Thursday, February 18, 2016


George S. Patton, Jr.
What comes to mind when you hear the words "leader" or "leadership"? The image of General Patton is one of the people who spring to my mind almost immediately when I hear the words "leader" or "leadership." There are others to be sure, some of whom you'll see below. With all the political hoopla filling the air waves (I include the Web of World-Wideness in "air waves" as some folks do get their online content via satellite) I felt the need to address leadership and what it means (and has meant) to me in my military and civilian careers.

General Patton was noted for his leadership in combat, both in the First World War and the Second. He was loved, feared, and hated. One of his most famous nicknames was "Old Blood and Guts." The troops would say, "Yeah, our blood, his guts." Nevertheless he was widely admired by the men of Seventh Army in Sicily and then later in Third Army. Audacity, speed, and overwhelming fire power were his watchwords. The Emperor Napoléon would have recognized his type.

All good leaders should, if they know nothing else, remember these two Patton quotes -
A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week. 
A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.
That last quote would have been recognized by Erwin Rommel and Alexander Suvorov. Outstanding combat leaders themselves.

George B. McClellan

General McClellan (or "Little Mac" as his troops called him, not to his face though) was perhaps the exact opposite of a combat general. He assiduously avoided coming to grips with Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He believed every single wild estimate of Confederate strength laid before him by his "intelligence" service.

However, what cannot be forgotten is that McClellan turned a conglomeration of uniformed civilians, state militias, and what few regulars the country possessed into the powerful Army of the Potomac. A force which would chase the Rebs to their eventual surrender at Appomattox. His troops adored him, though had he had any fighting spirit the war may have ended sooner. Who knows?

One of his other nicknames was "The Young Napoléon."

McClellan was a fine manager.

George A. Custer
George Armstrong Custer was the "Goat*" of the West Point class of 1861. After graduation he was assigned to the 2nd United States Cavalry serving with the Union Army in the East. He knew the right people and he also knew how to lead cavalry.

He became a brigadier general at the age of 23. He was an aggressive cavalry commander who led from the front. Much like an earlier beau sabreur, Joachim Murat - Napoléon's favored and talented leader of horsemen, Custer liked to affect a very showy uniform style which, at first, his troopers didn't care for. Once they saw that "The Boy General" led from the front, they began copying certain elements of Custer's dress, particularly his affectation of wearing a red neckerchief. (The issue item was in cavalry yellow.)

Murat leads a charge at the Battle of Jena, 14 October 1806, by Henri Chartier (Source)

On the Great Plains he was known as "Iron Butt" and "Hard Ass" from his ability to remain in the saddle for long periods of time. (No mention of how his horse felt about that.)

Custer is best remembered though for the destruction of the units of the Seventh Cavalry under his personal command at the Little Big Horn. (He was also the regimental commander of the Seventh, parts of which survived the battle.)

His attack on that big village was perhaps foolhardy. Bear in mind though, to a cavalryman audacity is everything, he who dares wins. Murat and LaSalle would have probably done the same.

Lasalle's last charge at Wagram (1809), by Édouard Detaille (Source)

Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

George E. Pickett

General George Pickett was the Goat of the West Point class of 1846. His wife wrote two books about her husband which painted him as the ideal Southern gentleman and soldier. He is best remembered as the man for whom the last, fatal, charge at Gettysburg is named.

Pickett longed to lead men in battle, he was a flamboyant leader who desperately wanted to lead men in glorious battle (a trait he shared with Patton). His chance came at Gettysburg

"Toward the Angle" by Don Troiani (Source)

McClellan thought Pickett to be one of the best infantry officers of the war. Some historians say he was a very good brigade commander but that division command was beyond his grasp. He was bitter about that day in July 1863 for the rest of his life.

He blamed Robert E. Lee for the destruction of his division.

George G. Meade

Growing up I always thought that Ulysses S. Grant had commanded the Army of the Potomac during it's fight to overcome and beat down the Army of Northern Virginia.


That post was given to George Meade shortly before Gettysburg. President Lincoln was tired of the string of generals he had appointed up to that point. No one seemed able to take the Army of the Potomac and lead it to victory.

Meade managed to pull that feat off in his first battle in command of the Army of the Potomac. Of course, there are those who would argue that he managed to "not lose." Which is not the same as winning. But that's unfair. He managed the battle well, nothing glorious or fancy, he made sure the right people were in the right place at the right time and kept them supported.

