"For more than two hundred years African Americans have fought for their own personal freedom as well as that of their fellow Americans. Blacks contributed to the success of the revolution that gained the country, but not its slaves, their independence. Blacks played a significant role in preserving the union in the Civil War and securing their own freedom. From the expanse of the American West to the heights of San Juan Hill, from the trenches of France to the heartlands of Germany and Japan, from the icy mountain ridges of Korea to the thick jungles of Vietnam and the sands of the Persian Gulf, African Americans have performed loyally and bravely."
—From The African-American Soldier
In this moving and revealing account, Michael Lee Lanning brings to life the battles in which African Americans fought so courageously to become full citizens by risking their lives for their country. This updated edition includes analyses of African-American soldiers' involvement in recent U.S. conflicts, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Michael Lee Lanning serves as public affairs officer for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. He has spent more than twenty years on active duty in the United States Army. He has written nine books of military history, including The Military 100 and Senseless Secrets. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
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American General (1732–1799)
George Washington, commander of the American Continental army and the first president of the United States, is the most influential military leader of all time. If identifying and ranking the "top 100" focused on only great battle captains or brilliant military strategists, Washington might be far down the list, if included at all. This study, however, concerns "influential" military leaders, and within that parameter Washington ranks at the very top.
As the commander of the Continental army, Washington led an assembly of citizen soldiers he described as "sometimes half starved; always in rags, without pay and experiencing, at times, every species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing." With this "ragtag" army and his political ability to appease civilian commanders and gain support from other countries, Washington defeated one of the world's foremost armies and brought independence to the United States of America.
Washington, born to a farm family on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, mostly educated himself by extensive reading of geography, military history, and agriculture. The young Washington also studied mathematics and surveying, which led him, at age sixteen, to join a survey expedition to western Virginia. In 1749, Washington became the official surveyor of Culpepper County.
Washington's first direct military experience came with his appointment as a major in the Virginia colonial militia. In 1754, Washington led a small expedition into the Ohio River valley on behalf of the governor of Virginia to demand that the French withdraw from the British-claimed territory. He had his first taste of combat when the French attacked his company, forced its surrender, and sent it back to eastern Virginia.
Washington resigned his commission but then rejoined the militia in 1755 as a lieutenant colonel and aide to British general Edward Braddock. Back in the Ohio Valley once more, Washington was with the British column when the French and their Indian allies sprung an ambush, killing Braddock. Washington took charge of the withdrawal and led the survivors to safety. As a reward, Washington was promoted to colonel, and when the Seven Years' War between Britain and France was formally declared in May 1756, he took command of the defenses of the western Virginia frontier.
Washington tried to join the British Regular Army, but when rejected, he returned to Mount Vernon at the end of the war. In 1758, Washington was elected to the House of Burgesses, where he served for the next seventeen years. During this time, he openly opposed the increasing British repression of the American colonies and the escalating taxation on life and commerce.
When the Continental Congress met in 1774, Washington represented his home colony of Virginia. Shortly after the American Revolutionary War began in 1775 with the battles at Lexington and Concord, Washington appeared before the Continental Congress in his militia uniform offering his service. By unanimous vote, Congress authorized the formation of a Continental army and appointed Washington its commander in chief, not so much for his military qualifications as for his diplomatic skills. With the American colonies experiencing distinct and hostile divisions between North and South, Washington appeared to be the only leader capable of uniting Americans in opposition to one of the world's strongest armies.
Washington took command of the Continental army, formed from various colonial militia, at the siege of Boston in July 1775. He immediately organized his force, dealt with the loyalists, and attempted to form a navy. Familiar with the advantages of terrain from his experience as a surveyor, Washington occupied the unguarded Dorchester Heights, armed the high ground with cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga, and shelled the British occupiers of Boston, forcing them to evacuate the city by ship in March 1776.
Wisely anticipating that the British would target New York City as a base from which to split the colonies along the Hudson River, Washington arrived in New York with adequate time to prepare defenses but evacuated when his soldiers, inferior in both numbers and training, failed in several battles with the British Regular Army in November.
By the time Washington retreated into Pennsylvania, his demoralized army totaled a mere three thousand soldiers. The British force of thirty-four thousand seemed to be waiting only for spring to finish off the American rebels. On Christmas night, 1776, Washington made his most daring, and famous, attack by crossing the ice-filled Delaware River and engaging the British Hessian mercenary garrison at Trenton. With few losses, the rebels captured nine hundred of the enemy and on January 2 defeated another small British unit at Princeton.
Neither encounter was a decisive victory, but together they did provide the first positive news for the rebels since Boston. Recruiting became easier, morale within the army rose, and more importantly, the series of losses had ended. However, Washington recognized that he could not defeat the superior British army in open combat. He also realized that he did not have to do so. Time was on his side. The longer the war lasted, the more likely it was that the British would tire of the expenditures and that some other, more threatening enemy would go to war against them.
Quite simply, Washington understood that as long as he had an army in the field, victorious or not, the newly declared United States of America existed. In 1777, Washington made only a perfunctory effort to defend the capital at Philadelphia and sent part of his army to upstate New York to stop a British invasion from Canada. Although he did not directly participate at Saratoga, the rebels won the battle because of his selection of excellent subordinate commanders and his willingness to give them the authority and the available assets to achieve victory.
During the long winter of 1777–78 at Valley Forge, Washington accepted support from wherever available. American representatives in Europe recruited experienced leaders to come to Washington's aid. Prussian Baron von Steuben proved particularly useful in drilling and training the American army.
By 1778 neither side could amass enough strength in the North to achieve victory, so the British moved against the southern colonies. Rather than pursue, Washington maintained his presence around British-occupied New York. He remained confident that the mere existence of his army represented sufficient action. Nonetheless, he did dispatch one of his most able commanders, Nathanael Greene, to the South.
During the summer of 1778, France declared war on Britain and began providing support to the American rebels. Washington remained patient, maintaining a stalemate in the North, while Greene fought a series of battles in the Carolinas. After two years, Greene forced the British to withdraw to the Yorktown peninsula of Virginia. Washington, leaving a small detachment to block the British force in the north, then moved south. With the support of a seven thousand-man French army and a thirty-six-ship French fleet offshore to prevent reinforcement or evacuation, Washington moved against Yorktown. He accepted the surrender of the British army on October 19, 1781.
Yorktown was Washington's only decisive victory of the Revolution, but it proved quite adequate. Although the war did not formally conclude until 1783, for all practical purposes the American Revolution ended at Yorktown. Washington, now a national and world hero, became the first president of the United States of America in February 1789. During two terms, he presided over the formation and initial operations of a democratic government and established many of the procedures and traditions that prevail even today. Refusing to run for a third term, Washington retired to Mount Vernon, where he died on December 14, 1799, at age sixty-seven.
While his stature today results more from his role as president than as general, Washington was nevertheless an accomplished military leader. He simultaneously maintained an army in the field against a far superior force, kept a divisive Congress and population satisfied, and solicited military support from other countries.
Although other military leaders such as NAPOLEON I , ALEXANDER THE GREAT , and GENGHIS KHAN, directly accomplished more on the battlefield, none left a legacy of influence equaling that of George Washington. Without Washington there would have been no Continental army; without the Continental army there would have been no United States. The American colonies would have remained a part of the British Empire and faced a powerless fate similar to that of other colonies. Washington established the standard for an America that is today the world's longest-surviving democracy and its single most influential and powerful nation. George Washington more than earned the honored title "Father of His Country."
French Emperor (1769–1821)
As emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte dominated European political and military life for more than two decades. His military genius led him to conquer most of the Continent and extend French control into Asia and Africa. Napoleon not only captured massive territory; he also exported his military and political ideas and techniques and influenced armies and governments throughout the world. In so doing, he clearly established himself as one of the most influential military leaders of all times.
Napoleon's origins offered no indication of his future greatness. Born on August 15, 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica, into a Corsican-Italian family of minor nobility in which no "Buonaparte" had ever been a career soldier, Napoleon lived a typical childhood, his early education focused on "gentleman subjects." As a teenager, however, Napoleon attended military schools in France, which, combined with his voracious reading of military history, led to his decision to seek an army commission. Upon graduating from the military academy in Paris at age sixteen, Napoleon joined the artillery as a second lieutenant. (Napoleon changed the spelling of his surname to Bonaparte in 1796 and, as his fame increased, eventually dropped it entirely.)
When the French Revolution erupted in 1789, Napoleon became a politically active Jacobin as he advanced in rank and responsibility within the army. When Corsica declared its independence in 1793, Napoleon broke all ties with his home island and remained loyal to France. He joined the siege of British forces at Toulon, and although he suffered a bayonet wound himself, he took command of the French artillery after its commander was seriously wounded. His rallying of the cannoneers and his concentrated fire led to a victory for France as well as fame and a promotion to brigadier general for the twenty-six-year-old Napoleon.
