It would be better to have one bad general than to have two good ones

Sunday, May 5th, 2024

Napoleon by Andrew Roberts Even before the Directory had received the news of Napoleon’s victory at Lodi, Andrew Roberts explains (in Napoleon: A Life), they conceived a plan to try to force him to share the glory of the Italian campaign, as public adulation was starting to concentrate dangerously around him:

Ever since General Dumouriez’s treason in 1793, no government had wanted to accord too much power to any one general. When Napoleon requested that reinforcements of 15,000 men be taken from General Kellermann’s Army of the Alps, the Directory replied that the men could indeed be sent to Italy, but Kellermann must go with them and command of the Army of Italy would be split. Replying on May 14, four days after Lodi and the day before he captured Milan, Napoleon told Barras: ‘I will resign. Nature has given me a lot of character, along with some talents. I cannot be useful here unless I have your full confidence.’


‘I cannot serve willingly with a man who believes himself the first general of Europe, and furthermore I believe it would be better to have one bad general than to have two good ones. War, like government, is a matter of tact.’


‘Each to his own way of making war. General Kellermann has more experience and will do it better than myself; but both of us doing it together will do it extremely badly.’


  1. Lu An Li says:

    “I believe it would be better to have one bad general than to have two good ones.”

    Someone explain this to me.

  2. Lucklucky says:

    Maybe bad translation. But i think it means it is better to have 1 good and 1 bad than 2 good to be able to choose.

  3. McChuck says:

    Just as there can only be one king, and army may only have a single commander. Command, by its very nature, rests upon a single head. Two commanders will constantly butt heads, confusing the troops and adding to the natural chaos of war. They often end up fighting each other more than the enemy. Even if they have the best of intentions, two commanders will inadvertently misdirect each others’ troops and interfere with each others’ plans.

  4. Lu An Li says:

    For McChuck and thank you.

    Makes sense. Unity of command.

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