When Grant did come East after Vicksburg to command all of the Union armies, he made his headquarters with Meade's Army of the Potomac. George Meade led that force to the end at Appomattox. While Grant's presence tended to overshadow Meade's command, it was still Meade's army which defeated Lee.

Who knows how he would have fared had Grant stayed in Washington? Hard to be lackadaisical and slow when the boss is right there all the time. Nevertheless, he did a more than competent job of leading his army. Far better than his predecessors!

George C. Marshall

George C. Marshall was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. A planner and organizer, Marshall never saw combat. One of the reasons that the United States doesn't have the rank of Field Marshal is because George Marshall did not wish to be known as Field Marshal Marshall. At least that's the story I heard.

While his organizational talents helped to build the largest army the United States has ever fielded and kept that army supplied and trained, he did have his critics. The replacement system he and General Leslie McNair devised (under pressure from government and business leaders, of course**) was ill advised. Rather than men going to war as members of cohesive units, replacements went overseas as individuals and were first assigned to replacement depots (the "repple-depples" of my father's memory) then were sent piecemeal to units in the field.

It took time for the new guys to get up to speed in their new units. Many were killed or wounded before their fellow soldiers even knew their names. While Marshall had wanted to have a system of complete unit rotation, he got stuck with what his bosses wanted.

In true Army fashion, they kept that system up through Vietnam. A system roundly hated and despised by all those who went through it.

Marshall is also famous for the plan which rebuilt Europe after the war. This was one veteran who made a very effective Secretary of State. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize, the only career soldier to have done so. Again, he got his prize the old fashioned way, he earned it!

George Washington, 1776 - Painted by Charles Willson Peale

First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. So Washington was eulogized by Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, a fine soldier in his own right and the father of Robert E. Lee.

General Washington was quite a man. He worked the wilderness as a surveyor in his youth. He was on the disastrous Braddock Expedition during the French and Indian War, legend has it the after the wounding of General Edward Braddock, Washington took command and saved Braddock's army from total destruction.

He wove the disparate colonial elements besieging Boston into a real army. Through many trials, tribulations, and defeats, Washington held this army together. A victory here and there (such as the Battle of Trenton, think "Washington crossing the Delaware") kept the men in the ranks and gave patriots everywhere renewed faith in the glorious cause of American independence.

After his victory at Yorktown a new nation was born. General Washington could probably have had a crown for the asking, some offered him that very possibility. He turned it down of course and became our first President. He persevered, he kept the goal in mind.

Leadership takes many forms. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. In this post I talked about famous military leaders. I've known and served under some pretty damned fine military leaders in my day. Nobody really famous, no generals. Mostly captains and majors, some commanding squadrons, some were branch chiefs. They knew their jobs, they took care of their people.

That's what it boils down to for me really, three things -
  1. Know your job
  2. Keep your eye on the goal (the mission if you will)
  3. Take care of your people.
A good leader is also a good manager, the converse doesn't necessarily hold true. It's my experience that most "leaders" these days are not good leaders, can't manage worth a damn (well, except maybe to manage their own careers, they're usually damn good at that), and don't really care about the people in their charge, except so far as how they can be used to benefit themselves.

Well, those are my thoughts on leaders and leadership and a look at some of my favorite examples of types of leaders. What are your thoughts?

Editor's Note: Please note the words in red in the next to last sentence. I added those this morning. This was not intended to be a list of my favorite leaders, far from it. Leaving words out altered the drift and meaning here. My bad, I shouldn't blog while medicated...

*The Goat is the individual who graduates dead last in academic standing. Hey, they did actually graduate. No mean achievement!
**In all fairness to those government and business leaders, they were also concerned with keeping enough able bodied men at home to do necessary industrial and agricultural work.


  1. Stark difference in leadership is illustrated by your picture of General Patton. Notice his "brick", ie, ribbons compared to our current perfumed princes like Patraeus. Just saving.

  2. I find it difficult to agree that George B. McClellan was anything other than a vain, egotistical underachiever. He does get some credit for forming and training the Army of the Potomac, but, like the cartoon caveman who invents the wheel, McClellan had no clue as to how to employ his “invention.” I would point out that he was in possession of Robert E. Lee’s entire plan for the Antietam campaign in advance. He outnumbered Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He had interior lines and better communications. And he had knowledge that Lee’s army was divided into three separate parts and was ripe for defeat in detail. And with all those advantages he still managed to only fight Lee to a draw. But I think that the fact that, as a manager, he held total contempt for HIS manager, President Lincoln. McClellan not only repeatedly said, both publicly and privately, things that were highly contemptuous of the president, but there is a record that, at least on one occasion, when President Lincoln needed to talk to McClellan and, instead of sending for McClellan to come to the White House, Lincoln, and Secretary of State Seward, went to McClellan’s house. They were informed that McClellan was not at home and said they would wait for his return in the parlor. When McClellan returned home and was informed that the President and the Secretary of State were waiting for him in the parlor he ignored them and went upstairs to bed.

