What War Is This General Known for Serving In?

By: Marty Sems
Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

"A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."  These wise words came from Gen. George S. Patton, also known as "Blood and Guts," who commanded the 7th Army during World War II.  He is one of the most famous of American generals, certainly in modern times, and George C. Scott won a Best Actor Academy Award for playing him.  In this quiz, we'll see how well you know Patton, along with many other famous generals from history. Can you name which war they're most famous for serving in?

While the Army runs on its sergeants, it's the generals who get all the name recognition, fame and (when things go wrong) criticism and public rebuke. The generals get schools named after them, courses taught about them, books written about them and they get played by the best actors. You might know their names, but how much more do you know about them? You know Napoleon was a general (among other titles, including emperor), but do you know what war or wars he fought in?

Time to dust off your history brain and try to remember which general fought in which war! Will you get sent to the trenches, or find yourself wearing stars on your collar?

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a general for the Confederacy in the American Civil War (1861-1865). He skillfully aided the Southern cause in battle at the Second Battle of Bull Run (also known as Manassas), as well as at Antietam, Fredericksburg and finally Chancellorsville. In the last battle, he was mistakenly shot in the arm by his own troops and perished from pneumonia days later.

General Schwarzkopf was already a veteran of two conflicts when he led the invasion of Iraq and Iraqi-held Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. “Stormin’ Norman” commanded three-quarters of a million international troops in the brief, lopsided battle, also known as Operation Desert Storm. Schwarzkopf died in 2012.

The “Desert Fox” Erwin Rommel gave the Allies fits in North Africa in the early years of World War II. Succeeding (for a while) where Mussolini’s Italy had failed, Rommel’s highly mobile and bold tank maneuvers won Tobruk, Libya from the British in the Battle of Gazala. After the Brits took back Tobruk later that year in the Second Battle of El Alamein, Rommel was tasked with the defense of France against the Allies’ invasion of Normandy in 1944.

It’s not often that a single, gifted commander invades country after country after country, so Napoleon Bonaparte’s bloody excursions are called the Napoleonic Wars. The French military genius menaced Russia, Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Turkey, expanding French influence by the sword, horse and cannon. Eventually he was bested at the Battle of Waterloo.

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, dubbed “El Cid,” fought to retake Spanish lands that the Moors of North Africa had conquered. El Cid and Peter I of Aragon were set upon by the Almoravid dynasty’s Muhammad ibn Tasufin as they resupplied a strategically located castle in the Kingdom of Valencia. In the Battle of Bairén, the Moorish land and sea forces caught the Christians between high ground and the sea shore. El Cid rallied his soldiers and charged, breaking through the Almoravids’ line and routing the Muslim army.

Every student of military history has heard about the Battle of Thermopylae in the Second Persian War. Depressingly outnumbered ten to one by the vast army of the Persian Emperor Xerxes I, King Leonidas used a natural bottleneck of terrain to force the invaders to fight in a narrow corridor, negating much of their numerical advantage. As legend has it, after the Persians discovered a path by which to outflank the Spartans, Leonidas and his roughly 300 remaining men bought (with their lives) time for Greece to raise an army in defense.

Fighting was second nature to Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apache, as his tribe continually raided and was raided by surrounding tribes and Mexicans. When the United States seized the Southwest from Mexico, however, and broke a reservation agreement with Chiricahua leader Cochise, Geronimo began a long guerrilla war against government troops. Eventually, he surrendered in 1886--not without later regret--and became a sort of tourist attraction while in captivity until his death in 1909.

The young Macedonian leader Alexander the Great spread Greek culture through violent invasions of Persia (which itself had long invaded the Greek city-states), Egypt, the Balkans, and modern-day Pakistan. A highlight was his rout of Persian leader Darius III at the Battle of Issus in modern-day Turkey. Outnumbered more than two to one, Alexander nevertheless broke through the Persians’ lines and personally led a charge on horse directly at the Persian king. Darius fled, leaving his forces in disarray and family members to be ransomed.