Napoleon again proved to be at the right place at the right time on October 5, 1795, when he fired the famous "whiff of grapeshot," a single artillery volley in Paris that suppressed a Royalist uprising. As a reward, Napoleon received command of the Army of Italy, and in this, his first field command, he began to build his reputation with victories over the Austrians at Lodi, Castiglione, Arcola, and Rivoli in 1796-97. At Lodi, Napoleon displayed his personal bravery by leading a bayonet assault across a bridge against the Austrian rear guard. The French soldiers, not accustomed to such actions by high-ranking officers, nicknamed their valiant five-foot-two commander "the Little Corporal."
Taking advantage of his victories, Napoleon pushed southward and, by the end of 1797, controlled both Italy and Austria. Now a hero all across France, he did not rest on his laurels; rather, he continued to display the ambition, aggressiveness, and sound judgment that typified the remainder of his career. When he realized that his army was not strong enough for a cross-channel invasion of Britain, Napoleon, with an army of forty thousand, instead sailed to Egypt, where he intended to disrupt Britain's rich trade with India and the surrounding area. He won several victories over the occupying Turks, but before he could pacify the region, Britain's HORATIO NELSON  attacked and defeated the French fleet at Alexandria.
Instead of staying to fight a losing battle, Napoleon returned to France and joined an uprising against the ruling Directory. After a successful coup on November 9, 1799, Napoleon became the first consul and the de facto leader of France, with all but dictatorial powers. He revised the French Constitution in 1802, making himself "consul for life," and again in 1804, declaring himself emperor.
Napoleon backed up these aggrandizing moves with military might and political savvy. In 1800, with a new army assembled by a rigid conscription system, Napoleon again invaded Austria and negotiated a general peace agreement establishing the Rhine River as France's eastern border. Within the country, he standardized civil law into what became known as the Napoleonic Code, which guaranteed the rights and liberties won in the Revolution, including freedom of religion for all.
France's aggressive foreign policy and its army's offense-oriented behavior soon ended the brief European peace. In April 1803, Britain resumed its war against Napoleon and two years later added Russia and Austria as allies. Despite the loss of much of his navy in yet another battle against Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon knew that the war would be decided on land. Moving swiftly and attacking violently, Napoleon began his most brilliant campaign, defeating the Austrians at Ulm on October 17, 1805, and a combined Austro-Russian force at Austerlitz on December 2. He then defeated the Prussians at Jena on October 14, 1806, and met and vanquished the Russians at Friedland on February 2, 1807. The resulting Treaty of Tilsit divided most of Europe between the Russians and French.
At the height of his powers, Napoleon implemented the Napoleonic Code, guaranteeing the rights and liberties won in the French Revolution across his sector of Europe. In addition to standardized laws, the code abolished feudalism and serfdom, established freedom of religion, and provided free schooling for all.
Extending French administrative and judicial systems did not, however, satisfy Napoleon's ambitions. He continued to blockade Britain's trade routes and openly declared his hostility toward the English, whom he called a "nation of shopkeepers." He also added to his vast holdings by seizing Portugal in 1807. The following year, Napoleon attempted to annex Spain, but the Spanish, supported by British troops, resisted in what became the Peninsular War, which lasted until 1813. Although he personally led the French in several successful battles, Napoleon left most of the fighting in Spain to his marshals while he conducted operations in central Europe. The Peninsular War eventually cost the French three hundred thousand casualties but yielded no definitive victory.
Despite the quagmire in Spain, Napoleon reacted to deteriorating relations with Russia by invading that country with an army of six hundred thousand on June 24, 1812. Napoleon could conquer the Russian army, but even he could not overcome the Russian winter and the scorched-earth policy of his enemy that left behind no supplies or protection. When Napoleon reached Moscow, his prize was the capture of a burned-out, abandoned city — and the approach of winter, the severity of which had destroyed more than one invading army. By the time remnants of Napoleon's starving, freezing Grand Army crossed back into France, it totaled no more than ten thousand effective soldiers.
