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    Default Who are the great generals?

    I recently read with interest the article 'A Failure in Generalship' posted on this website. It expresses the beleif that there is a crisis in the upper levels of the military leadership. It rasies the question who are the great generals, why were they great and why are we not producing their equivalents today?

    I would be interested to hear from the wider forum and not just about the most well known but others like the Duke of Marlborough or Alfred the Great who may not be so well know outside Europe.

    Comments?

    JD

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    The "failure in Generalship" is in my opinion related to the process of high level leadership selection, better referred to as "careerism".
    In todays' militaries, if you make a mistake, you get a bad evaluation and that spoils your career. So, to become a four-star general, you really are supposed to make no mistake for let's say at least 30 years of service. Which then means, just those who are not innovative and don't dare to do new things (and make mistakes) get into the highest ranks.
    That's why one sees so many "bloodless" types of generals there.

    Maybe one of the latest -rare- exceptions was USMC General Tony Zinni.

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    What are the qualities and attributes of a great general? I'm going to assume (dangerous, I know) that a great general needs to be a great strategist, correct?

    If that's so, then America has produced many truly brilliant tacticians that were probably never general officer material. Not at all bad officers, just not general officer material. People like Robert Rogers and Nathan Bedford Forrest - in spite of their tactical ability - didn't seem to think on the strategic level.

    Am I wrong there?
    Last edited by Rifleman; 05-03-2007 at 09:08 PM.

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    Default Socety and the Military Leadership

    For what its worth, I think John Monash and Rommel were the great generals of the 20th century but Alexander of Macedon was perhaps the greatest of all time. He proved his tactical genius over and over but it was his ability to create and hold an Empire by adopting and using local customs and institutions that marked him as great. Toward the end of his life the majority of his army was not Greek but Asian and after his death, his Asian conquests remained loyal while the Greek regions rebelled. He must have been a remarkable leader to have instilled such loyalty and formed such diverse regions of sworn enemies into an Empire.

    A fundamental issue with western society is that we do not accept error. The Nike founder recently said that the problem with America is not that too many errors are made, but not enough. There is a saying in motor racing that if you aren't crashing once in a while, you're not really trying but society somehow expects senior military leaders to control something as chaotic as war and never make a mistake. Not only that, but they are unfarily held responsible for the actions of personnel over which they have little if any direct influence. Is it any wonder that in such an environment, senior leadership is unwilling to take bold decsions or devolve decsion making to lower levels?

    Alexander would not have thrived in such an environment. He attacked a Persian Army at least seven times bigger than his own on a field of their choosing. He took up the customs of his Asian subjects. He defeated enemies in battles and then immediately reinstated them as vassal kings. But, unforgivably, he made mistakes. His army mutinied twice and he nearly destroyed his army in the deserts through his own mistakes in judgment and inadequate logistical planning. Can you imagine such a man keeping his job as a General today? And that's before discussing his relationship with Hephaistion!

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    Actually I would say Alexander was primarily a tactician. To call him a strategist would be to misunderstand his character. He was not like the conventional picture of a strategist, manipulating military circumstance on a large scale to the advantage of his polity. He was a glory-hound, more like a viking going on a raid but on a gigantic scale. If he had been fighting for the interests of the Macedonian Empire then Carthage would have been his target after Persia, not India.

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    Some of my favorites:

    Chesty Puller
    George S. Patton
    Omar Bradley
    Erwin Rommel
    Winfield Scott
    Heinz Guederian
    Oswald Lutz
    Example is better than precept.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JD View Post
    I recently read with interest the article 'A Failure in Generalship' posted on this website. It expresses the beleif that there is a crisis in the upper levels of the military leadership. It rasies the question who are the great generals, why were they great and why are we not producing their equivalents today?

    I would be interested to hear from the wider forum and not just about the most well known but others like the Duke of Marlborough or Alfred the Great who may not be so well know outside Europe.

    Comments?

