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Greatest general ever?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Mouthwash, Feb 14, 2012.

?

Best general?

  1. Genghis

    16 vote(s)
    16.8%
  2. Napoleon

    16 vote(s)
    16.8%
  3. Alexander

    20 vote(s)
    21.1%
  4. Caesar

    7 vote(s)
    7.4%
  5. Frederick

    10 vote(s)
    10.5%
  6. Hannibal

    19 vote(s)
    20.0%
  7. Belisarius

    2 vote(s)
    2.1%
  8. Subutai

    5 vote(s)
    5.3%
  1. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    The last one is Aspern, I think.

    Does it not phase you one bit that French troops were in Moscow? I've already admitted to Napoleon's various failures. You refuse to recognize his influence on military history. There's nothing to discuss here, since you're incapable of admitting what you don't like.
     
  2. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    It certainly appears on the wiki page for the battle, although quite what part of the battle that painting is meant to represent I don't know.

    On the main discussion recently in the thread I have to agree with LS. I dislike Napoleon on many levels and personally prefer Wellington as a general, but its flying in the face of facts to argue that Napoleon didn't have a major impact on military history. Even on the other side of the Atlantic his influence could be seen to a certain degree, with men from an entirely different generation being labelled the "Young Napoleon" or the "Little Napoleon". This was considered a compliment for a reason, even if the person it was being applied to in at least once case was about as far removed from the French emperor in style, ability and temprament as it was possible to be...
     
  3. Pangur Bán

    Pangur Bán Good Guy / Deviant (depending on context)

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    What's the big deal about that? It's the 19th century. Cossacks were bunking in Paris a few years later.

    Besides, what exactly do you think I am arguing?

    My argument is very easy, simply to argue that he is not the greatest or one of the greatest generals of all time. Whereas you are trying to argue that a guy who by poor planning slaughtered more Frenchmen than anyone previously in history, killing nearly 400,000 and letting 100,000 be captured, and who transformed his country from European behemoth to mediocrity ... you are arguing he should be considered greatest or among the greatest in history.

    What's the point of making assertions like this?

    I don't think anyone is arguing that Napoleon's army didn't influence the future. Let's stick to what's actually being argued rather than making up fantasy versions of other people's arguments. ;)
     
  4. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    Interesting choice of words, but I'll play if you want.

    If you actually want to stick to what is being argued feel free to return to that long post LS made a few pages back and address the points in more detail.

    Whilst I'm here though there was some interesting points I wanted to address.

    Well for a start the UK's population was ~15 million, which is still significantly lower than France's I will grant you, but if you must throw figures around at least take the time to get the correct figure and use the correct term. It's not like Scotland, Ireland and Wales had a non-agression pact with France after all.

    Regardless of this though all this demonstrates is that France had more people than most European powers when Napoleon came to power. You have yet to address LS's point about the very real financial and social strife the country was in during the revolutionary period. Was that all resolved by Napoleon single handedly? You'd have to ask someone more knowledgeable in social and economic history than me for that, but merely having a large population does not by itself make for a powerful state.

    Oh and a quick glance online suggests that Russia outnumbered France by about 5 million in 1800.

    The only generals who only follow that principle to its letter are over cautious failiures like McCellan, all warfare involves a degree of chance and therefore risk. Even Wellington who could be very careful and meticulous about preserving his troops had his off moments like that seige in Spain whose name escapes me. I'm intruiged, which generals do you admire and think actually followed this rule?

    Also how exactly does a country doomed to mediocrity for 85 years wind up with the second largest colonial Empire in the world? I don't think you'll find that France acquired those possessions from 1900 onwards somehow.
     
  5. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    Uhmmm... Is that meant to be a criticism of Ney, Grouchy or both? Because in all honesty Napoleon was as much to blame for the failure to prevent a junction of Wellington and Blucher's armies as either of them.
     
