Archduke Charles vs Pompey the Great vs Robert E Lee

Greater General

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

    Votes: 6 27.3%
  • Robert Edward Lee

    Votes: 2 9.1%
  • Gnaeus Pompey Magnus

    Votes: 14 63.6%

  • Total voters
    22

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,776
Winning wasn't the point. The strategic goal was to get Those People out of Virginia. The tactical draw was a strategic win.
Sharpsburg/Anitetam was irrelevant to getting the Army of the Potomac out of Virginia. That had been achieved 10 days before the battle when McClellan began his pursuit of Lee. Lee also invaded Union territory in the hopes that Maryland would welcome the Confederates as liberaters and to divert US troops from fighting against Bragg in Kentucky. Both of these Confederate goals resulted in complete failure. Lee also wanted to win a battle on northern soil to harm US morale and encourage the US peace movement. This goal also resulted in complete failure for Lee. Lee had no chance of a tactical win at Antietam. Any reasonably aggressive Union commander should have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan almost destroyed Lee's army anyway, but the Confederates got several lucky breaks when aggressive Union commanders were shot, and a last minunte save from Confederates who forced marched from Harper's Ferry. Antietam was a tactical draw, but Lee had to retreat afterwards due to lack of supplies. That was unavoidable, and guaranteed the public on both sides saw the battle as a win for the United States, which was the opposite effect from what Lee had wanted. it also cost Lee irreplaceable troops in return for nothing.

Antietam was a strategic win for the United States, showing even the Confederacy's best could be beaten. It also gave Lincoln the chance to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would lead to nearly 200 thousand escaped slaves joining the US army and a total loss of about 500,000 slaves from the Confederate economy.

Learning nothing from Antietam, Lee would double down on failure with his later Gettysburg Campaign, with even worse results for the Confederacy.

McClellan was the single best General Those People had.
Let's hear some words from actual historians on McClellan.

"A brilliant organizer, he was nevertheless a disaster for his cause. McClellan understood deliberate, “scientific” warfare, but never grasped the importance of those battle-winning concepts—initiative and momentum. Temperamentally unfit to hold a field command, he imparted his own super-cautious approach to the officer corps of the Army of the Potomac—to the lasting detriment of that army." - Keith Poulter

"Previously describing him as “inarguably the worst” of the Army of the Potomac’s commanders, I see no reason now to soften that indictment. On the Peninsula he demonstrated his utter failings as a field commander, revealed most blatantly when he skedaddled from the Glendale and Malvern Hill battlefields. At Antietam he dribbled away the blessings of the Lost Order, imagined three Rebel soldiers for each one he faced, and threw away the war’s best chance to utterly defeat Robert E. Lee. McClellan’s final disservice was permanently staining the Potomac army’s officer corps with his paranoia. Braxton Bragg was more of a soldier than McClellan" - Stephen Sears

"I have trouble accepting George McClellan as one of the worst generals, even though I think Steven Sears has made a strong case that he was the Army of the Potomac’s worst commander. But does rating “Little Mac” below George Meade, Joseph Hooker, and Ambrose Burnside qualify him for the bottom of the entire barrel?" - Steve Newton

"... the Peninsula Campaign: an exercise in how to ruin a good strategy with second-rate, over-cautious leadership." - Steve Newton

"I sympathize more with the two Johnstons (who were of one generation) than I do with McClellan, who was from the next generation and whose character flaws were so great as to prevent him, in my view, from ever fulfilling the expectations of his admirers." - Craig Symonds

"McClellan’s well-documented desertion (there is no gentler word for it) of his army at Glendale, assigning no one to command in his stead during that pivotal battle of the Seven Days, ought by itself to guarantee his infamy. At Malvern Hill the next day he again boarded the gunboat Galena for a wholly unnecessary excursion, then squatted in a distant corner of the battlefield, like the lowliest coffee-boiler, during the fighting. (I’ll wager Grant didn’t know this about Glendale and Malvern Hill when he remarked on McClellan.) Then add the virus of McClellanism he injected into the high command of the Army of the Potomac. . . . Well, I could go on." - Stephen Sears

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 Army of the Potomac has a much better win/loss record than you give it credit for.The worst the Army of the Potomac took were probably Cold Harbor and the Crater, both of which occurred long after McClellan. A couple of the worst the Army of Northern Virginia took were Gaine's Mill and Malvern Hill, after which McClellan retreated, not Lee.

