The Best Generals of All Time
A history buff discusses the best generals of all time.
Humans have always gone to war. It's one of the most common themes in human history, and as such, has been the focal point of many major aspects of the human condition, our cultures, and even the stories that we tell.
War also makes for incredible stories, and gives people the opportunity to show what they are made of. It's why war movies are so popular, and why many people are fascinated by military history.
Nothing is quite as impressive, at least for a military history buff, like reading up on the best generals of all time. These people were known for their brilliant strategy, their leadership, and having some of the best teamwork moments ever seen in human history.
As a history buff, it's hard not to feel admiration for the best generals of all time. Here are some of their stories — and what made them so great.
America's first president also happened to be one of the best generals of all time — and it's clear that if Washington had not existed, the United States would never have been born.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, American forces were woefully underprepared and undersupplied. Moreover, they were grossly outnumbered. The only things that they had going for them were Washington's intelligence, guerilla warfare tactics, and a strong knowledge of the local terrain.
Washington took full advantage of the fact that Britain believed in "classical war," which meant lining up on a battlefield to attack both sides. Using guerilla strategies, traps, and a little bit of camouflage, Washington was able to overcome the lack of supplies and men on his side.
Most importantly, Washington was able to command his soldiers and keep them united towards a cause. Those who fought in the Revolution weren't just soldiers; they were brothers-in-arms and acted like it.
As a result, a small, newly born country was able to topple the grip of the most powerful empire in its time.
Alexander the Great
Most historians would agree that Alexander the Great was one of the best generals of all time. After all, no general was ever able to win as many wars as he did in his time — nor did many others conquer as much land as he did.
Only Alexander the Great was able to command armies that led from the Ionian Sea all the way to India, winning victory after victory until he had conquered basically all the known world at the time. Some even believe that he had troops that extended their reach all the way to China.
For 15 years, Alexander the Great went into countless battles. Not one of those battles was ever lost.
Military history aficionados will tell you that Alexander the Great was the first general to use phalanxes to protect and work an offensive. He also was the first general to use "wedging," cavalry groups, a full defensive line, and a highly mobilized army to win wars. Even today, Alexander the Great's military strategies continue to be used in wars throughout the world.
Alexander the Great didn't only use excellent military positioning tactics to give his solders an advantage. He also recruited locals to join his army, and regularly would learn about cities prior to conquering them. Training in the army of Alexander the Great was rigorous, and meant to help soldiers overcome everything.
Considering his preparedness, it comes as no surprise that he never had to worry about losing battles.
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang isn't a name many Westerners may know, but make no mistake about it — he was one of the best generals of all time. Much like Alexander the Great, Qin Shi Huang was able to unify people throughout a massive swath of territory and also conquer a huge span of land.
It was general Qin Shi Huang who first conquered all of China, unified its people together into one nation, and also began the building of the Great Wall as a way to prevent Mongolians from attacking the nation.
What makes Qin Shi Huang one of the best generals of all time is what he was able to accomplish during his time. He was born during a period in Chinese history that was filled with nations who were constantly at war with one another.
His ability to conquer also brought peace, and his ability to be a good diplomat is what kept China unified. Such is the work of any general who has mastered the art of tact and tactics.
Along with being an excellent general, Qin Shi Huang also was able to create a centralized government for China — which created a country that is still around today. He is considered to be the first emperor of China, and set the stage for one of the greatest countries to ever exist.
Leonidas I is the general that was glorified and immortalized in the movie, 300. Though the war itself didn't involve soldiers fighting around a giant pit, there was some serious truth to the movie as a whole.
Every city-state in Greece had its own reason for fame. Athens was known for being excellent in arts, philosophy, and science. Meanwhile, Sparta was known for being one of the toughest military states in all of the Grecian world.
Spartans were raised from birth to be the strongest soldiers they could be — and even women learned how to fight. Leonidas I was a general in a soldier's city-state, and that means that both his fighting and military tactics were instilled through the best training available at the time.
While most people would never guess it, the truth is that Leonidas I and his elite army did fight against over 1,000 soldiers with only 300 in their numbers. The Spartan defense fight against the Persians at The Battle of Thermopylae still is widely regarded as one of the greatest battles ever fought.
