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  #1  
Old 10-06-2012, 02:15 PM
montag01 montag01 is offline
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George Washington vs Great Britain's "B" Team?

A while back I read a statement online--perhaps on this very message board--that George Washington never faced the best generals Great Britain could field, precisely because those better generals were either sympathetic to the colonies, or else believed a war was not winnable and therefore declined to assume command in the first place. It seems I read this after much was made in the news about a group of British historians declaring Washington to be the most dangerous military opponent the British Empire ever faced.

I've read a handful of books on the American Revolution, and don't recall ever encountering the argument that the British lost because the army was being led by its B team of strategists in the form of Clinton, the Howells, and Cornwallis. If there's any truth to the argument, could someone list some of the people in the British high command who were supposed to be so much better? I'd like to read up on them. Thanks.
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  #2  
Old 10-06-2012, 03:46 PM
blindboyard blindboyard is offline
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Clive, perhaps?
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  #3  
Old 10-06-2012, 03:59 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is online now
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Originally Posted by blindboyard View Post
Clive, perhaps?
Being dead is usually considered a barrier to good Generalship.

I suspect the person that put forth the argument was referring to Amherst, who was a previously successful British military leader who was offered a command during the Revolution but turned it down because he thought Britain would need to commit a much larger force then Parliament was willing to to win.

I don't really know enough about the period to gage howe good a general he was relative to the guys that actually ended up leading the British effort. But the list of other successful British army leaders (as opposed to naval leaders, of whom there were many) who were both active in 1776 and didn't command forces during the Revolution is pretty short, so I think Amherst is the person the OP's interlocutor had in mind.
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  #4  
Old 10-06-2012, 04:01 PM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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Clive was an adventurer, not a general. It's telling that the man the British government eventually sent over to clean up the mess he made was one General Cornwallis.

Also, he killed himself in 1774.
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  #5  
Old 10-06-2012, 04:13 PM
Bartman Bartman is offline
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This is not my best time period. But I'm trying to think who those great generals that sat the war out would have been.

Clive and Wolfe, heroes from the previous wars, were dead. I'm trying to think of anyone who was particularly successful, who could have served and didn't. And I'm drawing a blank.

And then there was the next generation. There were a number of successful generals who fought against the French Republic and Napoleon. But everyone I can think of, was too young during the American Revolution.

There were several flag officers who refused to serve, most famously Amherst, Keppel, and Effingham. But I don't think any of them were particularly great. And of the generals who did serve, a fair number of them opposed the war including Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton but generally "did their duties." By and large it seems to me that the British did field their best team.
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Old 10-06-2012, 04:26 PM
Bartman Bartman is offline
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Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
I suspect the person that put forth the argument was referring to Amherst, who was a previously successful British military leader who was offered a command during the Revolution but turned it down because he thought Britain would need to commit a much larger force then Parliament was willing to to win.
Possibly. But he never really seemed terribly better than any of the Generals who commanded during the revolution. And in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Army he is generally credited for leaving the army in a terrible shape as the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars got started. He's not someone I would consider the A-team in comparison to Howe or Clinton.
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  #7  
Old 10-06-2012, 04:46 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
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Aside from Amherst the only notable contemporary name that is immediately coming to mind is the pretty capable Eyre Coote ( whose nephew actually did fight in America as a teenager ). But Coote was pretty much purely an Indian hand and was fully engaged a half a world away at the time.

There were contemporaries of GW that would have surely been more dangerous, like Alexander Suvorov. But he wasn't British .
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Old 10-06-2012, 09:06 PM
montag01 montag01 is offline
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Thank you for the replies. I'm fairly familiar with the time period, but mostly with the American side of things. I wonder if the writer I read might have actually confused someone like the Duke of Wellington, who did refuse a command in North America (War of 1812) in preference for the European war a generation later. Arthur Wellesley would have been a child during the Revolutionary period, of course.
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Old 10-06-2012, 11:05 PM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is offline
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I was under the impression that Cornwallis was highly regarded, but basically screwed over by Clinton who failed to support him.

In favor of Washington as a talented general, I will say that he learned from his mistakes. Yorktown was not the end of the war, just Cornwallis' army's participation.
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  #10  
Old 10-06-2012, 11:55 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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General Cavendish refused an American command also, although, given his record, that maybe wasn't that big a loss. Admiral Keppel also refused to go to America, even though he commanded the Channel Fleet, and most infamously fought against the French in the battle of Ushant.
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  #11  
Old 10-07-2012, 12:20 AM
Sitnam Sitnam is offline
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Washington was certainly not the most dangerous general the British Empire ever faced, that is absurd. I'd give it to Napoleon before George for starters.