    JD
    1. The Great Generals:

    First Tier: Tiglath-Pileser III, Cyrus the Great, Qin Shi Huangdi, Sala' al-Din, Ghenghis Khan, Subutai, Tamerlane, Wellington, von Moltke, Slim.

    - Second Tier: Hattusili, Darius the Great, Alexander the Great, Scipio Africanus, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Arminius, Diocletian, Belisarius, Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Basil II, Henry V, Mehmet II, Ivan the Terrible, Gustavus Adolphus, Marlborough, Napoleon, Davout, Sherman, Kirby-Smith, von Manstein, Kesselring, Liu Bocheng, Templar, Dayan.

    -Third Tier: Sargon the Great, Thothmoses III, Hannibal, Attila, Kutusov, Toussant L'Ouverture, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Grant, Nathan Bedford Forest, Byng, Monash, Currie, Wavell, Freyberg, any number of WWII German generals, Patton, Ridgeway, Giap, Sharon.

    - The Great Enablers: Sunzi, Marius, Emperor Maurice, Berthier, Clausewitz, von Schlieffen, von Seekt, Tuckachevsky, Guderian, Marshall, Morgan, Eisenhower, Zhu De, DePuy.

    This is somewhat subjective, but the first tier is composed of generals who were more or less undefeated and achieved victories with long-term historic consequences, and often with a relative paucity of resources compared to their opponents. The second tier is composed of those who also achieved great victories with long-term historic consequences, or achieved stunning successes in the face of overwhelming odds; in either case, either they achieved their victories only to lose in the end, or those successes either did not long outlast them or were confined in their consequences (at least so far). The third tier is composed of those who achieved great battlefield victories, but with only very temporary or local historical consequences, or not enough time has elapsed for those consequences to be made fully felt.

    Finally, the Great Enablers is a list of those who may have performed little or nothing in the way of battlefield command in the great victories for which they worked, but without whose organizational skills or strategic grasp, victory would have been much less likely.

    I think that a few things stand out about the great generals:

    1. Most of them are fine long-term thinkers and planners (who spend a great deal of time in detailed study, contemplation (even meditation might be a better word here), and testing and planning), yet they conversely are able to make clear and instaneous judgements and decisions on the spot (improvisional genius), which on the surface at least, would appear to be contrdictory traits, but in the great generals, they are completely complementary;

    2. They tend to be either self-contained, even loners on the one hand, or brooding, even unstable personalities on the other, or both, and they usually experinced great or exceptional adversity in their lives, especially before achieving greatness. Sargon the Great was a foundling abandoned in a floating basket on a river, and rescued by an old peasant who raised him as his own. Diolcetian went from Illyrian peasant to Roman Emperor (and restored it with his own generalship after it collapsed in 284 AD). Wellington, unlike Diocletian, was born into aristocracy, but like Diocletian, he had to learn to build and army almost from scratch himself, and then beat all comers, regardless of the odds against him. Grant and Sherman are classic examples of personal hardship before greatness. Sherman, in addition, was a classic dual personality, and so probably was Aleander the Great. Alexander the Great may have been born to greatness, but his life was no picnic - a lot of suffering and anguish; Ivan the Terrible could have related perfectly to him. A Marshall and a Patton are not so different as they might appear on the surface - they probably understood each other very well, in a way that other, more stable persons might not have. Some, like Marius and DePuy, were men on a mission, to reform broken Armies, and to re-invigorate and to excell at the profession of arms, and forging anew implements of "Imperial" power.

    3. Hand-in-glove with 2., perseverance in adversity and the indomitable will-to-win.

    Why Aren't We Producing Great Generals Today?

    1. Our culture: We don't want them, so we in one way or other divert those would-be great generals from the profession of arms early in life and prejudice their minds against it. We live in a selfish culture that is about Me, Myselk, and I.

    2. The service culture, in large degree doesn't want them, because that culture is about careers first, and the rest second. Incidently, the least selfish of the great generals tend to be the most successful, while the most egotistical of them tend to be the ones who meet the most tragic ends, even if they won in the end (and most didn't).

