‘The foremost quality of a commander is to keep a cool head, to receive accurate impressions of what is happening, and never fret or be amazed or intoxicated by good news or bad. The successive or simultaneous sensations that the commander’s mind receives during the course of a day are classified and occupy only as much attention as they deserve, for common sense and good judgment are products of a comparison of several sensations considered. There are men who, because of their physical or moral makeup, distort a picture of everything. No matter how much knowledge, intellect, courage, and other good qualities they might have, nature has not called upon them to command armies or to direct the great operations in war.’-Correspondence XXXII, 182-183, ‘Precis des Guerres de Frederic II.
‘Military genius is a gift from heaven…but the most essential quality for a general is firmness of character and the resolution to conquer at any price.’-Ernest Picard, quoting Montholon in Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 464.
‘Kilmaine…was an excellent cavalry officer. He possessed sangfroid and the ability to take in a military situation at a glance. He was very well-suited to command detached corps of observation and any delicate missions that required discernment, intellect, and sound judgment…’-Correspondence XXIX, 149, ‘Campagnes d’Italie de 1796 et 1797.
‘…Moreau [in 1800], three times in forty days, repeated the same demonstrations, but every time without giving them the appearance of reality. He succeeded only in emboldening his enemy and he offered him occasions to strike in isolated divisions…During the campaign the French army, which was the more numerous, was nearly always inferior in numbers on the battlefield. That is what happens to generals who are irresolute and act without principles and plans. In war tentative measures…lose everything.’-Ernest Picard, quoting Montholon in Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 464.
‘Dumouriez [in 1792] made a very audacious move by positioning himself in the midst of the Prussian army. Even though I am a more audacious warrior than he was, I would not have dared such a maneuver.’-Ernest Picard, Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 395.
‘It is said that I am daring, but Frederick was much more so. He was great especially at the most critical moments. This is the highest praise one could make of his character.’-Ernest Picard, Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 405.
‘Marshal Ney…is a brave man, zealous and all heart…Admirable for his bravery and stubbornness in retreats, he was good when it came to leading 10,000 men, but with a larger force he was a real fool…Always the first under fire, he forgot about troops who were not under his immediate command.’-Ernest Picard, Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 524.
‘I loved Murat because of his brilliant bravery, which is why I put up with so much of his foolishness. Like Ney, Murat was incomparable on the field of battle, but he always committed stupid mistakes. He understood how to conduct a campaign better than Ney and still he was a poor general. He always waged war without maps, and how many mistakes did he not commit to be able to establish his headquarters in a chateau where there would be women! As for bedding down with a woman…my woman would have died in Munich or Strasbourg and it would not have upset my projects or views by a quarter of an hour.’-Correspondence XII, Number 10074, 270; Napoleon to Berthier 10 April 1806.
‘For sharp, prolonged attacks that require great boldness Massena would be more appropriate than Reynier. To protect the kingdom against invasion, Jourdan is preferable to Massena…A division commander in the Armee d’Italie, Massena…had a strong constitution and was tireless, on his horse night and day among the boulders and in the mountains. This was the kind of war that he understood particularly well. He was determined, brave, bold, full of ambition and vanity. His distinctive characteristic was stubbornness, and he never got discouraged. He would neglect discipline and pay little attention to administration, and for this reason was not much loved by his soldiers. He was tolerably poor in his dispositions for an attack…at the first cannon shot, in the midst of bullets and dangers, his thought would acquire strength and clarity. If defeated he would start again as if he had been the victor.’-Correspondence XII, Number 10325, 440; Napoleon to Joseph 6 June 1806; Correspondence XXIX, 108, ‘Campagnes d’Italie.
‘Lannes was wise, prudent and bold. In the presence of the enemy he possessed imperturbable sangfroid. He had little education but real natural ability. On the battlefield he was superior to all of the French generals when it came to maneuvering 15,000 men. He was still young and he would have continued to improve; perhaps he would have been clever even at Grand Tactics.’-Correspondence XXXI, 380, ‘Notes sur l’art de guerre.’
‘Berthier, the chief of staff, always spent the day around me in combat and the night at his desk: it is impossible to combine more activity, goodwill, courage, and knowledge. He was very active and followed his general on all reconnaissances without neglecting any of his work at the bureau. He possessed an indecisive character and was little fit for command, but he had all the qualities of a good chief of staff. He knew topography well, understood reconnaissance detachments, attended personally to the expedition of orders, and was accustomed to briefing the most complicated movements of an army with simplicity.’-Correspondence I, Number 338, 238, Napoleon to the Executive Directory, 6 May 1796; Correspondence XXIX, 107-108, Campagnes d’Italie.
‘Desaix was the most capable of commanding large armies. Better than the others, he understood la grande guerre as I understand it. In my judgment Kleber was second in this respect, and Lannes perhaps third.’-Ernest Picard, Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 383.
‘Turenne is the only general whose boldness increased with age and experience…His last campaigns are superb.’- Ernest Picard, Precepts et jugements de Napoleon, 560.
‘General Reynier…had been trained to be a topographical engineer. He understood maps thoroughly, had waged campaigns with the armies of the North and of the Rhine, where he acquired the reputation of being a man of sound advice, but he lacked the most essential qualities of a commander in chief. He loved solitude, was by nature cold and silent and not very communicative, and he knew neither how to electrify or to dominate men.’-Correspondence XXX, 130, ‘Campagnes d’Egypte et de Syrie.
This material can be found in Napoleon and the Art of War, Chapter V, by Jay Luvaas. It is a most helpful volume on Napoleon thought and ideas.