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A Father To His Men / Real Life

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  • The American Civil War had several celebrated examples.
    • Robert E. Lee, of the Confederate States of America, was beloved by his soldiers, who nicknamed him "Marse Bob" or "Marse Robert". ("Marse" was an old dialect word for "Mister" or "Master".)
    • William Tecumseh Sherman, of the Union army, was known to his troops as "Uncle Billy," although he was known to the people of Georgia by much less printable names.
    • George B. McClellan was not just this trope, he was a real-life Deconstruction. On the one hand, he was a brilliant organizer, who could shape and train a disorganized mob into a formidable army; on the other hand, he was unwilling to risk his men in battle (and constantly convinced that he was outnumbered by the Confederates; if he had been, his timidity would have made perfect sense.) Lincoln's opinion of him reflected this; e once said of McClellan, "There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can't fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight," but he also once said of him, "If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time." When he made the borrowing, replacing McClellan with Pope, the result was the disastrous Second Battle of Bull Run and McClellan being reinstated to rebuild the Army of the Potomac. But at the end that went poorly, so he was replaced again. (McClellan would later run for President as a Democrat, in 1864; but he lost overwhelmingly, including among his own soldiers, to Lincoln.)
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    • Ulysses S. Grant's final message to the Union Army Veterans was "I love you all as if you were my children." In the early stages of the Civil War, he was the last person aboard a transport ship during a retreat - actually having to jump onto it - because he went back to try and find troops who hadn't made it (they were cut off and many managed to retreat along a different path).
    • Although that said, Wellington was A Father to His Men in his own way - a cold, "Well Done, Son!" Guy way. It is noted that the Army of the Peninsula fought so hard simply because they wanted Wellington to give them a sign of his grudging approval. He gave them it too. He wept when he surveyed the carnage at the Siege of Badajoz, both because of the way his men had died but also because they let him down by brutally sacking the city afterward. (That said, it was only 15 hours into the sacking that he bothered to order them to stop, and even though a gallows was erected, no soldier was hanged. In his private letters, he even commended his men for their gallantry on such occasion.) He also once cashiered a group of wealthy officers on the spot for billeting themselves in a warm house when the wounded were left outside. When the Army looted the French baggage park at Vitoria (which included pretty much the entire Treasury of the Spanish Empire), he said his famous line (which people have used so often to bash him): "Our army is the scum of the earth, the merest scum of the earth..." But people always forget/ignore the second part: "...but what fine fellows we have made of them!"
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  • Alexander Suvorov, the best military commander in the history of Russia and one of the few undefeated commanders in world history. The guy camped out with his soldiers even after he became a Field Marshal to stay aware of their morale and motivate them.
  • Leonidas, in the same vein. It has been said that he had a nickname for every Spartan at Thermopylae and that he refused to sleep in the only tent, preferring to sleep in the mud with the men.
  • Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was beloved by his African-American Civil War regiment. Probably because he treated them with more respect than many of them ever knew in their lives.
  • General Sir John Monash, in WWI. He continually promoted the concept that a commander's role is to, above all else, ensure the safety and well-being of their subordinates. Notably, after the Battle of Hamel, where his leadership led to a 92-minute victory in conditions which would have otherwise taken months, his men remarked that the most extraordinary thing about the battle was not the tactics, the weapons or the incredible success of the operation, but the fact that Monash had hot meals delivered to the troops whilst the battle was ongoing.
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  • General (later Field Marshal) Sir Herbert Plumer, Britain, World War One — men used to fight to be sent to his command, and few other generals of any army on either side took better care of their soldiers. Most of his attacks worked. The few that didn't were drowned in mud at Passchendaele. At the start of an attack, he would sometimes be found on his knees in prayer in his quarters, pleading to God for the safety of his men. In tears. And that was when victory was certain...
  • Lieutenant-General William Birdwood (later Field Marshal and 1st Baron Birdwood), also of WWI. The leader of the ANZAC forces and their fight in Gallipoli, Birdwood was one of the relatively few commanders to have his quarters located within spitting distance of the front lines and was praised for his evacuation of Gallipoli in 1916. The respect that Australians and New Zealanders had for him was so great, not only were there streets in both countries named after him, but a town in Australia was renamed Birdwood before the war so much as finished.
  • Most British generals in WW2 had fought with lower rank in the First World War, seeing the battles from the front line. American observers noted — correctly — the extreme reluctance of generals such as Bernard Law Montgomery to needlessly expend the lives of their men, and that as often as not this reluctance to repeat the errors and slaughter of the earlier war led to over-caution on the British part.
