By Rob Morgan
A while ago a small debate, if you can call it that, sparkled in this journal about leaders in battle, with contributions from Jim Rohrer, George Banic, and myself. It deserves to develop in terms of solo wargaming.
I’m presently writing a few reviews of an astonishing book in this field, The Worst Military Leaders in History, a substantial 300+ page work, edited by Jennings & Steele of the US Air Force Academy, in which 15 writers and academics choose an historical leader and deal with his, shall we say, faults! They are divided into five categories: criminals, frauds, the clueless, politicos, and bunglers. They are a lovely and wide cross section of potential incompetence, sometimes in more than one category.
Unfortunately, when you ask military historians to choose one man in one category, you might not get what you expect and in this case half a dozen of the chosen warriors are frankly unknown, frankly, to all but the most involved readers. Quite a few better known and prominently inadequate leaders don’t appear, surprisingly.
It amazed me that Nathan Bedford Forest, of the Confederacy, turns out to be to blame for most of the USA’s strategic problems since Lee surrendered! The book says that. Mind you most of the Federal generals early on were politico and into which category, or how many categories, would you slip the Union’s Major General Benjamin Butler?
Anyway, my review of that follows. To carry on the earlier discussion, you would want the best (or worst) leader opposing your field army, naturally, and might well march towards his force and not face another one.
Bonaparte is a good example of this modus operandi. You’d choose, in the Napoleonic Wars, to avoid, say, the Prince of Schwarzenberg, who fought for and against Boney and was usually on the winning side. While the sad Austrian General Mack (of Ulm fame) or the rigid Archduke Charles would be good bets for opponents and easily second guessed. The uncooperative, xenophobic, and arrogant Spanish commander, Cuesta, is an ally any allied commander would want to ditch ASAP and made a splendid, almost self-defeating opponent, if you could pin him down.
Can you choose your opponent in battle?
Well, yes, in many cases, though not always. Marlborough sometimes managed it, so did Eugene and Turenne, but Wellington couldn’t often do so, nor could Gustavus Adolphus.
Rule One, “know your enemy”, eh?