Narrowing down all the great military generals in history is difficult, but we think we’ve picked our favorite five. Some of these generals we’ve selected were viewed as good men while others are definitely some of the most infamous tyrants that ever lived. Military prowess doesn’t automatically equal moral prowess. Some of the generals who didn’t make our list include Julius Caeser, George Patton, King David of Israel, William the Conqueror, and William Wallace.
Top Military Generals in History
Below is a list of what could be considered some of the top military generals in history. There legacy’s have stood the test of time. Each of these men were unique in there own way but they all have one thing in common. They were all great military generals.
George Washington was not just America’s first president; he was a beloved and revered general of the Colonial armies. What he was able to accomplish with the few men he had and the insurmountable odds he faced is truly amazing. That the United States exist at all is in large part due to his humble but steadfast leadership, both on and off the battlefield. George Washington need not have been the greatest strategist of all time: it was his character and bravery that inspired thousands of starved, ragged, unpaid soldiers to conquer the leading armies of the world at that time and give the ragtag English colonies their liberty.
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Virginia. Throughout his life, he studied agriculture, geography, military history, mathematics, and surveying. In 1754, he led an expedition out west that was ultimately unsuccessful, but which prepared him for later expeditions along the Virginia frontier. He served in the House of Burgesses for seventeen years and was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775. His appointment was largely due to his ability to inspire and unite the people. The Christmas attack of 1776 initially earned Washington his fame. With time, his meager army of 3,000 men grew until it could fully combat more than 34,000 British soldiers. In 1778, the French declared war on Britain and sent 7,000 men and 36 warships to support Washington and the colonies. In 1781, the British surrendered and the American Revolution came to an end.
Washington died when he was 67 years old, leaving behind a legacy of influence within the United States that is perhaps rivaled only by President Abraham Lincoln. Click here to learn about other U.S. Presidents with military experience.
Napoleon Bonaparte, or Napoleon I, is one of our great generals who was seen by those who opposed him as tyrannical and morally corrupt. He was the self-proclaimed emperor of France for more than two decades, and in his time, managed to conquer most of the European continent. At one point, he even had dominion in parts of Africa and Asia.
Napoleon was born in 1796 and had a fairly standard childhood. As a teenager, he attended military school, where his military brilliance first began to shine and from which he became a graduate at the age of 16. He was promoted to second lieutenant in the French army in charge of artillery and soon made his way up the chain of command. His many victories at such a young age earned him the position of general when he was just 26 years old. During this time, he was also given command of the Italian army. Napoleon’s army of 40,000 men gained victories against the Austrians at Castiglione, Arcola, Lodi, and Rivoli. His victories led him to control most of Austria and Italy as a result. In 1799, Napoleon organized a coup against the French government and declared himself the First Consul of the Republic. In 1804, his military victories and high public approval led him to declare himself the first Emperor of France.
Even after defeating the Austrians in Ulm, the Austro-Russian army, the Prussians at Jena, and the Russians at Friedland, Napoleon was unsatisfied with the power he had gained. He went on to block British supply routes and take over Portugal in the Peninsular War. This war proved disastrous for the French, claiming nearly 300,000 lives. In April of 1814, Napoleon was defeated and banished to the island of Elba, from which he escaped about a year later. However, his freedom lasted only about 100 days, after which he was caught again and exiled this time to the British Isle of St. Helena. There Napoleon died of stomach cancer at the age of 51 on May 5, 1821.
Napoleon’s relentless victories inspired and continue to inspire military leaders all over the world. He excelled at adapting to circumstance and taking chances and often let his commanders self-govern when the situation permitted. But another thing that might have contributed to his great success was a possible inferiority complex: Napoleon has often been mocked throughout history as being small in stature, growing to just 5 feet, 6 inches.
Genghis Khan was born in 1162 in what is known today as Mongolia, which he came to rule in 1206. He rose to power after uniting the nomadic tribes in Northeast Asia and championing the Mongol invasions. In 1211, Khan entered war with the Chin Dynasty and invaded central Asia in 1219, effectively decimating the Chin Empire. He would go on to rule over the largest empire ever known: the Mongol Empire.
Khan is revered for his brilliant lines of attack and organization methods. His armies were some of the most obedient and efficient in the world’s history. Without him, there would be no Mongolia, and as a result, the Mongols revere him as their founding father.
He is also famed for his adoption of the Uyghyr scripts, which would become the Mongol Empire’s main system of writing. Genghis Khan is one of the generals on our list known for his brutality and many genocides, but no one can deny that what he did was effective.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great was the king of Macedon, a kingdom of ancient Greece. He was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle and lead a hugely successful military campaign against Asia and northeast Africa for most of his life. His kingship began at the tender age of twenty, which proved no barrier to his military accomplishments. He is credited with establishing one of the largest empires in history and for being undefeated in battle.
His exploits began in 334 BC when he invaded the Persian Empire in honor of his father, which proved victorious thanks to his brilliant tactics at the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. With the Persian King Darius III overthrown, Alexander conquered the Persian empire and went on to battle his way through the continent for a period of ten years. He invaded India in 326 BC and died in Babylon just three years later. Though his empire fell due to numerous civil wars, Alexander’s influenced reached far and wide, and his military tactics are still studied today.
Also known simply as Hannibal, Hannibal Barca was a Punic leader from Carthage and was frequently referred to as the Roman Empire’s greatest nemesis. He emerged onto the public scene during the Second Punic War in Italy. His marches became famous for their use of war elephants and he won three major victories at the Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae. His genius was in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses both of himself and his opponents and then utilizing each to his advantage. Many allies of the Roman Empire recognized this in Hannibal and abandoned Caesar to fight alongside him.
While Hannibal’s occupation of large portions of Italy lasted fifteen years, in the end, he was unsuccessful in his attempts to conquer Rome. He was defeated by Scipio Africanus, another excellent general of the time, and would go on to serve in various political and military functions until his death by suicide.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree with our list of top military generals in history ? Who did we leave out? Who do you think is the greatest military general of all time? Comment below and let us know!