The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Armed conflicts in the history of humanity from the ancient times to the 20th Century.
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Karl Heidenreich
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The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Postby Karl Heidenreich » Sun May 15, 2011 10:56 pm

This could be an interesting exercise. Which are the best and worst US military commanders? Maybe those definitions are bit relative which is why anyone can have their own criteria. And military in every dimension: air, sea, land.

As for me:

The Best:

1. George Washington
2. Chester Nimitz
3. George Patton Jr.
4. Stonewall Jackson
5. James Longstreet
6. Winfield Scott Hanckock
7. Winfield Scott
8. Curtis Le May
9. Robert E. Lee
10. Douglas McArthur

As for American we could include both: Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse also.

The Worst:

1. Ambrose E. Burnside
2. Joseph Hooker
3. Jubal Early
4. George Armstrong Custer
5. Lloyd Frendehall
6. Colin Powel
7. William Halsey
8. JEB Stuart
9. William Westmoreland
10. Wesley Clark
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
Sir Winston Churchill

Byron Angel
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Re: The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Postby Byron Angel » Mon May 16, 2011 12:03 am

No list of best US military commanders can be complete without Ulysses S Grant appearing on it. His operations during the Vicksburg campaign with ntohing short of masterful. And it was he who was responsible for bringing the Army of Northern Virginia to its knees and delivering final victory to the Union by understanding two key facts - (a) it was unlikely that any general was going to decisively defeat Lee in any set-piece battle; (b) that the key to victory therefore lay in destroying the Army of Northern Virginia through attrtition. Hency Grant's introduction of the unceasing 12 month per year campaign in the East which forced the ANV to remain permanently in the field and denied it any opportunity to catch its breath and his master stroke of unleashing Sherman (another general who probably deserves to be on the list of greatest generals) and Sheridan to lay waste to the South's economic base AND sever the rail lines which carried the essential supplies and support to the ANV in the Virginia theater of operations.

No list of worst US (battlefield) commanders is complete without George B McClellan. His inept mismanagement of the Peninsular Campaign and his pathetically indecisive, tentative and dilatory command conduct at Antietam was simply beyond belief.

B

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Karl Heidenreich
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Re: The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Postby Karl Heidenreich » Mon May 16, 2011 12:30 am

Byron

No list of best US military commanders can be complete without Ulysses S Grant appearing on it. His operations during the Vicksburg campaign with ntohing short of masterful. And it was he who was responsible for bringing the Army of Northern Virginia to its knees and delivering final victory to the Union by understanding two key facts - (a) it was unlikely that any general was going to decisively defeat Lee in any set-piece battle; (b) that the key to victory therefore lay in destroying the Army of Northern Virginia through attrtition. Hency Grant's introduction of the unceasing 12 month per year campaign in the East which forced the ANV to remain permanently in the field and denied it any opportunity to catch its breath and his master stroke of unleashing Sherman (another general who probably deserves to be on the list of greatest generals) and Sheridan to lay waste to the South's economic base AND sever the rail lines which carried the essential supplies and support to the ANV in the Virginia theater of operations.

No list of worst US (battlefield) commanders is complete without George B McClellan. His inept mismanagement of the Peninsular Campaign and his pathetically indecisive, tentative and dilatory command conduct at Antietam was simply beyond belief.

B


I considered Grant on the Best list but for two things I didn't: his numerous casualties and the conduct of the Indian Wars. However you are correct that his Civil War management was masterful and he should be included.

On Maclellan he at least got his Army intact, something Burnside and Hooker almost got destroyed. I have read a lot bad ratings on Maclellan though and someone even rate him with the worst commanders in History, which of course is incorrect: Admiral Villaneuve got that title already.
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
Sir Winston Churchill

Bgile
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Re: The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Postby Bgile » Mon May 16, 2011 8:35 am

The Civil War is really in a categoy all it's own. Among the best I would include J.E.B. Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Stonewall Jackson, William Sherman, and John Reynolds. Honorable mention to Phillip Sheridan, Joshua Chamberlain and George Armstrong Custer.

As far as I know LeMay never led troops in the field, so I wouldn't include him. He tried to start a nuclear war and is featured in the satire "Dr. Strangelove", which don't exactly endear me to him. Colin Powell didn't really distinguish himself one way or the other so I don't know why you consider him to be among the worst, and the same goes for Clark. I might add David Petraeus to the "best" list, or an honorable mention.

MacArthur is a special case, and controversial. He made an absolute mess of the defense of the Philippines and then ran off leaving a subordinate to take the surrender and become a POW. He was relieved of the Korean command for insubordination to his Commander in Chief. He distinguished himself in the administration of Japan and the Korean campaign. He is the only general in history who might have had a larger ego than Montgomery.

