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View Poll Results: Who was the greatest general in American military history?
George Washington 13 22.03%
Nathaniel Greene 3 5.08%
Winfield Scott 13 22.03%
Zachary Taylor 1 1.69%
Ulysses S. Grant 22 37.29%
Robert E. Lee 16 27.12%
William T. Sherman 3 5.08%
John J. Pershing 2 3.39%
Douglas MacArthur 5 8.47%
George C. Marshall 10 16.95%
Dwight D. Eisenhower 13 22.03%
Omar Bradley 4 6.78%
George S. Patton 4 6.78%
Matthew Ridgway 6 10.17%
Other 3 5.08%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 59. You may not vote on this poll

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Old July 21st, 2017, 12:01 PM   #51

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I don't know how to evaluate Marshall and Eisenhower, as they managed things from Washington and London respectively. Eisenhower was never in combat in any war. I don't see why they got so many votes, and am not clear what they did that was so great.
Evaluating Marshall and Eisenhower relates more to the bureaucratic nature of warfare, particularly in the 20th Century. In theory this would also be an issue in earlier wars in history, as things like logistics, organization, and training are always problems, however, wars of the 20th Century took things to a scale that was never seen before. And if you didn't go in with good organization and planning, but a great field commander... you may be able to fight ONE big battle and then find yourself in a situation where your battlefield victory cannot be supported or sustained, and that's assuming that this field commander has a big army to use when he gets there...

For example, Pershing was held as a good field commander, based on his prior experience in the Spanish American War and in the campaigns after Poncho Villa in northern Mexico, however, the US Army and US "National Guard" was NEVER properly trained, equipped, or supplied when America entered WWI. The result is that you had a good field commander with no real army going into the world's most destructive war then to date. The end result is that the dough-boys often had to rely on French or British equipment because the US didn't have enough of its own weapons to use against the Germans. It's why many of our uniforms and helmets were British, our tanks, aircraft, and field artillery were French and so on... Against the Germans that would have been problematic.

And that sort of preparatory work was something that Marshall succeeded at. In this, the US Army in WW2 was far better organized and trained for the war it got into in 1941 than the army that Pershing lead a generation before. In this, Marshall's administrative work was directly related to the successes the US military had against Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Eisenhower's position is similar. His plans tended to be cautious and simple, BUT one needs to remember that the armies that were ultimately under his command DID win in Africa, in Italy, France, and in Germany. So, it isn't as though he put forth ideas that failed completely... and at the same time, battle planning WASN'T the main part of his job. As the Allied Supreme Commander, a lot of his job was to keep the Allies working together. It required him to really be more of a politician than general and convince others of often had competing goals and agendas on the same end goal, the defeat of Germany...

And that could be something that was incredibly difficult in the fact that there was a host of egos and conflicts within the Allies that had the potential to sink the Western coalition. And unlike earlier US generals, Eisenhower wasn't just dealing with difficult US officers that in pure theory he'd have the power to fire. Officers like Montgomery created just as many administrative and command headaches as other commanders, but if Eisenhower wanted Monty removed, he would need to go to the British government and the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff and essentially ask them to fire Montgomery, which after El Alamein, it was unlikely that Britain would do that. This meant that Eisenhower had to convince Montgomery to accept and go along with the decided on strategy...

And in this, Eisenhower DID successfully work though many of the inter-Allied problems that had the potential sink them and allowed that he was able to let his field commanders and other strategic teams to come up with the specific battle plans to lead to success. About the only battle plan that Eisenhower focused on related to the "broad front" advance that went into Germany in 1945. Now, that advance has received criticism of extending the war, but there is no doubt that the broad front carried a certain expected outcome... that Germany would be defeated. They couldn't realistically defeat all of the Allies.

The alternative narrow thrust could be theoretically be defeated... as Market Garden proved. And if the narrow front advance failed on a small scale, going to a large scale wouldn't be any more successful. Even if the narrow front advance was easily doable, there is the fact that that narrow advance's principle advocate was Montgomery and the British, which would mean that if it was adopted as the official strategy and the Germans surrender after Berlin falls to British troops, it would allow the British contribution to the war to be placed above the American contribution, which would be bound to irritate men like Patton in the US Army and De Gaulle as leader of the Free French. The broad-front essentially gave every member of the Allies some ability to claim contribution to winning the war and prevented major infighting over glory.

This may be more of a political skill... but given Eisenhower's position, political tact was far more important than anything else. It is HIGHLY doubtful that generals like Patton or MacArthur could have done the same, despite Patton's reputation as a field commander and MacArthur's strengths regarding strategy. Patton's own reckless attacks in Sicily to outdo Montgomery demonstrates that sort of antagonism... and MacArthur's unwillingness to let subordinates who had provided ideas for even minor aspects of his plans to have any published credit would also have created trouble...
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Old July 21st, 2017, 12:22 PM   #52
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Ngyuyen Giap never won a pitched battle against the US, yet South Vietnam is now communist. Hannibal won nearly every battle he was in yet Carthage was destroyed.

Its not the battles you win. Its if you win.
The Patriots had spectacular victories at Saratoga and Yorktown, and even Cowpens. However, Washington wasn't the commander at those except for Yorktown. It was Rochambeau who had the idea of taking the force outside British controlled NYC and swinging down to attack Cornwallis in Virginia.

Washington was busy losing the capital at Philadelphia at the time of Saratoga. That is why some people wanted to replace them, which was obviously not a good idea. However, I can't see how he is one of the greatest generals, when he was losing when others were winning.
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Old July 21st, 2017, 12:39 PM   #53

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The Patriots had spectacular victories at Saratoga and Yorktown, and even Cowpens. However, Washington wasn't the commander at those except for Yorktown. It was Rochambeau who had the idea of taking the force outside British controlled NYC and swinging down to attack Cornwallis in Virginia.

Washington was busy losing the capital at Philadelphia at the time of Saratoga. That is why some people wanted to replace them, which was obviously not a good idea. However, I can't see how he is one of the greatest generals, when he was losing when others were winning.
He certainly did make some tactical errors which contributed to defeats, but Washington was unfortunate in the fact that, unlike the victories at Saratoga and Cowpens, he neither enjoyed numerical superiority or faced a rash and unbalanced opponent in Tarleton (Morgan's opponent at Cowpens). Instead, he usually faced superiority, parity, and/or experienced and cerebral opponents in Howe and Cornwallis.

Last edited by nuclearguy165; July 21st, 2017 at 12:45 PM.
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Old July 21st, 2017, 12:41 PM   #54

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Washington was busy losing the capital at Philadelphia at the time of Saratoga. That is why some people wanted to replace them, which was obviously not a good idea. However, I can't see how he is one of the greatest generals, when he was losing when others were winning.
But wasn't Washington given the task of engaging the main British army or the bulk of the British army - for the most part, making his job more difficult?
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Old July 23rd, 2017, 04:11 PM   #55

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To offer a few thoughts on the other names I put on the list...

William T. Sherman. Had I voted for five rather than three, I would have included him. Sherman was a mediocre tactician in many ways. However, he was also highly skilled in the more important fields of operations and strategy, and as an army group commander, his tactical short-comings did not seriously hamper his success in the field. He utilized skilled maneuver and suffered relatively low casualties, albeit, it must be noted, he did not face the quality of opposition that say, Grant did. Strategically, his marches in Georgia and the Carolinas were the death knell of the Confederacy, and besides playing into what historians call either Grant-Sherman's raiding strategy or a strategy of exhaustion, the marches represented a very successful use of psychological warfare; the desertions in the Confederate army, particularly Lee's, increased drastically as a result. Sherman's army group in Georgia, for its flaws, was still one of the most functional and successful command structures of the war.

Robert E. Lee: One of the outstanding figures of the Civil War, for sure. Arguably its most impressive field commander in the conventional sense. However, he never did succeed on an offensive campaign outside of his home territory in Northern Virginia, wasted lives to no end at Antietam, and went for a battle of annihilation at Gettyburg when the time that such a strategy could succeed had long passed.

Matthew Ridgway: One of the absolute best field commanders on this list, he would be a candidate for my top five. Besides his laudable World War II record, in Korea, he proved to the Joint Chiefs that MacArthur was not the indispensable man, because unlike MacArthur, Ridgway was able to more accurately assess the type of war he was fighting and adapt his tactics accordingly. Also unlike Doug, Ridgway was a professional and worked within the constraints given even if he didn't like them. He also advised Eisenhower to stay out of Vietnam, quite correctly.

Zachary Taylor: An able tactician and skilled leader of men, he suffers from the defect of his campaign being overshadowed by Scott's more classic campaign, and moreso than Scott, he seems to get criticized for surviving only due to enemy mistakes, as Taylor was undoubtedly a bit on the reckless side. That may be so, but even so, he was a fine commander.

