Who is a better general, or a subordinate, Gan Ning or Xu Huang? Of course you know where I stand so let me start this off with an evaluation.
from Gan Ning's SGZ bio translated by Lady Wu
As a strong young man of the roaming chivalric ideal, he gathered a group of idle youths and became their leader. The group followed him, carrying bells; when the commoners heard the bells they knew that it was Ning coming. Whenever someone met with him, from [commoner to] the senior scribes of the city, if they received Gan Ning well he would party along with them, and if not, he would unleash his followers to rob all their property. He went on like this, robbing and killing within the borders until he was 20-something years old.
Comments: Gan Ning seems to have been a bandit leader at a very young age, perhaps even before he was in his 20s. It seems almost like he was a born leader. Escpecially seeing his reputation is seems he was feared and a somewhat famous bandit if people knew of him so well.
Later on, Gan Ning followed Zhou Yu to defend against and to defeat Lord Cao at Wulin. Then he attacked Cao Ren at Nanjun. Before the city was taken, Ning suggested that he should first take a shortcut to attack Yiling. Yiling was taken immediately after his arrival, and so Ning entered to hold it. At that time he had several hundred soldiers under him, and even with the newly acquired troops, they merely numbered a thousand. And so Cao Ren sent five or six thousand to besiege Ning. Ning bore the attack for days. The enemy devised siege towers, from which they shot a fury of arrows into the city, causing all the defending soldiers to panic. Only Ning spoke and laughed as if nothing was happening. He dispatched a messenger to report the situation to Zhou Yu. Using Lü Meng’s plan, Zhou Yu led his men and lifted the siege.
Comments: Gan Ning's capture of Yiling was the decisive blow for this battle. As well as that, he held off Cao Ren's seige long despite him being in recently capturedland and him being outnumbered. This shows he was good at offensives and defensives. Taking Yiling and defending it to.
After that, Gan Ning followed Lu Su to guard Yiyang and to defend against Guan Yu. Yu claimed to have 30,000 men; and, selecting 5,000 elite troops, he went to the shallows about 10 li upriver from the prefecture, ready to ford the river at night. Lu Su held council with his officers. At that time Ning had 300 men, and he said, “You could give me an additional 500 men, and I’ll go to confront Guan Yu. I guarantee that once Guan Yu hears me coming, he would not dare to ford the river. He could only ford the river if I am captured first.” At that Lu Su selected an additional 1,000 men for Ning, and Ning departed at night. When Guan Yu heard of this, he stopped his advance, and instead of fording the river he made camp there. Even now this place is called “Guan Yu’s Shallows”. Sun Quan praised Gan Ning for that, and made him Grand Administrator of Xiling, and gave him control over the prefectures of Yangxin and Xiazhi.
Comments: Gan Ning seems to have a reputation that even Guan Yu feared. There is a lot more to this then meets the eye but will be discussed later. All I can say for now is that the so called invincible God of War was repelled by a force several times smaller then his own on the feild. And it didn't even cost one life.
After that, he followed Sun Quan to attack Wan, and was in charge for taking the city walls. Ning, chains in hand, scaled the walls, going before the soldiers. And so the city was captured, and Zhu Guang (the prefect) was taken. According to the amount of merit, Lü Meng came first, and Ning was second. He was then given the title of “Rank-breaking General”.
Comments: It seems Gan Ning takes another offensive victory. (note, Wan can also be known as "Huan" city. Do not confuse this with Nanyang, the Wan spoken of here is in the Lujiang area). Gan Ning took the city by scaling it's walls, truly a master at seige. As well as that, this event captured the city as well as it's prefect.
