Has any country in the world ever assembled a more talented military high command than the French did in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars?

Feb 2018
170
US
#22
Alexander's generals are the traditional answer here. Liddell Hart assessed them as being in a different class than Napoleon's Marshals. Alexander possessed such an abundance of talent that he could afford to execute Parmenion and Philotas, lost Coenus, and still had great leadership whether in battle or on independent command. His second in command Craterus was beaten by his secretary Eumenes, and Ptolemy and Seleucus both impressed once given the chance. Almost any army in history would be grateful to have just two commanders at the level of Eumenes and Antigonus, and there were so many more who were gifted beyond the tactical level.

The Mongols are extreme outliers, as they went from world conquerors to failing everywhere once their group of elite generals died or retired. Bayan, Uriyangkhadai, Aju, Chormaqan, Jebe, and Muqali all conquered powerful nations or difficult regions in record time, and yet will barely go down in history as footnotes because there were simply so many world-beaters within a 70 year period that they get all lumped together. That's not even counting the famous Subutai, Bo'orchu, the Chinese leaders like Shi Tianze, Guo Dehai, or the one-campaign wonders in Samuqa, Jalayir, and Dorbei Doqshin.

Though we don't have detailed campaign records, the Qin generals assembled under Qin Shi Huang and his great grandfather clearly achieved extraordinary results in a ridiculously competitive era: Bai Qi, Wang Jian, Meng Tian, etc. They basically did what Napoleon performed in Europe, except they didn't stop winning, and even took on the Xiongnu and Yue after unifying China.

For Napoleon, Desaix was very skilled as well but died tragically at 32. In addition to strategic incompetency, Napoleon never was able to override his marshal's petty loyalties and get them focused solely on completing the mission, which caused no shortage of grief whenever he personally wasn't around. Any redeeming quality of Bernadotte's was negated by his dereliction of duty at Auerstadt but its not like he was the only one to prioritize his feelings over the mission when Napoleon wasn't there. Bessieres also committed treason against Massena at Fuentes de Onoro and turned a won battle into a lost one.
 
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Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,530
Australia
#24
Which war are you talking about ? 1st coalition ? 2nd ? Thrird? Fourth ?
Taking Moscow would not have been possible with incompetent generals... And until Waterloo I tend to think that the most famous are well beyond average. Even Soult, who failed against Wellington, can hardly be considered as an incompetent general. So to speak about Ney, Davout, Lannes, Desaix as bad generals because Napoleon refuse to make peace after the russian retreat...
I tend to think that more than their talent, it's often their personality that helped make them famous... this, and of course the fact that they take part in one of the biggest military epopee of all time. Just think about Murat and such young and flamboyant generals...
They were capable enough soldiers, however the big picture was not their strong point. Taking Moscow for example....won the battle, lost the campaign and most of the army.
 
Jul 2018
427
Hong Kong
#27
Marshal Soult was “incompetent”?Serious ? Check out the Battle of Ocana (1809) and the Battle of Albuera (1811), as well as his decent performance in Austerlitz (1805) and the Pyrennes Campaign (1814) against Wellington in detail.

If Soult deserve to be called “incompetent”, then more than half of Napoleon’s marshals could be regarded of that. In fact, his biggest shortcoming was staff work and lack of bravery in some extent, his tactical skills and planning were top-classed. Even Napoleon praised him “the finest tactician in Europe”.
 

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,884
UK
#28
Marshal Soult was “incompetent”?Serious ? Check out the Battle of Ocana (1809) and the Battle of Albuera (1811), as well as his decent performance in Austerlitz (1805) and the Pyrennes Campaign (1814) against Wellington in detail.

If Soult deserve to be called “incompetent”, then more than half of Napoleon’s marshals could be regarded of that. In fact, his biggest shortcoming was staff work and lack of bravery in some extent, his tactical skills and planning were top-classed. Even Napoleon praised him “the finest tactician in Europe”.
Soult was average. Nothing more nothiing less imo.

He wasn't the worst, but he was far from the best of Napoleons Marshals.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,074
#30
Soult I would have at good.

Murat would be the only outright incompetent in Napoleon''s Marshalls. Murat was not fit to command a regiment.

Ney promoted way above his competence, good division commander very poor at managing larger forces and battles. many Similar commanders during this period.,

Bernadotte I'm coming around to the view that he's been maligned by Napoleon's historiography. I 've read a couple of pretty convincng defeinces of Bernadotte at Auerstadt.

A lot of the friction between Marshalls is Napoleon;s fault. He deliberatily had a possible of setting them against each other, encouraging squabbling, and not ever defining a proper line of command.

Each step on, Division, Corps, Army brings different attributes into play.
A excellent Division commander like Ney was just lost in larger environment.

Makes it harder to make definite calls on Commanders like Lannes, , Desaix as excellant division commanders don't alwaysd (in fact most don't) translate to good corps or army commander

Wittgenstein was a reasonably good independent corps commander , poor army commander.
 
Likes: macon

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