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 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 04:05 pm
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ashbel
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I would agree on both points.  But that does move us over 10.

On the "battlefield perception" issue Napoleon thought it was THE most important quality of a great general.



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 04:22 pm
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Texas Defender
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   From what I've read, when an officer was recommended to Napoleon for a command, the question Napoleon was most likely to ask was: "But is he lucky?"



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 06:48 pm
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ole
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I would agree on both points.  But that does move us over 10.

That it does. Do either of them deserve to displace what is there? If so,,which?

From what I've read, when an officer was recommended to Napoleon for a command, the question Napoleon was most likely to ask was: "But is he lucky?"



Based on the axioms that "one makes ones own luck" and "opportunity knocks but once," is the "ability to take advantage of an opponent's mistakes" worthy of the first ten? If so, which would it displace?

Perhaps a top ten is not possible? I propose that we first agree on a top ten and match it against considered "great" generals and then proceed on the secondary ten qualities. After all, Don did assemble 29 examples.

ole

 

Last edited on Wed Mar 26th, 2008 06:50 pm by ole



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 07:16 pm
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Texas Defender
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ole-

   While some commanders might end up being considered great simply because of who their opponents were and what mistakes they made, I can assure you that pure luck always plays a part in war. It is something that even the greatest military minds can have no control over.

   One of many historical examples of blind luck I would present would be the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It was incredibly bad luck for the Japanese that none of the three precious American aircraft carriers was in port when the attack took place. The loss of even one of them would have had a tremendous impact on the early stages of the Pacific War. There are many other examples in World War II and in other wars.

   In my Army career, I had a very extensive military education. But the most profound lesson about war and luck took place in the 1960s when I was a cadet doing summer training at Ft. Riley, KS.

   At that time during wargames, my platoon had set up the perfect ambush against some guys from the 25th infantry Division. We were in perfect position. Our setup was perfect. As their point man appeared, I heard a loud buzzing sound. A massive Kansas grasshopper flew into the back of the helmet of the man to my right and there was a : "clang." The "enemy" slipped away, leaving some of us to bash the grasshopper on the ground with our rifle butts. In a real situation, their lives would have been saved, and perhaps ours lost, because of a grasshopper.

  At that instant, it became clear to me that no matter how good you are, and no matter how good your plan is, that it can all be swept into the dumpster in an instant by factors that you cannot control. In all the years that followed, none of my distinguished professors could ever teach me as much as a mindless insect in Kansas did.

   While you can make lists of traits characteristic of great generals, I don't think that you can overlook: "luck" . Simply surviving long enough in your career to be at the right place and the right time to perhaps do the right thing has a lot to do with luck. At an earlier point in time, there was probably another officer who would have been just as good if he had not been unlucky in some way.



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 07:48 pm
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ashbel
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I have no problem adding "luck" to the list.  Doesn't sound very academic, but there is no question that circumstances beyond the control of any of the parties have an effect on who we consider to be great generals.

It is a bit hard to cultivate this trait in officers who could advance to the level of a general.  On the other hand there is an old saying in sales: "The harder I work - the luckier I get."  Maybe all of these other qualities combine to make the great generals "lucky" as well.

 



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 08:07 pm
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PvtClewell
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I've heard more than one anti-Grant person say that the reason Grant was so successful in his Civil War military career was because he was so lucky. I'm not buying all of that, of course, but I think there is some merit in it. There had to be some luck involved in crossing both the Mississippi and the James rivers without any significant — if any — losses. You could also argue that he was unlucky, just missing getting to Spotsylvania before Lee, or even Cold Harbor, where if he didn't have to wait a day for Hancock to get into position, he might have been abel to attack a then-untrenched Lee a day earlier. The pendulum of luck swings both ways.



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 08:22 pm
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ole
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Golly! We've already had a lively discussion on "luck."

TD said there is an element of luck in simply surviving long enough to be in the right place at the right time. Now that's a great definition of luck.

Enlisted Man Clewel mentioned some of the views of Grant's luck. Seems to me that a man who is consistently lucky for four years has something else going for him. (Three years for Lee who also must have something else going for him -- make that two years.)