John J. Pershing: A good manager of his subordinates, men who admired him later went on to be some of the US Army's leading figures. Nevertheless, he was also a hidebound traditionalist in many ways, and incurred more casualties than needed by employing 1915's tactics in 1918 initially. American troops likely would have fared more poorly under his command in an earlier phase of the war.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: As some have noted, not exactly a field commander. That said, his role was a difficult, crucial, and complex one, and probably nobody else could have done it as well. Coalition warfare was a difficult game, and Ike had some particularly difficult personalities to deal with, so I rate him highly for that. Still, some of his planning tended towards the overly conservative, like in Italy, though you can't blame him for Italy being made a priority in the first place. One has to wonder about his overall judgement when he went to his grave supporting the Vietnam War as well. I'd still consider him for the top five.

Douglas MacArthur: Ah, Dugout Doug. Intellectually brilliant, personally gallant, fine mind for the strategic and operational offensive. None of that excuses his out of control egotism, the strategic disasters he suffered on the defensive in the Philippines and in North Korea, his lying and press manipulation, the way he treated his subordinates, dealt with superiors and peers, and even sometimes the troops under his command, such as the Australians. Plus, the Bonus Army incident showed how much of a damn he really gave for the American soldier.

Omar Bradley: A fine personnel manager, his people enjoyed working for him and respected him, he scores better than some here as far as that goes. However, as an army group commander, he did miss some opportunities, and Hurtgen Forest and the Bulge weren't exactly shining points on his resume. The Joint Chiefs under him were far too lenient with MacArthur for far too long as well.

George S. Patton: My views on him have been expressed, but to repeat, I find him overrated. He had no role in strategic planning and he repeatedly floundered a bit whenever confronted with serious opposition as opposed to isolated forces he could bypass. Even with the indirect approach, he failed to decisively slice into the enemy's communications when given the opportunity, and he would order frontal charges against fixed points in complete disregard for his men's lives in pursuit of personal glory.

George Washington: Others in this thread have highlighted his positives better than I can. Still, he suffered enough serious defeats to disqualify him, IMO.

Nathaniel Greene: I included him as another significant Revolutionary War general, and a fine strategist and operational commander. Still, like with Washington, his win-loss record does disqualify him, as I see it.
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Old July 23rd, 2017, 04:50 PM   #56

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Originally Posted by Viperlord View Post
To offer a few thoughts on the other names I put on the list...

William T. Sherman. Had I voted for five rather than three, I would have included him. Sherman was a mediocre tactician in many ways. However, he was also highly skilled in the more important fields of operations and strategy, and as an army group commander, his tactical short-comings did not seriously hamper his success in the field. He utilized skilled maneuver and suffered relatively low casualties, albeit, it must be noted, he did not face the quality of opposition that say, Grant did. Strategically, his marches in Georgia and the Carolinas were the death knell of the Confederacy, and besides playing into what historians call either Grant-Sherman's raiding strategy or a strategy of exhaustion, the marches represented a very successful use of psychological warfare; the desertions in the Confederate army, particularly Lee's, increased drastically as a result. Sherman's army group in Georgia, for its flaws, was still one of the most functional and successful command structures of the war.

Robert E. Lee: One of the outstanding figures of the Civil War, for sure. Arguably its most impressive field commander in the conventional sense. However, he never did succeed on an offensive campaign outside of his home territory in Northern Virginia, wasted lives to no end at Antietam, and went for a battle of annihilation at Gettyburg when the time that such a strategy could succeed had long passed.

Matthew Ridgway: One of the absolute best field commanders on this list, he would be a candidate for my top five. Besides his laudable World War II record, in Korea, he proved to the Joint Chiefs that MacArthur was not the indispensable man, because unlike MacArthur, Ridgway was able to more accurately assess the type of war he was fighting and adapt his tactics accordingly. Also unlike Doug, Ridgway was a professional and worked within the constraints given even if he didn't like them. He also advised Eisenhower to stay out of Vietnam, quite correctly.

Zachary Taylor: An able tactician and skilled leader of men, he suffers from the defect of his campaign being overshadowed by Scott's more classic campaign, and moreso than Scott, he seems to get criticized for surviving only due to enemy mistakes, as Taylor was undoubtedly a bit on the reckless side. That may be so, but even so, he was a fine commander.

John J. Pershing: A good manager of his subordinates, men who admired him later went on to be some of the US Army's leading figures. Nevertheless, he was also a hidebound traditionalist in many ways, and incurred more casualties than needed by employing 1915's tactics in 1918 initially. American troops likely would have fared more poorly under his command in an earlier phase of the war.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: As some have noted, not exactly a field commander. That said, his role was a difficult, crucial, and complex one, and probably nobody else could have done it as well. Coalition warfare was a difficult game, and Ike had some particularly difficult personalities to deal with, so I rate him highly for that. Still, some of his planning tended towards the overly conservative, like in Italy, though you can't blame him for Italy being made a priority in the first place. One has to wonder about his overall judgement when he went to his grave supporting the Vietnam War as well. I'd still consider him for the top five.