    3. Those would-be great generals who do enter the profession of arms are often driven out by the careerists, as many of them realize that the service culture, the higher you go, will not, cannot, change enough to make sufficient room for both careerists and professionals, without the former almost always dominating the latter.

    4. The lack of adversity in our culture, both in our civilization and in the armed forces. The profession of arms is all about facing moral, intellectual and physical stress and challenge and overcoming it. Almost everything about the way we live tries to do away with such challenges, so we are raised to abhor them.

    My best guess.

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    Default The Cavalry Seems to Produce More Than it's Fair Share of Great Generals.

    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    1. The Great Generals:

    First Tier: Tiglath-Pileser III, Cyrus the Great, Qin Shi Huangdi, Sala' al-Din, Ghenghis Khan, Subutai, Tamerlane, Wellington, von Moltke, Slim.

    - Second Tier: Hattusili, Darius the Great, Alexander the Great, Scipio Africanus, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Arminius, Diocletian, Belisarius, Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Basil II, Henry V, Mehmet II, Ivan the Terrible, Gustavus Adolphus, Marlborough, Napoleon, Davout, Sherman, Kirby-Smith, von Manstein, Kesselring, Liu Bocheng, Templar, Dayan.

    -Third Tier: Sargon the Great, Thothmoses III, Hannibal, Attila, Kutusov, Toussant L'Ouverture, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Grant, Nathan Bedford Forest, Byng, Monash, Currie, Wavell, Freyberg, any number of WWII German generals, Patton, Ridgeway, Giap, Sharon.
    Looking back at my list of Great Generals, at least 3 of the 10 First Tier Great Generals were cavalrymen, and arguably Sala'el-Din was a fourth. Of the Second Tier, Belisarius, Charles Martel and Charlemagne, and Mehmet II led armies that were either based upon the cavalry, or cavalry formed at least half or more of their armies; Gustavus Adolphus in fact integrated much of his infantry, cavalry, and artillery units into what we might call "All-Arms" Brigades. Of the Third Tier, Attila, Nathan Bedford Forest, and Patton were cavalrymen; Alexander the Great led a mainly infantry army, but led his own Companion Cavalry into battle.

    It seems to me that the Great Generals who came from the Cavalry likely shared the trait of improvisational genius perhaps more than anything else. They had a feel for the direction of the battle, were able to size up a situation in an instant, and synchronize their forces seemingly while on the fly. The latter was often made possible by careful preparation and planning beforehand, but the great cavalry generals seemed able to quickly and efficiently change their plans or simply make news ones practically on the spot, and then make it happen right away. For an arm whose outstanding characteristic was speed, improvisational genius was essential for Cavalry Generals to stay ahead of events, and failing that, to regain control of the situation and adapt to the change of conditions on the battlefield.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    It seems to me that the Great Generals who came from the Cavalry likely shared the trait of improvisational genius perhaps more than anything else. They had a feel for the direction of the battle, were able to size up a situation in an instant, and synchronize their forces seemingly while on the fly. The latter was often made possible by careful preparation and planning beforehand, but the great cavalry generals seemed able to quickly and efficiently change their plans or simply make news ones practically on the spot, and then make it happen right away. For an arm whose outstanding characteristic was speed, improvisational genius was essential for Cavalry Generals to stay ahead of events, and failing that, to regain control of the situation and adapt to the change of conditions on the battlefield.
    Norfolk--

    While I don't necessarily agree with your rankings (probably because I never heard of many of the names you posted), that last paragraph-- above-- is as cogent a piece of analysis as I have ever read. Beautifully done.

    Best wishes,
    Fred.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fred III View Post
    Norfolk--

    While I don't necessarily agree with your rankings (probably because I never heard of many of the names you posted), that last paragraph-- above-- is as cogent a piece of analysis as I have ever read. Beautifully done.