Here we're in danger of attributing luck to the quality of the opponents. I'll fall back on my original premise that, although luck certainly is a factor, the "ability to take advantage of an opponent's misstep" is different from "being lucky to have an incompetent opponent."

Maybe what I'm talking about ought to be included within the definition of "flexibility"?

ole



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 11:00 pm
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javal1
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I don't think anyone can argue that having luck at the right times ceratinly doesn't hurt. My problem is whether "luck" can be defined as a trait (which I thought was the original premise). If a trait is defined as "a distinguishing feature of your personal nature", does luck really qualify, or is it just something that happens to some people at random times?



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 11:43 pm
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Texas Defender
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javal1-

   If someone is unlucky enough, then he won't have the opportunity to develop those: "qualities" that people on this thread are discussing. If the qualities already exist, then there won't be the opportunities to display them, etc.

   A :"quality" can be defined as : "an essential characteristic, property, or attribute." I can argue that it is typical of some people to be lucky. At the very least, it can be demonstrated to be part of the personal history of some people. You certainly need the absence of really bad luck, or you don't get very far.

   What I was trying to illustrate is that the qualities being discussed are not unique to a small number of officers who become great generals. Actually, many other people possess these same qualities.

   Only a small percentage of worthy individuals find themselves in the right time in history, at the right place, and in the right circumstances to make their mark on history by exhibiting those qualities that many others also have, but who are less lucky for one reason or another.

   For every General Patton who emerges unscathed after standing in a street firing his pistol at strafing aircraft, there is a less fortunate fellow who could have been great one day if he had not been killed by a stray shell when he went to the latrine at the wrong time.



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 11:51 pm
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ole
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Gotta go with javal. If luck is no more than happenstance, it doesn't belong as a trait of a great general unless, as Younglobo intimated, it is a gift of providence.

ole



 Posted: Wed Mar 26th, 2008 11:59 pm
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ole-

  I don't see where we are in conflict. I have no trouble with saying that luck is: "a gift of Providence." My dictionary defines it as: "The force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping events or opportunities."  ;)



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 12:04 am
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Johnny Huma
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Reading on this thread I am not sure "Luck" plays a big factor in a Generals attributes. Yes there were times when we can look at a particuliar battle and say that Luck played a role. Then again I am more apt to believe that Great Generals made their own "Luck". The Unlucky Generals of course attributed to their Bad Luck. One example here is Jacksons sweep on the 11th Corps at Chancelersville. Some would consider this Luck as Hooker stayed idle to the movements he knew were in motion assuming it was the Rebs pulling out. Now we can say that Stonewall was Lucky in the fact that Hooker made no attempts at finding out what the move really was. Or we can also say Hooker himself was just unlucky. But in fact it was simply good Generalship against Bad Generalship and luck really played no part in the outcome. Again at Gettysburg was it luck that played a part in Ewell coming in on the Union right flank in time to pulverize it on the first day or was it the foresight of Lee recalling his troops to that area knowing a major conflict was in progress. I think the good Generals made their own luck. So I am not sure how much luck you can attribute to any one General. Being at the wrong place at the wrong time may be considered unlucky but someone had to put the troops in those positions and that was the commanding General. So he may have contributed to the other Generals so called "Luck"..But I think it comes down to Good or Bad decisions by those leaders and luck would have played a very small part of the Generals Makeup...
Huma



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 12:35 am
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Johnny Huma-

   My argument that luck has a role in making the great generals in history is not limited to luck on the battlefield, though that can be very important once they get there.

   What I was trying to explain was that luck is often the deciding factor in whether or not the person even gets there in the first place.

   Here is a historical example. In 1842, Thomas Jonathan Jackson wanted very much to attend West Point. Unfortunately for him, he was beaten out for the congressional appointment by another young man.

   The victorious applicant travelled to West Point. After one day, he decided that he wanted nothing to do with the place and resigned. When Jackson learned of this, he pressed for the appointment and managed to secure it.

   My conclusion is that if the other fellow had been of a different character, then there probably would have been no Cadet Jackson, let alone Lieutenant Jackson, let alone General Jackson. In all probability, he would not have been making his place in history 20 years later. We might now be reading about a different set of events and characters in the war because there was no General Jackson. What they might be is pure speculation.

