Monday, February 9, 2009

Army Composition and Tactics, Part II

Skirmishers: My classification is based largely on mission and not by armament. There is no indication that the BoM distinguishes between skirmishers and heavy infantry. The most in depth description of Nephite armor comes from the activities of Moroni in making the Title of Liberty (Alma 46:13). As mentioned in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, and Mesocamerican books like Aztec Warfare, the elites normally wore more armor (and more colorful armor) than the average soldier. Thus I classified the skirmishers based on their tactics. Teancum was commanded to "seek opportunity to scourge" the Lamanites in that quarter of the land. (Alma 52:10). Thus when he marched passed a city Brant Gardner assumes that they were aiming to destroy farm land around the city, prompting the Lamanites to exit the city and attack. And the Lamanites began to "sally forth" from the cities, indicating a different policy than turtling in their fortresses. (Alma 56: 26-29) Earlier in the chapter there is also an indication that fighting for the city was different than defending the city. By day the Nephites skirmished with their lamanite counter parts, and by night they fortified the city. When Helaman's reinforcements arrived the skirmishers reported back to the commander who then ordered a retreat to their fortifications.

Thus the two examples (Teancum's maneuvers ,and the operations around Judea) suggest that cities were a base of operations from which raids were conducted against opposing farmland. Commanders also sent "feelers" out to probe enemy the strength of enemy defenses, and the defenders would sent out forces to screen and prevent the collection of enemy intelligence. Thus, skirmishers acted as quick attack forces and a supplement for the scouts and spies employed.

Heavy Infantry: This is a tough category. As mentioned before, there is no indication of a difference in armor between the leaders and the mass of the army. However, other ancient societies and mesoamerican societies did have that division. There is also Western Way of War baggage in classifying something as heavy infantry. According to Victor David Hanson, the Greeks developed and enshrined the concept of heavy infantry allowing Greek, Roman, and later Western forces a decisive advantage in combat. Combined with the penchant for shock battle (exemplified by Alexander the Great according to Hanson), the heavy infantry would literally run over their enemies on their way to victory. While "others" would focus on maneuver, intrigue and ruses to attain victory. Thus the Nephites possessing heavy infantry would suggest a break down in the distinctiveness of the Western Way of War.

The Book of Mormon mentions one battle in particular that can help us determine the nature of Nephite warfare. After a Lamanite force was surrounded "they did fight like dragons...yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger." (Alma 43:44) But the Lamanites did not have the same armor that they did later in the war. So there is indication of a decisive clash and armor among the Nephites. The enemies commanders complaint in the peace discussion suggest that the armor was new and perhaps the Nephites had their own hoplite revolution. (see the post titled Homeric Warfare) However, the fact that the armies could disengage for a lengthy offer of peace from Moroni suggest a great deal of continuing ritualization in Nephite society. (Alma 44) Also, Alma 44:8-15 describes some of the weapons that heavy infantry would carry: sword, cimeter, and bow.

Thus a final verdict is difficult to describe. The Nephite used enough armor to classify as heavy infantry (at least the elites did). There is a lack of evidence if the use of armor was widespread enough to classify an entire band of warriors as heavy infantry. The participation of entire armies in shock battle, and the chaotic nature of the scrum suggest a distinction by function between skirmishers and heavy infantry.
Alma 52:31-38 says that:
Moroni being in their course of march, therefore Jacob was determined to slay them and cut his way through to the city of Mulek. But behold, Moroni and his men were more powerful; therefore they did not give way before the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they fought on both hands with exceeding fury; and there were many slain on both sides; yea, and Moroni was wounded and Jacob was killed.

The Battle of Mulek and others like the First Battle of Zarahemla (Alma 43-44) suggest that the Nephites participated in decisive shock battle between heavily armored and armed infantry forces. The impact of that fact on the Western Way of War must wait for another post. The impact on the average soldier must have been immense. In the BoM we read of severed arms, severed heads, blood drinking, human sacrifice, slavery, being burned alive, starvation, cannibalism and sexual exploitation.

The heavy infantry and the forces in shock battle faced those punishments upon a loss, and many of those in the pursuit of victory. The skirmishers could often survive upon their mobility (think Monty Python: run away!!!), the heavy infantry often could not due to the need to defend fixed objects and the often defensive nature of their conflicts.

Coming soon: garrisons, prison guards, and body guards.

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