These short biographical sketches of twelve famous soldiers are unusual in that the focus entirely on the early years and formative experiences of the commanders, and end their narrative just as the well-known battle-field exploits commence. The author seeks to provide clues to character rather then rehash war stories, and does an excellent job of revealing the less-well-known side of Washington, Grant, Lee, Napoleon, Wellington, Kitchener, Joffre, Foch, Pershing, and several others.
So much has been written about the great soldiers of the world, that it is a matter of considerable hardihood to attempt to present another plume on the subject in any sense "new." But the Great War has not only brought to the center of the stage a new group of martial figures—it has also intensified and revivified our interest in those of a bygone day. The springs of history rise far back. We can the better appreciate our leaders of today and their problems, by comparing them with the leaders and problems of yesterday. Waterloo takes on a new aspect when viewed from Vimy Ridge.
The present book includes a round dozen of the great soldiers' of yesterday and today. The list is about equally divided among British, French, and American leaders, and is confined to the last two centuries. Each man selected is typical of a particular time and task. His life story contains a message of definite interest and value.
In telling these stories, however, in the limits of brief chapters, we have carefully abstained from the writing of formal biographies. Such a treatment would have resulted merely in a rehash of time-worn data beginning "He was born," and ending "He died."
The plan of these stories is to give a personal portrait of the man, using the background of his early life—to trace his career up from boyhood through the formative years. Such data serves to explain the great soldier of later years. Every schoolboy knows, for example, what Washington did after he was placed in command of the Colonial Army—but what he did in the earlier years to deserve this high command is a story not so well known. Yet it is both interesting in itself, and serves to humanize its subject. The stately Washington steps down off his pedestal, and shoulders again his surveyor's tripod of boyhood days, while he invites us to take a tramp through the Virginia wilds.
The writing (and, we hope, the reading) of these life stories brings an especial message. We discover that in each instance the famous soldier was not a pet of Fortune, but was selected for his high and arduous task, because of the training received in his formative years. His peculiar gift of leadership was merely an expression of his indomitable will to forge ahead. He exemplified in his life the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared."