frederick than Loudon. Lacy contributed the attack with multiple approaching columns. Loudon's performance at Leignitz prevents a high ranking. Not because he lost, but how he reacted to it. Loudon was certainly agressive, and had some success, but not enough to merit his inclusion. Particularly, his failures in the 1778-1779 war weighed against him.