    Best wishes,
    Fred.
    Thanks Fred. Now you actually walked, talked, and worked with a Great General, DePuy. What, according to your observations, were the outstanding traits of Great Generalship that DePuy himself had?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    Thanks Fred. Now you actually walked, talked, and worked with a Great General, DePuy. What, according to your observations, were the outstanding traits of Great Generalship that DePuy himself had?
    Norfolk--

    DePuy was the most remarkable soldier I ever served with, and that includes George Joulwan, who was my CO when I was a young 1LT with the 1/30, 3rd Inf. Div., in Schweinfurt, Germany. Whatever I am today, I owe to my parents, my school, and George Joulwan, so you can see how high I hold DePuy. (Joulwan, incidentally, was NATO CG and led the forces into Bosnia.) Joulwan was also with me in Vietnam, same division (1st) when we served together under DePuy for the second time.

    As a teacher-- BG CO in Germany-- he was a patient man with young LTs, teaching them his methods, teaching them-- us-- how to be good officers. At the same time, he brooked no excuses and forced you to take responsibility for what you did. If you erred, you always had the opportunity to explain, and either he or his well-taught officers always took the time to show you how to get it right. He was a strict disciplinarian and enforced his ideas and his methods, his formations, his timing, etc. We used the "traveling," the "traveling overwatch," and the "bounding overwatch," techniques until we could taste them, and woe betide he who wouldn't learn! We also used his fire-and-maneuver techniques until they became second nature and even the lowest private was so embued with DePuy's tactics, that they scoffed at anything else. As you can imagine, we were probably the only unit in USAREUR to use this stuff and the morale in the battle group was sky-high because we felt we were something different and because DePuy always emphasized the necessity of saving lives.

    When we went on field exercises, there was a constant emphasis on the use of assets. On a small unit level, it was our introduction to "combined arms." Again, God help the man who moved his men to the "attack" without first exploring the availability and use of mortars, artillery, air, and any other mechanism that would save a single life.

    This translated into the same atmosphere in Vietnam. I was RA, but had bad eyes so I couldn't remain in the infantry. I lucked out after my 2-year obligation to a combat branch, and was transferred in TC, and got an interview job at NATO as a 1LT. You talk about cloud nine... ! When my tour was up, I went to Ft. (Useless) Eustis, school, a battalion S-3 job, company CO, then Vietnam. In Vietnam I took over the truck company in the S&T Battalion (the only one a division has). That's when I ran into Joulwan again, several NCOs I knew in the 1/30 and a couple of the officers from there, as well. It almost seemed DepUy had orchestrated the whole thing: could he have? All his own boys? I don't know, but it certainly seemed that way.

    I wrote a manual for the division on convoy operations when I was there and I ran the first so-called infiltration convoy of the war, from Lai Khe to the old French Michelin rubber plantation at An Loc, a 7-day affair, if memory serves me correctly. And Depuy was his old smoke-bringing self. He was aided by another hell-raiser, his ADC 2-3, Jim Hollingsworth (there's a great blurb about Hollingsworth in Cornelius Ryan's The Last Battle). The main difference was that the teaching-gloves were now off and guys who couldn't cut it or who screwed up real bad were quickly gone. This was no longer CPXs and FTXs. This was "Charlie," the NVA, and dirty pool. DePuy wanted no excuses, no nonsense, none of the "corporate" charts showing casualties and captured rifles, none of that stuff. He wanted results. Operations were brilliantly planned and he used massive air assets, heliborne operations for everything, speed, stealth, surprise, and massive firepower. He had so many attachments I think the division at one time numbered more than 25,000 troops. Again: mortars instead of men. Then send in the troops. I would be given convoy instructions by the DTO. (They only used us as decoys to flush Charlie out; virtually everything was re-supplied by air.) I would always ask who was providing road security. The inevitable answer was, ARVN. My reply was always the same. "Negative, sir." It would then immediately go back to Hollingsworth or DePuy and I got US troops (most of the time George Joulwan; he musta loved that!).