In the spring of 1813, Russia, Prussia, Britain, and Sweden allied together against France. Napoleon rallied his surviving veterans and conscripted new recruits to meet the enemy coalition. Although he continued to fight brilliantly, Napoleon suffered defeat at Leipzig in October 1813 and withdrew into eastern France. Finally, at the urging of his subordinate field marshals, Napoleon agreed to abdicate on April 11, 1814, and accepted banishment to the island of Elba.
But Napoleon did not stay in exile long. In March 1815 he escaped from Elba and sailed for France. The French army, under Marshal MICHEL NEY , sent by the king to arrest the former emperor, instead rallied to his side. Soon most of his old veterans were raising their swords and following Napoleon as he again assumed the offensive and achieved several victories. Napoleon's new reign, however, was to last only one hundred days. At Waterloo on June 18, 1815, Napoleon and his army, neither displaying their usual aggressiveness or élan, suffered a decisive defeat by WELLINGTON  and GEBHARD LEBERECHT VON BLÜCHER .
Excerpted from "The Military 100"
Copyright © 1996 Michael Lee Lanning.
Excerpted by permission of Carol Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 - George Washington,
2 - Napoleon I,
3 - Alexander the Great,
4 - Genghis Khan,
5 - Julius Caesar,
6 - Gustavus Adolphus,
7 - Francisco Pizarro,
8 - Charlemagne (Charles the Great),
9 - Hernando Cortés,
10 - Cyrus the Great,
11 - Frederick the Great (Frederick II),
12 - Simón Bolívar,
13 - William the Conqueror,
14 - Adolf Hitler,
15 - Attila the Hun,
16 - George Catlett Marshall,
17 - Peter the Great,
18 - Dwight David Eisenhower,
19 - Oliver Cromwell,
20 - Douglas MacArthur,
21 - Karl von Clausewitz,
22 - Arthur Wellesley (First Duke of Wellington),
23 - Sun Tzu,
24 - Hermann-Maurice Comte de Saxe,
25 - Tamerlane,
26 - Antoine Henri Jomini,
27 - Eugene of Savoy,
28 - Fernández Gonzalo de Córdoba,
29 - Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban,
30 - Hannibal,
31 - John Churchill (Duke of Marlborough),
32 - Winfield Scott,
33 - Ulysses Simpson Grant,
34 - Scipio Africanus,
35 - Horatio Nelson,
36 - John Frederick Charles Fuller,
37 - Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne de Turenne,
38 - Alfred Thayer Mahan,
39 - Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke,
40 - Vo Nguyen Giap,
41 - John Joseph Pershing,
42 - Maurice of Nassau,
43 - Joan of Arc,
44 - Alan Francis Brooke (Alanbrooke),
45 - Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval,
46 - Omar Nelson Bradley,
47 - Ralph Abercromby,
48 - Mao Zedong,
49 - H. Norman Schwarzkopf,
50 - Alexander Vasilevich Suvorov,
51 - Louis Alexandre Berthier,
52 - José de San Martn,
53 - Giuseppe Garibaldi,
54 - Ivan Stepanovich Konev,
55 - Suleiman I,
56 - Colin Campbell,
57 - Samuel (Sam) Houston,
58 - Richard I (the Lion-Hearted),
59 - Shaka,
60 - Robert Edward Lee,
61 - Chester William Nimitz,
62 - Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher,
63 - Bernard Law Montgomery,
64 - Carl Gustav Emil von Mannerheim,
65 - H. H. Arnold,
66 - Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk),
67 - John Arbuthnot Fisher,
68 - Heihachiro Togo,
69 - Moshe Dayan,
70 - Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov,
71 - Ferdinand Foch,
72 - Edward I,
73 - Selim I,
74 - Giulio Douhet,
75 - Heinz Guderian,
76 - Lin Piao,
77 - Isoroku Yamamoto,
78 - Harold Rupert Alexander,
79 - Erwin Rommel,
80 - Lennart Torstensson,
81 - Saddam Hussein,
82 - Fidel Castro,
83 - Horatio Herbert Kitchener,
84 - Tito,
85 - Karl Doenitz,
86 - Kim Il Sung,
87 - David Glasgow Farragut,
88 - Garnet Joseph Wolseley,
89 - Chiang Kai-shek,
90 - Frederick Sleigh Roberts,
91 - Saladin,
92 - George Dewey,
93 - Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé,
94 - Kurt Student,
95 - George S. Patton,
96 - Michel Ney,
97 - Charles XII,
98 - Thomas Cochrane,
99 - Johann Tserclaes von Tilly,
100 - Edmund Henry H. Allenby,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,