With Custer at the Little Big Horn


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telewinz
July 21, 2005, 09:51 PM
If I were with Custer and had a choice I would have issued the Spencer carbine for my troops' weapons instead of the Springfield 45/70. Surely the Spencer cartridge would have been effective out to at least 100 yards and with six tubes ready for reloading maybe the course of the battle would have been different. Selling surplus for $3 or less each, it certainly would have been affordable and more sturdy than a Winchester '73.

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Perfesser
July 21, 2005, 11:27 PM
From what I've read on the subject (the Trapdoor is one of my interests) the high brass in the U.S. Army after the Civil War were intersted primarily in cutting costs. If you look closely at a Trapdoor's action it is obviously made of parts from the 1863 muzzleloader; they even used the old breech plug as the rear tang of the breechblock.
I found statements like 'the soldier doesn't need a repeater; he's trained to be a good shot and hit his target the first time', or something to that effect.
It's the same old story...'not invented here' with regard to the Spencer or the Winchester. I don't know for sure but I suspect that unit commanders were not likely to approve a private having a Winchester or Spencer; 'he can't use issue ammunition', 'his ammunition won't fit issue weapons', etc.
One sign of the hard headedness of the high brass: the single shot trapdoor design was the issue weapon until 1893 when the .30 Krag was adopted. Most of the Rough Riders carried non standard rifles but the Trapdoor was well represented there as well.
Custers SECOND biggest mistake was leaving his Gatling guns behind as they were hard to move and 'slowed his advance'.

1911Ron
July 21, 2005, 11:53 PM
I have read a book on Little Big Horn, it was from the Indian side and it broke down the battleby blocks of time so like from 10:00-10:20 they followed several of the combatants and ther actions. This was all from the original interviews,they said that what scaird them was when the soldiers stopped and set up a defenisve postion they gave them hell, but they would panic and run and ruin what they had gained. They also said what weapons they took with them to the fight and most were cap and ball pistols or muzzle loaders not repeaters as the history books say.

Kaylee
July 22, 2005, 12:05 AM
I've been on that site a few years ago. Creepy, actually. Most all the cavalry are buried right where they fell. I swear, it's the most chilling graveyard I've ever walked through.

Anyhow, there's a whole lot of wide open country there. Rifles with a good bit of range to 'em is a sensible choice... at least on paper.

What a lot of the history shows don't talk about is another major site of that engagement, where another unit held off the natives at several hundred yards for most of a day, due to a funneling effect of the landscape at that point. There, the trapdoors really came into their own.

It's a classic case of "no tool is perfect for all situations."

Jim K
July 22, 2005, 12:12 AM
The .45-70 Model 1873 carbines carried by Custer's troops were NOT made from surplus parts, they were newly manufactured. Earlier trapdoors did use some CW surplus parts, but the Model 1873 did not.

The myth of the Gatling guns "left behind" just won't die. Those Gatling guns were not like M60's or M249's. They were huge, heavy guns, mounted on carriages like cannons. No one, repeat no one, who saw that terrain thought that Custer could have possibly taken Gatlings with him up and down hills and across ravines.

Recent work done by forensic firearms identification experts on the actual battlefield indicates that aside from being outnumbered, Custer's loss was at least partly due to a breakdown of discipline and loss of command and control once the fighting began. The soldiers of that time cannot really be judged by the standards of WWII or the Iraq war. There was little or no "basic training", soldiers were sent to units to train OJT. Mostly, they were not high caliber troops; they were ill-paid, ill-fed, and saddle sore, as well as having poor morale. Most had enlisted only because they were broke and out of work, not because of some patriotic call to duty. So, once things started to go badly, instead of exercising fire discipline and unit coherence, they panicked. Many ran, some trying to fire as they went, not a system likely to produce many enemy casualties.

There may have been some truth to the story of stuck cartridge cases in the Model 1873 carbines (the old copper case Benet rounds were in use), but little evidence of that was found. There was also no evidence of another myth, that every Indian was armed with the latest Winchester. Most Indians had bows, and most of their their guns were muzzle loaders, with a few Henry rifles and some old .50 trapdoors thrown in.

Jim

Mauserguy
July 22, 2005, 12:49 AM
Jim Keenan and 1911Ron are right. I've visited the battle site and read several books on the subject. The trapdoor Springfield was a fine arm for its day. Battles are often won or lost by slim margins.

At Little Bighorn, all evidence points out that Custer engaged the enemy not on his own terms, lost the advantage, and the Indians carved them up piecemeal. There was a long line of corpses from the river up to Last Stand Hill. Had they been better trained, better disciplined and had a little luck, the Indians may have been smacked.

Custer's primary problem was that he thought that the Indian camp was breaking up, based on many small the trails leading away from the main trail. Unfortunately, the small trails were not leading away, they were leading toward the main trail. The Indians' numbers had grown remarkably in the days preceding the battle. Had Custer known this, he would have used different tactics. The rifle that the Army used had nothing to do with the outcome of the fight.
Mauserguy

PS: Check out The Sioux War of 1876.

Moondoggie
July 22, 2005, 02:03 AM
Let's also not forget that Custer set out to "surround" about 5,000 Indians with something like 500 soldiers.

Custer's plan of action was based on the assumption that the enemy would scatter and flee instead of turn and fight. Ooops!

Gatling guns, better rifles... I'll bet they would have run out of ammo before they ran out of Indians. I think the outcome would have been the same.

Trebor
July 22, 2005, 04:07 AM
Interestingly enough, the Spencer Carbine WAS the standard U.S. Calvary Carbine during the Civil War. The Cav was reequipped with Trapdoor's after the war in a cost saving measure. I believe the 7th Cav was actually issued Spencers at one time.

Personally, I don't think Spencer's vs. Trapdoors would have made much of a difference, based on what I've read of the battle.

jondar
July 22, 2005, 09:39 AM
Benteen was quoted as saying (see "The Custer Myth" by Col. W. A. Graham)
that 250 men, well deployed, should have put up a much better fight than what actually transpired.

telewinz
July 22, 2005, 10:28 AM
I think it's been well documented that a repeating rifle can have a decisive impact on the battlefield opposed to a single shot like the Springfield.

