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"Exceptional commanders?" Topic


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AussieAndy19 Jun 2022 4:27 a.m. PST

Hello
For the purposes of a set of rules on which I am working, I am interested to know which ECW commanders you would rate as being exceptional. I am interested in commanders from the top down to regimental level.
Thank you

Prince Rupert of the Rhine19 Jun 2022 7:11 a.m. PST

Montrose. With exception of the Irish ( who were good troops) he had to lead what was bassically an army of feudal levies, with limited arms and practically no cavalry against modern well equipped troops with artillery and horse. The Battle of Inverlochy was imo a masterpiece of strategy.

Timbo W19 Jun 2022 7:50 a.m. PST

Interesting question

Rupert – very active commander, more aggressive than usual, but sometimes went too far

Cromwell – somehow managed to instil discipline in English cavalry

Waller – good for stratagems, night marches and choice of ground, but got beaten too often by superior numbers

Tom Fairfax – won against silly odds, did very well in the top job as general of NMA

Massey and Laugharne – both held out in strongholds in enemy territory then managed to turn the tables on the opposition

Hopton – a bit of a mixed bag, much like Waller, but managed to clear the West Country having started off with only a handful of cavalry

Charles Lucas – at least tried to rally the Royalist Cavalry from pursuit at Edgehill

KeepYourPowderDry19 Jun 2022 8:16 a.m. PST

I'm with Timbo on this.

As for Montrose, I'm not so sure. Yes, clearly good, but I wouldn't quite go so far as exceptional. The highlanders fighting for Montrose were very fired up, pursuing their own agenda rather than fighting for the King. Which explains why clans turned up for battles that furthered their laird's wishes, and often didn't for battles that didn't further their clan's cause. Plus the cream of their opposition were often south of the border. I get the feeling that Montrose was in charge of a run away train at times, vaguely going in the right direction but not fully in control.

Regicide164919 Jun 2022 9:14 a.m. PST

Sir William Waller was praised by his foes on several occasions for his advantageous use of terrain.

The death of Sir Beville Grenville was much mourned in Royalist circles for his insirational leadership of the Cornish. The other commanders in the Western tercio were no slouches either.

Essex also inspired, taking his coffin and winding-sheet on campaign.

Take your pick from the New Model Army field officers: Pride was exceptionally determined/stubborn and Rainsborough inspired such devotion that he became a political threat. John Lambert seems to have been a brilliant commander of horse in the later wars. Monck, much as I despise him, must have been exceptional to be given high command by two kings and a protector.

The King himself was more than competent, if you consider his position at 2nd Newbury. Lesser-known individuals such as Sir Thomas Lundsford proved their worth to the King as regimental or brigade commanders, being effectively professional soldiers (of which there were few in 1642).

AussieAndy19 Jun 2022 11:46 a.m. PST

Thank you. Some of those I would have picked straight off, but others I wouldn't have. Please keep the opinions coming.

nsolomon9919 Jun 2022 4:34 p.m. PST

Another vote for Fairfax and Rupert – stand out leaders for each side.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2022 7:22 p.m. PST

AussieAndy, might be worth breaking them down by category--perhaps inspirational, disciplinarian, tactician and strategist?

Montrose, for instance: clearly able to inspire men, but evidently completely unable to keep pickets on post in bad weather. In the end, it was a fatal flaw. Essex was well-loved, but not notably gifted as a strategist. Grenville we never get to see beyond the inspirational level.

No one has all the gifts.

Field Marshal19 Jun 2022 8:16 p.m. PST

Fairfax by far, Cromwell was overrated as a battlefield commander, with Horse he was good but he was really a political animal for which military command was a means to an end.
Astley was well thought of as an infantry commander.
Rupert was far more than a womantic cavalier. He was a talented leader and the poodle was as well!

BillyNM19 Jun 2022 10:30 p.m. PST

Montrose appears more an encumbrance than a help, let alone an effective commander, in Crown, Covenant and Cromwell: The Civil Wars in Scotland, 1639–1651 by Stuart Reid.
I always had thought Massey did well at Gloucester and Goring as an inspirational leader of horse on battlefield.

AussieAndy20 Jun 2022 2:31 a.m. PST

Thank you. The rules on which I am working are based on Fire and Fury, so the exceptional rating takes into account anything that make one bloke a better commander than the next bloke. That is going to vary according to the level of command. At a brigade level, that may reflect ability to get the troops to do what you want, eg control and inspiration. At higher levels, tactical capacity becomes more relevant. At least that's my take on it.

Happy to hear more input. I am particularly interested now the blokes at subordinate levels.

