Articles

5 of the most over-hyped military commanders in American history

These generals may be legends — or seen as awesome commanders — but did they really live up to all their hype?


Under closer examination, there might be some instances where the shine isn't so bright. We're about to shatter some long-held prejudices, so buckle up your seatbelt and hang on for the ride.

1. Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur had his shining moments, but he had his share of miscalculations during his career as well.

"Good Doug" was the guy who pulls off the Inchon invasion or who sees Leyte as the place to return to the Philippines. "Bad Doug" is the guy who, according to U.S. Army's official World War II history on the fall of the Philippines, failed to take immediate action, and saw them get caught on the ground.

Chicago Bears fans in the 2000s would always wonder which Rex Grossman would show up – "Good Rex" could carry the team, while "Bad Rex" could blow the game. It could be argued that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was much the same.

2. William F. Halsey

Official U.S. Navy portrait of William F. Halsey, Jr. (US Navy photo)

Let's lay it out here: Adm. William F. "Bull" Halsey was probably the only naval leader who could have won the Guadalcanal campaign, and for the first year and a half of World War II, he was well in his element. America needed someone who could help the country rebound from the infamous surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and who could inspire his men to go above and beyond.

But the fact is, in 1944, his limitations became apparent. Historynet.com noted his faults became apparent at Leyte Gulf, he "bit" on the Japanese carriers, which had been intended as a decoy. A thesis at the United States Army's Command and General Staff College stated that Halsey "made several unfounded assumptions and misjudged the tactical situation."

3. James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart

While having a number of great moments – like stealing the uniform of the CO of the Army of the Potomac and making off with a huge haul of intelligence – Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart also was responsible for a big blunder prior to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lee's official report on the Gettysburg campaign indicates that "the absence of the cavalry" made it "impossible to ascertain" Union intentions. An excellent dramatization of that is in the 1993 film "Gettysburg," where Lee rants about possibly facing "the entire Federal army" while chewing out Harry Heth for getting into the fight.

4. Robert E. Lee

An eyewitness description of Robert E. Lee called him "As near perfection as a man can be."

Was Lee a great general? Well, he did beat a large number of his opposite numbers in the East. McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker among them. But like Jeb Stuart, Lee forgot the bigger picture. As Edward H. Bonekemper, author of "How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War," noted at the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, "

The Union, not the Confederacy, had the burden of winning the war, and the South, outnumbered about four-to-one in white men of fighting age, had a severe manpower shortage." The simple fact was that the South needed to preserve its manpower. Lee failed to do so, and many believed, often wasted it.

Ordering Pickett's Charge was a classic example of wasting manpower. Antietam was another – and it was worse because the victory there allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Nice going, Bobby.

5. George S. Patton

Yeah, another legend who may be over-hyped.

But Patton, for all his virtues, had some serious faults as well. The slapping incident was but the least of those.

More worrisome from a military standpoint was the Task Force Baum fiasco, as described in this thesis. Patton, not the picture of humility, later admitted he made a mistake.

Patton probably was an example of someone promoted a bit past his level of competence.

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