Open Debate How shall we judge generalship ?

Pima

Private
Joined
Dec 3, 2018
Location
Italy, Piedmont
(1) First of all what made a good general on the battlefield? It is easy to make lists of abstract virtues, although they tell us little:

"He must be resourceful, active, careful, hardy and quick-witted; he must be gentle and brutal; at once straightforward and designing, capable of both caution and surprise, lavish and rapacious, generous and mean, skilful in defence and attack; there are many other qualifications, some natural, some acquired, which are necessary to one who would succeed as a general. It is well to understand tactics too…Xen.

Mem. 3.1.6-7

This long and abstract list of virtues avoids the real problem, which is not finding a general who is rash and unadventurous, kindly and cruel and so on, but finding one who knows when each quality is appropriate.Thus an attack which, when successful, is described as ‘bold and daring’ is condemned as ‘rash and fool-hardy’ in the event of failure; while a protracted defence is likely to earn applause as ‘dogged determination’ or be criticized as ‘obstinate folly’ according to the result. In other words, there are no magic keys to successful generalship.

The most that we can say seems to be that good generals made few serious mistakes on the battlefield and ruthlessly exploited the mistakes of their opponents"

(2) The problem here is: how do we count them while we are trying to determine a General's generalship ? By the gravity of the error ? We do like, two grave errors = one good action ? The first big example that comes in mind is Stonewall Jackson: his poor performance in the 7 Days Battle (in which he failed to appear) and his vital flanking attack at Chancellorsville, his "epic" experience in the Shandean valley. The Shandean Valley in my opinion is the most ambiguous. First of all did he fight against "lesser generals" ? This term is quite ambiguos in his own right becouse in this would "tarnish" his actions. But of course we can't forget Lee final attack at Gettysburg. Was he desperate ? Whas he hill ? But I can bring on also the Union Commanders, like Grant. Was he a butcher or was he not ?

I would prefer a discussion about Generalship in general, possibly not a debate to determine which side had the better generals ?

[From: Mutina 43 BC Mark Antony's struggle for survival by Nic Fields and Osprey Publishing]

Another big theme in my humble opinion is: (3) who shall judge such Generalship ?
Shall an Historian judge the generalship of a commander, past or modern, without having some sort of military education ?
I personally would never "dare" to give such a judgment in an historical essay. I may get a very good Historical training in my university but no military knowledge. I would probably fall in the same mistake the author is pointing out: "Thus an attack which, when successful, is described as ‘bold and daring’ is condemned as ‘rash and fool-hardy’ in the event of failure; while a protracted defence is likely to earn applause as ‘dogged determination’ or be criticized as ‘obstinate folly’ according to the result".
 

damYankee

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
All Union generals were drunks and terrible at anything, couldn't ride horses, read maps, train soldiers. In fact most were illiterate ,
Southern generals on the other hand were actual Greek Gods, they even had wings on their feet and everything!
They were born on horseback! They were the best of the best! Never lost a battle, never touched a bottle, all were sober as a nun!
They loved all people especially people of color!
 

Llewellyn

Corporal
Joined
Feb 17, 2020
Location
Britain
Napoleon said he wanted lucky generals.

Ike said the same thing 130 years later.

But then again, von Möltke (Elder) said, “Good luck, in the long run, is given mainly to the efficient.“
 
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