Timbo W20 Jun 2022 4:43 a.m. PST

Funny you mentioned Goring Billy, iirc Forlorn Hope rules had you roll a dice to determine his command rating before battle. From inspirational defeating Fairfax's wing at MM and Cromwell at II Newbury to dire with repeated defeats in the West Country.

For lower ranking commanders, how about Sir George Lisle who led his men in shirtsleeves at Newbury so they could see him up front in the failing light.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine20 Jun 2022 5:27 a.m. PST

At lower levels and becuase I have a fondness for Royalist Scots l. Alisdair Mac Colla who lead Montrose's Irish brigade. He seems a passable commander but was pretty inspiring being allegedly a giant of almost 7 feet, personally brave and rather handy in a fight.

Tomsurbiton20 Jun 2022 9:01 a.m. PST

Having recently taken part in the reenactment at Alton (on the side of Parliament), I think it only fair to nominate the Royalist Colonel Bolle, who inspired a heroic last-ditch defense in and around the church (you can still see the bullet holes).

Regicide164920 Jun 2022 11:39 a.m. PST

I second the vote for Astley, if you consider courage and devotion against the odds. Not sure I would decribe him as 'inspirational' as you might some of his oponents. In 1642, David Leslie and Essex were considered the most experienced generals available; the King sought both and got the better one. Rupert… well, he lost far more than he won and permitted several atrocities to boot. The New Model was never defeated: Cromwell is probably the best field-commander these islands have ever sent forth; and the New Model officer corps, in 17th Century terms, collectively exceptional.

Mollinary20 Jun 2022 1:12 p.m. PST

Regicide. So you rate Cromwell as a better field commander than either Marlborough or Wellington? An interesting judgement – would you care to elaborate?

Charge The Guns20 Jun 2022 2:47 p.m. PST

A fascinating subject, Aussie Andy. Many great suggestions already. Here is my 2 pence worth 😀. (Apologies in advance, as this does blather on somewhat!)

Montrose. Not perfect, but surely exceptional (sorry, KYPD 😀). Held together a disparate force of "enemies of my enemy". The year of miracles, 1644/5. Inverlochy was fantastic (as mentioned above) and still taught at Sandhurst, I believe. Auldearn was a brilliant recovery. We have to mention Alasdair MacDonald / MacColla along with Montrose – perhaps it was the pair of them together that was so successful. Of all the generals mentioned, MacColla is certainly the one you'd not want to fight face to face!

On the regimental level, the three Gordon brothers were very successful cavalry commanders and inspired incredible loyalty from their men.

Moving South, surely Hopton and Waller have to both be on the list. What a fascinating campaign. Waller was known as the ‘Fox' I think? Both bold and inspirational commanders. Stratton was an amazing victory for Hopton. Waller's attack at Alton was definitely brilliant.

Lucas and Lisle both good commanders for the Royalists at regimental and independent command levels.

Astley – ultimate professional and great Infantry commander for the Royalists. Best prayer of the war, perhaps best soldiers' prayer ever?

Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby, possibly the best Royalist in siege defences? 😀 (See Latham House.)

Marmaduke Langdale, great commander of the Royalist Northern Horse and did better than the other Engagers in 1648.

Rupert obviously has to be in there. His leadership gave the Royalist horse complete morale superiority in 1642 and gave some much needed steel to the back-bone of the Royalists in 42/43. His weakness was not playing court politics successfully and having an impossible position to win at Marston Moor. Was a very successful admiral, and his later life proved him to be a polymath of the period.

Massey is an under appreciated commander probably due to him changing to support he King in 47, and therefore earning suspicion from historians, contemporary and modern. A brave and extremely competent defence of Gloucester.

Skipon must be Parliament's version of Astley. A great Sergeant Major General of Foot.

Thomas Morgan a very stout and capable regimental and independent commander for Parliament and Monck's second in Scotland. Another extremely competent professional. Best Welsh general of the Wars?

Monck was clearly very capable and respected by generals on both sides. Cromwell trusted him perhaps more than any other of his generals – may because he was not political? A soldiers' soldier who knew the trade well. Hugely competent in siege craft, and ran Scotland for Cromwell.

John Lambert, perhaps the best of the New Model generals. Played a blinder in the Preston campaign, was probably responsible for the plan behind the victory of Dunbar (with Monck maybe). Great victory at Inverkeithing involving a significant naval operation. Was key to the victory at Worcester in 1651 (took Upton, and also prevented Cromwell throwing away the victory by keeping troops on the East bank).