  6. Pangur Bán

    Pangur Bán Good Guy / Deviant (depending on context)

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    My figure for England is correct. Population estimates for Russia vary, and while it is possible the population of "Russia" was higher (with the largest definitions of Russia), I don't think anyone would argue that Russia was a greater force than France c. 1800. And I already pointed out that Napoleon was the beneficiary of large-scale readjustment made possible by a revolution he had little to do with. Napoleon was just the guy who seized the top of it and took over the role previously occupied by the king. Subsequenly he used the momentum to create a decade or so of chaos in Europe, before the numerous enemies he'd created swamped him.

    Don't understand your question, but are you seriously saying losing half a million troops through poor planning is an "off-moment"?

    France's colonies were the trash of the colonial world. Britain and Russia got all the good parts. Napoleon's disastrous reign makes it very easy to forget exactly how much superiority France had before. Arguably this was happening independently of Napoleon, but nonetheless the connection is as plausible as any of the other connections being made in this thread.
     
  7. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    It's an example of what I mentioned earlier; a moment when Napoleon faced an enemy that had figured him out. The Russians had realised Napoleon's style of campaigning by this point, and combatted it through a scorched-earth program, basically a desperation move from any nation, due to the damage it does to one's own economy. This was something that Napoleon could only have fought off by either retreating, or forcing the Russian Army into an engagement. Napoleon, supremely confident in his own abilities, attempted to force an engagement. In many ways, this situation is similar to Fabian's refusal to engage with Hannibal's army during the Second Punic War. Unlike Fabian, the Russians refused to rise to the bait.

    But the fact that Napoleon's naturally aggressive military posturing finally bit him on the backside does not mean that his strategy was itself flawed, merely that he failed to improvise adequately when it became apparent that the Russians had him worked out. Still, despite the scorched-earth program, if Moscow hadn't burnt down Napoleon could very well have kept his army alive through the winter, and forced Alexander I into line. The man made a mistake, a big one, but that hardly negates the brilliant strategies of his early career.

    I don't think you'll find many people here who would argue that Napoleon was a good statesman. Hell, I think Dachs and I had a brief discussion about just how bad a statesman Napoleon was earlier in this thread.

    You could, and many have.

    Are you saying that Napoleon's weakness was women (I wouldn't argue) or saying that he was weak like a woman? Because the latter may get you in trouble with the fairer sex on this forum.

    Napoleon successfully executed almost every plan he ever made. He was even very good at improvisation. His greatest problem, as I've stated previously, was that he was too adventurous for his own good. Every time his star was at its most ascendant, he did something incredibly stupid to ruin all his good work; the Middle Eastern Campaign, the Haitian Campaign, the Russian Campaign and the Waterloo Campaign are the most well-known, but let's not forget the stupidity of toppling the Spanish monarchs in favour of his brother, or of annexing Holland.

    Unfortunately for you, Napoleon wasn't at war with "England." At least get the basics correct, before you make such ridiculous claims.


    :lmao:

    If Napoleon had lived up to his peace agreement with Britain in 1804 France would have remained the Continental hegemon for his lifetime. Possibly longer. Napoleon's defeat doomed France to play second fiddle to the UK - hardly what I'd consider "doomed to mediocrity" - not his reign. In fact, France emerged from the Napoleonic Wars stronger and more unified than previously, with Spain and Portugal forever eliminated as threats, Belgium and the Netherlands left with massive internal problems and the chaotic situation in Germany somewhat stabilised, but stabilised in a way which didn't threaten France. Russia was too distant to be a real threat. And Britain, the undisputed top dog, never had the troops for a land invasion of France.

    Napoleon's reign permanently changed the balance of power - I hate the term, but given the existence of two cooperative European hegemons in Russia and Britain for decades after this, it's one of the few cases where it fits - in Europe, and it changed it in France's favour.
     
  8. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    1) The census of 1801 gives the population of England and Wales as 9 million. The population of England was around 8.3 million. If you have a online source to suggest otherwise post it

    2) Did you even see my point about Scotland, Ireland and Wales? To the 9 million can be added around 1.5 million Scots and 4.5-5.5 million Irishmen. Try to grasp the difference between the UK And England please.

