Friday, October 9, 2009

Guest Blogger: Moroni as a Great Captain

This is another brief piece from Roger Magneson. He has a B.S. from The United States Military Academy and an M.L.S. from Emporia State. I enjoy this piece because of its "old school" quality. Many of the new approaches to history focus on the expierence of the average soldier, war and society, or gender studies. There is nothing wrong with that, but its also nice to study what historians call grand or high history, i.e. the study of generals, strategy and battle. Without further ado, here is Roger:

Moroni as “Great Captain”

In March of 1989, a symposium on warfare in the Book of Mormon was held at Brigham Young University. After a considerable amount of presentation and discussion, someone asked the question, “What’s all the fuss about Captain Moroni?”

The United States Military Academy (West Point) required first class (senior) cadets to take a two-semester course entitled “History of the Military Art.” Successes in warfare were studied from the careers of the “great captains,” the truly great generals of all time: Alexander, Epaminondas, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Marlborough and Eugene, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Lee and Jackson, Grant and Sherman, Eisenhower, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten.

What made them “great captains” was that their innovations led them to victory. Innovations could be in strategy, those measures taken before the armies meet in the field that will give one of them an advantage; tactics, those measures taken during the battle that tip the scales in the innovator’s favor; or in some other aspect of warfare such as weapons, organization, communications, etc.

When someone asked what all the fuss was about Moroni, everyone laughed, because they knew of Moroni’s great character attested by the prophet-general-historian Mormon, and they sensed that Moroni could probably claim a place as a great general simply by the nature of his towering, sterling character even though it is unlikely that most of the people there had ever studied great generals, and certainly did not know of them by the term “great captains.” Moroni, often called Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces between 74-57 B.C., was a “great captain” for his innovations in weapons and tactics. When we compare him with other “great captains,” we shall see that he ranks with the very best.

Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 4), King of Sweden, and commander of the Protestant army of the Thirty Years’ War, has been called the “father of modern warfare” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 26). His innovations in weaponry made the Swedish army the envy and model of all European armies of the day and influenced the nature of armies for “two centuries afterwards” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 4). At the time of the Thirty Years’ War to move a single gun required “thirty or forty horses” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 12), battles being set-piece affairs, that is, the troops on both sides were organized into three columns with the cannon in the front, where after the opening salvos from both sides the guns were largely ignored. Gustavus (all “great captains” are called by only one name) standardized his artillery to “three sizes—24-pound, 12-pound, and 3-pound” (Palmer & Britt, 1969, p. 12). These are not the weight of the guns, but rather the weight of the projectile the guns “throw,” in this case cannon balls weighing 24, 12, and 3 pounds.

According to Palmer the most revolutionary development was the regimental piece, a 3-pounder which could be moved easily with one horse or by three men. By assigning a regimental gun to at least one platoon in each squadron, Gustavus provided artillery support right down to the smallest combat unit. Some also went to the cavalry. So mobile was the small weapon that it could be—and was—used on all types of operations, not excluding reconnaissance. (p. 12)

When Gustavus came ashore at Peenemünde, his army numbered only 13,000 men. This is remarkably small considering that Wallenstein, the commander of the Catholic forces, had at different times raised personal armies of 50,000 and 20,000 men. To shorten the story, Gustavus garnered the allies he needed and ultimately defeated every army he met.

Now consider Moroni. In chapter 43 of Alma, Moroni had raised his armies to counter the threat of Zerahemnah and the Lamanite armies. While the Nephites and the Lamanites had had swords since the days of the first Nephi, patterned after the sword of Laban (2 Nephi 5:14), Moroni had clad his people in armor: “breastplates. . .arm-shields, . . .and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing” (Alma 43:19). Moroni introduced head protection other than helmets (one piece of metal shaped to fit one’s head), breastplates, and arm protection. What Moroni did not introduce was leg protection. Armor that is worn on the front of the shin usually extending from the knee to the ankle is called greaves, and armor that protects the legs is noticeably missing from the catalog of Moroni’s innovations. Moroni’s armor revolutionized warfare in the Americas, the Lamanites copying the use of all his innovations, and later generations upon the Americas copied the same types of armor to the point that while they had headplates, breastplates, and arm protection, they did not have greaves.

In a three-way comparison of Near East armor as mentioned in the Bible, armor as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and armor depicted in the stela of Meso-America from circa A.D. 700, William Hamblin at the aforementioned symposium pointed out that while the Bible speaks of helmets, the Book of Mormon speaks of “head-plates,” and while the Bible speaks of greaves, the Book of Mormon makes no mention of such lower leg-protecting armor (Ricks & Hamblin, eds., 1990, p. 417). The Maya used “small plates of jade, shell, or metal” mounted on a “wooden or cloth hat” (Ricks & Hamblin, eds., 1990, p. 414). Additionally, the stela do not depict helmets, a single piece of metal shaped to cover the head. The Mayan armor for the head appears to be far more similar to the “head-plates” of the Book of Mormon.
While the Bible speaks of greaves, Moroni does not seem to have invented them for the First Century B.C. Book of Mormon armies. Thus the Book of Mormon notes that while the soldiers in one battle were protected by their armor, “their wounds were upon their legs, many of which were very severe” (Alma 49:24). Hamblin points out that the stela do not indicate greaves in the sense they were used in the Near East. It appears that Moroni’s innovations in armor lasted for nearly a millennium, even to the lack of greaves. “Great captains” imprint the course of war for generations, and while Gustavus innovates in offensive weapons, Moroni innovates in defensive weapons, armor. Either way, the innovations throw the fight to the innovators.