I suppose we have to mention Cromwell. Certainly an inspirational regimental leader. His strength as a general, I think, was his ability to manage the politicians, and to also have the right people beneath him. While undoubtedly a shrewd politician and brilliant statesman, I don't think he was tested in strategy to be compared in the same league as Wellington or Marlborough.

Captain Sir John Smith – best captain of the wars? Surely the ‘Chuck Norris' of the wars for his performance at Edgehill. Last man to be made a Knight Banneret following his deeds at Edgehill.

Lapsang20 Jun 2022 11:30 p.m. PST

For a man of few words (apparently), Sir Jacob did offer us two of the best quotations of the War. As well as the Prayer at Edgehill that Mr Charge mentions, there was also this at the end of the Battle of Stow on the Wold, "Well, boys, you have done your work, now you may go and play—if you don't fall out among yourselves".

KeepYourPowderDry20 Jun 2022 11:58 p.m. PST

This discussion is lacking something: needs to be held in a decent pub.

Charge The Guns21 Jun 2022 1:43 a.m. PST

Great point, Lapsang 👍.

It would be an excellent, and long, evening, KYPD 👍. I think we'd have to switch to single malts when we got to Montrose and MacColla 🥃.

Lapsang21 Jun 2022 10:52 a.m. PST

So which Pub?

Timbo W21 Jun 2022 11:27 a.m. PST

The King's Head I guess 😜

alan in canberra21 Jun 2022 4:57 p.m. PST

While Montrose has some strategic skills he seems to have little operational awareness as he was surprised on several occasions by the presence of Covanenter troops which cursory scouting and intelligence gathering should have detected. Only the decideedly 2nd rate nature of his opponents on the field saved him from some embarrassing defeats. So I would rate his as Average with his opponents as Below Avearge.

Charge The Guns22 Jun 2022 1:33 a.m. PST

I think the mere fact that Montrose has more pluses and minuses against him in this thread than anyone else at least marks him out as an exceptional character, and it would seem an omission to not include rules for him. (I remember in Warhammer ECW that he had a high leadership rating but his army was not allowed a ‘Scout Master' to reflect the often poor scouting of his army.)

I'm not sure to be exceptional you have to be perfect. Napoleon, who even an Anglophile like me, would have to admit was an exceptional general, was not perfect. I realise that Montrose has been somewhat romanticised and idolised over the years, and there is something to be said for redressing the balance. But I think there is a danger in swinging the pendulum of revisionism too far.

Montrose returned to Scotland in 1944 with a servant and a flag in his saddle back and one year later had effectively conquered Scotland. Sure, it all went belly-up, but it was one hell of a year. 😀

Prince Rupert of the Rhine22 Jun 2022 2:30 a.m. PST

1944??? Was he on the German side :)

Personally I think Montrose was a fine general. If any of the English Generals had managed to achieve what he did with an army consisting of handful of horse, a couple of good regiments of foot and few thousand clubmen people would be hailing them a great general.

I still think Inverlochy was the masterpiece of the whole war. Montrose with a couple of thousand men, short of supplies and low on morale while facing three enemy armies. He took the brave decision to force march across the Highlands, in winter, to surprise a larger well supplied, enemy army, from an unexpected direction and then rout them.

I'm Pretty sure if Alexander, Hannibal or Wellington had pulled that one off they'd have gotten all the plaudits.

Charge The Guns22 Jun 2022 3:04 a.m. PST

Thanks, your highness! What a mistake to make 😆 – 1644 was the date I was thinking of, but not the date my fingers typed!

Steamingdave222 Jun 2022 11:11 a.m. PST

I agree that you have to put Montrose and McColla together to get an "exceptional". They complemented each other and once McColla went off on his own, Montrose was done for.
Of minor commanders I think Sir William Brereton deserves an honourable mention. His Cheshire forces enjoyed great success against the Royalists, with only 2nd Middlewich spoiling that record. He appears to have been a very energetic leader and had a knack of picking good subordinates. A lot of the success of the infantry was down to the work done by James Lothian and I would certainly give a "plus" to any brigade led by Lothian.

Regicide164922 Jun 2022 11:16 a.m. PST

Dear Mollinary,

Cromwell was a farmer with no formal military training who rose to the rank of lieutenant-general purely through success in the field. He didn't puchase a commission or toady up to the parasites at Court. The New Model under his command was never defeated and his victories did not come at such a Pyrrhic cost as Marlborough's when in sole command (i.e. after Blenheim). I regard Cromwell's victory at Dunbar as among the greatest feats of English arms; throw in Worcester and a few others where the enemy was trounced and the New Model's casualties light… it tips the balance for me.

AussieAndy23 Jun 2022 8:25 a.m. PST

Thank you for all of the contributions. That gives me something to start with.

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