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A Victorious Defeat: Mission Command Failure of the 1857-1858 Utah Expedition

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Technical Report,30 Jun 2015,26 May 2016

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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In the summer of 1857, President James Buchanan dispatched the 2,500 man Utah Expedition from Fort Leavenworth to reassert Federal control over the Utah Territory and replace its incumbent governor. Based on dubious reports made by returning federally-appointed territorial officials, the President had become highly suspicious of the Mormon sect that settled the distant mountain west and feared that they might soon rebel against the United States and possibly ally with Mexico or Native American tribes. As the force approached the Salt Lake Valley, they encountered unexpected resistance from the Mormons territorial militia, the Nauvoo Legion. The combination of unclear strategic guidance and the Legions delaying tactics thwarted the expeditions efforts to enter the Salt Lake Valley and forced the US Army into winter camp in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. The Utah Expedition provides tremendous insight into the employment of Mission Command by two opposing forces, the US Army and the Nauvoo Legion. Though both American, each organization possessed unique social and cultural factors that influenced its employment of Mission Command. For the US Army, the Utah Expedition is a cautionary tale the seniority system, rivalries, and the general American distaste for large standing armies inhibited Mission Command philosophy within the US Army. Conversely, the religious bond and history of persecution of the Mormon Church, fostered an environment for the Nauvoo Legions own unique brand of Mission Command. As the US Army endeavors to train and educate tomorrows leaders and teams, the Utah Expedition reveals the contextual nature of Mission Command and how society and culture impact its adoption and execution.

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