Sunday, April 14, 2024

Still Under the Weather ...

Robin Olds
Before I begin, the man above is the epitome, to me, of a fighter pilot and a combat leader. If I had to go into battle, it would be with that guy. One of the proudest periods of my life was serving in the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea. His legacy remains.

So the drugs are winning the war against the crud, but they're knocking me on my butt. I guess a lot of sleep ain't a bad thing. Just gives me not enough energy to, ya know, get off my butt and do things, like write blog posts. But as they say, this too shall pass.

So today, this Sunday the 13th of April in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty Four, I inflict a rerun upon you. But this is one of my favorites ...

First posted on 18 Feb 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 "Goat¹" 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)
Édouard Detaille
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 course²) 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 examples of types of leaders. What are your thoughts?

¹ The Goat is the individual who graduates dead last in academic standing. Hey, they did actually graduate. No mean achievement!
² 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. Taking a last point first, peacetime armed forces tend to promote those who are more managers than warriors, and often they are best at managing to avoid doing anything that would impede their progress to the top. The criteria for rising in a peacetime military are very different from those needed what the shit hits the fan. Avoiding blame and responsibility for any possible negative outcome is essential to rise, not making any hard decisions is another necessity. If one avoids looking like they have failed, and kisses the right butts, one will eventually rise. Standing out gets one hammered down as the Japanese say.
    In wartime the best leaders often come from unexpected places and they have the opportunity to rise through merit and ability when failure cannot be swept under the rug and success burns like a beacon. A prime example would be Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was not a peacetime military officer but may have been the best cavalry leader in the ACW. Prior to WWII, Patton's career had stagnated and he was not popular among his peers, but was immensely talented once there was an enemy to fight.
    To me Rommel was a talented leader but he suffered from the same flaw as R L Lee. They both tended to be unrealistic about what the troops and their own audacity could accomplish and over reached their way to failure. Certainly no objective observer would in any way consider Montgomery's talents as a war leader to be even close to a match for Rommel, and El Alamein was a stolidly planned battle and executed like a WWI campaign, but the German and Italians could not overcome their size and logistical disadvantages, no matter who lead them. Even is war, many of the top men are politicians and organization men rather than leaders and they get troops unnecessarily killed. Montgomery and Eisenhower are prime examples, Eisenhower's role was very important in holding the alliance together but episodes like the counter attack after the Battle of the Bulge showed his limitations as a commander. If you are superior in men and material, direct hammer will usually get you a win, but a few flanking attacks would have gotten him to the same place with fewer dead. The battle of Hurtgen Forrest is a prime example. I talked to a veteran of that battle in the early seventies and he was still very affected by it.
    Leaders like Meade almost always killing far more of their side than the warriors do. As you said he was a great manager and innovate in terms of equipment and could inspire loyalty in his troops just as long as he didn't lead them in battle. If the Union armies had had even a middle of the road battlefield commander in the beginning, far fewer men would have died and the war would have been over much sooner. As has been pointed out elsewhere, in his invasion of Virginia, Meade won six of the seven battles and retreated after each one.
    I tend to believe that leadership is difficult to quantify and it take real adversity for it to be come apparent, which is why leaders usually emerge through conflict. Not that there are leaders in a peacetime military, but they aren't the type that rises in that type of organization. Just my opinion for what it is worth.

    1. You confused Meade and McClellan, otherwise spot on.

    2. Good point on the advancement in "peacetime"; however our current crop of military " leaders" (with one notable exception) are now chosen for political reliability. We might as well have Zampolits in every command and in many instances do have them in all but name.
      Boat Guy

    3. Yes I did, many apologies to General Meade who was more competent than he is currently given credit for. If he had truly been in charge in 1862, he would have done better than Little Mac.

    4. Any Mouse - Not to worry, I figured you meant one and not the other. Meade was overshadowed by Grant's presence with the Army of the Potomac. And a lot of crappy history written after the war.

    5. Yeah the bitter enders started with Jubal Early in1865 rewriting the history of the war and creating the whole myth of the South's noble cause. They have been very successful in forming popular opinion, deifying Southern military leaders and obscuring the actual causes of the war. Many of the subsequent writers on the Civil War, I hesitate to call them historians, have written from an exclusively Southern point of view, skewing facts and creating a questionable narrative. I could go on for pages, but will leave it there.

    6. Questionable narrative is an understatement!

  2. Good choice of a post for a Sunday, the 14th of April Sarge............ :) Always liked Troiani's style.

  3. Heard a story way back from a guy who served under Patton and later was transferred, his point was if there was a farm house that might be a danger Patton would have them blow it up & continue on the way, his new command sent him up to take a look, that's where he was wounded.
    He was a fan of Patton.
    Leadership... I have a friend visiting, we've been friends since 1978 when I was first stationed at CG AirSta San Francisco, anyway we talked about the leaders we had over the years, the good, the bad & the indifferent. Darn few "good" leaders & more poor leaders with the most being indifferent ( just another CO or engineering officer). None of these were in a war setting (thank you fate!).
    I REALLY liked having a good leader!