Douglas MacArthur: Ah, Dugout Doug. Intellectually brilliant, personally gallant, fine mind for the strategic and operational offensive. None of that excuses his out of control egotism, the strategic disasters he suffered on the defensive in the Philippines and in North Korea, his lying and press manipulation, the way he treated his subordinates, dealt with superiors and peers, and even sometimes the troops under his command, such as the Australians. Plus, the Bonus Army incident showed how much of a damn he really gave for the American soldier.

Omar Bradley: A fine personnel manager, his people enjoyed working for him and respected him, he scores better than some here as far as that goes. However, as an army group commander, he did miss some opportunities, and Hurtgen Forest and the Bulge weren't exactly shining points on his resume. The Joint Chiefs under him were far too lenient with MacArthur for far too long as well.

George S. Patton: My views on him have been expressed, but to repeat, I find him overrated. He had no role in strategic planning and he repeatedly floundered a bit whenever confronted with serious opposition as opposed to isolated forces he could bypass. Even with the indirect approach, he failed to decisively slice into the enemy's communications when given the opportunity, and he would order frontal charges against fixed points in complete disregard for his men's lives in pursuit of personal glory.

George Washington: Others in this thread have highlighted his positives better than I can. Still, he suffered enough serious defeats to disqualify him, IMO.

Nathaniel Greene: I included him as another significant Revolutionary War general, and a fine strategist and operational commander. Still, like with Washington, his win-loss record does disqualify him, as I see it.
Washington and Greene were excellent commanders in an asymmetrical sort of way rather than in a conventional sense.
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Old July 23rd, 2017, 11:49 PM   #57

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Dwight D. Eisenhower: As some have noted, not exactly a field commander. That said, his role was a difficult, crucial, and complex one, and probably nobody else could have done it as well. Coalition warfare was a difficult game, and Ike had some particularly difficult personalities to deal with, so I rate him highly for that. Still, some of his planning tended towards the overly conservative, like in Italy, though you can't blame him for Italy being made a priority in the first place. One has to wonder about his overall judgement when he went to his grave supporting the Vietnam War as well. I'd still consider him for the top five.
A lot of Eisenhower's plans may have been conservative, but in the end those plans still WON. They may have been conservative in nature, but in many ways, particularly with the broad front advance into Germany, that conservative strategy was assured victory, and that you cannot argue with.

At the heart of many of the debates over the narrow thrust versus the broad front was that British commanders often argued, "if you give us the supplies and support, our plan COULD win the war by Christmas." The problem is that could does not mean would. The narrow front option could be more easily defended against by the Germans, particularly in the fact that by September 1944 the only port they had that was operational was Cherbourg. They'd liberated Antwerp, but with the Germans still controlling the Scheldt, Antwerp couldn't be used. This would mean a lengthy supply line with one only ONE of the Allies getting much, if anything from it...

And that problem/risk was ultimately demonstrated in Operation Market Garden. The British may complain that Eisenhower didn't adequately support them or their operation, but given many of the arguments that the Germans were defeated and needed only one good strike to fall, then given the small scale objectives in Market Garden, the forces and material provided to attack toward Arnhem was MORE than sufficient. But in the end, the Germans weren't beaten and managed to not only hold Arnhem but attack the corridor made by XXX Corps that would have been needed to keep the units supplied, even if Arnhem was taken. And the failure of Market Garden to achieve its primary objective, a bridge over the Rhine, demonstrates the weakness of the narrow front strategy that the British proposed. If a small scale attack cannot succeed with a relatively limited objective... scaling it up to allow Montgomery to go to Berlin isn't going to work either... and would only risk more lives in committing to it.

Now, it is possible to say that Eisenhower should have never supported Market Garden for that reason and ordered Montgomery to focus on clearing the Scheldt Estuary so that Antwerp could be opened, but at the time that it was proposed, while Eisenhower was hesitant to take the full risks associated with the Narrow Thrust to Berlin... things hadn't fully materialized to indicate that the German army in the west was recovering. There were some signs, but nothing that was definitive, and given that Churchill was often involved in many of the debates over the narrow thrust and on Market Garden, it's likely that Eisenhower was aware of Britain's financial concerns and took the chance that Market Garden could succeed, and thus would present an opportunity to end the war... or at least cross the largest obstacle to the Allies in the River Rhine and be in a position to flank the West Wall. In that sense there was a golden opportunity that I'd think that most generals probably would have taken... at least the limited objective of Arnhem in the hopes that the war is ended sooner...