    DePuy was also very big on base-camp perimeter patrols and in the year I was there, our huge camp was not hit once, rather remarkable for 1966-1967. Once in a while I was allowed to attend a division staff meeting during an operation. Maps were used; the charts disappeared. He hated them. And the division was the most professional organization I have ever served in, again, with extremely high morale. The man was indefatiguable, all over the place, and I must say, many careers were ruined by him, Hollingsworth, and the ADC 1-4, Deane (or Dean, I can't remember which any more). And I will say this, with all deference to other units: we were always pulling guys out of hot water: Tropic Lightning, the Old Reliables, a couple of those LIBs. I constantly ran convoys to other divisions, yet no one ever ran them to us.

    I don't ever remember us taking severe casualties and our operations were always kept reasonably quiet despite the ARVN "support." DePuy was an attrition general, but he defined it in a way that was different from what most think: "... we continued to hope that we could inflict such losses on the VC or the NVA that it would be more than they would be able to take. That's the alternative to cutting the trail. That's an attrition war." Many think it's the other way around. He was also the innovator of the "search and destroy" operation and never believed in letting the enemy off the hook. He always had something going on. I think if I had to pick one thing, however, about his tactics, it would be surprise. The enemy that faced the 1st Inf. Div. when Bill DePuy commanded it, was never given a breather, was always looking around him, was always off balance, never knowing where the next battalion was going to land, where the next attack was coming from. DePuy was a master at it.

    Another thing I really liked about him was he was not afraid to admit his mistakes. That's a very rare quality, even in the "duty-honor-country" society of the military.

    So that's it. You will love the C&GS stuff on his papers, especially chapters 24-28. The first ones are good, as well. They're the ones that give you his squad and platoon tactics. Great stuff. I wonder if we use them today. Boy, oh boy! did they make sense. Try moving a platoon that way instead of the old, 1962 Ft. Benning madness.

    Best wishes,
    Fred.

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    Don't cop out just yet, Tom. I'm no monument to justice or reading anything I dispute out of context. I didn't take it from Lord's book. I took from the link I posted. The first quote may have originated from your book but why does it state the governor apparently did not approve the order? Was that in Lord's book as well?
    Enough with the tone. No one is copping out and I certainly don't have to explain myself to you. Yes The governor's dispute is in Lords's book. And the quote did come from the book. I would not have stated so otherwise.

    Like you stated earlier. This will go no where. But please don't talk out loud about the subject while in the Alamo and for God's sake, remember to take your hat off before you go inside.
    Over the top again. I revere the defenders of the Alamo and took my wife there this year. Drop it.

    Tom

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Enough with the tone. No one is copping out and I certainly don't have to explain myself to you. Yes The governor's dispute is in Lords's book. And the quote did come from the book. I would not have stated so otherwise.



    Over the top again. I revere the defenders of the Alamo and took my wife there this year. Drop it.

    Tom
    Excuse me? My tone has been no different than yours. You just like to bug out. All I did was grab you by the tail and pulled you back. Like you stated earlier. This is more about disagreement than anger. I took your advice and used your own company language. It is not my fault you took offense. Lets do this. Lets just ignore each other in the future starting now.
    "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way?"
    "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?"


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    Having just finished Cray's biography of George C. Marshall (and thus now an unimpeachable authority ) I'm surprised to see few mentions of him on this thread.

    I also noticed this about MacArthur, who people were arguing about a page or so ago. While other controversial generals get some positive mentions in other people's biographies (Patton being the one that comes to mind most readily), I have never seen a biography of another WWII-era figure that puts MacArthur in a good light. He was trashed in the Marshall biography, same with McCullogh's "Truman," not especially well regarded in the few Patton biographies I've read (along with Patton himself sometimes), and pretty well lambasted in E.B. Potter's "Nimitz," if memory serves.

    I know the man had his moments of brilliance (Inchon), but his combat record doesn't seem to compare to Patton's, who had some of the similar negative characteristics.

    Thoughts?