Coltdriver
July 22, 2005, 11:01 AM
A couple of years ago I visited the Little Big Horn Battleground.

When you go there you can easily see that Custer basically screwed up.

He took his troops further and further down what amounts to a ridge line. But it was not a clean ridge line. It was along an undulating set of hills with easy approaches from both sides.

Once his troops got strung out along this ridge it was fairly easy for the overwhelming number of Indians to break the troops into smaller groups, isolating them, and then attack them from both the front and the rear at the same time.

Old Custer found himself at the end of the line, far away from any help.

When I saw what he had done I thought he was either crazy and arrogant or that he wanted to commit suicide. From the beginning of the line along the ridge to the place about a mile away where Custer met his demise you could easily see the encampment of Indians.

Instead of gathering his forces and making an organized attack the idiot proceeded with his troops.

When you see how thinly strung out his troops were it is hard to imagine that much of anything would have saved them. I came away from the place with the distinct feeling that Custer was just a glorified idiot.

MICHAEL T
July 22, 2005, 11:38 AM
His own scouts told him they were out numbered . But the arrogant glorified idot wouldn't listen He got what he deserved just to bad he had to take others with him.

Vern Humphrey
July 22, 2005, 11:49 AM
I don't know for sure but I suspect that unit commanders were not likely to approve a private having a Winchester or Spencer; 'he can't use issue ammunition', 'his ammunition won't fit issue weapons', etc.

Several documented instances exist of men at the Little Bighorn being armed with privately-owned weapons, including a Sharps and a couple of .50-70 "Long Toms"

One sign of the hard headedness of the high brass: the single shot trapdoor design was the issue weapon until 1893 when the .30 Krag was adopted. Most of the Rough Riders carried non standard rifles but the Trapdoor was well represented there as well.

Some of the First Volunteer Cavalry (the Rough Riders) carried Model 95 Winchesters in .30-40, but the regiment had a full issue of Krag carbines.

Custers SECOND biggest mistake was leaving his Gatling guns behind as they were hard to move and 'slowed his advance'.

Whenever someone says this, I always ask, "Assign a mission to the gatling guns." I've yet to find anyone holding that opinion who knows how to assign them a mission.

entropy
July 22, 2005, 12:07 PM
Regimental Commanders at that time period did not have authority to dictate which weapons were issued, telewinz. I'm sure there were a few POW's (Privately owned weapons) there, but this would have been at the Company or Regiment Commander's largesse. Scouts, who were often privately contracted, usually had their POW's, and perhaps a noted marksman amongst the Regiment would be allowed to carry his own Sharps, as long as he supplied the ammo, or it was .45-70. It's amazing that such a brilliant commander (look at his CW record, particularly early on) would make such a huge blunder, but it had nothing to do with the issue weapons.

Onmilo
July 22, 2005, 12:41 PM
Custer was assigned to units issued the Spencer carbine.
He was well aware of the faults and advantages of this rifle system.
He may have wrongfully assumed that the troopers could load and fire the Springfield carbines with near the speed of the Spencer but with the advantage of greater ranging.
That didn't happen and sixguns could in no way make up for the blunder when it got to close range.
The Spencer 56-.56 and 56-.50 cartridges are only useful to about 150 yards and not much further.
The .45-55-450 is capable of inflicting killing wounds to 500 yards or better.
Copper case ammunition, verdigris, stress under fire, overwhelming enemy troops and firepower, overzealous and uncomprehending commanders,,,,many things played out in that battle to insure he lost.

Vern Humphrey
July 22, 2005, 12:49 PM
Custer lost because he failed to synchronize his attack. He had twelve companies of cavalry, and never got more than three of them into action at one time. As a result, he was defeated in detail.

Benteen's comments about how Custer should have been able to handle the indians with what he had must be respected -- after all, Benteen is the man who saved the troops on Reno's Ridge.

Turkey Creek
July 22, 2005, 03:43 PM
From what I've read the troopers carried 100 rounds of 45/55 ammo (carbines used a reduced powder charge of the 45/70 cartridge) evenly divided between 50 in a cartridge belt and 50 in the saddlebags- a legitimate concern with fighting in the west vs a Civil War battle was the availability of ammo on site- yes the pack train had extra ammo but that was of no help the way things played out here- my point being that the Spencer would have gone through 100 rounds a heck of a lot faster than the Springfield and could have concievably been a hindrence rather than a help if the same number of rounds were alotted per trooper- a generally debunked myth is that the troopers ran out of ammo for the Springfield-

Hobie
July 22, 2005, 03:50 PM
Custer was defeated in detail. His tired troopers faced a fresh enemy who had very high morale. He split up his soldiers over a wide area failing to maintain command and control. He improperly analyzed the limited intelligence available. The weapons used MAY have influenced the battle in that he closed the range to inside the effective range of his enemy's weapon systems.

PS. I see now that my points were previously made by others. :rolleyes:

Bart Noir
July 22, 2005, 03:51 PM
Benteen is the man who saved the troops on Reno's Ridge.
But he sure lost the PR battle in the angry arguments that followed. I mean, it is called Reno Ridge!

As pointed out, Custer's 7th Cav used the Spencer carbine until they were replaced with the the 1873 carbine. He would not have had any choice in continuing to arm his men with the Spencer. He might have had some choice in teaching them to accurately shoot, which is one area that I think they were sadly lacking.

Bart Noir

Vern Humphrey
July 22, 2005, 04:19 PM
But he sure lost the PR battle in the angry arguments that followed. I mean, it is called Reno Ridge!

It's called Reno's Ridge because that's the point where Reno would up after his disasterous retreat across the Little Bighorn. Reno was suffering from what today we would call "combat psychosis" and never fully recovered. He was later cashiered for window peeping and getting into a fight in a pool hall.

A hundred years later, his descendants made the argument that the disaster at the Little Bighorn wasn't his fault (which had nothing to do with his cashiering) and got him reinstated postumously.

Benteen was respected for the rest of his life.

As pointed out, Custer's 7th Cav used the Spencer carbine until they were replaced with the the 1873 carbine. He would not have had any choice in continuing to arm his men with the Spencer. He might have had some choice in teaching them to accurately shoot, which is one area that I think they were sadly lacking.