Chiang Kai-Shek commanded the army of China’s Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) in the late 1920s, fighting local warlords, Chinese Communists, and then in cooperation with the latter, the invading Japanese. He drew upon his knowledge of Japanese and Soviet Union military practices and reintroduced Confucianism into the public sphere. After World War II, the Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists fought each other again. In 1949, the Nationalists retreated across the Formosa Strait to the island of Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-Shek became the first leader of a new People’s Republic of China.

The military commander Vo Nguyen Giap exhaustively studied the battle plans of French commander Napoleon Bonaparte, which ironically helped him expel the colonial French from then-Indochina after the 1954 battle at Dien Bien Phu. Later, as a North Vietnamese general, he opposed the South Vietnamese and, increasingly, the soldiers of their American backers. Today he is known for defeating the will of a technologically superior foe, albeit at the cost of many Vietnamese lives. Despite the dangers and hardships of his career and life, he lived to the age of 102.

The Duke of Wellington, formerly known as Major General Arthur Wellesley, proved his mettle at the Battle of Assaye in India and the Battle of Vitoria in the Iberian Peninsular War. But it was at Waterloo in 1815 where the Duke, along with Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher, put a stop to Napoleon’s predations. The Duke went on to be Prime Minister of Britain.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery won the first major Allied land victory against the Germans in World War II at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Egypt in late 1942. The uncompromising “Monty” rubbed a lot of important people the wrong way--including Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower--but he is credited with insisting that the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944, include eight divisions of troops instead of just three, an adjustment that probably decided the war in Europe.

General William Westmoreland commanded the US troops in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. Despite his buildup of technologically advanced and well-equipped American soldiers past the half-million mark, his strategy led to a stalemate. The North Vietnamese Tet Offensive in 1968 demoralized the Americans and South Vietnamese, increasing antiwar sentiment in the US. President Johnson replaced General Westmoreland and brought him back home to be the Army’s chief of staff.

Much is unknown about the life of Scottish noble William Wallace, who opposed Edward I of England, also known as “Longshanks,” in the First War of Scottish Independence. As loosely depicted in the epic film Braveheart (1995 Paramount Pictures), Wallace rallied the Scottish tribes to defeat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 AD. After a major defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, Wallace endured for seven years before being captured, hanged, drawn and quartered by the forces of Longshanks.

Ferdinand Foch eventually became Marshal of France during the disheartening trials of WWI. Highlights of his military leadership were his roles in the Battle of the Marne, the first battle of Somme, and finally the Grand Offensive that forced Germany into the Armistice in late 1918. Like the American general Pershing, Marshal Foch advocated harsher penalties on Germany at the close of the war, but was overruled.

Pancho Villa was many things: a bandit, a revolutionary, a governor, and a guerilla. But it was as a general that the notorious Villa showed his military genius. Having an intimate knowledge of Mexico’s north country, and the love of his people, he fought in Mexico’s Revolution against Porfirio Díaz, Victoriano Huerta, Venustiano Carranza, and even General John J. Pershing of the United States Army. Villa retired after the fall of Carranza, and in 1923 was gunned down in his car by assassins.

Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart fought for the Confederacy in the bloody American Civil War. His skill at commanding cavalry turned the tide against the Union troops at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), and at Chancellorsville he took over for his dying superior General Stonewall Jackson and pressed the latter’s flanking attack against the Yankees. After costly mistakes before and during the Battle of Gettysburg, Stuart was gunned down near Richmond, Virginia in May of 1864.

Gustavus Adolphus, also known as Gustav II Adolf, was the king and military leader of Sweden during the Thirty Years' War. He fought the Polish and the Holy Roman Empire. He favored light, mobile artillery and cross-training his soldiers, so that cavalrymen could take over the job of artillerymen and vice-versa. Napoleon, George Patton, and other famous military leaders studied and revered his tactics. He died leading his men in the Battle of Lützen in 1632.

Ariel Sharon, born Ariel Scheinerman, fought the Jordanians and Egyptians for Israel in the late 1940s and 1950s. His bold willingness to push the envelope--both in the scope of his missions and their brutality--won him many enemies as well as praise. As a major general in the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon led an armored division into the Sinai, helping to seize it from Egypt. He later became Prime Minister of Israel until he suffered a stroke in 2006.