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.]
The idea that the Confederacy possessed better generals is one of the great myths of the Civil War. Virtually all of the trained officers from Union states and 40% of the officers from the Confederate states fought for the Union. Once you take a real look at Robert E Lee, or at war as a whole, it's clear that the CSA military record was largely one of failure. CSA attempts to invade Union territory, from Gettysburg to Glorietta Pass always ended in failure. Even in an era that favored the defense, the Union successfully took and held an area about the size of modern Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Poland. Lee was arguably the Confederacy's best, yet his track record on offense was poor and he was beaten by Rosecrans and Meade, who are generally considered second-string Union generals. When they weren't fighting Lee, men generally considered among the worst Union commanders - Burnside, Pope, Hooker, Pleasanton, and Butler - had a record of repeated success against the Confederates.

Joe Johnston was probably the best the Confederacy had in the west, and he wasn’t good enough. AS Johnston was out of his depth - he did not just fail as an army commander, he failed to be an army commander. Floyd and Pillow were cowards. Sibley led his forces to disaster in Arizona. Van Dorn did the same in Arkansas. Price did the same in Kansas, losing to Pleasanton, who is often considered one of the Union's worst generals. Polk was an incompetent backstabber; the Union did a service for the Confederacy when they killed Polk with artillery fire. Hood was a backstabbing subordinate and a total disaster in command. Bragg was one of the few Confederate generals to win battles, but he had no idea what to do with a victory and his abrasive nature helped erode what little cohesion his Confederate army had. Jackson varied in quality - his performance in the Seven Days Battles was poor. At Brandy Station, Stuart was surprised by Pleasanton, who as noted is often considered one of the Union's worst generals. At Knoxbville, Longstreet was beaten by Burnside, who is also considered one of the Union's worst generals. During Early's one solo command in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 he was unable to defeat Franz Sigel, who as you may guess was also considered one of the Union's worst generals, then fatally delayed at the Battle of Monocacy, by Lew Wallace, a man far more noted for his literary accomplishments than his military skill.

Both sides showed tactical weakness. Lee was not a brilliant offensive tactician, as he showed in West Virginia, the Seven Days, and at Gettysburg.

But the Confederacy's great weakness was at the strategic level. Lee never demonstrated the strategic vision of Grant, Sherman, Scott, or Lincoln.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,635
Ontario, Canada
Already voted a while ago but I would easily give it to Pompey.

Lee won a few defensive campaigns and some engagements against foolhardy Union generals that liked to rush head first into battle. Lee had very few strategic plans, as far as I recall his only two planned offensives, Antietam and Gettysburg, both ended in disaster. The Confederate government seemed to disregard Lee's advice as well.

Archduke Charles while having brilliant performances when he was able, never really had the career which he deserved. While it is possible that Archduke Charles could have been as good as Pompey, Charles' career was always being cut short by political conflicts and his own ill health. He also didn't have the authority or leadership abilities that Pompey did. For example in the planning stages for 1809, Charles could have planned much better, he could have organized troops and even advised his brother Kaiser Franz not to go to war. Nope, Charles was completely meek and allowed others to drag him about. By the time the war actually did start, on the Austrian initiative no less, he was already coming up short because of insufficient preparations. Still I feel that Charles could have done a lot more had he been allowed to, or if his health didn't keep him from leading armies so many times. For instance he did nothing between 1812 and 1815 because the defeat in 1809 destroyed his reputation. But he was also unable to do much in 1799 and 1800 due to his ill health, and in 1805 his entire army was cornered in Styria, while the main French army pushed onto Vienna and Moravia.

In a way these three men all had issues with someone else trying to pull rank on them, or being woefully unprepared to deal with their great undertaking.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,684
Already voted a while ago but I would easily give it to Pompey.

Lee won a few defensive campaigns and some engagements against foolhardy Union generals that liked to rush head first into battle. Lee had very few strategic plans, as far as I recall his only two planned offensives, Antietam and Gettysburg, both ended in disaster. The Confederate government seemed to disregard Lee's advice as well.

Archduke Charles while having brilliant performances when he was able, never really had the career which he deserved. While it is possible that Archduke Charles could have been as good as Pompey, Charles' career was always being cut short by political conflicts and his own ill health. He also didn't have the authority or leadership abilities that Pompey did. For example in the planning stages for 1809, Charles could have planned much better, he could have organized troops and even advised his brother Kaiser Franz not to go to war. Nope, Charles was completely meek and allowed others to drag him about. By the time the war actually did start, on the Austrian initiative no less, he was already coming up short because of insufficient preparations. Still I feel that Charles could have done a lot more had he been allowed to, or if his health didn't keep him from leading armies so many times. For instance he did nothing between 1812 and 1815 because the defeat in 1809 destroyed his reputation. But he was also unable to do much in 1799 and 1800 due to his ill health, and in 1805 his entire army was cornered in Styria, while the main French army pushed onto Vienna and Moravia.

