How Great Generals Win:
The 13 Rules of War from Ancient Greece to the War on Terror

History 361, Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia

Course description

The course will concentrate on the thirteen essential maxims of warfare. It will analyze how great commanders have exploited the weapons, technology, and military and social organizations available to them, and how they have applied universal principles to achieve victory. The course will examine how success or failure is usually dependent upon the quality of the military leadership that a people or a nation is able to command. Special emphasis on the revolution in warfare due to changed technology and to terrorist attacks.

Course objectives

To give the student a working knowledge of 1) the rules of war; 2) the principles of strategy, or the application of military means to fulfill the ends of a nation's or a coalition's policy, and 3) the essentials of tactics, or achieving a decision in actual combat. To show that the maxims of war do not change but that their application depends upon the weapons, technology and social structure of a people, nation or civilization at any given point in history. To demonstrate that the course of history is not preordained by the strengths or weaknesses of the contending sides, but that a single great commander can influence decisions and the fate of nations by artfully applying the rules of war.

Text for course

Bevin Alexander, How Wars Are Won ( New York: Crown, 2002). Sources given in bibliography.

Class schedule

Week 1 Introduction and Chapter 1

Introduction to strategy and tactics. Lecture on the revolution in warfare caused by new technology and terrorist attacks, implications of the September 11, 2001, strikes on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and on the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Week 2 Chapter 2

Striking at enemy weakness. Discussion of avoiding enemy strength entirely by refusing to fight pitched battles. Lectures on how Scotland kept independence from England by adopting policy of defense; how French won first phase of the Hundred Years War by avoiding battle, striking at English supplies, ambushes; Spanish partisan war against Napoleon; Boer War 1899-1902, in which the Boers succeeded against the British army by going over to guerrilla operations; Lawrence of Arabia forcing Turks in World War I to wage “war against a vapor,” strikes against the railway supplying Turkish army; guerrilla tactics developed by Mao Zedong in China; the strategy of the Vietnam War; the guerrilla wars in Afghanistan and Iraq 2003; new theories of battle that have grown out of unconventional war because modern weapons are so powerful and accurate, the concept of “swarming tactics” or eliminating main lines of resistance and other traditional methods of warfare.

Week 3 Chapter 3

Defend then attack. Process of weakening an enemy by forcing him to attack, then going over to the attack oneself. Lectures on Belisarius and Narses of Byzantium, battle of Crécy 1346, Second Manassas 1862, Gettysburg 1863.

Week 4 Chapter 4

Holding one place, striking another. Lectures on delivering blow in one place while holding remainder of enemy in another. Lectures on Lech river battle Bavaria 1632, Jena and Auerstädt 1806, Kum river battle Korea 1950.

Week 5 Chapter 5

Feigned retreat. Deceptive withdrawal to pull enemy in pursuit, then attack. Lectures on battle methods of steppe warriors of Eurasia 900 B.C. onward, Manzikert in Anatolia 1071, Mongols at Cracow, Liegnitz, Budapest 1241.

Week 6 Chapter 6

Gaining the central position. Maneuvering so one’s force lands between two smaller forces in order to destroy one before having to turn to the other. Lectures on Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign 1862, Bonaparte’s Italian campaign 1796-1797, Waterloo 1815, German General Rommel in Tunisia 1943.

Week 7 Chapter 7

Employing a superior weapon. Developing or using a weapon the enemy does not use or can’t adopt. Lectures on Adrianople 378 A.D. between Goths and Romans, Hastings 1066 William the Conqueror, Breitenfeld 1631 and Lützen 1632 by Gustavus Adolphus, German General Rommel’s use of 88mm antiaircraft gun as main tank killer in the War in the Desert 1941-1942.

Week 8 Chapter 8

A stake in the enemy’s heart. Striking at the vitals of an enemy’s ability to resist. Lectures on Winfield Scott’s march from Veracruz to Mexico City in 1847 in the Mexican War, the German Stalingrad-Caucasus campaign 1942, the disastrous campaign to seize North Korea in the fall of 1950.

Week 9 Chapter 9

Blocking the enemy’s retreat. Cutting off means of withdrawal and supply of an army. Lectures on battle of Teutoburger Wald 9 A.D., Saratoga 1777 and Yorktown 1781 in American Revolution, Chancellorsville 1863 Civil War.

Week 10 Chapter 10

Landing an overwhelming blow. Concentrating force on one part of the enemy, while preventing other enemy from interfering. Lectures on Leuctra 371 B.C. Epaminondas v. Spartans, Rossbach and Leuthen 1757 Frederick the Great, Trafalgar 1805 Admiral Nelson and destruction of French sea power.

Week 11 Chapter 11

Decisive stroke at a weak spot. Finding or creating a weak point in the enemy position, then striking through it. Lectures on Alexander the Great’s first three major battles Granicus 334 B.C., Issus 333 B.C., and Arbela 331 B.C., Austerlitz 1805 Napoleon.

Week 12 Chapter 12

Caldron battles. Enveloping an enemy by blocking him in the front, then closing in on his sides and rear. Lectures on Cannae 216 B.C. Hannibal, the German Schlieffen plan to defeat France 1914, battles of the Marne and Tannenberg 1914 to show failure and success of the principle, German invasion of the Soviet Union 1941, designed as a series of caldron battles.

Week 13 Chapter 13

Uproar east, attack west. Advice of Sun Tzu 400 B.C. Feinting in one direction, striking in another. Lectures on Hydaspes river India 326 B.C. Alexander the Great, battle of Quebec 1759 James Wolfe and seizure of Canada, German invasion of the west 1940.

Week 14 Chapter 14

Maneuvers on the rear. Strategic strikes on the enemy rear to establish a barrier on his line of communications. Lectures on Marengo 1800 and opening act of Austerlitz campaign of 1805 ( Ulm), the island-hopping strategy of the Americans in war in the Pacific 1944-1945 against Japan, invasion of Inchon September 1950 Korea.

Next: Chapter Details >> << Back to top