I wouldn't call Halsey one of the worst. He got sucked in by the Japanese in one operation, but he erred in being too aggressive, which is something I'd not hold against him compared to someone not willing to take risks, like MacClellan.

For Indians I don't disagree, but might also include Chief Joseph and Tecumseh, but those are just ones we know about. Their history goes back a lot further than ours.

Edit: I left out USMC LTG Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller.

Byron Angel
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Re: The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Postby Byron Angel » Mon May 16, 2011 2:47 pm

Karl Heidenreich wrote: I considered Grant on the Best list but for two things I didn't: his numerous casualties and the conduct of the Indian Wars. However you are correct that his Civil War management was masterful and he should be included.

On Maclellan he at least got his Army intact, something Burnside and Hooker almost got destroyed. I have read a lot bad ratings on Maclellan though and someone even rate him with the worst commanders in History, which of course is incorrect: Admiral Villaneuve got that title already.


..... I do agree that Grant's army did suffer relatively high casualties in the East, but (IMO) that was largely due to the nature of the 1864 campaign. The Wilderness region of Virginia where Lee chose to fight was aptly named and conferred great advantages to the defender. Once through that, Grant then faced a succession of strong defensive works developed by Lee to protect the obvious objectives of Richmond and Petersburg. Grant himself was horrified by the casualties suffered at Cold Harbor and did his best to avoid any further such frontal attacks. His Overland Campaign thereafter was marked by a succession of attempts to outflank and stretch the Confederate position by marches. Another factor, in a war in which losses to disease exceeded those incurred on the battlefield, was Grant's decision to fight on through the winter of 1864/1865. The Union army did pay a price. The trade-off, however, was that Lee too was forced to remain in the field, with infinitely fewer resources to sustain his men. By April 1865, the ANV had withered to an exhausted shell of about 25,000 men desperately short of food, supplies, and transportation.

Of McClellan, it must in fairness be said that he was a superb organizer and trainer. It was he who truly forged the Army of the Potomac into the efficient fighting force wielded by his successors on the battlefield.

B

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Re: The "best" and "worst" US military commanders

Postby lwd » Mon May 16, 2011 4:38 pm

Karl Heidenreich wrote:This could be an interesting exercise. Which are the best and worst US military commanders? Maybe those definitions are bit relative which is why anyone can have their own criteria. And military in every dimension: air, sea, land.

It would help though I think if one mentions the criteria they choose to use. I'm not big on "best" or "worst" lists as is probably quite apparent by now. I will make some comments on these though. \
The Best:
1. George Washington

Washington was a very inspirational leader who did performed some remarkable feets in preserving the Continental Army. When he saw an opertunity he was also willing to commit. I'm not sure I've seen much to indicate he was great as either a defenceive or offenseive tactician.
2. Chester Nimitz

Nimitz did a good job at the strategic level. Again we don't have much to judge him on on the tactical level.
3. George Patton Jr.

Pretty much the opposite of Nimitz a superb tactician but it's not clear how good he would be at the strategic level.
4. Stonewall Jackson
5. James Longstreet

Pretty much in the same catagory as Patton in my book.
8. Curtis Le May

He did a very workman like job but I'm uncertain of why he would deserve a best.
9. Robert E. Lee

Defintily deserves to be in the top 10.
10. Douglas McArthur

Mac was rather flawed. He showed instances of brilliance but also reacted very poorly to surprises. He should really have done better in the Philipines early in the war and at the start of the Korean war.
As for American we could include both: Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse also.

The Amerindians probably deserve a whole thread to themselves. The resources they had available and the constraintes they operated under were so different from the US or CS military that it's hard to compare them.

Not mentioned but commanders I've been impressed with that weren't mentioned. Greene (winning a campaign without winning a battle), Morgan, Light Horse Harry Lee for the Revolution. Sam Houstan, "Chesty" Puller, Pershing ( This page makes a case for March as well: http://www.historynet.com/peyton-c-marc ... -war-i.htm), Abrams, Bradly, Sprague, Fletcher, Clifton Cates, Harry Schmidt, and Vandegrift. I'll stop there as more recent ones might get us into the political arena.

I am a bit curious just how you came up with this list.
The Worst:
1. Ambrose E. Burnside
2. Joseph Hooker
3. Jubal Early
4. George Armstrong Custer

He was considered to be one of the best cavalry commanders of the ACW. He only screwed up once as opposed to Mac who did at least twice.
5. Lloyd Frendehall
6. Colin Powel

? Can't see any reason to list him here.
7. William Halsey
8. JEB Stuart

Both made one glaring mistake but surved very well otherwise.
9. William Westmoreland
10. Wesley Clark

Not sure how you could leave St Clair off the worst list either. He managed to loose 1/4 of the entire US Army in a single battle. See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Clair%27s_Defeat
Which list does Benedict Arnold go on?


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