The Best Defense

The most underappreciated general in U.S. history

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on September 27, 2010.

The most underappreciated general in U.S. history, according to readers who responded by e-mail or in the comments section, is Nathanael Greene, a hero of the Revolutionary War, who got more than twice as many votes as any other candidate.

I like "RPM'"s reasoning in explaining in the comments why he went with Greene: "If you combine the 'unknown/under rated' label with 'most critical to victory in a really important war' then the easy answer is Nathanael Greene. The British had conquered the South and were aggressively moving north. Without Greene's victories in NC the Revolution might have been a bust."

Here are the top 10 most underappreciated generals in American history, according to you all:

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

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.  

Thanks to all who voted and discussed. I was impressed by the e-mailers who wrote in to say that they had nominated one general, but on reflection had decided to vote for another. I think we've demonstrated that there are a whole lot of underappreciated generals out there. It makes me think I need to read a good book on the American wars against the Indians/First Peoples. Any recommendations? 

Among the most interesting write-ins were Raymond Odierno, Sir John Dill, and Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (Rolling Thunder) AKA Chief Joseph, who got two votes despite some questions about his citizenship. And, of course, good old Galusha Pennypacker.


The Best Defense

The worst general in American history?

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on June 2, 2010.

That was the discussion I was having yesterday with several friends. Here is my ranking of their nominees:

1. Douglas MacArthur
2. Benedict Arnold
3. Ned Almond
4. Tommy R. Franks
5. William Westmoreland
6. George McClellan
7. Ambrose Burnside
8. Horatio Gates

It was my contest, so I declared MacArthur the No. 1 loser, because of his unique record of being insubordinate to three presidents (Hoover, Roosevelt and Truman) as well as screwing up the Korean War. Plus additional negative points for his role in the gassing and suppression of the Bonus Marchers in 1932. You can't defend a country by undermining it.

It really is extraordinary how the Army has extirpated his memory. The influence of Marshall, Eisenhower and Bradley lives on, while MacArthur has been treated as a historical dead end. Kind of amazing, considering he was a general for 26 years, was the Army chief of staff, received the Medal of Honor, fought in three wars and was a senior commander in two.