The accomplished generals in Britain abstained because of the nature of the conflict. They would be fighting Englishmen on strange soil for an undetermined length of time, for undetermined goals, to undetermined ends. Meanwhile the English themselves with a parliamentary government would never be in direct threat. There is no glory in killing your own countrymen, and plenty of scorn.

The ambitious were the only ones who attempted it, but lets not blame Washington for that.
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Old 10-07-2012, 04:34 PM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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Snip

Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
I don't really know enough about the period to gage howe good a general he was relative to the guys that actually ended up leading the British effort. ...
Best unintentional pun ever?

Thomas Gage

William Howe

Last edited by MichaelQReilly; 10-07-2012 at 04:36 PM.. Reason: To add more awesome
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  #13  
Old 10-07-2012, 06:47 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by montag01 View Post
A while back I read a statement online--perhaps on this very message board--that George Washington never faced the best generals Great Britain could field, precisely because those better generals were either sympathetic to the colonies, or else believed a war was not winnable and therefore declined to assume command in the first place.
Cornwallis was both of these, but served anyway from his sense of duty. Barbara Tuchman thinks that his passivity in the siege of Yorktown may have been partly caused by a sense of futility of winning the war.
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  #14  
Old 10-08-2012, 03:44 AM
WotNot WotNot is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelQReilly View Post
Best unintentional pun ever?
I'm not sure "unintentional" is quite the right word, there. I suspect that "surreptitious", or even "stealthy", may be more apt.
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  #15  
Old 10-08-2012, 04:20 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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Lord Jeffery Amherst would probably be the main example. He was a very good general and had fought in America during the Seven Years War. And he was considered for the command of the British forces in America during the Revolution.
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Old 10-08-2012, 10:46 AM
Gagundathar Gagundathar is offline
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Originally Posted by WotNot View Post
I'm not sure "unintentional" is quite the right word, there. I suspect that "surreptitious", or even "stealthy", may be more apt.
I believe the operant phrase here is "well played."
<golf clap>
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  #17  
Old 10-08-2012, 10:47 AM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by MichaelQReilly View Post
Snip



Best unintentional pun ever?

Thomas Gage

William Howe
Spelling indicates intentional. Reasonably funny. I smiled.
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  #18  
Old 10-08-2012, 11:19 AM
bup bup is offline
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Burgoyne certainly ranks low on the list of good strategy generals. But then, he faced Gates, not Washington.
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  #19  
Old 10-19-2012, 12:24 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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An earlier thread on Washington's skills as a general: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...d.php?t=532183
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  #20  
Old 10-19-2012, 06:13 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Originally Posted by bup View Post
Burgoyne certainly ranks low on the list of good strategy generals. But then, he faced Gates, not Washington.
Burgoyne wasn't, I wouldn't say, a bad strategist or tactician. He had done really well in Spain. Even at Saratoga, he didn't make any serious strategic mistakes. The failure of the New York Campaign was logistical and an intelligence failure. He didn't know the actual size of the army facing him, and General Howe failed to support him. If you want to blame anyone for the loss at Saratoga, blame Howe and Germain, not Burgoyne.
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  #21  
Old 10-23-2012, 01:28 PM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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Originally Posted by Sitnam View Post
Washington was certainly not the most dangerous general the British Empire ever faced, that is absurd. I'd give it to Napoleon before George for starters.

The accomplished generals in Britain abstained because of the nature of the conflict. They would be fighting Englishmen on strange soil for an undetermined length of time, for undetermined goals, to undetermined ends. Meanwhile the English themselves with a parliamentary government would never be in direct threat. There is no glory in killing your own countrymen, and plenty of scorn.

The ambitious were the only ones who attempted it, but lets not blame Washington for that.
Very true, enlisting for this fight was unpopular to say the least in the U.K.

Wolfe would probably excelled in this war but unfortunately he was killed a few years earlier.

Britain had a comparatively small army by European standards which not only had to handle a large area, but was at the end of a logistical supply chain, thousands of miles long, supplied by wind powered ships.

Not the best situation to be in at the best of times.
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