And at the same time, if Eisenhower is to be criticized for letting himself being persuaded into supporting Market Garden, one will also need to remember that the same sorts of arguments were used in the development of Overlord which ended quite successfully.
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Old July 24th, 2017, 05:15 AM   #58
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Now, it is possible to say that Eisenhower should have never supported Market Garden for that reason and ordered Montgomery to focus on clearing the Scheldt Estuary so that Antwerp could be opened, but at the time that it was proposed, while Eisenhower was hesitant to take the full risks associated with the Narrow Thrust to Berlin... things hadn't fully materialized to indicate that the German army in the west was recovering. There were some signs, but nothing that was definitive, and given that Churchill was often involved in many of the debates over the narrow thrust and on Market Garden, it's likely that Eisenhower was aware of Britain's financial concerns and took the chance that Market Garden could succeed, and thus would present an opportunity to end the war... or at least cross the largest obstacle to the Allies in the River Rhine and be in a position to flank the West Wall. In that sense there was a golden opportunity that I'd think that most generals probably would have taken... at least the limited objective of Arnhem in the hopes that the war is ended sooner...

And at the same time, if Eisenhower is to be criticized for letting himself being persuaded into supporting Market Garden, one will also need to remember that the same sorts of arguments were used in the development of Overlord which ended quite successfully.
Gerat comment, but Ike was supposed to be a numbers man and the allies weren't going to go far until they had a seaport to pour in their overwhelming lot of oil gas ammo and supplies. He should ordered Montgomery to focus on clearing the Scheldt Estuary so that Antwerp could be opened. As it happened his mistake opened the front to a counterattack. His opposition to Patton wanting to cut off the bulge shows a lack of tactical understanding. His falling back on the numbers game lead to unnecessary casualties.
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Old July 24th, 2017, 08:07 AM   #59

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Interesting to note that Pershing and Taylor are the only ones not to receive votes thus far.
There are a lot more Civil War buffs and WW2 buffs than Mexican-American War buffs or WW1 buffs.
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Old July 24th, 2017, 08:19 AM   #60

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My three picks were Grant, Lee, and Winfield Scott.


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Robert E. Lee: One of the outstanding figures of the Civil War, for sure. Arguably its most impressive field commander in the conventional sense. However, he never did succeed on an offensive campaign outside of his home territory in Northern Virginia, wasted lives to no end at Antietam, and went for a battle of annihilation at Gettyburg when the time that such a strategy could succeed had long passed.
When you say that Lee went for a battle of annihilation at Gettysburg, do you mean that Lee waged a tactically offensive battle for the purpose of inflicting more casualties on the AoP than the AoP inflicted on the ANV? Or do you mean that Lee's purpose at the Battle of Gettysburg was to literally annihilate the AoP? If the answer is the latter, when was there ever a time when the ANV could annihilate the AoP?

If not for Pickett's Charge and Malvern Hill, I would say that Lee was the greatest tactician of the American Civil War.

You have successfully persuaded me of the problems with Lee's sending troops from the ANV to help Vicksburg to enough of an extent that I won't mention that as a shortcoming in strategy of Lee.



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Matthew Ridgway: One of the absolute best field commanders on this list, he would be a candidate for my top five. Besides his laudable World War II record, in Korea, he proved to the Joint Chiefs that MacArthur was not the indispensable man, because unlike MacArthur, Ridgway was able to more accurately assess the type of war he was fighting and adapt his tactics accordingly. Also unlike Doug, Ridgway was a professional and worked within the constraints given even if he didn't like them. He also advised Eisenhower to stay out of Vietnam, quite correctly.
I had never heard of Matthew Ridgway before I saw this thread.


Quote:
Dwight D. Eisenhower: As some have noted, not exactly a field commander. That said, his role was a difficult, crucial, and complex one, and probably nobody else could have done it as well. Coalition warfare was a difficult game, and Ike had some particularly difficult personalities to deal with, so I rate him highly for that. Still, some of his planning tended towards the overly conservative, like in Italy, though you can't blame him for Italy being made a priority in the first place. One has to wonder about his overall judgement when he went to his grave supporting the Vietnam War as well. I'd still consider him for the top five.
I've heard that Eisenhower was more of a "PR guy" (public relation guy) than a general. The person who told me this contrasted Eisenhower with Patton, and he said that Patton was a general's general. Any thoughts on this?
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