    Matt
    "Give a good leader very little and he will succeed. Give a mediocrity a great deal and he will fail." - General George C. Marshall

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    Default Great Captains (Dodge, T.A)

    Ah...the age old debate. I realize the following suggestions will present further consternation, but I can think of no other definitive way to template this very important activity.

    Categories:

    1. Tacticians
    2. Strategists
    3. Masters of the Operational Art

    Periods:

    1. Antiquity
    2. Medieval
    3. Early Modern Era to 1792
    4. Modern to 1919
    5. 20th century
    6. OOTW

    A GOOD READ:

    (Note: "An All-Time Command Team" by Lieutenant Col. George L. Simpson (1937) The Infantry Journal Reader by Col. Joseph I. Greene. Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. 1943)

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    Default Opportunities?

    In response to "It rasies the question who are the great generals, why were they great and why are we not producing their equivalents today?"

    (Apologies for this only being bullet points)

    - We may in fact be producing top quality commanders, yet are there the opportunities to be 'great'.
    - The emphasis upon scholarship today is profound, more so and at lower levels, therefore Napoleon would be happy "Read the campaigns of the Great Captains..." therefore the potential is there
    - The mission(s) are not conducive to grand, sweeping campaigns requiring a dynamic commander (?)
    - The political/administrative limitations on a commander are very restrictive, therefore no one commander (in the field) will every have the opportunity to be a Zhukov or even a Patton.

    Perhaps we consider - in more depth - the qualities necessary to earn the title great?

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    If it is for the want of opportunity, I raise my glass to "No more great generals!!"
    Last edited by Bob's World; 02-12-2010 at 02:59 AM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    If it is for the want of opportunity, I raise my glass to "No more great generals!!"
    It is pretty hard to argue with that. Sadly there will be opportunities, hopefully just not too grand ones, at least in the near future.

    Firn

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    I've been a huge fan of U.S. Grant as the greatest general the U.S. has ever produced in my opinion. Others who actually knew him regarded him highly as well:

    "When hearing Grant referred to as a "Military Accident," with no distinguishing merit, one who had achieved success through a combination of fortunate circumstances, Lee responded by saying, "Sir, your opinion is a very poor compliment to me. We all thought Richmond protected, as it was, by our splendid fortifications and defended by our army of veterans, and could not be taken. Yet Grant turned his face to our capital and never turned it away until we had surrendered. Now, I have carefully searched the military records of both ancient and modern history, and have never found Grant's superior as a general. I doubt his superior can be found in all history." -- General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia


    "I'm a darned sight smarter than Grant; I know a great deal more about war, military histories, strategy and grand tactics than he does; I know more about organization, supply, and administration and about everything else than he does; but I'll tell you where he beats me and where he beats the world. He don't care a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight, but it scares me like hell." -- Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Default My picks

    The greatest (because they also ran their empires/republics as an additional duty):
    Alexander the Great
    Genghis Khan
    Napoleon
    Caesar (the Leonardo of military leaders--general, statesman, engineer, writer and excelled at all of them)

    the best of the rest (chronologically):
    Hannibal (tactically, not strategically)
    Scipio
    Belisarius (another tactical genius)
    Gonsalvo de Cordoba
    Marlborough
    de Saxe
    Davout
    US Grant
    Moltke the Elder
    Manstein
    Slim
    MacArthur (WWI heroics, plus island hopping, plus Inchon)

    Plus 1 squid--Nelson

    2nd Team All-Stars
    Phillip of Macedon (hey he designed the Army that conquered most of the known world, plus Chaeronea)
    Gustavus Adolphus
    Turenne
    Louis II de Conde
    Eugene of Savoy
    Allenby
    Rommel


    Honorable Mention
    Cornelius Sulla
    Alessandro Farnese, Prince of Parma
    Cromwell
    Charles XII of Sweden (tactically)
    R.E Lee
    Patton
    Zhukov

    And having been on the CENTCOM staff at the time, the idea of Zinni being anywhere near this list makes me want to hurl. Generalship is not measured by how smooth you are.

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