Thursday, June 18, 2009

19th Century American Military Theory and the Book of Mormon

I received a question from Broz who blogs over at, and since I wanted to move away from the bitter polemics that are often involved in apologetics I thought this would be a good transition post. It builds upon my previous posts which examine ancient military theory and tactics within the BoM by presenting common American Military thought at the time of its publication. It also references a paper concerning the principles of war, that I hope to link to when its finally posted. [I also added the reference to Weigley and corrected spelling and grammar in a couple places]

Thanks for your interest in my blog. Your question [concerning military theory and practice in 1830-1860 America] 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 about 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)

So I hope that answers your question. Let me know if it does not. For further reading you can see "American Strategy from the Beginning to World War I" by Russell Weigley in The Makers of Modern Strategy.


nephite blood spartan heart said...

I just found you but am excited to start reading your whole back catalogue.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks. Based on the interview with your publisher I would start with the post titled "Homeric Warfare". My "Army composition" posts may be very useful to you as well.