We’ve all heard about military leaders from American history who totally rock. Washington, Stonewall Jackson, and Ike are certainly among them.
But it’s worth noting some military commanders who didn’t get the accolades, but really should have.
Some, you may know a little bit about, and some you might never have heard of until now.
Let’s take a look at who might need some more compliments for their military prowess.
1. Raymond A. Spruance
Samuel Eliot Morison called Raymond Ames Spruance “the victor of Midway” in his “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.”
Morison noted in that Spruance, upon reviewing the text, requested that “the victor of Midway” be changed to “who commanded a carrier task force at Midway.” Morison declined to make the change, but it shows the modest character of Spruance, who was arguably America’s best naval combat commander in the Pacific Theater.
Look at his results.
At Midway, Spruance smashed and sank four Japanese carriers. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, his fleet pulled off the Marianas Turkey Shoot, and later sank a carrier and two oilers (American subs sank two more carriers). Here’s how thoroughly Spruance beat the Japanese: At the start of the battle, CombinedFleet.com noted the Japanese had 473 aircraft on their carriers. After the battle, WW2DB.com noted the Japanese carriers had 35 planes total among them.
In the Navy, it is an honor to have a ship named after you. When your name goes on the lead ship of a class of destroyers, it speaks volumes about how you did.
Spruance’s name was on USS Spruance (DD 963), the first of 31 Spruance-class destroyers. An Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer (DDG 111) also bears his name.
2. John BufordSam Elliot gave a memorable performance of this general in “Gettysburg.”
We may very well owe the fact that the Union won the Civil War to John Buford. Everything that happened at Gettysburg was due to Buford’s actions on June 30 and July 1, 1863. An excerpt from a U.S. Army training manual notes, “Buford’s deployment and delaying tactics blocked Confederate access to Gettysburg while gaining time for reinforcing Union columns to arrive on the battlefield.”
He identified the terrain that mattered, he then bought time for the Union Army to arrive, and to eventually regroup on Cemetery Ridge. The U.S. Army manual says that, “[H]is morning actions ensured that the Army of the Potomac secured the high ground. Over the next two days, General Lee’s army would shatter itself in repeated attacks upon these heights. The battle of Gettysburg very much reflected the shaping influence of Buford’s cavalry division.”
3. Ulysses S. Grant
Butcher. Drunk. Those are common perceptions of Ulysses S. Grant, but they miss the point.
If Robert E. Lee’s biggest fault was the failure to keep in mind the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the two sides in the Civil War, Grant was someone who keenly grasped them. Yes, Union troops suffered heavy casualties at battles like Cold Harbor or the Wilderness, but where other generals pulled back, Grant pressed forward.
Edward H. Bonekemper noted at the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable that in the Overland Campaign, “Grant took his aggressiveness and persistence beyond the levels he had demonstrated in the Western and Middle Theaters.” Bonekemper also expressed his belief that had Petersburg not held, Grant’s campaign would have won the war in two months.
Eventually, he broke Lee’s army, and with it, the Confederacy.
4. Daniel Callaghan
Like John Buford, Callaghan really had one big moment. But what a moment it was.
Against overwhelming odds, Daniel Callaghan saved Henderson Field from a massive bombardment, making the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. Yet far too many historical accounts, like Richard Frank’s Guadalcanal (see pages 459 and 460), act as if Callaghan blundered into the fight.
On the contrary, Callaghan, by forcing a melee, bought enough time that the Japanese had to postpone having a battleship bombard Henderson Field for two critical days — enough time for American fast battleships to arrive.