After that, Lord Cao attacked from Ruxu, and Ning was inspector of the vanguard. He was ordered to break through the front camps of the enemy. Sun Quan sent them a special feast with grains and wine, and Ning gave it to the hundred-odd men under him to eat. After the meal, Ning took a silver bowl, filled it with wine, and after drinking two bowlfuls he poured a bowl for his chief controller. The chief controller knelt down and did not dare to take the bowl. So Ning drew his sword, placed it on his lap, and rebuked him, “You are responsible to the lord, and not to me? Even I, Gan Ning, do not seek to avoid death; why do you alone fear your death?” The chief controller saw that Ning was angry, and so he rose and took the wine ceremoniously, and had each soldier drink a bowl of wine from the silver bowl. When the time of the second watch came, they sneaked quietly to the enemy’s camp and attacked. The enemy was startled and retreated. After that, Ning became more and more honored, and his command increased by 2000 men
Comments: It seems Ning proves himself as a master of raids. With only a hundred men(less then Zhang Liao) Gan Ning successfully raids Cao and does not struggle as Zhang Liao did. He rallied his men using fear, but it was noteworthy tactic as the soldiers showed skill in battle despite the fact that some may seem Ning as "strict". He was like Zhuge Liang in a way, he was strict but his people followed him and rarly broke the rules.
Although Ning was rough and bloodthirsty, he was outright and had good ideas; he valued property lightly but respected talented men, and was able to kept his fighting men well. And in turn his fighting men were ready to give their lives for him. In the 20th year of Jian’an (AD 216), Gan Ning participated in the Hefei expedition. It chanced that there was an epidemic, and all the troops have retreated. Those who were still remaining were the thousand-odd brave warriors guarding Sun Quan’s chariot, as well as Lü Meng, Jiang Qin, Ling Tong, and Gan Ning. They were heading to the north of the Xiaoyao Fords along with Sun Quan. Zhang Liao, once he caught sight of them, rushed there, leading both mounted and unmounted troops. Gan Ning took his bow and shot at the enemy, and fought bravely alongside Ling Tong. When Gan Ning asked severely why the horns and drums were not sounded loudly, his spirits were high and his looks determined. Sun Quan praised him highly for that
Comments: This one speaks for itself. Ning rallied the men once again with his strictness in the last few sentences. As well as that, his men loved him and followed him to the end, as seen in other notes.
Ning, upon leaving, gathered up those who had left him as well as those who were willing to follow him, and had a following of several hundred people.
Comments: In this, Gan Ning leaves Huang Zu for Sun Quan. He managed to gather many to join him as well and this shows that despite his background, he was a skilled leader.
: When Lord Cao marched from Ruxu, he claimed that he had foot soldiers and mounted soldiers 400,000 men strong, and set camp by the River. Sun Quan led 70,000 men there in response, and commanded Gan Ning to lead 3,000 men to be vanguard. Quan secretly ordered Ning to break into the Wei ranks at night. And so Ning selected a hundred-odd braves and went straight toward Lord Cao’s camp. He had them pull down the barricades. Leaping over the barriers, they entered the camp, and cut off scores of heads. The northern army was greatly startled and panicked, and torches were lit all around. But by that time Ning’s men had already returned to his own camp; they sounded the drums and horns, and yelled cries of victory. That night, Ning went back to report to Sun Quan. Quan was pleased, “That’s certainly enough to frighten the old man [Cao Cao]! That was a chance for me to see your valor.” And right then he gave him a thousand bolts of silk and a hundred swords. Quan said, “Mengde has Zhang Liao, and I have Xingba. We are matching in strength.” After stalling for a little over a month, the northern army retreated.
Comments: This seems to back up my statement of comparing Ning to Zhang Liao. The part that mentions them cutting off many heads, as well as no evidence at all that they struggled shows that Gan Ning was a skilled leader and that he was an excellent commander.
Ding Feng's SGZ bio, translated by Han Xin
Early in his career, because Ding Feng had shown that he was strong and brave, he was given the rank of a minor unit commander working under Gan Ning, Lu Xun, and Pan Zhang. On many occurrences, Ding Feng, with others to attack and punish the enemies, often went in with the frontal force. Ding Feng often killed the enemy’s flag bearing generals and was usually wounded in battle.
Comments: According to this bio, it mentions Ding Feng serving under Gan Ning. It seems possible that Gan Ning was able to breed such skilled commanders, as Ding Feng served him first(Pan Zhang's bio mentions Zhang getting Ning's men when Ning died, thus Ding Feng went to Pan Zhang, same for Lu Xun when Pan Zhang died).
Conclusion: After seeing this info, it's apparent why Gan Ning is a skilled leader. He defeated many enemies, he never lost a battle and he led men from a very young age. His men loved him and would give their lives to him and this made Gan Ning's unit very skilled and battle hardened, so Gan Ning never struggled in battle, no matter what the case.
More to come....