Archduke Charles vs Pompey the Great vs Robert E Lee

Greater General

  • Archduke Charles Louis John Joseph Laurentius of Austria, Duke of Teschen

    Votes: 5 26.3%
  • Robert Edward Lee

    Votes: 1 5.3%
  • Gnaeus Pompey Magnus

    Votes: 13 68.4%

  • Total voters
    19

nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,803
Ohio, USA
Duke Valentino, I don't think Pompey was a bad tactician but I just don't think he was as good in that regard as Charles and Lee. Due to the qualitative disadvantages Pompey faced at Pharsalus, which you have always been at pains to point out, I don't think Pharsalus proves that he wasn't a good tactician, even if he had a significant (though often exaggerated) numerical advantage. My belief is just that the best tactical displays from Charles and Lee were better than the best tactics ever displayed by Pompey. When it came to field command, tactics were a specialty for Charles and Lee, above and beyond their campaigning skills. For Pompey, a thoroughly decent tactician but not particularly exceptional by Roman standards, tactics were not his specialty. Campaigning and organization were.

I admit that I exaggerated by saying 'screwed up so badly' with regards to Pompey at Pharsalus, but my belief is still that someone with the overall or at least defensive tactical skills of a Lee or Charles would have done at least as well there, and likely somewhat better. For example, when Charles noticed that various points of his line were wavering, at both Aspern and Wagram, he personally rallied with any reserves available to try and solve the issue and plug the threatened area. There really isn't any evidence of Pompey making a real attempt to do the same at Pharsalus.
 

Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,327
Australia
Duke Valentino, I don't think Pompey was a bad tactician but I just don't think he was as good in that regard as Charles and Lee. Due to the qualitative disadvantages Pompey faced at Pharsalus, which you have always been at pains to point out, I don't think Pharsalus proves that he wasn't a good tactician, even if he had a significant (though often exaggerated) numerical advantage. My belief is just that the best tactical displays from Charles and Lee were better than the best tactics ever displayed by Pompey. When it came to field command, tactics were a specialty for Charles and Lee, above and beyond their campaigning skills. For Pompey, a thoroughly decent tactician but not particularly exceptional by Roman standards, tactics were not his specialty. Campaigning and organization were.
I'd go further; the numerical superiority didn't really mean much when his troops were so raw relative to Caesar's. He had something like a 25% advantage in legionary infantry, not a whole lot when the other side has diehard loyal veterans. And Pompey has his fair share of brilliant tactical displays, honestly. Not very familiar with the tactical accomplishments of the other two though.

I admit that I exaggerated by saying 'screwed up so badly' with regards to Pompey at Pharsalus, but my belief is still that someone with the overall or at least defensive tactical skills of a Lee or Charles would have done at least as well there, and likely somewhat better. For example, when Charles noticed that various points of his line were wavering, at both Aspern and Wagram, he personally rallied with any reserves available to try and solve the issue and plug the threatened area. There really isn't any evidence of Pompey making a real attempt to do the same at Pharsalus.
Pompey's deployment at Pharsalus was perfectly fine, I don't see how Charles or Lee would have done any better.

Pompey didn't just flee either, he and Labienus did organise a defence against Caesar's envelopment, but it happened all too fast, and his raw legionaries weren't up to the task. It made sense for Pompey to flee after there was no way to salvage the battle.
 

nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,803
Ohio, USA
Well Duke, I’ll admit that I’m a lot more familiar with Pompey the strategist and organizer, where I think he’s the most impressive of the 3, than I am with his specific tactical accomplishments.

For the record, do you think there was anything Pompey could have done better to come out on top at Pharsalus or do you just think his case was hopeless either way?

I’m coming around to the idea that Pompey didn’t really do anything wrong st Pharsalus. I just don’t think it was as impressive as what Charles was able to show at Wagram or what Lee was able to show at Antietam (though unlike with Pompey at Pharsalus, Antietam was an encounter Lee had no business engaging in the first place).
 
Mar 2018
837
UK
I'd go further; the numerical superiority didn't really mean much when his troops were so raw relative to Caesar's. He had something like a 25% advantage in legionary infantry, not a whole lot when the other side has diehard loyal veterans.
I don't want to derail this thread, but this 25% infantry advantage isn't the figure I was familiar with. Now I'm sure you have your reasons to have come to this conclusion, but is this the expert consensus or more of a new or fringe viewpoint?
 

Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,327
Australia
For the record, do you think there was anything Pompey could have done better to come out on top at Pharsalus or do you just think his case was hopeless either way?
Well, it's almost impossible to say. But I do believe that committing to challenging Caesar there was the most logical move, something that most people disagree with.

I’m coming around to the idea that Pompey didn’t really do anything wrong st Pharsalus. I just don’t think it was as impressive as what Charles was able to show at Wagram or what Lee was able to show at Antietam (though unlike with Pompey at Pharsalus, Antietam was an encounter Lee had no business engaging in the first place).
Part of it, in my opinion, is that Pompey didn't really have many options tactically. His plan was about as good as it could get.

