A baseball stats fan tries to rank history’s best generals:
Ranking Every* General in the History of Warfare
Okay, so at least he gets a plausible winner.
But his methodology seems pretty dubious: weighting each general’s chance of winning by his share of troops in the battle, and then accumulating wins above chance. For example, Napoleon fought 43 battles and won 38, and adjusting for number of troops, he gets credit for winning 16.7 battles personally. In contrast, Alexander the Great went 9-0 but he doesn’t match up to Napoleon in this methodology because he just didn’t fight enough …
A more plausible methodology was one I vaguely recall that estimated that Napoleon being in command was equivalent to improving your side’s chance of winning by having 30% more troops. Bonaparte’s career is the most conducive to statistical analysis because he fought so many battles and because technology and tactics were so similar across Europe and had been similar for a long time that they reflected about as level of a playing field ever for the purposes of measuring tactical talent. Similarly, most of Napoleon’s opponents were not novices but were battle-tested generals who had won battles before.
Of course, most of his Napoleon’s opponents were drawn from the ranks of aristocrats, narrowing the talent base. Bonaparte famously endorsed “careers open to talent,” although he himself was a very minor aristocrat due to his ambitious father investing heavily in the expensive genealogical research needed to heave the Bonaparte family just barely above the official line.
In contrast, other great generals introduced a revolution in military affairs, such as combined arms blitzkrieg in 1939-1941, which is a somewhat different category of accomplishment. You see something like this in college football where there are innovative new formations every few years. For example, I can recall the early 1970s when the Oklahoma Sooners’ new wishbone formation was virtually unstoppable. But eventually defenses learned how to stop it.