    1. Dave, as soon as I began reading your comment I realized that I had left the wrong impression in this post. I added four words near the end (in red) which, I hope, clarifies things. This post was meant to be my favorite examples of types of leaders. Not my favorite leaders. McClellan? No way, no how. I concur with your assessment of the man.

      I should also point out that I do not view the word "manager" as a compliment.

      Blogging while medicated is a chancy thing.

  3. Great leaders require Great enemies. And then too,
    "But here they take their right place, and Caesar and Napoleon and Alexander have to take a back seat. The greatest military genius our world ever produced was a brick-layer from somewhere back of Boston--died during the Revolution--by the name of Absalom Jones. Wherever he goes, crowds flock to see him. You see, everybody knows that if he had had a chance he would have shown the world some generalship that would have made all generalship before look like child's play and 'prentice work. But he never got a chance; he tried heaps of times to enlist as a private, but he had lost both thumbs and a couple of front teeth, and the recruiting sergeant wouldn't pass him. However, as I say, everybody knows, now, what he WOULD have been,--and so they flock by the million to get a glimpse of him whenever they hear he is going to be anywhere. Caesar, and Hannibal, and Alexander, and Napoleon are all on his staff, and ever so many more great generals; but the public hardly care to look at THEM when HE is around. Boom! There goes another salute. The barkeeper's off quarantine now.""

    It's hard to compare the leaders of the Civil War. Sometimes the measure of them was taken against a genius, other times against a dolt.

    1. True that last sentence.

      I would also argue that great leaders require competent subordinates as well. The best laid plan executed by idiots will ever fall short.

  4. If I'd have to add someone from my nation's own history. I'd present this one "grand captain" of 17th century whose career spanned from 1620s into 1660s and who was instrumental in saving the Commonwealth from demise in the great Swedish invasion of 1655.

    his story is quite interesting, and I'd be glad if anyone read it in full, even if it is just wiki entry
    Not as famous as Chodkiewicz and Koniecpolski, nevertheless he showed the uncanny ability to bounce back from defeats and emply maneuver against superior numerically enemy, and his leadership probably was inspiration to Hetman who would later become king, John III Sobieski, most known for the Battle of Vienna 1683

    1. The career of Hetman Stefan Czarniecki is well worth a read! Thanks for the link Paweł.

  5. If one lives long enough, one will encounter leaders of both stripes.
    My grandfather ran a small printing business in Philadelphia. He led by example. He never asked anyone to do what he wanted if he couldn't do it himself . . . from running a press to operating the camera to unloading a truckload of boxed paper.
    The first military leader I ever encountered was Colonel Lewis Millett . . . MOH holder, commander of the US Army Security Agency Training Regiment & School, Fort Devens, MA - ca. 1966. He was larger, much larger, than life to we privates.
    There once was a "dispute" between the post MPs and some ASA students who were exiting the movie theater. (ASA students were forever prey for the permanent party cadre who were stationed at Devens . . . to include the MPs.) Anyway, the "dispute" got out of hand and grew into a major confrontation wherein the MPs patrol car was turned onto it's roof, and many of the ASA students were arrested and hauled off to the
    stockade. (This was serious shite . . . many of these students would lose their Top Secret status if they were convicted of any crime and therefore lose their MOS.) Next morning, very dark and very early, the First Sergeants were waking up the entire regiment for a formation being held in the 1st Battalion's snow covered quad area. All the companies were carefully aligned and ready when the good Colonel walked out, stepped up to a snow man figure that was in the center of the quad, knocked off the top and climbed up onto the base. He stood there for a few moments, hands on hips, shillelagh in hand, staring at us all. Then he gestured . . . "Gather 'Round." All the carefully formed companies suddenly became a large crowd trying to get close enough to the colonel to hear what he was going to say. (Ya gotta remember . . . this was an entire regiment!) Millett then said to us, "There was an ugly incident last night. Military property was damaged. Don't let it happen again. Good job." He then jumped down off the snow man and went for coffee at his usual spot . . . Company B's Mess Hall. His actions always impressed me.
    The next military leader who impressed me was a Warrant Officer, Chief of Maintenance, at Field Station Berlin. Seems that the Berlin Brigade commander, a Brigadier General, was unhappy that FSB maintenance personnel were wearing their safety-boots in public places (ie: the PX). He ordered us to stop doing so, and for us to apply yellow paint to the toes & heels of our safety boots. Our chief went through the regulations, found what he was looking for, fired off a message to the general's office that, basically, told him to piss off. We heard nothing more from the Brigadier.
    These were non-combat situations but are illustrative of the leadership qualities of some people who are in charge.
    There's one more that comes to mind . . . from Vietnam but I've been too wordy already.