Khalid ibn al-Walid was instrumental in spreading Islam in its formative years. Under the Prophet Muhammad--whom he initially opposed until converting to the new religion--and under the two succeeding caliphs, Khalid fought in Arabia, Iraq, and Syria. In the Byzantine–Arab Wars, Khalid and his allies wiped out nearly 50,000 Byzantine soldiers in 636 A.D. in the Battle of Yarmuk.

General John “Black Jack” Pershing led American troops in WWI. He was sent by President Woodrow Wilson to command the American forces joining the Allies in 1917 after three years of bloody immobility along a long, stationary front. The year prior, like other military leaders before him, Pershing tried and failed to neutralize the brilliant but unofficial Mexican tactician Pancho Villa.

Mao Zedong, also known as Mao Tse-tung and Chairman Mao, fundamentally reshaped China in his 41-year leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. In a civil war with the Nationalist Kuomintang both before and after (and arguably during) the 1937-1945 Japanese invasion, Mao’s CCP and its People’s Liberation Army forced out Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists in 1949. As chairman of the new People’s Republic of China, Mao became more authoritarian and imposed policies that caused the deaths of millions through famine and repression. He died in 1976.

Emiliano Zapata was a guerrilla leader in the Mexican Revolution, allying with and opposing the cavalcade of presidents and their usurpers in the years 1910-1920. Zapata’s goal throughout was to protect the communal land ownership stripped from the peasants by haciendas. Zapata was ambushed and killed by Carranza government soldiers in 1919.

General George Gordon Meade is known for being the Union commander to defeat General Lee’s forces of the South at the decisive battle of Gettysburg (1863). A West Point graduate, Meade was made a major general before the end of the war.

Gaius Marius was an intimidating figure as a soldier, fighting Gauls, North Africans, and sundry barbarians. However, his biggest military achievements occurred after he was elected Consul of Rome. Facing 400,000 northern barbarian tribes, Marius opened the army to non-landowners and developed the disciplined Roman Legion. He defeated the Cimbrii, Teutones, and Ambrones tribes, survived the usurpment of his office by Sulla, and reclaimed the Consul position before his death in 86 B.C.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah became the leader of the Shiite militia Hezbollah in 1992. In July, 2006, Hezbollah forces in Lebanon stole into Israel, killed eight soldiers, and captured two. The Israeli Defense Force invaded, but a lack of preparedness blunted their attack against Nasrallah’s well-equipped fighters. Likewise, Hezbollah rockets (mainly from Iran) rained down on Israel even as Israeli jets bombed southern Lebanon into rubble. The war ended inconclusively after a mere month.

General Robert E. Lee commanded the armies of the Confederate South in the American Civil War. Formerly a U.S. Army commander until his home state of Virgina seceded from the Union, Lee actually turned down President Lincoln’s request to lead the armies of the North before heading home. He defeated the Union forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) and other battlefields, but the Battle of Gettysburg and the loss of Richmond, capital of the South, made clear that the Confederate cause was lost. He died of a stroke in 1870.

Marshal Georgy Zhukov was a veteran of WWI, the Russian Revolution, and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, but it was in WWII that the Soviet military commander reached his highest heights against the erstwhile ally Germany. He defended Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk; he retook ground through Ukraine and Belorussia; and he invaded Berlin and acted as the Soviet representative in the German capitulation and aftermath. Zhukov later fell into disfavor with Stalin and his successor Khrushchev, but nevertheless survived until 1974.

What didn’t kill William I of Normandy made him stronger--namely, inheriting a throne at a young age as a illegitimate son of a king and his concubine, and the opportunistic unrest, lawlessness, and rebellions that followed the monarch’s death. Later, feeling a claim on the throne of England after Edward I’s death, he led his Norman troops across the channel to fight and defeat Harold, Earl of Wessex, at the Battle of Hastings (1066). To quell rebellions, he built the Tower of London and Welsh and Scottish buffer zones.

The young George Washington commanded ragtag colonial troops in the French and Indian War before becoming a wealthy landowner. When resentment against imperialist England turned to open conflict, Washington was put in charge of the Colonies’ armies, such as they were. After initial missteps and defeats in modern-day New York, Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River on a cold Christmas night, 1776, to surprise and overcome an enemy garrison at Trenton, New Jersey.

