Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book of Mormon Warfare

Morgan Deane has a degree in Military warfare and an interest in Napoleonic tactics. He writes a blog entitled Warfare and the Book of Mormon. The following is a brief email exchange where Bro. Deane gives an excellent comparison between warfare tactics described in the Book of Mormon with tactics taught and used by world military powers in the 1830's when the Book of Mormon was published.

Dear Morgan,

I was just reading your bio on Blogger about having a degree in Military History and a interest in Napoleonic warfare. I have long had a question in my mind about Book of Mormon warfare and I think you might be just the person to answer it for me.

The few books I have read on the civil war such as "Gods and Generals" and "Gettysburg" seemed to suggest that the tactics used in the Civil War were mainly based on Napoleonic tactics. These books seemed to use this conclusion to explain why General Lee engaged (Pickens Charge) the entrenched Union at Gettysburg instead of pulling back as Gen Longstreet recommended and meeting the Union on their terms.

In comparing the tactics of the Civil War and the "stratagem" used by Captain Moroni and other Generals in the Book of Mormon. It seems to me that the Book of Mormon seems to describe exceptionally advanced military tactics as compared with those commonly taught at West Point and used by an military in the 1830's and even by the the 1860's. What do you think?

David Brosnahan


Thanks for your interest in my blog. Your question got me thinking for awhile. In order to answer it I will describe American military thought in the 19th century and the major theoreticians that influenced their behavior. And then I will compare it to events in the BoM.

After Napoleon two major theoreticians dominated military thought with the supposed lessons of warfare from the conflicts. Jomini and Clausewitz. Both writers started their works in the late 1820s and 1830s. Clausewitz was not even translated into English until after the civil war (I think), but he definitely was not translated, or even done writing by 1830. The writings of Jomini were more prevalent, but even then he was not taught extensively at West point. West point taught very few classes on military theory and leadership in that time, it was mainly a glorified engineering school (that's what Lee graduated in for example). It was not until the late 19th century that they added command and general staff schools on the model of German successes and they started using Clausewitz.

High Nibley has discussed the elements of Clausewitzean theory in the BoM. You can find it here:

I have also discussed Captain Moroni's leadership using the same author here:

In both cases the BoM definitely exhibits military thought and strategy far beyond what Joseph Smith had available to him. I also have done research that is accepted for publication (BCC E Journal) that describes principles of war taught to current army officers within the BoM. Again this is far beyond what J.S. displayed in his life and writings and even beyond common knowledge of military officers in that day. The principles of war were not explicated until the 1920s by a British army officer named J.F.C. Fuller.(Clausewitz gave some too but Fuller's are much better known) They are now drilled into U.S. Army officers to help them analyze information.

Within the BoM there is some Jominian thought. This was a post Napoleonic writer that was popular in America before the civil war. The practice of Moroni having separate parts of his army pinch an enemy army between them does sound similar to his Jomini's main principle. (max the most amount of strength at a specific point) But the many ruses and stratagems employed by Moroni are common among ancient armies. A Roman writer named Frontinus wrote many of these at about 75 BC, about the same time as Moroni.

With military theory you can use accepted principles and push them backwards, such as post Napoleonic writers. But you can also use contemporary writers to place BoM events within its expected time frames. In short: the BoM displays many correct military principles codified by writers Joseph Smith did not have access to. It is also corroborated by military writers that were contemporaries of BoM events, such as Frontinus and Caesar. Again, Smith did not have access to these either. (Unless we can believe that he read untranslated German military theory in the moonlight after working as a farmer all day and other nonsense)


David J. West said...

Great post, question, and topic. Its exciting to me to see other people interested in the tactical side of the Book of Mormon.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks for the shout out. I actually thought the email was pretty good so I made a post out of it. I have often thought American Military history is kind of boring (although it could be the horrible semester of Grad School that accompnied it), so I have not done to much work in that area. But your question got me thinking so I will probably post more when I get back from gradaution.

Thanks again for the shout out!