    1. PS:
      An interesting fiction read that describes both types of military leaders precisely: "Once An Eagle" by Anton Myrer.

    2. I see that Colonel Millet was a New Englander. (Not that that matters.) What a leader! Handled that situation perfectly.

      As to that general, yes, I've seen far too many like that. They seem to abound in peace time and in the rear.

    3. Once an Eagle is one of the best books I have ever read. I should get a new copy, the one I have is rather dog-eared and fragile.

      A superb book which I would highly recommend to anyone who aspires to really lead.

    4. The man had one of the toughest jobs in that war. One of three general officers to have earned the CIB.

    5. I'm kind of surprised they didn't give one to Major General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (U.S. Army).

    6. Teddy Jr. is one of my favorite generals. Tough as nails...

      From his Medal of Honor citation -

      For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt's written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

  6. I had the honor of observing General Ariel Sharon during the Yom Kippur War, 1973, when he brilliantly led the crossing of the Suez which encircled the Egyptian Third Army. This maneuver saved the Jewish State. General Sharon was one of the greatest military commanders who ever lived.

    Thanks so much for your blog, which is essential reading. Keep up the fine work.

    1. Mr. Avrech! Honored that you would stop by, love your blog.

      I concur with your assessment of General Sharon, Israel has been well-served by many of her leaders.

    2. The honor is all mine.

      My (late) father was a Rabbi Chaplin in the 42nd Rainbow Division in WWII, Korea, and Nam. He taught me that the American soldier is the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.

      I thank you all for your service.

    3. I know of your Father. I honor his memory.

  7. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a resemblance between GEN George Patton and GEN James Mattis? And speaking of Generals, I had dinner the other night with this gentlman: whom I worked with at CENTCOM. There's somewhat of a family resemblance with one of his descendent's- the other Custer.

    1. Descendents? What was I thinking? Ancestors!

    2. There is a passing resemblance between Patton and Mattis. So it's not just you. And the resemblance isn't just physical.

    3. Heh, I knew what you meant. There is a family resemblance there.

  8. Good blog, thoroughly enjoyed it. Brought to mind this quote that was at the front
    of our classroom when I went to NCO Leadership school:

    "To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the people do not
    notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the
    people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done
    the people say, 'We did it ourselves!'" — Lao-tsu

    1. Those ancient Chinese philosophers were pretty smart.

  9. When I was a mere lad I spent many hour reading military history and formed fairly strong opinions, many of which have survived these many years. As a young Marine recruit I had the temerity to answer a drill instructor's question about who was the greatest general in history. Not yet being a fully anointed member of the tribe I missed the politically correct answer (Chesty Puller) and responded that it was Gustavus Adolphus. When the laughter died down, and the gunny had pointed out the error of my ways, the class went on. In retrospect, as much as I respected Chesty Puller, I think my answer was pretty good. Look Gustavus Adolphus up. What a remarkable leader.

    1. King of Sweden, killed in action at the Battle of Lützen 6 November 1632 at the age of 37. A great leader indeed. (Puller was good, but he wasn't responsible for an entire nation!)

      Strong opinions backed by knowledge (which you obviously have) are always welcome!

      (Did those Marines know who Gustavus Adolphus was?)

    2. I actually had the chance to meet Chesty in his latter years and he was a remarkable and fascinating character who I am proud to have known. And I reckon that he was, indeed, a great leader. But as a general he was largely "hi-diddle-diddle, right up the middle."

      And, no, neither the other recruits (who at that point in boot camp probably were having difficulty remembering their own names) nor the gunny had ever heard of Gustavus Adolphus. In fact, I thinks what the gunny said was "who the f*** is that?"

    3. Hahaha! I figured as much.

      You actually met Chesty Puller? That's pretty awesome.


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