Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

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Winning wars requires more than just an army; it requires military tactics and strategy. Planning an offense or a defense on a football field takes thought and effort. Imagine multiplying that offense or defense to include thousands of men, horses or tanks, and supply needs. There have been many great generals in history, who relied upon smart strategy, or, in some cases, a willingness to accept great losses, to secure an American victory in wars from the American Revolution to Desert Storm.

These generals varied from the calm and thoughtful, like Eisenhower to the brash and loud, like Patton. They shared a commitment to duty, patriotism and a belief that their army could be victorious.

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George Washington

George Washington is most often remembered as the first President of the United States; however, before he was President Washington, he was General Washington, leader of the Continental Army. Washington was a skilled military leader and strategist, and his defeat of the British is a memorable moment in military history.

In 1776, Washington and the Continental Army lost the colony of New York to the British. Washington was frustrated and angered by his defeat, and did not forget it, even as his troops left Valley Forge in the spring of 1778. Washington communicated his plan with the Continental Congress in a series of letters, and in 1779, received a letter from the President of the Continental Congress to think himself, “at Liberty to direct the military operations of these States in such a manner as you think expedient”.

Washington’s initial strategy required the full cooperation of France, but also required a British willingness to fight in New York. The British preferred to fight further south, believing this provided them with an advantage. His initial strategy placed the decisive battle in New York City, but this was not to be. The French encouraged a final battle in Virginia.

In 1781, Washington learned that the French navy had effectively trapped the British army in Virginia. This led to the creation of a new strategy.  The decisive battle would be fought at Yorktown.

Outside New York, Washington built bread ovens and army camps, and circulated letters discussing his attack on New York, then under the command of British General Clinton. Everything possible was done to maintain the impression of a planned assault on New York City.

Leaving behind a small force, Washington and most of his troops set out for Yorktown. In September, a large number of American and French forces gathered in Williamsburg. The Battle of Yorktown began by the end of that month, and ended by the 18th of October with a British surrender.

Washington’s smart use of confusion tactics provided the cover and space necessary to amass troops at Williamsburg and to take Yorktown. His willingness to be flexible with his plan brought success for the young nations.

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  • I don’t recall Schwarzkopf wanting to go to Baghdad at all. He knew the mission of Desert Storm was to simply push the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Although it’s been a couple years since I read his autobiography.

    • IndigoRed

      Schwarzkopf did oppose an offensive on Baghdad because he simply hadn’t the men and materiel for such an operation. He had planned on the liberation of Kuwait with minimal power projection, and without backup forces – he had no reserves. Force projection into Iraq to Baghdad would have left his small force vulnerable to Iraq’s remaining forces which were still formidable.

    • john_koenig

      I recall him saying off the record that he was ready to take Baghdad but was rebuffed by Colin Powell.
      Think of the misery that could have been avoided if we had gotten Saddam 15 years earlier.

  • Randy Finley

    General Patton did not serve in the Mexican American War (April 25, 1846 – February 2, 1848). That would have been difficult since he wasn’t born until November 11, 1885. He did however participate in the Pancho Villa Expedition in 1916. A little solid research and proper references would make for a much more interesting and credible article.

    • Grabber

      You are correct sir…perhaps the writer is referring to the Pancho Villa incursion into Mexico as the Mexican American War.

    • Dar

      Thank you, Randy, for letting them know. Words (and titles) do mean things.

    • David Couvillon

      He served in the “Pancho Villa Expedition”. Mar 1916-Feb 1917.. (I guess technically you could call it a Mexican American War).

  • eramthgin

    Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower do not deserve to be on this list.

  • Joe Wilson

    What about old Fuss and Feathers? Made it to Mexico city with a tiny force and ended the war, was offered the presidency of Mexico by the Mexicans but refused. the came up with the Anaconda plan that strangled the South into submission. Missed a good one there author.