Mary Russell

In designing wargames, I adhere to the importance of leadership in deciding battles. I do not mean that every contest rests with the generals. Certainly doctrine, technology, firepower, morale, terrain, weather, and numbers are all decisive. Yet, capable leaders are required to harness whatever advantages they have, and compensate for disadvantages. Starting in the 20th Century, the importance of generals somewhat waned as armies become more professional and scientific. Yet, who can doubt the importance of Erwin Rommel or William Halsey in their operations, or that of even Osama Bin Laden and Võ Nguyên Giáp?

All of that said, leadership was clearly important before 1900. Generals were visible to the men. They gave speeches, set battle plans, and if needed rode to the front to rally their troops at key moments. How a general is rated in a game depends largely on its scope. George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant were not superb tacticians, but they were able in other regards. Both were good at strategy, with Grant being gifted at operational maneuver and logistics while Washington was able to create a loyal and capable team of subordinates and show an organizational skill that allowed his army to survive. Their ratings in a strategic or operational game must reflect at least some of these abilities.

In making a tactical game like Horse & Musket, I have to constantly weigh the abilities of men with diverse talents. In order to understand the ratings, which go from zero to four, I included these parameters in the Volume I rulebook.

0: An incompetent commander. They have almost no redeeming skills on the battlefield. The best these men can achieve is a pyrrhic victory.

1: A competent commander. Reliable, but when faced with a great commander or genius, will usually lose, sometimes leading to unfair appraisals by later armchair historians.

2: A gifted commander. These men are capable of exceptional feats, but can still commit grave blunders. Can hold their own against better generals but will usually lose if evenly matched.

3: A great commander. These are the men who rarely lose a fight and have few weaknesses. They are the true nemesis of the military genius, being able to at least frustrate, if not stop, their plans.

4: A military genius. There are rarely more than two of these in any given conflict, and often times there are none. Rarely defeated, these men advanced the art of war and won stunning victories. They are always aided by a cast of gifted and great commanders, which may lead to some denigration by future generations, but the mark of genius is to recognize talent and use it effectively.

I found it tricky to rate leaders in Volume III of the series, Horse & Musket: Crucible of War. It covers exclusively the Seven Years’ War, which is unique in the series. All other volumes, both published and planned, deal with multiple wars. The Seven Years’ War though is unusual in that it was the last great clash of monarchs and in many ways too different from the preceding War of the Austrian Succession, and certainly the American and French Revolutions that followed. It needed its own volume and in creating it I had to consider a diverse set of men.

Jeffery Amherst has seen his reputation decline. Part of it is moral outrage. His one-time use of small pox blankets has become seen as a standard European tactic (it was not). More to the point, he also is seen as a slow and deliberate commander. Yet, his planning was careful and while hardly a genius he made few mistakes in his operations and battles. The 2 rating is fair, yet might seem like too much when compared to James Wolfe.

Detail of "Portrait of Major-General James Wolfe (1727-1759)", attributed to Joseph Highmore, c. 1760-1780.

Wolfe was a tactical military reformer without equal. He was energetic, creative, and aggressive. Yet, he was also erratic and emotionally unstable. He blundered badly at Montmorency. The attack that captured Quebec was not his idea, although he executed it with skill. I would argue the main reason for his fame is timing. He died just as he won a crucial victory at the Plains of Abraham. Thomas Gray once wrote (and Wolfe loved to quote) “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” True enough, but it leads to glory all the same. Arguably, “Stonewall” Jackson and Abraham Lincoln both died at precisely the time that would reap them the most posthumous fame.

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm is much like Wolfe, but his death was more tragic. He poorly managed his forces at the Plains of Abraham. However, he was a gifted defensive tactician with a flair for rallying his men. His victory at Fort Carillon is arguably due more to miscues by James Abercromby, but Montcalm was in his element and it is doubtful any other French general would have fought the battle with half of his verve save François-Gaston de Lévis, who was tactically uneven but just gifted enough to warrant a 2. Montcalm is also a 2 but with the added bonus of being charismatic and hence able to easily rally the troops.

Field Marshal Count Pyotr Alexandrovich Rumyantsev-Zadunaisky.

Some generals are damned by obscurity and bad personal habits, as is the case with Pytor Rumyantsev. He is hardly remembered today. Rumyantsev carried out harsh policies in Novorossiya and at Catherine II’s behest forced serfdom upon the place. Sadly, he proves the wisdom that being a bad person does not mean you lack talent. As a commander he was hard-fighting, determined, and brave. He excelled at Gross-Jägersdorf and Kunersdorf. A 3 might seem high, but he showed few tactical blemishes.

Rating Edward Braddock a 1 might make my grade school history teacher reel. He is after all remembered mostly as a loser, his small force nearly destroyed in battle. While true, Braddock marched over the mountains, making good time. As he approached the forks, Braddock’s scouts were bested by the French and Indians, but some reported that Fort Duquesne was lightly held and so he rushed ahead. During the fighting, his courage impressed even his later detractors. Braddock was not without flaws. He seems to have been overly gruff and impatient and dismissive. Yet, I would argue his is more a case of bad luck.

"Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757", Francis Hayman, c. 1760.

Comparing Robert Clive and Eyre Coote is a hard task. The two men distrusted each other, claimed the other got too much credit for their victories, and yet they kept working together, as if knowing that without the other they were diminished. It reminds one of the tense but creative relationship between Alec Guinness and David Lean, or Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog. I gave Coote a 2 because for all of his skill at drill, grit, and leadership, he was a standard tactician of the day. Clive showed a creative streak that I believe is just enough to warrant a 3. In either case, they are the two best British commanders in Volume III.

One of the war’s most celebrated commanders is Ferdinand, Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg. He led a polygot army and held the French at bay for four years. His most famous victory was Minden; his greatest, Krefeld. Yet, Brunswick cannot quite be considered a genius. He rarely pursued the French, who in consequence suffered light losses in most of their scraps with Brunswick. Furthermore, when he took on the capable Victor François de Broglie at Bergen, he lost. Brunswick was skilled, but he benefited from fighting France at its military low point of the Horse & Musket era and against a host of mediocrities and out-right incompetents.

Detail of "Frederick the Great as Crown Prince", Antoine Pesne, c.1739.

Lastly, rating Fredrick II is tough. The famous Prussian king made his share of mistakes. He panicked at Lobositz. His plan at Kolin was poor. He was taken by surprise at Hochkirk. He was defeated outright at Kunersdorf. The victories at Rossbach and Torgau had more to do with other commanders.

Yet, Frederick, erratic as he was, showed grit and tactical nuance. Leuthen was a military masterpiece with no equal during the Seven Years’ War. That many of his battles were close affairs, or even defeats, is because he faced a high caliber of opponents in the Seven Years’ War. A testament to his greatness is that he still managed to defeat or contain such skilled commanders as Franz von Lacy, Ernst Gideon von Laudon, Pytor Rumyantsev, Pytor Saltykov, Ulysses Browne, and Leopold von Daun. He also promoted and entrusted command to such talented men as James Francis Edward Keith, Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, and Hans Joachim von Zieten, among others.

Genius is not perfect and a good case can be made for Fredrick II being a 3, but a 4 seems appropriate for a commander who fought so many battles against such talented opponents and still managed to win most of those confrontations.

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