    1. Having a good leader makes the job more satisfying, no matter the context. I've been fortunate to know some good ones, a few awful ones as well. Most, as you say, are in the middle of the pack.

  4. TNX. If history had been taught like this in high school...

    1. I've always felt that way. I had a few good history teachers, many were simply awful. You could tell that they didn't love their subject.

    2. Theodore Sturgeon, the scifi writer had a saying that resounds with truth,y percent of everything is shit. I worked in the medical field for over twenty six years and civilians would be amazed at just how few doctors fall into both the competent and caring group.

    3. I've been a patient for over seventy years, I believe you.

    4. That was supposed to be ninety percent.

  5. You might want to consider Jimmy Doolittle as someone who was both a leader and good manager. His changing the mission of the fighters from protecting the bombers to destroy the German fighters was tough but correct.

    1. Oh, the above wasn't meant to be an exhaustive list, but I agree, Jimmy Doolittle was a fine leader.

  6. A very good post. Very worth reposting.

    McClellan gets a lot of negative press because he would rather maneuver than fight. Which, at the time, as you pointed out, meant that the untrained and often not well equipped troops were kept from being lost. Takes time to field an army.

    I knew about Meade.

    As to Grant, there was a very good miniseries about him on the History Channel. Very good, you can probably stream it or whatever you kids these days do.

    1. But McClellan's incompetence on the battlefield arguably made the war last longer, causing more deaths.

    2. He was, arguably, facing some of the best generals and officers that were in North America at the time. Against an equal general McClellan was probably better due to his attention to detail.

    3. No, he blew it at Antietam, his last chance to prove himself. He used the Pinkerton Detective Agency for his intel, they consistently overestimated the size of Lee's army. His attention to detail was confined to the training and equipping of his men. He was a good organizer, a good manager, he was most emphatically NOT a combat general.

      But yes, against other incompetents he may have stood a chance.

    4. Yep. At that time most of the good combat generals were in the South or were being sidelined by politics in the North.

      One of the good things he did was to provide an example of why political connections needed to be ignored for advancement.

    5. A lesson which is ignored generation after generation.

  7. Another part of the Southern myth making of the bitter enders is the deification of Southern Military leadership especially in the early part of the war. There were two exceptional tactical leaders in the first part of the war, R L Lee and Jeb Stuart, Jackson could be brilliant and he could be lethargic and unresponsive and you could never be sure what you could get, he was a failure at Seven Days. His reputation was saved by dying a hero and by the deification awarded to much of the Southern leadership post war.
    Joseph E Johnston was Lee's superior until he was seriously wounded in the first Seven Days battle, he was better than McClellan at retreating because he did it in an orderly fashion and didn't panic, but he was hardly the guy to fight aggressively. Just look at the rest of his record during the war. Against McClellan in the Seven Days that pantheon of Southern Military Leadership lost six of seven battles. If there had been a general of any competence on the Union side, even a William Rosecrans the outcome would have been far different. When the general in charge's response to a victory is to burn the supply train and retreat, followed with another victory and another retreat, anybody looks good in opposition.

  8. Up at 3rd Fleet, that quote "A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week." is attributed to ADM Nimitz. Hmm.

    1. It's also been attributed to George S. Patton, Jr. Yes, that Patton.

      Still true, no matter who said it.

  9. Wholeheartedly agree with your comments about Robin Olds. He was truly unique among a group of unique leaders. Remains to be seen if the mold can be recast.
    One measure of the man was revealed in recently read story about Olds hosting an Army OV-1 Mohawk pilot who shot down a MiG.
    Eisenhower: While Patton deployed to France in WWI, Ike had established & commanded the largest stateside tank training center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They met and became friends following the war when both happened to command tank units. Tankers at heart, in friendship they informally worked together exploring the working and potential of armor. Sometimes muse on whether junior French or German tankers weren’t similarly engaged “working the problem”.
    In the runup to the invasion of France, Ike also played to the egos & sensitivities of political and military leadership. Anecdotally, I recall reading of an on-staff American colonel publicly referring to an English colonel as “that Limey bastard”. An uproar ensued. Ike took the position that the question of heritage was between the two officers – the Englishman could seek off-duty satisfaction as he desired. The “Limey” business was Ike’s business and potentially damaging to the alliance. The American, a promising officer up for promotion to brigadier, was demoted and shipped home to some wasteland assignment.
    As president, Eisenhower had a portrait of Robert E. Lee in his office. Asked how he justified it given Lee’s command in the Civil War. In response, Eisenhower spoke to Lee’s leadership, character and courage in battle. It was Ike’s belief that a nation of men like Lee would be unconquerable in spirit and soul.
    Anecdotally, recall reading of a woman of means being introduced to George Marshall. After introduction she added “but you may call me “first name”. Not missing a beat, Marshall responded “you may call me General Marshall”.
    My great-grandfather and his three brothers served in Armistead’s Brigade at Gettysburg.


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