Ulysses S. Grant served with distinction as an officer in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, and later returned to military service in the American Civil War. After victories at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, in 1864 the now-General Grant assumed command of the entire Union Army. He kept Confederate General Robert E. Lee committed to a defense of the Southern capital Richmond while Union Generals Sheridan and Sherman wreaked havoc in Virginia and Georgia. After the South capitulated in 1865, Grant became the 18th President of the United States.

Hannibal Barca was born of a famous general in Carthage, and raised to hate the Republic in Rome. He led his armies, including nearly 40 elephants, from the Iberian peninsula to Italy, crossing rivers and mountain ranges including the Alps along the way. At the Battle of Cannae in Italy he drew in the Roman infantry and surrounded them, killing a reported 1 in 5 Roman soldiers. The Romans changed tactics, taking the fight to Carthage and its allies in North Africa, and Scipio Africanus defeated him at the Battle of Zama.

Jeanne d'Arc, more popularly known as Joan of Arc, is historically distinguished as one of the few young females to command major armies, owing to her reputation for holy miracles. At the Siege of Orleans (1428-1429) during the Hundred Years' War, she helped resupply the French city and rally its defenders to victory against the English. The following year, however, the English captured her and in 1431 burned her at the stake. She was later declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 1920.

Sitting Bull often skirmished with US government troops, chafing at being confined to reservations and resentful of broken peace treaties. After white prospectors entered the Black Hills looking for gold, the Sioux leader and his vice-chief Crazy Horse left the reservation and gathered Cheyenne and some Arapaho forces in Montana. This brought the Army after them. In 1876, Lt. Col. Custer’s cavalry was only supposed to scout the Indians’ position, but the arrogant officer decided to attack instead of waiting for the columns of government troops to catch up. The ensuing, one-sided Battle of the Little Bighorn is also known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher was an unlikely hero, only fighting for the Prussians after being captured from the Swedish military and being largely dependent on his chief of staff in military matters. Furthermore, he was well into his 70s when destiny called upon him in the Napoleonic Wars. The French juggernaut Bonaparte had beaten his forces at Ligny, but his canny withdrawal let him flank the enemy as the English Duke of Wellington did the rest at the Battle of Waterloo. Blücher thus earned an assist in one of history’s greatest upsets.

Five-star General of the Army George C. Marshall was the chief of staff for the United States in WWII, but his post-war contributions surpassed his martial efforts. Realizing that harsh penalties on Germany after World War I fed resentment and backlash that led directly to WWII, his Marshall Plan was a magnanimous effort to rebuild America’s foes after WWII. The economic and military aid plan is widely credited for the peaceful return of Germany, Japan, and Italy to the international community.

Scipio Africanus became known as the man who defeated Hannibal Barca in the Second Punic War. The famous Carthaginian had invaded Italy and slaughtered many Roman soldiers, but Roman counter-offensives against his Numidian allies and Carthage itself, along with the difficult logistics of Hannibal’s position and alliances, had taken their toll. Scipio and Numidian allies of his own converged on the invader and neutralized him as a threat to Rome.

Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, and his term as one of the Roman Republic’s three governors came to an end. He was ordered home without his troops by the sole remaining consul, Pompey. Caesar believed he would be tried and punished by his old rival, so he brought a legion with him when he crossed the Rubicon River (hence the phrase). This precipitated Caesar's Civil War, in which he defeated Pompey and became dictator of Rome.

Talk about a man who left his mark on the world. Genghis Khan not only invaded most of Asia and Eurasia during the Mongolian Invasions, he also reportedly sired hundreds of children. His horse-mounted archers spread terror throughout China, India, and as far west as modern-day Ukraine, Iran, and Syria.

Generaloberst Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was the father of Nazi Germany’s Blitzkrieg style of warfare in WWII. The WWI vet pioneered the tactics of rapid armor penetrations augmented by mobile infantry to knock out enemy capitals and encircle their forces. Poland and France fell to his onslaught in the first couple years of the war, and Russia nearly did as well. The tank-oriented Guderian survived not only his Fuhrer’s displeasure but also the Russian and American invasions that ended the war in Europe. He published his memoirs in 1951 and died in 1954.

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