    I'd be surprised if they didn't vary, even the British population is only a rough estimate. However I'm not the one who has only put forward population size as the reason why one country was more powerful than another. LS challenged your claim that France was the most powerful nation when Napoleon took power, so far the only clear evidence you have put forward is her population's size and general statements that she was so. Until you come up with any other reasons, how many people Russia had is somewhat important.

    I don't disagree that he benefited from some advantages, but I do disagree that this made it easy for him and explains the brilliance of his early career.

    Its quite simple, you advocated the maxim that a general should only fight battles that he was certain to win. I'm asking you to cite examples of who you consider to be a great general so we can examine whether they followed this maxim or not. The maxim sounds good on paper, but in reality simply does not work. It puts me in mind of Sosabowski's comment on the Market Garden plan...

    No, that was a remark about Wellington.

    I do however think that the Russia campaign, for all its calamities cannot be taken as the final statement on Napoleon's abilities. It says much about his limitations, but I prefer to view a general's overall career rather than just one or two campaigns. Waterloo and Russia to name but two are certainly examples that weigh against Napoleon, but do they outweigh and overshadow the genius and audacity of Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt and others to the point that we should rate him mediocre? I do not think so.

    Even if that was true, and be aware that I'm not saying that it is, that totally misses my point. A country does not acquire one of the largest empires in the world (despite loosing a major war in which its homeland is occupied by a foreign power) whilst being mediocre.
     
  9. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    "France's colonies were the trash of the colonial world"? Your knowledge of the 19th and 20th centuries are almost as bleak as yours of the 18th century.
     
  10. Kentharu

    Kentharu Zebra Commander

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    Napoleon and Hannibal, IMO, are up there for greatest general. I'd like to point out that Napoleon was also a statesman (a horrible one) Which affected what wars he fought. He simply crippled his ability to be awesome at being a general by being an arrogant douche who wanted to conquer the world. Conquering the world doesn't exactly grant you many allies.

    Hannibal is just brilliant.

    I'd like to say that simply because one is labeled the best at something or the greatest at something does not mean one is perfect at that particular thing. To err is human, and, if I'm not mistaken, these are all humans we are talking about. Thus simply pointing out that Napoleon, or Hannibal or any of the generals listed, were defeated, does not automatically disqualify them from consideration. By that logic everyone is pretty terrible, because everyone gets old, and they all die. Thus they must suck at life.
     
  11. mayor

    mayor Heart & Mind

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    Could you give your reasoning for this? Because I'm not fully convinced that this was the mistake.
     
  12. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Hannibal is overrated. There, I said it. One need only look at his most famous victory, the Battle of Cannae, to see that it was nowhere near as consclusive and one-sided as is usually supposed - mostly because many people use Livy, noted for his super-bias, as their primary source - to see that. Also, he made several ridiculous errors during his Italian campaign. Then there's his conduct in Gaul and Africa, which was mediocre at best.

    Now, by no means am I saying that Hannibal was a bad general. He was certainly a cut above the other military leaders of his time. But, as others have said, his success was largely due to being in possession of the most experienced army in the world at the time. He was also a fairly short-sighted strategist. What exactly did he think he was going to do to Rome once he reached Italy? Breach its walls with harsh language? The man had no siege train, no support from any dissident Roman groups, and no means of getting supplies to Italy on a regular basis. If Capua hadn't rallied to him, he wouldn't have survived nearly as long as he did.

    The man was actually a better administrator than he was a general. It's unfortunate that he didn't devote his whole life to reforming Carthage, instead of just the end of it. He obviously possessed great talents in that area, as evidenced by his time as a Suffete of Carthage.
     