Prior to the Crusades, Saladin was a Shiite general and advisor whose conquered territories spanned from Egypt all the way to Aleppo. As a result of his ability to conquer land after land, many people credit him with helping unify Islamic territories during this time.
At one point in Saladin's reign, the Catholic Church had decided to conquer Jerusalem — and thusly waged war against people who lived in Saladin's territory. Sultan Saladin was the man who stood up against the Crusaders and led Muslim forces to fight against the invaders.
Saladin's forces were able to weather three different major Crusade campaigns in the Middle East and also was able to annihilate forces using brilliant tactics. His greatest work was winning in the Battle of Hattin in 1187, which later allowed Muslims to regain control of much of the Holy Lands.
Though he ended up losing The Final Crusade, Saladin was able to negotiate a truce with King Richard I of England. Though he lost much control of the territories he fought to protect, he was able to keep Islamic control of Jerusalem for centuries through the agreement.
Saladin, who ruled over Egypt, is still celebrated there to this day. His eagle emblem can be seen in many parts of Egyptian militaria. Needless to say, many people in the Middle East will tell you that he was one of the best generals of all time.
To this day, no general has ever conquered as much territory or fought as many wars with success as Genghis Khan. He is most well-known for creating the largest contiguous empire in human history, and that feat couldn't have been accomplished without his brilliant military tactics.
Most people assume that he was able to conquer so many cities thanks to his innovative approach to horseback riding and warfare attempts. They also credit him for incorporating siege tactics from the Persians and Chinese when it came to battling walled cities.
However, that's only partially true.
Genghis Khan's most infamous military tactics weren't physical; they were mental. He regularly used espionage, rapid communications, and brilliant recruitment to help further his cause.
His excellent tact and negotiation skills were what brought him to power at first. Many of his former enemies ended up becoming his most trusted generals, and he rewarded them handsomely for good work. His army quickly became united under him — and became confident in his skill as a leader.
Those who refused to join his regime quickly found themselves — and everyone they cared about — killed. His terrifying ways of dealing with trouble led to one of the most peaceful empires in history.
Short and angry as he was, Napoleon was one of the best generals of all time. Brilliant military strategy is what most people recognize Napoleon for, and considering how many battles he had won, it's easy to see why that was the case.
His military tactics involve large, multi-weapon onslaughts of opposition, including short-range gunfire and bayonet charges. Because of his unique brand of warfare, Napoleon's armies were known for their flexibility in the chaos of war.
However, what really set apart Napoleon wasn't just his excellent tactics and gun power. He also happened to realize that there was only so much conquering an army could do without the ability to gain more supplies as they continued their march.
As a result, Napoleon was the first military general to invest in canned goods for his troops.
That being said, Russia still proved to be his downfall — primarily because they kept fleeing during the winter, and waited until all his army's supplies were finished.
William Tecumseh Sherman
Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman is regularly considered to be one of the best generals of all time, and it's easy to see why. General Sherman's most famous tactic was something that is now called "total war."
In total war, nothing is left standing. No people, no buildings, no farms stay intact. It is the epitome of a "scorched earth" tactic — and it was meant to be used as a way to convince the other side to admit defeat.
Sherman's March to the Sea made Confederates absolutely terrified of Union soldiers, and for good reason. General Sherman is credited with the Siege of Vicksburg as well as had a hand in ending the Civil War.
To this day, Sherman's tactics are viewed as effective — but insanely excessive. Because of how brutal (but effective) his tactics were, many historians believe that Sherman played a huge part in ending the Civil War in under five years.
George S. Patton
World War II enthusiasts can tell you a number of reasons why George S. Patton was one of the best generals of all time. He was incredibly charismatic and was capable of motivating people to fight, even in situations where it all seemed grim.
Charisma and motivation aside, General Patton also was known for his unorthodox military tactics and his refusal to give up the fight. Along with regularly going into battle alongside his soldiers, Patton also made a point of keeping close tabs on every battalion he had — right down to the troops' position.
By knowing where his soldiers were at all times, Patton was able to better formulate battle plans and figure out where to send aid. This also allowed him to take big, and calculated, risks. Most of those risks paid off greatly.
Historians believe that Patton's forces had contributed to the death, capture or incapacitation of over 1,250,000 Nazis over the course of World War II. To this day, he remains a legend in American military circles — and an example of what an American hero should be.