In a way these three men all had issues with someone else trying to pull rank on them, or being woefully unprepared to deal with their great undertaking.
Arch Duke Charles sidelining after 1809 was ot due to his strictly military reputation which I think was enhanced by the 1809 cmapaign but the break down of trust and standing with his Brother the Empreror by seeking an armistice on his own authority without reference to the his brother the Emperor. It's his political activism rather than meekness that heavily impacted his career. If he had been a non political general following the decided political line and restricted himself to military affairs IMHO he woudl had command in 1805 and after 1809.Just my oinion.

Hi sfailures as a General were mostly lack of strategeic initiative and decisiveness. He hang on to cordon type theories of military startegy, and his laborious reorganizing of the lines of attack in 1809 rather than just attacking swiftly and not letting the perfect hinder the good solution at the start of the campaign very much threw away the Austrian chances in early the campaign. I've described Benningsen as strategicly bold, tactically timid, perhaps to some degree Charles is the reverse, Strategically timid/limited but does well in the battles. Perhaps a not cut out for threatre command.
 
Nov 2019
127
United States
Sherman was probably the best tactician of the American Civil war, he continuously turned the flanks of his Southern opponents, knew what it required to win in a real "total war", and took strong assertive actions in ways few other would have dared.

Fighting offensively as Sherman did in virtually every campaign is a solid test of a military mind.
 

Zip

Jan 2018
592
Comancheria
Sherman was probably the best tactician of the American Civil war, he continuously turned the flanks of his Southern opponents, knew what it required to win in a real "total war", and took strong assertive actions in ways few other would have dared.

Fighting offensively as Sherman did in virtually every campaign is a solid test of a military mind.
I think Sherman was excellent on strategy, logistics and operations but was uneven on tactics, if we take tactics to mean the actual fighting of a battle.

He screwed up big time at Missionary Ridge, missed his chance at Dalton, forced a minor disaster at Pickett's Mill, was defeated attacking strong works at Kenesaw Mountain and lost a big opportunity to scoop up Hood's army at the battle of Atlanta. And he confused his generals at Jonesboro, where again he had an opportunity to bag Hood's army or at least do it more damage than was done.

Sherman was energetic and aggressive and in Georgia had as his instruments the two best Federal armies of the war; the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Tennessee, and the man I think was perhaps the best Federal tactician of the war, George Thomas, the commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Note that when Sherman cut loose from his communications and set out for the Sea it was Thomas, along with the 4th and 23rd Corps, who was detached to guard his rear and confront and smash Hood and the Army of Tennessee at Nashville.

In Georgia Sherman could afford mistakes and never let them discourage him or stop his drive. It speaks well for Sherman's insight that he broke loose from Hood in the first place to cut loose and march to the Sea and that he appointed his best man and two veteran corps (with the veterans of AJ Smith on the way to help) to handle the rebel army in his rear.

I hold Sherman in very high regard for his resolution, aggression, energy and strategic and logistical skills. But for tactics, not so much. All in all I think he was second only to Grant as a commander in that war. That's including the rebel commanders, even Lee.
 
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nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,829
Ohio, USA
Already voted a while ago but I would easily give it to Pompey.

Lee won a few defensive campaigns and some engagements against foolhardy Union generals that liked to rush head first into battle. Lee had very few strategic plans, as far as I recall his only two planned offensives, Antietam and Gettysburg, both ended in disaster. The Confederate government seemed to disregard Lee's advice as well.

Archduke Charles while having brilliant performances when he was able, never really had the career which he deserved. While it is possible that Archduke Charles could have been as good as Pompey, Charles' career was always being cut short by political conflicts and his own ill health. He also didn't have the authority or leadership abilities that Pompey did. For example in the planning stages for 1809, Charles could have planned much better, he could have organized troops and even advised his brother Kaiser Franz not to go to war. Nope, Charles was completely meek and allowed others to drag him about. By the time the war actually did start, on the Austrian initiative no less, he was already coming up short because of insufficient preparations. Still I feel that Charles could have done a lot more had he been allowed to, or if his health didn't keep him from leading armies so many times. For instance he did nothing between 1812 and 1815 because the defeat in 1809 destroyed his reputation. But he was also unable to do much in 1799 and 1800 due to his ill health, and in 1805 his entire army was cornered in Styria, while the main French army pushed onto Vienna and Moravia.

In a way these three men all had issues with someone else trying to pull rank on them, or being woefully unprepared to deal with their great undertaking.
Yeah, I don't think Charles was really any less than Pompey in terms of raw talent but I don't think he was afforded the opportunities to let it shine the same way Pompey did. In terms of leadership ability, I would actually say Pompey in 49-48 BCE and Charles in 1809 were very similar in how they got dragged about by other political personages and in not really knowing how to react to the speed of the warfare in which they were facing in Caesar and Napoleon. I really don't think Pompey's preparations against Caesar were any better.

