Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Guest Writer: Roger on Hill Cumorah Order of Battle

Sorry for my delay in posts. Last week I had my car break down right before a conference on Napoleonic warfare, and I still had to continue building the courses I am under contract for. So needless to say I have been a little busy. But I value my readers, those that do so often, those who just stop by, those that don't comment, and those that do.

I also have some good developments to announce as well. I have been contacted by several people asking for my opinion on various items. I have a new card game called "character match" that I need to look at. One reader and frequent commenter has mentioned a historical fiction novel that he plans to send me for review. The result will probably be a multi part series here and hopefully make it on the cover! And I received an email from Roger Magneson which is the subject of this post.

Roger graduated from West Point Academy, which already made me jealous, and he recently got his MLS from Emporia State. He recently wrote an article highlighting three principles of war within the book of Mormon. The one I wanted to highlight in this post comes from his provacative interpretation of the casualty figures given for the final Nephite battle at Cumorah. I won't steal his thunder by bloviating about the topic, but I did want to highlight that a common criticism of the Book of Mormon concerns its highly unrealistic numbers. I rebuffed that critique in The problem with Numbers
where I also recognized the need for additional research and analysis. Without further ado here is Roger's argument:

Units of the United States Army have names that have come down through history and through several countries. Terms such as squad, platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, etc. are known to most people even if they are uncertain about how many soldiers comprise each. The size of units in the United States Army is determined by acts of Congress. During the American Civil War, for example, an infantry regiment consisted of 10 companies of roughly 100 men each. One thing is certain, however: at any given moment, not every position in a unit is filled. Consider the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg. Since we know this is an infantry regiment, we know that it is comprised of approximately 1,000 men. However, on 2 July 1863, at Gettysburg, the First Minnesota had been reduced by casualties to 262 men. On that day, 215 more were killed or wounded.David ben Jesse was made a captain over a thousand by Saul the King (1 Samuel 18:13) and of course modern Israel in its trek to the Great Basin had captains of tens, fifties, and hundreds similar to ancient Israel (D&C 136:3).

Not only were the numbers descriptive of the size of the unit, but as Dr. Hugh Nibley points out the number was also the name of the unit. In discussing Nephi’s reference to Laban’s fifty instead of tens of thousands (1 Nephi 4:1), Dr. Nibley states: the military forces are always so surprisingly small and a garrison of thirty to eighty men is thought adequate even for big cities. It is strikingly vindicated in a letter of Nebuchadnezzar, Lehi’s contemporary, wherein the great king orders: “As to the fifties who were under your command, those gone to the rear, or fugitives return to their ranks.”

Commenting on this Offord says, “In these days it is interesting to note the indication here, that in the Babylonian army a platoon contained fifty men”; also we might add, that it was called a “fifty”—hence, “Laban with his fifty.” Of course companies of fifty are mentioned in the Bible, along with tens and hundreds, etc., but not as garrisons of great cities and not as the standard military unit of this time (Nibley, 1988, p. 127.)

Now consider Cumorah, the final battle of the Lehite nations. Beginning in A.D. 375, the Nephites, not the army, but the entire Nephite nation was being driven before the Lamanite armies (Mormon 4:22). In A.D. 384, Mormon in a letter to the Lamanite king asks if he, Mormon, can gather the Nephite nation to battle at Cumorah, which is granted by the Lamanite king (Mormon 6:2-3). Within a year all the people are gathered in except a few who flee to the south country and a few who defect to the Lamanites (Mormon 6:15). At the end of the first day’s fighting, Mormon gives a list by name of 13 commanders and their ten thousand who had fallen, Mormon and Moroni being the exceptions, and then states there were 10 more commanders with their ten thousands who had fallen (Mormon 6:11-15) for a total of approximately 230,000 dead. Note that the name of the unit is ten thousand. Taking a cue from the regiments of the American Civil War, Nephite units might have been called, for example, the First Zarahemla Ten Thousand, the Second Zarahemla Ten Thousand, the First Bountiful Ten Thousand, and so forth.

The problem is this: the Nephite people had been conducting a running and losing battle with the Lamanites for 10 years, and while there may have been at one time 23 units called “ten thousand” in the Nephite army, when the Nephites gathered to Cumorah they were gathering everyone, including women and children (Mormon 6:7). It is highly unlikely that the 23 “ten thousands” were anywhere near full strength in terms of fighting men. Could the difference have been made up of women and children? The record is silent on this point, but knowing the desperate nature and the finality of the fight at Cumorah, it is highly probable that the women and children would fight in the ranks in preference to being captured by the Lamanites. However, even with women and children in the ranks I could not believe the ten thousands were at full strength. In my experience in the military I have never seen a military unit at full strength. Considering that the Nephites had just completed a running war of ten years, I would guess the Nephite ten thousands were anywhere from mere token units, as the First Minnesota, to at most 50% strength.

I appreciate Roger sending me his research, and I'm honored that so many believe I have something meaningful to offer in the field of Mormon studies. I will continue my attempts to deliver. In that vein I recommend my post called Myriads of Soldiers that discusses the number of a unit equalling its name.

I should also point out that this is the kind collaborative effort that I wish to stimulate in my attempts at a warfare symposium. Thank you for your patience. As always, I invite comments and look forward to seeing them.

No comments: