Success leaves clues. So does failure. Some of history’s best known commanders are remembered not for their brilliant victories but for their catastrophic blunders. Here are history’s ten worst generals (in no particular order).
1. John Armstrong Jr.’s incompetence was responsible for the burning of Washington during the War of 1812.
2. Oreste Baratieri was an Italian general responsible for the most crushing defeat ever suffered by a colonial European power by native forces in Africa.
3. Edward Braddock’s army made so much noise the enemy always knew where he was, but Braddock didn’t have a clue where the enemy was until he was ambushed.
4. Roman General Marcus Crassus stood his ground and hoped the enemy would run out of arrows before he ran out of men. They didn’t.
5. George Armstrong Custer announced to his men, “We’ve caught them napping!”, just before suffering the most stunning defeat of the Indian Wars.
6. British Major General William Elphinstone is considered by some military historians to be “the most incompetent soldier who ever became a general”, possessed of “the leadership qualities of a sheep.”
7. Brigadier General William Hull is the only American general to have ever been sentenced to death by a court-martial.
8. Francisco Solano Lopez was responsible for the deaths of half of his fellow countrymen.
9. Sir Charles MacCarthy forgot to take the ammunition and wound up having his skull used as a drinking cup at the annual Yam Festival.
10. Alexander Samsonov didn’t feed the troops and ended up shooting himself on the battlefield.