America

Most Underrated American General

One of my favorite blogs is The Best Defense, by Tom Ricks (Ricks is a former Washington Post Pentagon reporter and author of the two best books on the Iraq War, Fiasco and The Gamble, anything he says about the military you listen to). He's working on a book about American Generalship so has been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the topic. He had a contest over the weekend asking people to vote for the most underrated American general of all time. His personal choice was O.P. Smith who commanded the Marines at the battle of Chosin Reservoir, a key battle during the Korean War.

Nathanael Greene

circa 1785: General Nathanael Greene (1742 - 1786) of the Continental Army. Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive

But the winner was actually from a different war altogether, and I had certainly never heard of him, Nathanael Greene who commanded southern troops during the revolutionary war. Here's what Russell Weigley wrote about him in The American Way of War:

The achievements of Nathanael Greene and the southern partisans in reversing the greatest British success of the war, the conquest of the southernmost rebellious provinces, must rank as the war's most impressive campaign.

General Greene's outstanding characteristic as a strategist was his ability to weave the maraudings of partisan raiders into a coherent pattern, coordinating them with the maneuvers of a field army otherwise too weak to accomplish much, and making the combination a deadly one. ‘I have been obliged to practice that by finesse which I dared not attempt by force,' said Greene . . .

The later course of American military history, featuring a rapid rise from poverty to resources of plenty, cut short any further evolution of Greene's type of strategy. He therefore remains alone as an American master developing a strategy of unconventional war.

1. Nathanael Greene

2. O.P. Smith

3. George Thomas

4. John Buford

5. Winfield Scott

6. Lucian Truscott

7. George Crook

8. George Kenney

9. George Marshall

10. John Reynolds

Here's Ricks' comments on the list:

That's a good spread, with a lot of interesting choices. Clearly Greene had a good strategy here — as the only candidate from the Revolutionary War, he was able to be the standard bearer for that party, while the more popular wars dissipated their votes, with the Civil War and World War II each posting three finishers. (I hereby dub this "the Ken Burns effect.") Given the competition, I was impressed that Truscott finished so high. I thought Crook and Pete Quesada would have done better, but the Indian Wars are obscure and have a taint to them. And I suspect that in Quesada's case, the readers of this blog tend to be ground-centric, as I am. Also, it apparently helped to be a general named "George," who account for 40 percent of the list.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.