Karl Mack: The Worst General of the Napoleonic Wars?

Feb 2019
1,023
Serbia
I'm interested in what people think of him. Is it safe to say that he was the worst general of the period? From my understanding he didn't do anything significant. He had a reputation as an excellent staff officer and the patronage of Von Lacy before the French Revolution but when he actually fought the French he lost pretty much always. He was defeated and captured in Naples, spending several years in semi-retirement in Bohemia. Before the Third Coalition he was made Chief of Staff of the Austrian army and initiated ''reforms'' which did more harm than good in my eyes. He lost an entire army in the Ulm Campaign when he could've easily withdrawn and avoided the disaster.

Is there some silver lining to Mack's career? Is there any redeeming quality? What do people think of his career.
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,531
Japan
Mack was not brilliant. Maybe not even average but Worst? No.

Murat was a pompous moron.
Whitelocke was a coward.
Slade was a blockhead.
Loison was competent but a cruel brute.
William Erskine was as mad as a box of Frogs.
Cuesta was stubborn, xenophobic and out of date.
Massenbach was also an idiot in the wrong job.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,760
Well it's diffcault the only campaign we got a lot of information is 1805.

Mack did rise fromthebootm intehAustrian Army which indicates some ability.

"In 1793 he was made quartermaster-general (chief of staff) to Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg, commanding in the Netherlands; and he enhanced his reputation by the ensuing campaign. The young Archduke Charles, who won his own first laurels in the action of the 1st of March 1793, wrote after the battle, “Above all we have to thank Colonel Mack for these successes.” Mack distinguished himself again on the field of Neerwind"

He was unable to get the Neapolitan to perform, but was a pretty hard ask.

In 1805 he got the Job on being an euthasiatic yes man, he rogh rode over oppsoition and basicl grabbed command from a junoir position withthe EMperor's backing. He was making promises and creating powerful enimies. Then as the campaign started to fall apart and teh strategic assumptions beind the campaign were shown to be verry very wrong, Mack basically denied reality and went into a self delusional start rather than face the prospect of admitting he was badly wrong, with no allies, he career would be over. Mack failed to remain objective and make decisions on military situations and allowed his personal ego/situation to dominate rather than being able to function as commander under the pressure. There are some parallels with Napoloen in Moscow.

He brought defeat down on his nation, 1805 cmpaign was goingto be hard ork for the Austrians f=after Ulm. Though at least with the surrender at Ulm there was not a really hefty direct ocost in his men lives.

One of the command performance in the Napoleonic wars. But not even close to as bad as Napoleon in 1812. Both were failures in objectiuvity at their core,
 
May 2018
928
Michigan
How are we quantifying "Worst?" In terms of someone who commanded an army during the period, and was bad at their job? Or a general who was directly responsible for massive strategic failures or devastating tactical defeats for their side?

If its the former, I'd probably guess one of the worst Portuguese or Spanish generals, maybe Cuesta. If its the latter, its Napoleon Bonaparte for the French, Lord Chattam for Walcharen for the British, Tsar Alexander at Austerlitz, and Frederick William III for blundering Prussia into war with France after Austerlitz without checking with allies.

But just reading his Wikipedia page, it is clear that Karl Mack had little imagination or energy, and didn't even command the respect of his subordinates. It is impossible for a general to succeed without this basic qualification: your people respect and obey you.
 

nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,843
Ohio, USA
Cuesta's conduct at Medina del Rio Seco was almost criminal, but in the more macro sense, I think his failures can be excused more than Mack's can due to the material that they worked with. While Mack's Neapolitan venture was pretty much hopeless (though perhaps could have been helped by stronger leadership), poor material doesn't explain his failure in 1805. Even in that year the Austrians were still much better able to combat the French than the Spanish regular forces were most of the time. While Cuesta's conduct at Medellin was still very questionable (such as somehow needing to fight the French like that there in the first place), his defeat can be put down just as much if not more to the quality of his army relative to that of the French. Mack in 1805 has no such justification; that was just a blind fool's paradise (as Chandler so delicately put it) on his part. He had much better options and plenty of time to think about all of them, and yet he chose the worst one.

I really can't think of anyone worse off the top of my head. Maybe a couple of the Prussian commanders in 1806. One overlooked inept commander from the later coalition wars, particularly in 1814, was the Russian Zakhar Olsufiev, who was almost as responsible as anyone else for the debacle of the Six Days for his failure to burn the bridge at Champaubert, as well as for deliberately trying to make a stand there in the first place, in no position remotely defensible. Previously, he had also almost been responsible for a near disaster at Brienne, where he let their lines be breached and Blucher/Gneisenau almost captured.

The Austrian lower level general Jellacic was also about as hapless as can be in 1809. It was pretty much a miracle that he was never destroyed so completely as to be killed or captured at some point. If nothing else, the guy sure always managed to get away and without any appearances of cowardice.
 
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nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,843
Ohio, USA
Just how is it Alexander's fault. It was Francis who would not retreat again, Austrian planners and Kutuzov commanding. Exactly how did Alexander bear responsibility for Austerlitz?
I typically defend Alexander, but I thought it was both of them who wanted to fight, especially considering that the Russians had just achieved a success against a small French force and that Alexander was under advisement from some very cocky friends of his. He had 70,000 men of the 85,000-man force, so it isn't like the Austrians could have overruled him if he had wished otherwise. Plus, he approved of the misguided Austrian plan.
 

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,812
Spain
I agree with Edric.... Spanish had a lot of bad generals... Cuesta, Blake (bad luck guy), Palafox (a real hero as he proved in Saragossa... but to be a hero doesn´t mean to be a good general)... So I agree Edric.... Mack was a very bad general... but "worst"... I don´t think so.
 
May 2018
928
Michigan
Just how is it Alexander's fault. It was Francis who would not retreat again, Austrian planners and Kutuzov commanding. Exactly how did Alexander bear responsibility for Austerlitz?
Under the Yamashita Standard of "Command Responsibility", as the Tsar, he was responsible for pretty much anything the Russian military did...jk.

I'd like to hear your take on Alexander's level of responsibility for Austerlitz.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,760
Under the Yamashita Standard of "Command Responsibility", as the Tsar, he was responsible for pretty much anything the Russian military did...jk.

I'd like to hear your take on Alexander's level of responsibility for Austerlitz.
30% Alexander 30% Kutuzov 30% Austrian Staff 10% others.

Alexander was not in Command Kutuzov was. Kutuzov put covering his own perosnal arse well head of frank and fearless advice about what was best for the Russian Army. Alexander style was noty direct orders but hints and unspokan pressure, he would not have issued orders commands or spoken unequivocally but would have pressured indirectly for his prefered outcome. Kutuzov would have ilikewiose been indirect and avoiding sayng anything outright. Both liked to leave the actual responsibility for the final call wiith the other guy. The Austrian staff came up with the actual plan.