   History carries us all along like a kind of tide. Providence is kind to a very few who get to exhibit their qualities at the right place and time in history. It often happens due to events beyond the control of the individuals involved.

Stonewall Jackson Biographical Summary. A Timeline of Significant Events from the VMI Archives.

 



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 01:16 am
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ole
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It remains that luck in surviving to fight is not an attribute. The points are well taken, but everyone who was there was lucky to be alive, therefore luck had nothing to do with greatness. We can't very well speculate on the greatness of AS Johnston because there weren't enough measurable acts of at least darn good.

ole



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 01:28 am
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ole-

  A.S. Johnston might not have shown his greatness in the short time he had in the Civil War- before being very unlucky. However, he did some pretty good things in his military career which began in 1826. He might have been able to prove that he had the qualities mentioned on this thread- if had been luckier.  ;)

 

Handbook of Texas Online - JOHNSTON, ALBERT SIDNEY

Last edited on Thu Mar 27th, 2008 03:40 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 05:36 am
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ole
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"might have been"

Key words. Agreed, he had promise. So as not to hijack the thread, I will not say that an Army Commander who leads an attack has not figured out the function of an army commander. But he did have the best resume' of all the field potentials.

The same might be said of Kearny, Reynolds, Reno, Garnett, Ashby and other might-have-beens whose names have been forgotten. Aren't we talking about those who were lucky enough to have survived long enough to make a mark?

ole



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 06:31 am
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ole-

   Yes, precisely right.

   You can compare all the qualities previously discussed to the genetic makeup of an individual. He needs certain: "genes", or qualities to have a chance to achieve greatness. But if he also has the: "bad luck" gene, then he doesn't get there no matter how strong his other qualities are. Thats all I'm saying. If you have the absence of luck, you don't get there. Thus, every great general must have some amount of luck or he wouldn't have been able to fulfill what became his destiny.

   You can also argue that: "the times" make the great general. The emergency arises and those on the scene prove inadequate to deal with it. All of a sudden the: "right" person shows up and fills the position. Then things begin to function properly.

   A good example of the: "right" person is of course, General Grant. He wasn't all that good at farming or shopkeeping, but he was the person that the times called for to lead the Union armies. He appeared at the right time and place to prove that he was the one who was needed. Eventually, he was recognized as being the: "right" person.

   Grant had the qualities needed to advance to the top. Luckily for him, he did not also have the : "bad luck" gene. If he had, it might have been he who was mortally wounded in April of 1862 instead of Albert Sidney Johnston.

   If things had happened that way, then Grant would not have been able to fulfill his potential. Lincoln would have had to find someone else for the job. Who that might have been and how that might have changed events can only be speculated on.



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 02:01 pm
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younglobo
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Ashbel .. no problem with the name misspell maybe I should change it as most seem to get it wrong at least once , but then again it makes me unique.

As far as luck goes I quote one of my favorite movies

"In my experience there is no such thing as luck"   Obi Wan Kenobi Star wars

LoL feel like Eric from 70's show:P



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 05:34 pm
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Don
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Hmm. I would have to agree with TD that luck is very important in someone having the opportunity to become a great general. But I would also have to agree with the others that it's not a quality or attribute for the purposes of our discussion.

I'll buy perception (vision? I see the point made, I'd been considering it more in the strategic sense than the tactical, but it applies to both), but I don't think I agree with political. How does political ability make one a great general? They needed to be political enough to follow directions of politicians in accomplishing their war aims and be able to see the larger political picture. I'm not convinced on this one. Most 'political' generals did poorly during the war.



 Posted: Thu Mar 27th, 2008 05:58 pm
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ashbel
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I guess I was using Grant and Lee as reference points.  Both had good relations with their respective governments and were more successful because of it.

I was not referring to the so called "political" generals like Butler and Banks.  Very few of the politicians turned soldiers did very well.

I was also not including the generals who tried to use politics to further their causes like Hood and Hooker.  In almost every case this resulted in problems for the general doing the politicking, for the army they were trying to lead and for their governments.


 



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