At the Battle of Leuctra, 271 B.C., Epaminondas, commanding a Theban army of 6,000, faced Cleombrotus, king of Sparta commanding a Spartan army of 11,000 (May, E. C., 1970, p. 28). Armies of ancient Greece fought in three columns. The best soldiers were placed in the right column as a mark of honor. When two armies closed with each other, the right column of each army tended to destroy the left column of the opposing army and create a swirling motion as the successful right columns would then turn on the remaining columns of the opposing army. Epaminondas knew Sparta would not vary from the tactics that had given them hegemony over all of Greece, thus Sparta’s best warriors would be on the right flank. Epaminondas made a surprising tactical innovation placing his best soldiers in the left column and making it 50 ranks deep. Additionally, he attacked obliquely from left to right leading with his left column, where his power lay, so that the other two columns would not engage the Spartans until his left column had destroyed the Spartan right column. The innovation worked exactly as Epaminondas had hoped, and Sparta was deposed as the hegemon of the Greek city-states.

Moroni also used tactical stratagems, not with the same weight of long-term consequences as Epaminondas, but important to a cause whose whole nation’s population was less than half the number of their enemy’s (Alma 43:14). Teancum, one of Moroni’s capable lieutenants, was ordered to attempt to take the city of Mulek which was invested by a Lamanite army under the command of one Jacob, a Zoramite. Teancum thought it not wise to attempt an assault on the city and waited until Moroni arrived. Moroni held a council of war, asking for suggestions on how to take the city. The plan decided upon was straightforward: invite the Lamanites to battle on the plains between the Nephite city of Bountiful and the Lamanite-held city of Mulek. Jacob declined their offer, so Moroni developed a ruse. Moroni’s army marched away from the city of Mulek and into the wilderness by night presumably avoiding Lamanite spies watching their camp. At daybreak, the Lamanites in the city of Mulek saw another very small army under the command of Teancum marching northward along the seashore behind the city, and decided to engage them. Teancum’s decoy ran northward toward the city Bountiful with the Lamanites in bloodthirsty pursuit.

Meanwhile, Moroni sent part of his army into the unattended city of Mulek and captured it. The other part of Moroni’s army followed behind the Lamanite army, at a reasonable distance to avoid being discovered it is to be assumed. As the decoy and the Lamanite army neared Bountiful, Lehi, one of the oldest and most feared of Moroni’s lieutenants, led an army out of Bountiful toward the Lamanite pursuers. The Lamanites, not wanting to meet either Lehi or his fresh troops, turned around and ran toward Mulek only to find themselves facing Moroni’s army in their front and Lehi and Teancum closing upon the Lamanite rear. Jacob decided to cut his way through Moroni’s troops to the city Mulek, rather than fight Lehi. Jacob’s rear troops surrendered to Lehi almost immediately. Jacob’s troops fought fiercely, but in the end they could not break through Moroni’s lines, Jacob was killed, and the Lamanite army surrendered (Alma 52:16-35).

When the Lamanite supreme commander, Ammoron, would not exchange prisoners with Moroni on the terms Moroni demanded, again Moroni resolved upon a stratagem to effect his purpose. Moroni’s people were held in the city of Gid. Moroni found a man of Lamanite descent, named Laman, among his army and sent him to the guards at the city of Gid with wine. Laman told the guards that he had escaped from the Nephites and taken wine in his escape. The guards at Gid asked for the wine, but Laman suggested they should wait. This only made the guards more anxious for the wine, and finally Laman gave in to their pleadings. When the guards were in a drunken sleep, Laman retuned to Moroni and gave him a report of the situation. Moroni returned with his army to Gid, threw weapons over the walls for all of the prisoners including women and children, and surrounded the city. When the guards awoke in the morning, they found they were surrounded by the Nephites without and the Nephite prisoners within were armed. The Lamanites capitulated (Alma 55:2-23).

Moroni qualifies in at least two ways as a great captain. First, as an arms innovator he impacted warfare on the Americas for nearly a millennium. The innovation in armor alone is enough to qualify Moroni as great captain. Second, as a tactical innovator he used different stratagems to bring the Lamanite armies to battle and to give up cities the Lamanites had captured.

1 comment:

Michaela Stephens said...

I found this post very interesting. Thanks for the history!