Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne, or just Turenne, was a Napoleonic level commander before Napoleon. Turenne was born a French noble, but was sickly and had a bad speech impediment. This made Turenne an academic in his youth and he studied the campaigns of great generals like Alexander the Great. When he was of age he decided that he would command and worked to get into decent enough shape to go on campaigns.
By the time he was 30, Turenne served under several exceptional commanders and had won several spectacular victories as a subordinate. His noble birth, experience and his reputation for courage and decisiveness led to him becoming the Marshal of France.
Turenne was cautious with his men, and usually only sought battle after gaining advantage in terrain or men. His caution sometimes led to tactically inconclusive battles, but Turenne at times struggled with a lack of funds and manpower, and so did what he could to preserve them.
When Turenne was ready for a battle, his tactics were swift and efficient. Turenne had a friend and occasional enemy in another great commander on this list, the Grande Conde, during the chaotic civil wars. The Grande Conde got a minor victory over Turenne, but Turenne followed up with what would have been a total victory had Conde’s forces not been saved by sneaking into the gates of Paris
Turenne’s greatest victory was at the Battle of the Dunes fought on the beaches near Dunkirk again against Conde. Conde commanded his left and had his right anchored by the sea. As the battle progressed, Turenne focused artillery fire on the enemy right until the tide got just low enough for French cavalry to swing around and strike the flanks of Conde’s forces. Though Conde did little wrong in his region of battle, Turenne’s successful attack forced a route.
Turenne was no politician, and this hampered his command in times where he was given questionable assignments or a lack of funds, but he was a true soldier’s commander. He was loved by his men and respected and admired by his enemies.
During an inspection of his artillery prior to the battle of Salzbach, Turenne was struck by an enemy cannonball and killed on the spot. The French immediately retreated as the commanders had no plans for what to do without Turenne. Europe lamented over his death and he was even buried with French Kings. Turenne brought the French army to a professional level that it would maintain until the coming of Napoleon. Napoleon constantly praised Turenne, going so far as to have the men study his campaigns, and study them again. Had he been given the full resources of France, Turenne could truly have been a Napoleon before Napoleon.