---

I don't want to derail this thread, but this 25% infantry advantage isn't the figure I was familiar with. Now I'm sure you have your reasons to have come to this conclusion, but is this the expert consensus or more of a new or fringe viewpoint?
It's sort of relative; figures like Delbruck, Brunt and Napoleon all had different views on the relative strengths of the two armies contrarian to most historians, who take Caesar at his word for the most part. I agree that it's incorrect to derail too far from Caesar (he is our only true primary source), but it's also possible to plug in a lot of the gaps in his claims via logical inference. In short, I believe Caesar had closer to 30,000 legionaries, and Pompey around 40,000.
 
Oct 2018
126
US
Sharpsburg/Anitetam is a battle that Lee never should have fought. He had no chance of winning and any reasonably aggressive Union commander should have destroyed him.
Winning wasn't the point. The strategic goal was to get Those People out of Virginia. The tactical draw was a strategic win.


[Quote ]Seven Days was a costly and poorly coordinated affair that succeeded because Lee was facing the worst general who would ever command against him. [/quote]

McClellan was the single best General Those People had. No other Army in all of recorded history could have been curbstomped as much as the Army of the Potomac was and kept advancing. The French mutinied for less in 1917.

You keep mentioning "the worst" union Generals. They never had a tactically self-awae General. All the efficient warfighters went South; the sole reason the wrong side won the War is they had too many Yankees to shoot.





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Zip

Jan 2018
563
Comancheria
You keep mentioning "the worst" union Generals. They never had a tactically self-awae General. All the efficient warfighters went South; the sole reason the wrong side won the War is they had too many Yankees to shoot.
Your assertion won't stand scrutiny.

The rebellion produced only one general capable of leading a large army well, Lee. The others leaders of large armies--both Johnstons, Bragg, Pemberton, Hood--were less than impressive with Bragg the best of a bad bunch.

On the other hand the United States produced several generals capable of leading armies and army groups--Grant, Thomas, Sherman, Meade, Ord, Schofield and Sheridan come immediately to mind. Also capable were Howard, McPherson, Curtis and, for awhile, Rosecrans.

The rebels also had few good corps commanders. Longstreet and Jackson were the only excellent corps commanders the Army of Northern Virginia produced but the Army of the Potomac produced several in Hancock, Meade, Reynolds, Humphreys, Wright, Parke and Griffin. The Army of the James had two excellent corps commanders in Ord and Gibbon.

The Army of Tennessee never produced a single excellent corps commander but the western Federals of the Armies of the Cumberland and Tennessee had many---Sherman, Thomas, Ord, McPherson, Logan, Blair, Davis, Howard, Hooker, Schofield and Smith. Why even the much criticized McClernand at least had energy and a fighting heart and compares favorably to rebel corps commanders such as Polk, Hindman, Cheatham, Buchanan, DH Hill, SD Lee and Hardee.

For some odd reason even the reliable and hard hitting Longstreet (whom I consider the best overall corps commander on either side) gave a poor performance when attached to the Army of Tennessee and let Hooker steal a march on him and Howard whip him in Lookout Valley. And Knoxville...he was whipped by Burnside, of all people.

Note the pattern here with excellent corps commanders moving up to successful army command--Meade, Sherman, Thomas, McPherson, Ord, Howard. The United States Army had a very deep bench. Some who failed in the East did well in the West; Hooker and especially Howard who went from being the goat at Chancellorsville to commanding Grant and Sherman's own Army of the Tennessee. Why even John Pope, after his humiliation at 2nd Bull Run, turned out to be a capable Indian fighter and department commander when sent to Minnesota to suppress the great Sioux rebellion.

The Federal cavalry also had great talent--Wilson, Merrit, Buford, Devin, Custer, Minty and Mackenzie. And Sheridan. And Hunt was the best gunner of the war.
 
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Sep 2016
1,321
Georgia
McClellan was the single best General Those People had. No other Army in all of recorded history could have been curbstomped as much as the Army of the Potomac was and kept advancing. The French mutinied for less in 1917.
You don't know what you are talking about. French had been fighting for 3 years by that point and suffered terrible casualties. French also lost another 187 000 men in Nivelle offensive. Not to mention, that not the whole French army mutinied.

French army at Borodino in 1812 showed much more determination and bravery than Army of Potomac at any point in Civil War before Grant. French kept advancing despite the fierce resistance of Russians and both parties lost around 70 000 men that day.

Grant was the one who kept advancing despite suffering casualties and not McClellan. Grant was the one who managed to fool Lee, cross river James and entrap him in Petersburg. Grant was the only one who managed to defeat Lee strategically and his casualties were actually proportionally fewer than Lee's.
 
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