My reasoning for rating Pompey higher is in achieving more overall success and sometimes against even better opponents. Jourdan was certainly no Sertorius, and neither was Moreau even. Sertorius was probably more like Massena in terms of ability, and Charles performed rather poorly against him in 1805.

As an aside, I seem to recall Chandler saying Charles was in northern Hungary with 80,000 men at around the time Austerlitz was fought. Very unlikely he and his slow marching Austrian army could have reached Austerlitz in time in any case. However, things could have been different if the coalition had waited some time and not given Napoleon his encounter when and where he wanted it.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,684
As an aside, I seem to recall Chandler saying Charles was in northern Hungary with 80,000 men at around the time Austerlitz was fought. Very unlikely he and his slow marching Austrian army could have reached Austerlitz in time in any case. However, things could have been different if the coalition had waited some time and not given Napoleon his encounter when and where he wanted it.
there was what 30,000 Russians about 2 weeks away, Prussia was at least threatening if the Coaliition leadershp could have hanged tough for a few weeks , the shape of the campaign was turning against Napoleon, they did not need a major battle, Napoloen did. My undrstanding is they have exhursted the suppplies around Olmitz and just did not want to retreat some more. Handed Napoleon his chance which he did not misss.
 
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Feb 2019
949
Serbia
As an aside, I seem to recall Chandler saying Charles was in northern Hungary with 80,000 men at around the time Austerlitz was fought. Very unlikely he and his slow marching Austrian army could have reached Austerlitz in time in any case. However, things could have been different if the coalition had waited some time and not given Napoleon his encounter when and where he wanted it.
Charles was in Hungary at the time but I think he wasn't needed anyhow. Another force of Russian reinforcements was close by and the strategic situation was turning against Napoleon in Moravia. The Coalition had the numerical advantage (How much? Estimates vary wildly...) which would only continue to grow had they waited. Weyrother's plan of attack was somewhat logical and probably could've worked if the Coalition didn't put so much weight into attacking Napoleon's flank, which wasn't expected to hold considering the Coalition's numerical advantage, however they were evidently mistaken in this assumption.

The Third Coalition is filled with what-ifs and the more I read about it the more I realise just how many things could've gone wrong for Napoleon: If Prussia joined the Coalition after Napoleon marched through Ansbach? If Mack walked out of the encirclement at Ulm? If the secondary attacks in Swedish Pomerania and Naples were pushed through sooner and with more aggression? If the Coalition just waited a bit longer before Austerlitz and didn't come off the Pratzen like they did?
 
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Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,635
Ontario, Canada
Not much else to add. I think Charles withdrew into Hungary, but nearer to that area of Graz. I don't think he was near Moravia. Also consider that if Charles moved into Moravia then all of Napoleon's other corps that were in Austria, would do so as well. Also withdrawing back into Germany and continuing the war there, wouldn't necessarily be end game for the French. If anything it would be similar to the First and Second Coalitions, the French still had an organizational advantage and could probably mobilize way more troops than just the 250,000. Worst case scenario it turns into a hold on all fronts like in the Seven Years War.

For all three the common theme is the lack of a winning strategy. Their positions were practically impossible. Lee had no chance in hell to win, at best he could try a bleed them dry attrition strategy and scare the Union into giving up. Charles had no real way to win in 1809 and his best bet was to play it out and win through sheer performance in the field. Aside from the early start he had no real advantage. Even home advantage and defense attrition wouldn't work because Austria had no inherent defensive advantages via the German approach. Withdrawing into Hungary was really a non-option either, since that would end up with his own army falling apart. So the only chance Charles had was to attack into Germany as quickly as possible or attempt to hold the border area to prevent the French from invading Austria.

I voted for Pompey simply because I think that his accomplishments were greater. But what was his strategy in 49 BC? Well pretty much to withdraw into the Balkans and build up with the end result of invading Italy. Also depending on legions in Hispania and Africa. Using also naval superiority to blockade Italy and cripple Caesar economically by denying Egyptian and African grain. The interesting thing is that this strategy didn't work for Pompey, and didn't work for Marcus Antonius 19 years later. It pretty much only worked for Vespasian a hundred years later. We could debate as to why this is, but part of it was the chaos of the Four Emperors and possibly also that the East was more developed by then. In terms of infrastructure, grain production, revenues, and availability of manpower, it is possible that Vespasian had advantages which Antony and Pompey did not.

With regards to Archduke Charles personality; Charles never stood up to other military men which planned these strategies and operations to any decisive results. He also could have gone directly to his brother if he really had to, he didn't. He allowed other soldiers at court to dominate the planning and preparations of what should have been his campaign. Charles was completely impotent when it came to disagreeing and opposing their plans, and that is on him.
 
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Oct 2019
27
Near the dogbowl
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.
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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Thomas
Sherman
Rosecrans
Grant
 
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