  13. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    It added a decidedly anti-French population under immediate French administration. Its population was Protestant, non-French-speaking and had a long history of antagonism towards France. They'd also been quite happy with their monarch, Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, probably Napoleon's second-most competent relative (after his very capable step-son, Eugene de Beauharnais). Unfortunately, Louis proved to be a better Dutch King than a French puppet, so his brother removed him.

    I'm not sure what effect annexing Illyria had. I know annexing Switzerland was a bad idea for reasons similar to the Dutch, but at least the Swiss weren't really capable of putting up a united front against the French. Belgium was a bit of a no-brainer, since much of the population was French-speaking and Catholic, whereas Italy was a bit of a mixed-bag. My research has indicated that the people of the Kingdom of Italy were quite happy with French leadership under Eugene, but the people of the Kingdom of Naples were pretty annoyed with Joachim Murat. So I'm not sure whether the territory directly annexed to France was pleased or angry, but at least they were Catholic. Not French-speaking though.
     
  14. mayor

    mayor Heart & Mind

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    The Dutch were actually quite pleased with the "liberation" by the French and their "support" of the newly established republic. The first problem arose when they were forced to feed and cloth 400.000 soldiers. (could be wrong, I don't know the exact figure by heart anymore) This was painfull for the Dutch but it wasn't a reason to act up.
    Louis was indeed very popular but Louis proved unfit to execute his policy and was there fore removed. However I don't believe it was the removal that was the fault Napoleon made.
    It was the policy he had, namely the trade embargo on England and the enforcement of it. I believe that the embargo was never capable of working. There were just to many factors involved. However it was this policy that the Dutch despised most since it took away there most profitable source of income. I believe the Dutch would have been relatively peacefull and loyal subjects in the French Empire as long as they were allowed to trade with England.

    EDIT: which brings us back to the point were there is being discussed that Nappie was a bad statesman ;)
     
  15. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    Indeed, they ended up shooting him after all.

    There's an area of Crosby (a town near to Liverpool) which was named Waterloo after a hotel that they started building on the day of the battle. Some of the local streets have names to reflect this such as Hougomont Avenue, Blucher Street and Picton street.

    I mention this because rather bizarrely there's also a Murat street which as far as I can work out is named after the French Marshal. Quite why he was chosen is unknown, he wasn't even at Waterloo and even if he had been there he would probably have been doing his level best to cut the British army to pieces.
     
  16. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    Hannibal's plan was counting on his brother Hasdrubal to bring the supplies necessary for a siege of Rome, but he was unfortunately defeated and killed at the Battle of the Metaurus. So I'm not sure I would say the entire Carthaginian war plan was bad, it just didn't work out.

    Disclaimer: I know a very scant amount about the Punic Wars compared to what I know about the 19th century, so don't take me too seriously in this regard.
     
  17. Masada

    Masada Koi-san!

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    Some Dutch were (Patriots), some weren't (Orangists); then after Prince of Orange had fled and the Orangists had been purged, the Patriot camp broke into 'two'. A very pro-French minority supported a Unitary Republic, while the majority were Federalists who were not opposed to France per say but were opposed to France imposing a constitution on the Netherlands. The pro-French party miserably failed in Parliamentary proceedings and lost a referendum on the Federal Question and as a result decided to impose its views via extra-legal means (a coup). At which point, it is safe to say that the Revolution had run well ahead of the populace and the moderates using this arrested the radicals, who had meanwhile pissed the French off. I guess the moral of the story is that the whole thing was a great deal more complicated that a pat use of "Dutch" and "French" might suggest especially when filtered through popular history and/or school books.
     
  18. caketastydelish

    caketastydelish Throwing Last minute-ints

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    Why is Napolean even on this list? He couldn't even invade Russia (where as Ghengis Khan could) and then he got his butt kicked AGAIN at Waterloo. If Napolean is supposed to be the "golden age" of the French in military terms I really don't know what to say.
     
  19. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    Read the thread.
     
  20. Glassfan

    Glassfan Mostly harmless

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    Well, we never really define our terms, do we? What makes a great leader, after all? How do we define their success?
     

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