This is a compilation of famous military leaders whose strategic influence shaped the way history unfolded. This list includes the honorable, the despised, and the courageous military leaders who were not afraid to fight against all odds. The compilation includes leaders, those ranked and those whose command pre-dated the formal establishment of ranks, as well as senior commanders in irregular militaries who may not hold rank.
Most famous military leaders of all time in chronological order
Military Leaders of Antiquity
Military Leaders of the High Middle Ages
Military Leaders of the Late Middle Ages
Military Leaders of the Early Modern Period
|Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582)
In the late 16th century, Nobunaga started the unification of Japan under the shogunate, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
Young Mapudungun (“Mapuche”) military commander in Chile’s four year Arauco War (Araucanian War). Achieved victories against Spanish armies armed with lances, muskets and horses even when his own forces were armed with only spears and axes.
|Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
English military leader. Became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
Nation: Maratha Empire
Founder of the Maratha Empire, which covered much of the Indian subcontinent and lasted until 1818. He established an independent Maratha kingdom with Raigad as the capital. In 1674, he was crowned chhatrapati, or, “paramount sovereign,” of the Marathas.
|Louis XIV (1638-1715)
Referred to as Louis the Great or the Sun King. Was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre.
|Peter the Great (1672-1725)
In numerous successful wars he expanded the Tsardom of Russia into an empire and Russia became a major European power.
|George Washington (1732-1799)
A Founding Father of the United States. Was the commander of the Continental army during the American Revolution.
|Ethan Allen (1738-1789)
Nation: Great Britain, U.S.A
During the American Revolutionary War, Allen was a patriot and hero. Known best as a founder of Vermont and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga early in the American Revolutionary War.
|John Paul Jones (1747-1792)
Scottish sailor who became the U.S.’s first well-known naval fighter in the American Revolution. Although he made enemies with a few American politicians, he was still honored for his skirmishes in British waters during the war.
|Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
Mexican priest and a leader of Mexico’s War of Independence. He had much enthusiastic support from intellectuals, liberal priests, and many poor folk who were angry after many years of oppression and hunger.
Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy (Tecumseh’s Confederacy) which resisted the United States during Tecumseh’s War and the War of 1812.
|Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
French military leader and emperor who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and associated European wars.
|Agustin de Iturbide (1783-1824)
Built a military and political coalition that marched into Mexico City on September 27, 1821, ending the Mexican War of Independence.
|Francisco de Paula Santander (1792-1840)
“The Man of the Laws.” A Colombian political and military leader during the 1810-1819 independence war of the United Provinces of New Granada (present-day Colombia).
Military Leaders of Modern History
|Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. Lee was a great military leader and was honored even after his defeat in the Civil War.
|Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)
Key figure in the Italian Risorgimento. He fought and commanded in many military campaigns that would eventually unite Italy.
|Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
Successful war general in the later half of the Civil War. His leadership brought the Union Army victory over their Confederate opponents. Later became a U.S. president.
Nation: Bedonkohe Apache
Fought against Mexico and the United States in their attempts to expand into Apache tribal lands (Apache Wars).
|Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
26th U.S. president. Aside from politics, Roosevelt was famous for his achievements as an explorer, naturalist, hunter, author, and soldier.
|Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964)
Key figure in Philippines’ revolution against Spain and Philippine-American War (War of Philippine Independence) that resisted American occupation.
|Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Ruled Nazi Germany as its dictator from 1934 to 1945. The cause of Nazism, World War II, and the Holocaust.
|Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th president of the U.S. Five-star general in the U.S. Army during World War II. Also Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
|Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Chinese communist revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. Founder of the People’s Republic of China. He slowly rose to power during a period of great conflict and strife in China.
|Vo Nguyen Giap
(born Aug 25, 1911)
Retired officer in the Vietnam People’s Army. A principal commander in the First Indochina War (1946-1954) and the Vietnam War (1960-1975).
|Fidel Castro (born Aug 13, 1926)
Cuban communist revolutionary and politician. A key figure of the Cuban Revolution. Castro was politically a Marxist-Leninist. Cuba became a one-party socialist state under his administration.
|Che Guevara (1928-1967)
A major figure of the Cuban Revolution. Che is an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, military theorist, diplomat, guerrilla leader, physician, and author. He is a popular symbol of counterculture and revolution.
|Colin Powell (born Apr 5, 1937)
Retired four-star general in the U.S. Army and American statesman. He was the first African-American to serve as the United States Secretary of State, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005