  • In World War I, Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, a Blue Blood Prussian general who led two thousand black African troops in perhaps the most successful guerilla campaign ever, driving the British and Portuguese out of Deutsch-Ostafrika and even ''invading'' enemy territory while hopelessly outnumbered. He appointed black officers (unheard of in a colonial European army, although it wasn't as if he had any hope of getting new German ones) and learned to speak their language fluently ("We are all Africans here.") Forced to cut rations as the British wore him down, most of his men stayed loyal and fought on rather than desert. After the war, he gave his men signed certificates so they could secure their back-pay from the ruined Imperial German government. By the time they were finally paid in 1964, many of them had lost said certificates but were able to prove their identity by performing the German Manual of Arms, which they still remembered thanks to his strict drill and discipline.
  • Also in World War 1, Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, was known for two things, besides being a great war poet: 1) being a brave, charismatic leader whose troops were devoted to him and 2) leaving the war in protest when he thought it had gone on for too long. He won a Military Cross for bringing in the wounded for 1½ hours under heavy fire. He's also one of the main characters in Pat Barker's The Regeneration Trilogy, in which he struggles with the knowledge that he is safe in England while the foot soldiers are dying in France, and later goes back to protect them.
  • Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was specifically picked to lead the Tuskegee Airmen because he had survived the Army's segregation better than most anyone and thus could provide both an understanding and leadership to the other Black pilots. Their service record indicates he was most definitely the right choice.
  • Paul L. Bates, the commanding officer of the 761st Tank Battalion (the first all-black tank battalion in the U.S. Army during WW2) refused a promotion so he could stay with his men. He also famously refused to court-martial Jackie Robinson after Robinson refused to move to the back of a bus during his training. (Robinson was instead transferred to another battalion, whose C.O. did agree to court-martial him, although he was eventually acquitted.)
  • Rowland Hill, a British General who served in the Peninsular War. His nickname "Daddy Hill" just about sums him up. He was reportedly only ever heard to swear on two occasions, and often showed great generosity to both officers and men alike. Not to mention that he was a pretty capable commander.
    • This carried over to his appearance in Sharpe's Eagle.
    • Ditto other generals in the same theatre, like "Black" Robert Craufurd, commander of the British Light Division (which was one of the best formations in Europe, and the Frenchman Marshal Victor, who was called "le beau soleil" by his adoring troops.
  • Sir John Moore, who commanded the British Expedition to Spain in 1806. After a combination of Napoleon, poor supplies from home, Spanish incompetence and a brutal winter forced him to retreat, he held his army together through a gruelling retreat, and men still loved him. He died to make sure they could successfully be extracted at La Corunna. There was not time for a proper burial, so:
    • Marshal Soult considered him such a Worthy Opponent and so respected him that he built a monument to mark his spot.
  • A rather sinister and almost literal example is Theodor Eicke, known as "Papa" to his men.
  • Leon Trotsky. When the Russian Civil War broke out, he had the families of some the higher-ranked army members kidnapped and held hostage so they didn't disobey his orders and forced every capable man to combat against the Whites (since the Bolsheviks only controlled the area around Moscow and were forced to fight against over 10 countries). When he was not doing any of these, he would ride on his Cool Train (or, depending on the terrain, his Cool Car) to any part of the front that needed his assistance to hand out cigarettes and chocolates and even appear out of nowhere just to raise the morale of the troops. In his autobiography, he speaks fondly of the men he worked with and shows great admiration for who they were.
  • This could be more or less literal in Highland regiments, some of whom were led by commanders who were chiefs back home and had many in their regiment who were either blood relations or at least fellow clansmen
    • The Highlands were an unusual example of this because the organization of their tribal society made a regiment a prearranged package; they just had to gather at their chiefs bidding as they had always done and formal military arrangements were just an add-on. However, it was the case in many places that the Colonel would be a local noble who would recruit from his particular district.
  • Field Marshal Sir Colin Campbell had a very close, almost family-like, relationship with his men. This lead to him being able to get them to stand before the Russian cavalry in what became known as The Thin Red Line, two ranks of British soldiers against a massed charge of enemy cavalry. They even began an un-ordered counter charge as the Russians began to rout which he stopped with a cry of "93rd, damn all that eagerness!"
  • Michiel de Ruyter, a Dutch Admiral who served his country in the 17th century and scored several victories against the English. He was called "Grandfather" by his men.note 
  • Grigoriy Potyomkin (yes, that Potyomkin/Potemkin), if the later accounts of those who served under him are any indication. Aside from the usual stuff (and there was a lot of it; he commanded armies in the field, after all), he also used his position and courtly influence to change the Russian uniform; the new uniform was much more comfortable and optimal (arguably the best in Europe at the time) than what was used before and after, and was incredibly popular among the common soldiers in particular.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte cared a great deal for his men, often working on the front line and living in the same conditions as them, and going to great lengths to ensure their morale was kept up, as well as frequently praising and rewarding them. The biggest example of this was the aftermath of the Battle of Austerlitz (widely regarded as Napoleon's finest victory), where he gave his men great praise, gave rewards of 2 million gold francs to his officers, 200 francs to each of his soldiers, arranged for large pensions for the widows of his fallen men, and personally adopted the war orphans.
    "A man does not have himself killed for a half pence a day and a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul to electrify him."
  • Julius Caesar. The man would do the grunt work alongside his men at times, the result being absolute loyalty to him. He is also said to have known the names of most of the men in his army. Considering his soldiers numbered in the tens of thousands that is probably a stretch but he probably knew the names of his centurions and generals.
  • George Washington was not just America's first president, but also one of her most beloved generals. He would camp with the men and share in their struggles and would put himself into the thick of fights to keep morale up. He also built up camaraderie with a lot of the younger officers, especially John Laurens, Alexander Hamilton, and Marquis de La Fayette, to where he literally became an adopted father figure to them. When Lafayette was wounded in battle, he instructed his personal physician to "Treat him as though he were my son." When Washington was challenged to a duel by Charles Lee, Washington declined, but Laurens (with Hamilton as his second) took up the duel himself, apparently on the technicality that a son could stand in for a father. By war's end, he would be able to talk his officers out of a planned coup by directly appealing to them with a letter from Congress about their overdue pay: Washington pulled out reading glasses and admitted that in the course of the war he had "gone blind" in service to the country. Manly Tears ensued.
  • "Uncle Bill" Slim, commander of the 14th or "forgotten" British army in Burma. When he was defeated originally in 1942 and had led his men out on one of the longest retreats of all time, they cheered him as they passed. Whenever one of his units had to go on half-rations, he put his own headquarters on half-rations too. He reported that this made his staff a little quicker to get supplies out to the front line. When sent a luxurious personal command vehicle — essentially a motor home — of a sort already accepted by Bernard Law Montgomery, Slim complained about it having taken up shipping space that could have more usefully been filled by another tank, and had it converted into an ambulance. George MacDonald Fraser served in 14th Army and said that Slim inspired absolute confidence in his men because he looked and acted as an infantryman turned into a general — which is essentially what he was. He also always described the 14th's achievements to his men in the second person, i.e. "You broke the Japanese in the Dry Belt." Never "I" or even "we."
  • Hans Langsdorff, the final commander of Graf Spee, sacrificed his honour in the eyes of the German Navy by refusing to take his crippled ship into the waiting guns of the Royal Navy. He chose instead to scuttle her (while giving the old Navy salute instead of the "Heil Hitler" salute) and keep her from the hands of the enemy whilst saving the lives of his 1100 crew. His great 'sin' in the eyes of the establishment was to not go down with his ship, he was in fact prevented from doing so by his own officers. When he got back to shore he ensured his men were safe and looked after and then followed her into history with a shot to his own head. His crew mattered more to him than his life or his honour.
  • Chester Nimitz, who commanded the US Pacific Fleet for World War II, was frequently described by those who worked with him as remarkably even-tempered. Many people described him as an almost grandfatherly figure, utterly lacking in the ruthlessness that was usually associated with reaching an Admiral's rank; the only burden he would place upon his subordinates was that of his unwavering faith in their abilities. He frequently served as a moderating influence on some of his more acerbic subordinates, and also as a shield from the mercurial behavior of his own superior, Ernest King.
  • Hyman Rickover, father of the Nuclear Navy, was definitely not one of the more personable types - he had no tolerance for stupidity, very high and exacting standards, and wasn't afraid to put a subordinate through ridiculous tests to prove they were capable of serving in "his" submarine fleet. But Rickover never certified a submarine for sea duty without being aboard her during trials, would without hesitation pull a ship from sea duty if he felt there were safety risks, and his meticulous nature was because he didn't want any Navy man serving aboard a submarine that Rickover wouldn't put his son aboard.
  • Alfred the Great was not just this but practically considered the father of the nation of 'England' having stalled the apparently unstoppable advance of the various Viking kingdoms, bringing his Kingdom of Wessex (then the last independent Saxon kingdom in Britain) back from the brink at the Battle of Ethandun in 878, and started reversing the process of Scandinavian conquest through cunning military and political manoeuvring, also beginning the process of uniting the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms under one banner - one completed by his grandson, Aethelstan. He was noted for his honour and bravery in battle as well as his keen intellect - and he is well known for being the only English monarch to receive the title 'the Great'.
  • Sun Tzu recommends this - in moderation. He claims that such connections can improve morale. However, if done in excess, it's a bad thing, considered one of his "Five Dangerous Faults of a General". If the commander sacrifices important advantages for the sake of his troops' comfort, then defeat or prolonged conflict follows. The long-term result would be detrimental to everyone.
  • Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, was universally admired by his troops for his attention to their needs and his steely bravery on the battlefield. Unfortunately, his brother got jealous and quickly relieved him of command.
  • Frederick the Great instituted Prussia's first ever social welfare system for soldiers too injured for work, to save them from lives of begging. They loved him for it. At the Battle of Kolin, all it took was for him to ride in front of the flagging 1st Guards and yell "You damned bastards! You want to live forever?" for them to rally and prevent the Prussian defeat being even worse than it was.
  • A non-military example: Walt Disney, combined with Honorary Uncle.
  • Another non-military example would be, believe it or not, Gordon Ramsay, who is as quick to praise as he is (famously) quick to berate and extremely focused on talent development. He had a staff retention rate of 85% for over a decade back when he was actually in his restaurants instead of on TV. When he left the Aubergine restaurant, almost all the kitchen staff followed him en-masse and the restaurant had to temporarily close. He's nurtured a lot of talented chefs that now run restaurants of their own either within or outside of the Gordon Ramsay empire.
  • Also outside the military, sports coaches can take this approach, some with more success than others. One notable example is current Liverpool FC manager, Jurgen Klopp, known for being a very successful and popular man-manager. While capable of being reasonably strict on discipline behind closed doors, he's known for being genuinely very close to and popular with his players, greeting players coming off as substitutes with a quick hug and pat on the back, and often longer ones after matches, joining in goal celebrations with the passion of a fan (and has lost several pairs of glasses that way), as well as making a point of deflecting public criticism from his players and onto himself.
  • Agustín de Iturbide of México was a royalist dragoon in the Mexican War for Independence. He always looked out for his men, sometimes paying them from his own pocket since payments weren't always regular in the 1800's New Spain. He always kept track of their deeds in order to personally recommend them for promotion and even once forgave a group of men he surprised saddling up to abandon him, as they were worried by the fates of their families, pleading for their safety to the Viceroy. His courage and prowess in battle also made them very loyal to him, so much that when he switched sides and liberated México from Spain, they stuck with him. Eventually, his original Celaya Regiment would be the ones to initiate the public proclamation of Iturbide as Emperor, which was met with appraisal from all echelons of society. Even as Emperor, Iturbide reserved command of his old Regiment to himself, and always was beloved by the army for being especially considerate of them, fighting for their rights when the war was over.
  • Nestor Makhno, the leader of the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War. The army referred to him as "Bat'ko" (Ukrainian for father) and he was known for being down-to-earth.
  • Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev, probably the best military commander of Kievan Rus. Same as Suvorov he slept with his soldiers, eat the same food and put the loyalty of his Drugina(army) in high regard. Then his mother, Princess Olga turned to Christianity and asked him to do the same, he denied this because "his soldiers will laugh at him". Also then peace was made between Kievan Rus and Byzantium, he wore the same clothes as his warriors on the ceremony (just the cleaner).
  • When the Hussite leader Jan Žižka died, his troops referred to themselves as "sirotci" (orphans), because they felt they had lost a father.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, as commander of the Allied forces for the European theater, did what he could to make sure the troops were ready for the invasion of Normandy and famously visited paratroopers units before they were set to deploy on D-Day. He wrote both a stirring letter praising their efforts for the invasion itself while secretly writing a second letter that would have accepted full blame - "It is mine alone" - if the invasion failed. While respectful of the army's need for discipline, he also did what he could to keep generals like Patton from getting too harsh with the men, and personally intervened when Patton went after cartoonist Bill Mauldin for one sharply critical cartoon in the army newspaper (Ike knew it helped to let the men vent their frustrations through humor).
  • In One Bullet Away, the memoirs of Captain Nate Fick, USMC, he cites this trope as the reason why he got out of the Marine Corps. He couldn't bear the thought of any of his men dying, and while none of his men had died under his command, he knew thus luck wouldn't last forever.
  • Hồ Chí Minh, leader of the communist revolution in Vietnam, was referred to as Uncle Ho. He was a Frontline General, his simple khaki suit and slippers from recycled tires having reached Iconic Outfit levels. There are actual books compiling accounts and anecdotes regarding his kindly-but-firm demeanor towards his men, available at just about any bookstore in mainland Vietnam. Upon his death (He actually died on September 2, 1969, twenty-four years to the day from when the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence was read. In fear of pessimism regarding the war effort, the official announcement was made the day after.), there was widespread mourning.
  • The Roman Emperor Trajan not only went through many of the same hardships as his soldiers, but he used shreds of his own clothing as bandages for the wounded.
  • Huangfu Song always made sure his men were fed and sheltered first before he'd allow his own tent to be set up. He was such a popular general that even when he was forced to serve Dong Zhuo, his sheer popularity made Dong and his followers wary of executing him lest they face an outright rebellion in the heart of their territory.


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