Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Little Bighorn 134 years Later

I wrote about five years ago my perspective on the Battle that took place June 25, 1876. The reason I'm updating this is because I filmed a quick video overlooking the Missouri River and a friend of mine made a suggestion about me being a history teacher. This is my proposal: June 2011 friends and family that would be interested in taking a tour of Ft. Lincoln south of Mandan, ND with me meet me in Bismarck. The weekend of June 25th I'm going to go the Battlefield in Hardin, Montana. It is one of those things that hotels would have to be booked months in advance due to the locale ect.

While there are literally thousands of books that have been written about Custer, Sitting Bull, Gressy Grass, Little Bighorn, the weaponry that was used, and numerous other things that pertain to the battle. This is merely my perspective on what I've gathered over the years. I am not footnoting it because this isn't a strict scholarly work...it isn't something that I'm donating hours upon hours to prepare. It's more to entice my Easterner friends to come out to see me.

As with any human, no one is strictly heroic. Although, General George Armstrong Custer (which would have been the proper way to address him since that was the highest rank he had obtained...he wasn't demoted for cause, it was due to the lack of need, hence he could keep the title.) was incredibly arrogant and brash he was charismatic. Simply put either you loved him or hated him. One the things that I fully respect was that he was willing to put his career on the line by testifying before Congress about the corruption that was tied directly to President Grant's brother. His career was pretty close to being scuttled at this point because the Lakota and Cheyenne were getting Winchester Rifles (capable of holding about 15 rounds. According to the Clinton Era Assault Weapons Ban it would be an 'assault weapon.')

The troopers were saddled with the Springfield Armory Trapdoor carbine. It was a single shot rifle that was converted from the muzzleloaders left over from the Civil War. The first Henry Rifles (later Winchester) were produced during the War along with the Spencer Rifle. The army was afraid that such a weapon would cause a 'spray and pray' affect from the soldier where the soldier would waist ammo. While the trapdoor rifles were incredibly accurate at long range there are several problems with them. First off they were obsolete the second they were developed. They make great buffalo guns...not so much in a fire fight. The quality of brass that was available wasn't the greatest, especially when the barrel was heated from continuous fire. The troopers would have to dig out a spent cartage with a knife, not good in the middle of a firefight where rate of fire will keep you alive. The battlefield was with in 100 yards not out to 1,000 yards.

I've read historians where they swear if Custer would have accepted the three Gatling Guns he would have survived. First off, Custer was in the Civil War. He would have seen what they were and weren't capable of. The Seventh was a Calvary Unit. They were akin to our Special Operations operators today. Quick and light weight. The Gatlings were considered fixed artillery pieces and were ANYTHING but light weight. They would have slowed the column and you would NEED to have trained personnel to operate them. The gravity fed magazines are not like the modern spring-fed mags, the way that the guns would have to have been traversed WOULD have jammed the barrels. Taking any of the advantage that they would provide away.

Then there was General Terry he was to the South East of the Battlefield. I've heard the question why Custer didn't wait for him. Personally, I'm convinced his orders were partially a holding action. He was told not to get greedy, but he was still told to go in. IF he hadn't proceed he could have been courtmartialed for cowardice. There also was an old adage "If you see an Indian, YOU KNOW they saw you three miles ago." NO ONE had ever heard of a village the size of what Custer stumbled into. He should have listened to his scouts but then again NO ONE had ever heard of a village that size.

There has been criticism of him for dividing his forces. Which may be valid because he was worried about any Indians escaping. But he would ONLY truly be worried about this IF he was to fight a holding action. The fact he was concerned about this only strengthens my argument that he was fighting a holding action (or in other words keeping the Lakota there). It was a tactic that worked numerous times for him, there would be no reason he would doubt it either.

Reno was worthless as a commander. He freaked out once the brains of his scout were splattered over his uniform. IF Benteen hadn't shown up his command would have been slaughtered. Reno later in his career was court-martialed because of his unwanted advances on a superior officers daughter. He was real quality person. Benteen may have hated Custer, but he had no choice but stay with Reno's command to save what was left. The packs that Custer had ordered Benteen to bring up didn't arrive until later that afternoon. They ended up not playing any real factor in the battle.

Unlike most modern historians I do believe there was a last stand for Custer's Command. There were some that made a run for it, but we have always known that. Custer 'last stand' was on that hill. He was killed fighting fairly early on what has been dubbed 'last stand hill' but he still died fighting.

The Lakota and Cheyenne both give credit to Sitting Bull for the victory because of his vision he had where the troops 'just stumbled into the village. I've seen Lakota historians mention the second half of the vision where Sitting Bull warned them NOT to take spoils and with regrets they wonder what if. This part of the story as a PK has always intrigued me, because I remember the Israelites were told at one point not to take spoils. It just has always been a major hmm thing for me. Just something I have always pondered. The Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne won the battle but really just weren't going to win the war. It was a war of Attrition that there was no way they could win.

Honestly, I could point fingers to who is to 'blame for the loss' but the truth is the Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne were better armed, in better shape, better trained, and in their terrain. They won. It's too easy to say it's Custer's fault, because of there was also inadequate weaponry, inadequate support, and inferior logistics. It's not something that true fault can be assessed on one set of shoulders, and to really do so is to take away a hard fought victory.

1 comment:

Justin Other Smith said...

A brevet rank was almost meaningless in terms of real authority. For example, a major who was a brevet colonel collected the pay of a major, wore the uniform of a major, could not give orders to lieutenant colonels, and was only eligible for commands that normally fell to majors. But he was allowed to use the title of colonel in his correspondence.
George Custer was 23 years old when he was given the rank of Brevet General in recognition of his courage in action. His detractors (and there were many) called him arrogant but none doubted his bravery. He was action-oriented in life, on and off the battlefield. He had routinely prevailed in action against superior odds, especially against Indian forces. To say that he underestimated the size and strength of Sitting Bulls forces is obviously an understatement but never in the history of Indian warfare had so many tribes came together. It is worth noting that it never happened again.
It was a pyrrhic for the Indians as the massacre
(so named in the press) galvanized the nation and the Army who thereafter waged a genocidal war against the Indian tribes almost completely exterminating them.
A brevet rank was an honorary promotion given to an officer (or occasionally, an enlisted man) in recognition of gallant conduct or other meritorious service. They served much the same purpose that medals play today (our modern system of medals did not exist at the time of the Civil War).