A few years earlier, Custer had formed a special sharpshooter's detatchment in the 7th, but those men had been discharged.

Many of the men at the Little Bighorn were recent immigrants and could barely speak English. Trumpter John Martin, who carried the famous "Bring Pacs" message was born Giovanni Martini and could barely speak a complete sentence in English.

That, and the short time they had been with the unit had a lot to do with their poor training. Remember, in those days, the Army had no centralized basic training, and no prescribed training program.

Boats
July 22, 2005, 04:38 PM
I think the biggest factor in the lopsided defeat at Little Bighorn was Custer's assumption that the camp would scatter upon being attacked by Reno's companies.

That might have been an assumption that had some grounding in past observations, but clearly it is a huge sign of complaceny to build that limited experience into the battle plan because it doesn't even begin to account for the alternative if that large Indian encampment actually fights back.

The accounts of the 7th's Crow scouts wanting to die as Indians and taking off their Army garb would have been taken by a more reflective man to be something regarded as a sign that maybe the scouts had recently seen the "largest Indian camp ever" and it had them contemplating their demise rather than as a display of abject cowardice.

I suspect Custer probably had the time to ruminate on what a lack of Plan B was all about.

Vern Humphrey
July 22, 2005, 04:48 PM
Custer was unaware of the Battle of the Rosebud, where Crook had been fought to a standstill only a week or so before (and not far from where Custer made his last stand.) Had he (or anyone else) known that, it might have been different.

Had he kept his regiment together under his control, it almost certainly would have been different. But as I say, with twelve companies, he never had more than three in action at any one time.

STW
July 22, 2005, 07:53 PM
Personally (and because every fire needs more fuel), I think Custer was hit early on at the river crossing and never was a factor in the battle after that. It explains the initial retreat from the river, the breakdown in unit cohesion, and the lack of a coordinated defense. Of course it doesn't excuse Custer from putting his troopers in that position in the first place.

He would have done himself a favor if he'd passed by and thought about the Fetterman fight (maybe 50 miles away) on his way the the Little Big Horn.

Vern Humphrey
July 22, 2005, 08:08 PM
Personally (and because every fire needs more fuel), I think Custer was hit early on at the river crossing and never was a factor in the battle after that. It explains the initial retreat from the river, the breakdown in unit cohesion, and the lack of a coordinated defense. Of course it doesn't excuse Custer from putting his troopers in that position in the first place.


From the time he parted company with Reno (and sent the "Bring pacs" message) Custer was out of contact with the remaining seven companies of the regiment. It is at that point he was no longer commanding the regiment.

In fact, the men on Reno's Ridge thought they had been abandoned, and Custer had ridden off somewhere.

Just when he was hit by the indians is a matter of speculation. We do know that AFTER Benteen reached Reno's Ridge, the pressure on the troops there lessened. After some inconclusive discussion of what they should do next, Lieutenant Benjamin Weir mounted his company and started out to look for Custer. They had reached what is today known as Weir's Point, when they heard heavy firing. Shortly thereafter, they saw a large force of indians headed their way, and went back to Reno's Ridge, where they remained until contacted by Gibbon's scouts.

STW
July 23, 2005, 03:03 AM
Some Indian reports of the battle state that initial contact was made when Custer and those under his direct command attempted to charge across the river into the camp. Two Cheyenne boys at the crossing expressed surprise that the troops were repulsed so easily since most everyone was distracted by Reno's charge at the south end of the village. One possibility given is that Custer was wounded/killed in that initial charge resulting in a breakdown in command among his troops. Forensic evidence suggests that some small units, such as Keogh's men kept it together a bit longer.

Of course, if the entire battle was not largely speculative, what fun would it be?

Powderman
July 23, 2005, 04:51 AM
Custer was defeated before he even hit the battlefield. His defeat was not one only of superior numbers, but of meeting a better prepared and acclimated enemy.

Consider the average Cavalry soldier of Custer's unit: Most were from different ethnic backgrounds, and quite a few had trouble even making themselves understood in English.

The soldier was about 5'7"--5'9". Their rations consisted primarily of a bit of side meat, (not much), flour, coffee, salt and some hardtack.

On one of the hottest days of the year, they rode into battle wearing the blue woolen uniform, over long johns and other accoutrements that they were required to wear by regulation.

When they dismounted, they left one soldier in four to stay behind and tend the horses--cutting their dismounted forces by one quarter.

As was mentioned before, Custer fielded about 500 troops in total. That's about a battalion.

Now, consider the adversary, the Native American warrior.

Average height, from 5'10" to 6'2".
Wore minimal clothing and accoutrements, stripped down for speed.
Fighting on their home land--geographical advantage.
Diet-meat. Red meat. Lots of it, with fiber and some vegetables.

As was mentioned before, Custer fielded about a battalion.
The Indian Nations present included the Brule, Hunkpapa, Rosebud and Lakota, all of which we now know and mention as Sioux--incidentally, a slang term.

Together, they fielded an army of at least 4,000 warriors--almost a DIVISION.

Custer's men went through the grass--almost chest high--looking for things to shoot.

The Indians would advance to within bow range, then raise up just enough to put two or three arrows into the air and move before they hit.

Also, the grass was thick enough to hide a kneeling man LESS THAN TEN FEET AWAY. Plenty of soldiers probably died without knowing what hit them.

What killed Custer was tombstone courage, failure to prepare and poor tactics.

telewinz
July 23, 2005, 07:14 AM
Since the Army was well aware of the high volume of fire the Spencer delivered (many considered that to be a liability or waste) and the cartridge itself was more compact compared to the 45/70, it is very reasonable to assume that more Spencer ammo would have been issued than 100 rounds. Also the much higher volume the Spencer would have delivered may have run the Indians off. Change the mix/situation and maybe the outcome would have changed. Maybe the Battle of the Little Big Horn could have been the skirmish of the Little Big Horn and the Custer would have lived to fight another day. The Spencer (and it's ammo) was reliable and effective, it would have been a better "system" (and decisive?) than the Trap door Springfield at the Little Big Horn. The Indians quite possibly would have broken off their attack when faced with the high volume of fire IMHO.

jondar
July 23, 2005, 09:22 AM
Many years ago I spent a couple of hours visiting with the curator of the Fort Caspar (sic) Museum at Casper, Wyoming. If memory serves I think his name was Bill Judge. He told me how the Custer Battlefield National Monument had given permission to himself and several other historians to go over some parts of the battlefield with metal detectors. He particularly remembered the ford at the Indian camp, and said artifacts had been found which apparently had been thrown off to try to reduce the weight on the horses in an apparent rout back up to Custer Hill. He told me what some of the artifacts were, among them several harmonicas. He said there was no doubt in his mind that Custer's forces entered the village, saw what they were up against, and retreated in disarray.

Tamara
July 23, 2005, 10:01 AM
Three years after Little Big Horn, B Coy., 2nd/24th Regt. of Foot, would show that single shot rifles were no handicap at all, in the hands of well-led, well-trained troops with good unit cohesion.

They didn't need Spencers; they needed experience, training, marksmanship skills, discipline, and Colour Sergeant Bourne & Lieutenant Bromhead.

cxm
July 23, 2005, 10:48 AM
The 7th was slaughtered as a direct result of Lt. Col. Custer's arrogance.

In the late War he had shown his recklessness many time... he had little regard for the welfare of his troops, but a great regard for his image and public relations.

In the scheme of things and the politics of the yankee army George Custer was promoted to brevet Major General, (I believe the youngest in their army.)

With the end of that war, Custer's brevel lapsed and he reverted to Major and then Lt. Col.

Some history suggests Custer was a profoundly depressed man haunted by many ghosts from his past. That said his ambition seemed unlimited and he saw the command of the 7th as his chance to regain his former glory.

I'm convinced he was willing to die and kill his entire command in persuit of that glory... sort of a death or glory wish... this is particularly supported by the actions of his wife after his death.

It is a long story...but ultimately a lot of good troopers died as a result of Custer's rampant ambitions...

V/r

Xhuck

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 11:30 AM
Some Indian reports of the battle state that initial contact was made when Custer and those under his direct command attempted to charge across the river into the camp.

The indian reports tend to be worm's-eye views and in considerable conflict with each other. What one indian in one part of the camp saw is not what another indian in a different part of the camp saw.

Some indian accounts say that Reno's detatchment after retreating across the river tried to cross again further down -- they mistake Custer's detatchment for Reno's and assume them all to be the same troops.

You can take the USGS map of the battlefield and work out that Reno had to be in action first -- Custer had a long way to ride before reaching his crossing point after Reno had crossed.

STW
July 23, 2005, 12:40 PM
Of course I wasn't as clear as I needed to be, I meant initial contact by Custer's contingent. The scramble back from the upper ford towards Custer Hill still needs to be explained. One explanation is lots of Indians. A second would be fewer Indians, because so many were all over Reno, and the incapacity of senior command, ie. Custer.

Firearm note. In search of history tried to determine if Reno could have heard the battle going on at Custer Hill. Their conclusion was that they could. I noticed, however, that no modern person doing the listening had just spent a fair amount of time shooting a Sharps carbine without hearing protection. That sort of invalidates that particular historical search.

Moondoggie
July 23, 2005, 12:51 PM
In "Son of the Morning Star", the author believes that Custer may have been killed/seriously wounded in the opening moments of contact with the Indians at the river crossing. This would explain the hasty retreat and the lack of cohesion on the ridge. Custer gets hit, folks with more common sense and no quest for glory decide "This is stupid, we're outta here!" An examination of the piles and locations of spent ctg cases indicates that two of the companies on Last Stand Hill barely put up a defense before being over run while the other three fired quite a lot from fixed positions before the end came.

One of my Officer's gave me the book as a "going away present" back in '86. It's a great read and includes the interviews with the Indidans.

The book is still packed in a box from our last move, and I forget the author's name. Possibly Evan McConnell????

MICHAEL T
July 23, 2005, 12:52 PM
TAMARA Experience,discipline and markmanship wasn't much help for the main force,now was it. They suffered under the same arrogent type of leadership as Custers men did. With the same results.

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 01:32 PM
The scramble back from the upper ford towards Custer Hill still needs to be explained. One explanation is lots of Indians. A second would be fewer Indians, because so many were all over Reno, and the incapacity of senior command, ie. Custer.


A look at the USGS map gives some good clues. Custer apparently came down Medicine Tail Cooley. Smith, Yates, and T.W. Custer's companies lie in a prolongation of the upper part of that gulley. Keogh and Calhoon's companies, in contrast, lie in a U formation about a half mile to the east.

Amos Bad Heart Bull's pictograph ledger (he was a child at the time) shows the Sioux crossing the Little Bighorn and going up two gullies simultaneously. This would lead to a natural double envelopment of Custer's forces.

The simplest explanation is that the westernmost band of indians (who reached the high ground much closer to the upper Medicine Tail Cooley) coupled with direct frontal pressure caused Custer's force to move back up the cooley.

Custer actually handled his force fairly well at this point (much better than Reno's confused attempts to command) and formed a line protecting his command. When the second group of indians appeared, coming up the eastern gulley, Keogh and Calhoon formed a defensive line against that force.

Both lines were over-run -- the evidence is that Keogh and Calhoon were over-run first, with Calhoon's company collapsing first, and some survivors reaching Keogh's company. (This is shown by forensically identifying cartridge cases in both positions -- someone fired the same carbine first in Calhoon's company, then in Keogh's.)

With the eastern companies over-run, the other three companies were dead meat. The survivors first sought the high ground (where Custer may have already established a position for his headquarters) and when that was over-run a handfull of survivors made a break for a gulley to the southwest, but didn't make it.

Of course, this accounts for the actions of five of the twelve companies of the 7th Cavalry. Three more under Reno (M, A and G) were badly mauled. Benteen coming up with his three companies (D, K and H) plus the pack train and its escorting company (B), took command on Reno's Ridge, stabilized the position, and saved the remainder of the regiment.

Bart Noir
July 23, 2005, 02:31 PM
Tamara, I agree fully with you. But I'd also like mention that the British could keep up a higher rate-of-fire with the Martini-'enry since it cocked the internal hammer as it ejected the empty case. Less motions with the right hand, no hammer to cock, must mean the M-H could be loaded and back on target faster than the Trapdoor.

Then again, considering how powerful the M-H cartridge was and how it punished the shooter, maybe they slowed down real quick. Or flinched badly. Yeah, I agree that training and leadership makes a huge difference.

Bart Noir

Hobie
July 23, 2005, 02:57 PM
The Brits were in a prepared defensive position. They were infantry. They had good fields of fire. They engaged the enemy from the max effective range all the way into contact distance. They did not destroy their unit's cohesiveness in the defense by disorganized retreat. They did not split their force. ETC.

Custer's problems started way before the battle and he did nothing to mitigate those problems on the battlefield.

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 03:03 PM
The Brits were in a prepared defensive position. They were infantry. They had good fields of fire. They engaged the enemy from the max effective range all the way into contact distance. They did not destroy their unit's cohesiveness in the defense by disorganized retreat. They did not split their force. ETC.


I think we should point out that you are talking about the action at Roark's Drift, where a small British unit (A Coy, South Wales Borderers) defeated a much larger attacking force of Zulus.

In the earlier battle, Isandlewana Mountain, a much larger British force was overrun by the Zulus and wiped out. In fact, the British force at Isandlewana was much larger than Custer's 7th Cavalry, equipped with artillery, and facing an enemy on foot who had few firearms -- and they sustained a much higher percentage of casualties than Custer.

Hobie
July 23, 2005, 03:36 PM
Roger that. However, the Brits at Isandhlwana did what Custer did dividng their force permitting the Zulus an opportunity defeat them in detail AND they did not move to resupply ammo as expeditiously as they might have (within units, according to various accounts). It was only a portion of those Zulu troops that moved against Rorke's Drift (against orders!).

My point is that the Infantry is a bit more stolid (and I mean stolid) in defense and couldn't be distracted by the loss of their mounts. That must have been a terrible blow to unit confidence to see the horses loose, taken, or shot down eliminating all hope of escape in that manner.

On the other hand, both the Zulus at Isandhlwana and the NAs at Greasy Grass performed at their best given their particular circumstances. Both used terrain to mask movement and for cover (largely unavailable at Rorke's Drift).

Custer had all sorts of problems in his unit. Some of these were exacerbated by and during the march/movement to the battle site, some by his command decisions. He failed to properly interpret battlefield intel and so forth.

BTW, I doubt that the Bugler, commonly used as a courier, was as illiterate and lacking in English proficiency as he's been made out to be. I doubt that anyone including Custer would be so stupid as to use his least qualified communicators as message delivery systems!

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 04:36 PM
Roger that. However, the Brits at Isandhlwana did what Custer did dividng their force permitting the Zulus an opportunity defeat them in detail AND they did not move to resupply ammo as expeditiously as they might have (within units, according to various accounts). It was only a portion of those Zulu troops that moved against Rorke's Drift (against orders!).

The odds against the British at Roark's drift, in relative terms were greater than at Isandlewana.

The force at Isandlewana SHOULD have been more than adequate -- there was, however no good overall command, and a poorly trained and armed contigent (companies of the Natal Native Contigent) wound up at a critical point -- a "knuckle" where the line made a sharp bend. This allowed the Zulus into the defensive position.

My point is that the Infantry is a bit more stolid (and I mean stolid) in defense and couldn't be distracted by the loss of their mounts. That must have been a terrible blow to unit confidence to see the horses loose, taken, or shot down eliminating all hope of escape in that manner.

There are responsibilities for the led horses -- but in many another battle, the killing or loss of horses didn't result in defeat. In fact, in the weeks that followed the Little Bighorn battle Crook's column ran their horses into the ground pursuing the indians and wound up eating many of them. In Army history, this is called "The Horsemeat March."

On the other hand, both the Zulus at Isandhlwana and the NAs at Greasy Grass performed at their best given their particular circumstances. Both used terrain to mask movement and for cover (largely unavailable at Rorke's Drift).

True at the Little Bighorn, but not so true at Isandlewana. British cavlary picked up the approaching Zulus while they were a good hour from the battlefield. But the British failed to react to that news -- apparently assuming the Zulus would merely "shadow" them.

Custer had all sorts of problems in his unit. Some of these were exacerbated by and during the march/movement to the battle site, some by his command decisions. He failed to properly interpret battlefield intel and so forth.

All true. He also had an inadequate second in command in Reno.

BTW, I doubt that the Bugler, commonly used as a courier, was as illiterate and lacking in English proficiency as he's been made out to be. I doubt that anyone including Custer would be so stupid as to use his least qualified communicators as message delivery systems!


The bugler (technically the trumpeter), John Martin (who remained in the Army and retired many years later) was truly almost totally deficient in English at that time. He was a trumpeter because of his musical ability, not because of his proficiency in English. He was with Custer as an orderly trumpeter -- assigned by a duty roster. He was actually a member of Company H (Benteen's company) and was with Custer that day by the luck of the draw.

He did not carry a verbal message -- Lieutenant W. W. Cook, the Acting Assistant Adjutant General, wrote the message down. It is possible that he was picked to carry the message because Custer (or Cook) thought that was all the service he could render in battle.

Benteen said that when Martin (or Martini) delivered the message, he tried to question him to get more information, but Martin couldn't understand his questions.

telewinz
July 23, 2005, 04:38 PM
Unlike the Indians against Custer, the Zulu warriors at Rorke's Drift were on foot and the British troops, barricaded. For the most part Custer's men were eventually on foot and out in the open. Totally different ballgame and comparison. The Spencer could have changed the day, something the Springfield or Martini Henry couldn't. At Isandhlwana a major cause for the Brits defeat was their quartermaster corp. Ammo supply was restricted to ONLY soldiers of that unit! It was a case where Pvt. Jones (needing more ammo) of the 2nd company was denied ammo from the supply sergeant of the 3rd company! British supply regulations were soon changed after the dead were buried.

telewinz
July 23, 2005, 05:04 PM
In May of 1844, Captain John Coffee "Jack" Hays acquired Colt Paterson five-shot revolvers and revolving rifles from the stores of the decommissioned Republic of Texas Navy. In June of 1844, the Texas Rangers and the Comanche fought a pivotal battle that forever changed the history of Indian warfare in the West.
After drilling his men in marksmanship, Hays fielded a company of 15 men who patrolled the area around Walker Creek northwest of San Antonio. They encountered a large raiding party. Instead of dismounting and finding a defensible location, the Rangers rode toward into the Comanches, attacking them on their flank. Wave after wave of Comanche warriors attacked the Rangers. Each time the warriors were repulsed, suffering heavy casualties. The war chief was perplexed by the Rangers' ability to continue firing without reloading after each shot. The five-shot revolver allowed the Rangers to fight an offensive war against the Comanche, increasing the firepower of each man by 300%. For the first time, a small detachment could successfully oppose a larger force.

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 05:21 PM
In June of 1844, the Texas Rangers and the Comanche fought a pivotal battle that forever changed the history of Indian warfare in the West.


This action, also called "Hays' Big Fight" revolutionized American cavalry tactics. When the Texas Rangers were absorbed into the US Army after Texas became a state in December, 1845, the demand for revolvers resulted in the "Walker Colts" (Named for Sam Walker, who collaborated with Colt.) The use of these revolvers in combat made a lasting impression on the US Army.

At a time when European Armies often fielded cavalry units armed ONLY with lances or sabres (giving them firearms might tempt them to misuse them) American cavalry had already realized the Arm Blanche was outclassed by gunpowder.

telewinz
July 23, 2005, 06:14 PM
The Battle of Beecher Island

On the 17th of September, 1869, was fought the hardest battle between the white men and the plains Indians in the annals of the West. It was fought on the Arickaree fork of the Republican River, a few miles from the southwest corner of Nebraska and not far from the present town of Wray, Colorado, on the Denver line of the Burlington road. Fifty-one scouts and frontiersmen under the command of Lieutenant George A. Forsyth stood off, on a little sandbar in the river, the combined forces of the Northern Cheyennes, Arapahos and Oglala Sioux for nine days. The scouts were armed with a new gun, the Spencer Seven-shooter Carbine. As daylight broke, Grover, the head scout, exclaimed, "Look at the Indians!" The hills on both sides of the little valley swarmed with them. None of the scouts had ever before seen so many hostile Indians in one body. General Custer said that the Arickaree fight was the greatest battle on the plains.

Wagon teamsters in Indian country after the Civil War preferred the Spencer. They needed rapid fire self defense as they were all too frequently traveling alone. And they had the wagon to carry all the ammunition they wanted.The Spencer was the most advanced shoulder fired longarm of its time. In action, the firepower could be devastating. A cartridge box was invented by Blakeslee to carry Spencer ammunition and hasten reloading. It held seven tubes of seven cartridges each to quickly slide one tube at a time into the gun. The Blakeslee box looks good in theory but was bulky. It bounced around and got in the way when in action or while running as they hadnít then figured out how to hold such containers firmly to the soldierís body. The soldiers could shoot out all the ammunition they could carry nearly as quickly when carrying ammunition as issued in bulk without the hassle of preloading the tubes of the unwieldy Blakeslee cartridge box. The Spencer used the first self-contained metallic cartridge powerful enough for regular military use. The standard Spencer cartridge is called the 56-56 being named for having the same size at the front end and back end of the copper cartridge case. It fired a 52 caliber bullet with a muzzle energy of 1125 foot pounds. An experienced man could shoot all seven shots in about fifteen seconds.
The 50 caliber Spencer went on to develop an enviable reputation on the frontier. This in spite of the fact that the round was under powered for the wide open west, even when it was first introduced. Spencers were the standard issue weapon of mounted troops for a decade after 1865, with few exceptions. Their firepower saved the day in many actions. When it came to a close fight, such as Beecher's Island in eastern Colorado, the repeaters were hard to beat. In a cost cutting move, they were finally superseded by the single shot Model 1873 Springfield carbine. The changeover started late in 1874, five years after the Spencer company went out of business. Some units were equipped with Spencers well into 1876. They continued to be issued to teamsters and settlers well after their departure from front line service. Westerners prized them as a handy saddle gun. Many were in use as late as the turn of the century. Their cartridges were loaded commercially at least through 1919. The best advantage of a Spencer is the outstanding accuracy of these arms. The author's M-1868 carbine has produced 1 1/4 " groups at 100 yards. One particular M-1865 rifle shot a 2 1/4 " group the first time it was fired this century, and using the magazine, which tends to dent the bullet noses.

Malamute
July 23, 2005, 10:11 PM
I'd like to throw out a thought.

I've also been to the Custer battelfield several times. In listening to the information that was offered by the guide, and looking at the country, it occured to me that the outcome would have been much different had Reno and Benteen actually followed orders and engaged the village in a coordinated attack from 3 sides. This was was the original plan, but Reno DISMOUNTED at the edge of the village when he encountered light resistance, rather than riding through it in a cavalry attack, and Benteen claimed to be unable to reach his side (south side of the village) to attack, because of rough country. The Indians, after stopping Reno, were able to marshall forces to help repel Custer as he attempted to cross the river, and the whole village was then alerted to what was going on. My thought upon seeing the battlefield, and understanding the original plan, was that the plan was actually workable, had all parties followed through with their part. Outnumbered? Yes. But a cavalry attack on a village that was not expecting it had worked before. I understood this was one reason they pushed so hard to get to the village over such a long distance, they were not expected, and wanted to keep the advantage.

Not to prop up Custer's character, but standing on the ground, I felt that the plan was realistic.

I also found it to be an eerie expeience to be there and see all the grave markers strung up the hills.

Jim K
July 23, 2005, 10:32 PM
I don't want to belabor the point about the Spencer carbine, but in my limited experience, they weren't all that reliable. A main problem was extraction and ejection if the lever wasn't worked smartly and consistently. In limited firing with a Civil War carbine in near-new condition, and fairly late ammo (1880's), I was seldom able to fire a full magazine without some kind of hangup (not counting some mis-fires). Also, the Spencer is not as fast as the Henry or Winchester. The shooter needs to work the action to load, then cock the hammer manually. A good man with a trapdoor can be almost as fast. I do think there is little doubt that the Martini-Henry was the best and fastest rifle of the single shot era. Its main problem in the early days was ammunition; even the copper Benet primed U.S. ammo was superior to the coiled brass of the Boxer ammo used in the M-H.

In a large engagement, some weapon failures are expected and pose no significant problem. In addition, many Spencer users undoubtedly accepted some problems in order to have the extra firepower over single shot arms. The Henry was more reliable, but the cartridge was so weak as to be almost a joke, while the Spencer round was reasonably powerful (though not as powerful as the .45-55 and .45-70 ammunition used by the army).

Jim

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 10:43 PM
it occured to me that the outcome would have been much different had Reno and Benteen actually followed orders and engaged the village in a coordinated attack from 3 sides. This was was the original plan,

Reno was ordered to attack, but Benteen was not. He was send out to the left (South) flank with orders to "pitch into anything he might find." He was not given orders that limited his march, nor told what to do if he found nothing. If Benteen had simply continued on, he would have been going AWAY from the Sioux village, not toward it. Benteen on his own initiative gave up that march, and "right obliqued" as he put it, to reach the regiment's trail. Had he not done that, he would never have arrived at Reno's Ridge in time to consolidate that position.

At the court of enquiry, Benteen testified that if there was a plan, he was not told of it. "When I received my orders from Custer to separate myself from the command, I had no instructions to unite with Reno or anyone else. There ws no plan at all . . ."

"If there had been a plan of battle, enough of that plan would have been communicated to me so that I would have known what to do under certain circumstances. Not having done that, I do not believe there was any plan. In General Custer's mind there was a belief that there were no Indians and no village. I do not know, except that I was sent off to hunt up some Indians. I was to pitch into them and let him know. And if I had found them, the distance was so great that we would have been wiped out before he could get to us."

Other officers backed him up -- Reno testified "There was no plan communicated to us." Lieutenant Wallace testified "When we crossed, Custer must have been to our right and rear; Benteen to our left and rear, but we knew nothing about his orders and expected no assistance from him" (Luckily, they got assistance from Benteen.)


but Reno DISMOUNTED at the edge of the village when he encountered light resistance, rather than riding through it in a cavalry attack, and Benteen claimed to be unable to reach his side (south side of the village) to attack, because of rough country.

The first part is true, the second part is not -- as I pointed out, Benteen had no orders to attack THAT village. Had he continued going in the direction Custer sent him, he would have been far away from the actual village.

The "Bring Pacs" message is the only evidence we have of Custer intending Benteen to join in -- and that message simply says:

"Benteen. Come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs. (signed W.W. Cooke, AAAJ) P.S. Bring pacs."

The Indians, after stopping Reno, were able to marshall forces to help repel Custer as he attempted to cross the river, and the whole village was then alerted to what was going on.

That is true -- but so far as we can tell, there was no possibility of Reno and Custer cooperating. Reno's action came too early, Custer's too late. Very likely, if Reno had charged the village, it would simply have swallowed him, and dealt with Custer in turn.

Malamute
July 23, 2005, 10:50 PM
I'm basing my comments on the information from the Battlefield tour and museum. It is different from what you have said, but I am not necesarily saying one or the other version is correct. I simply haven't researched it in depth. The tour guide stated Reno had orders to charge the village, and Benteen was supposed to take some action from the south, tho perhaps it was not as well defined of an "action" as I recall. They did say that Reno denied having any particular orders, tho that seems odd.

Interesting discussion in any event.

dpesec
July 23, 2005, 11:01 PM
I've been following this thread. I've never been to the site. But I know I'd feel spooked. Bad vibes etc.
I know there have been several scientific expeditations to the site. From what I remember these tend to back up the account that there was total chaos at the site. There was no command and control which lead some individuals to believe that Custer was wounded or killed early on.

Either way let's face it, without additional ammo, the outcome would have been the same, just taken a bit longer. Custer engaged a clearly numerically superior force.

just my 2 cents

Vern Humphrey
July 23, 2005, 11:09 PM
I'm basing my comments on the information from the Battlefield tour and museum. It is different from what you have said, but I am not necesarily saying one or the other version is correct. I simply haven't researched it in depth. The tour guide stated Reno had orders to charge the village, and Benteen was supposed to take some action from the south, tho perhaps it was not as well defined of an "action" as I recall. They did say that Reno denied having any particular orders, tho that seems odd.


An excellent source book on the battle is "The Story of the Little Bighorn" by Col. W. A. Graham, The Century Company, New York, 1926. Graham personally knew some of the survivors, and he reproduces many critical documents -- including testimony before the Board of Inquiry.

Custer was in the habit of NOT communicating his plans to his subordinate. One officer who served as his AAAG testified that it was Custer's custom to tell him to send orders to company commanders, without explaining them.

A simple look at a good topographic map will show that Benteen could not have been ordered to attack the South side of the village -- he was marching away from the village, and only turned back toward the regiment's trail on his own initiative.

In addition, if he already had orders to attack, why the "Bring Pacs" message? He is emphatically told to bring the pack train -- hardly what a hard charging cavalry attack would require!

telewinz
July 23, 2005, 11:16 PM
Many officers who served the Union during the Civil War and were familiar with the Spencer's firepower were very reluctant to exchange the repeating Spencer for the new single shot Springfield .45. So why did the Army change from the Spencer to the Springfield? There appear to be two main reasons the Army made the changeóone financial and one tactical. After the Civil War, the Army was forced to cut back on expenditures. The Army had recognized that a soldier armed with a repeating rifle would expend a large amount of ammunition during battle whether he had a clear target in sight or not. The belief was that with a single shot rifle, the soldier would become more efficient with his ammunition and take only clear shots at his target

Then, when the magazine is empty and only one or two targets are left, the gun can be single loaded very quickly. This option is not nearly as convenient for the unlucky Henry shooter. If reloading becomes necessary, the Spencer's magazine can be refilled far more rapidly than a Henry. If everyone is missing and both the Henry and Spencer must be reloaded, the Spencer armed skirmisher can overtake a Henry shooter. A positive advantage of the Spencer design is that the magazine is safer to reload, since the muzzle is always pointed down range. A common misconception is that Spencers are more difficult to operate and prone to jamming. With the wrong ammunition, or a weak magazine spring, this is true. However, a properly prepared Spencer is as smooth and reliable as any Henry on the line.

There were 2,361 cartridges, cases and bullets recovered from the entire battlefield, which reportedly came from 45 different firearms types (including the Army Springfields and Colts, of course) and represented at least 371 individual guns. The evidence indicated that the Indians used Sharps, Smith & Wessons, Evans, Henrys, Winchesters, Remingtons, Ballards, Maynards, Starrs, Spencers, Enfields and Forehand & Wadworths, as well as Colts and Springfields of other calibers. There was evidence of 69 individual Army Springfields on Custer's Field (the square-mile section where Custer's five companies died), but there was also evidence of 62 Indian .44-caliber Henry repeaters and 27 Sharps .50-caliber weapons. In all, on Custer's Field there was evidence of at least 134 Indian firearms versus 81 for the soldiers. It appears that the Army was outgunned as well as outnumbered.

The success of Henry's rifles ensured Winchester's success, and the primary weapon carried by the Indians at the Little Bighorn was either Henry's model or the slightly altered Winchester Model 1866. Both fired a .44-caliber Henry rimfire cartridge. The Henry used a 216-grain bullet with 25 grains of powder, while the Winchester used a 200-grain bullet with 28 grains of powder. Velocity was 1,125 feet per second. Cartridges were inserted directly into the front of the Henry magazine, while the Winchester 1866 had a spring cover on the right side of the receiver. The carbine and the rifle had a capacity of 13 and 17 cartridges respectively.

What, then, was the reason that the soldiers made such a poor showing during the West's most famous Army-Indian battle? While Custer's immediate command of 210 men was wiped out and more than 250 troopers and scouts were killed in the fighting on June 25-26, the Indians lost only about 40 or 50 men. The explanation appears to lie in the fact that weapons are no better than the men who use them. Marksmanship training in the frontier Army prior to the 1880s was almost nil. An Army officer recalled the 1870s with nostalgia. "Those were the good old days," he said. "Target practice was practically unknown." A penurious government allowed only about 20 rounds per year for training--a situation altered only because of the Custer disaster.

Phyphor
July 23, 2005, 11:39 PM
...my brown pants! :neener:

Ky Larry
July 24, 2005, 12:16 AM
Wasn't Custer's original order to scout the Rosebud Creek area and not the Little Bighorn? IIRC, his unit was part of a three pronged campaign. Custer shouldn't have been at Little Bighorn. Someone with more facts will correct me if I'm wrong.
I'm not a soldier or a historian, but it seems to me there were too many Indians and not enough soldiers. Just my $0.02 worth.

entropy
July 24, 2005, 11:30 AM
Many officers who served the Union during the Civil War and were familiar with the Spencer's firepower were very reluctant to exchange the repeating Spencer for the new single shot Springfield .45.

True though that may be, many soldiers in Vietnam who were initially issued the M-14 did not want to give them up for M-16's. But they had no choice in the matter, either. Though your original post is an interesting idea, telewinz, there is this thing in the military called the TO&E, or MTO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment, Modified Table of Organization and equipment.) As the Armorer of my unit, I was not authorized any M2HB HMG's, for instance. :( In a combat area, I could have probably got them, but only after jumping through many hoops. Although they may not have been called TO&E's then, The QM Corp in the 1870's had similar, and probably stricter, regs to deal with, as I note below about Ft. Davis, TX, in the 1880's-90's.

I visited Ft. Davis,TX, not too long ago, and in touring the QM shed, the guide noted that minimal ammo was provided for the mission of protecting the surrounding area, and none for training. Again, the Army bean counters spoil the day. I am well aquainted this, as it was always harder to justify ammo expenditures during peacetime than even during a 'live fire exercise' such as Panama. ;)

The Dept. of the Army didn't take the fighting with the Native Americans as seriously as a 'real' war, and the QM Corp of the day was all about saving $$$ (hence the recycling of CW rifles into Springfield Trapdoor in the first place), so many of Custer's troops may have never fired their rifles before then, or only minimally so. Couple this with the tactical blunders aforementioned, and it's little wonder Custer and many of the 7th fell that day.

telewinz
July 24, 2005, 02:20 PM
Spencers were the standard issue weapon of mounted troops for a decade after 1865, with few exceptions. Their firepower saved the day in many actions. When it came to a close fight, such as Beecher's Island in eastern Colorado, the repeaters were hard to beat. In a cost cutting move, they were finally superseded by the single shot Model 1873 Springfield carbine. The changeover started late in 1874, five years after the Spencer company went out of business. Some units were equipped with Spencers well into 1876.
It's not unrealistic for Custer to have requested retention of the Spencers for a little while longer. A lack of respect for the plains Indians as a culture (well deserved, based on experience) at that time, caused Custer to be over confident. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile. Seldom (if ever) did the Plains Indians ever attack a force they didn't believe they overwhelmed. Maybe thats why the majority of their "conquests" were settlers :what:

bcochran
July 24, 2005, 02:55 PM
All that you can really learn is what worked.

The typical plains Indian family was mobile, trained in fundamental survival skills and had worked successfully with ambush and retreat tactics. They had not only practiced their attack survival options, they had lived them. Fundamentally, survival training had been from the perspective of the indivdual. I don't overlook the shortcomings that include a lack of skill in a large scale coordinated attack or defense.

In July 1876, do you really think that the US troops were battle hardened soldiers from the Civil War that had ended 11 years earlier. Of course not! Was the "survival training" from the perspective of the individual or the unit? Were the soldiers trained in the use of micro terrain, sniping and hand-to-hand combat? Or were they trained to march and walk garrison posts? The only advantages enjoyed by the troops were standardization of firearms and firepower that were neutralized.

telewinz
July 24, 2005, 03:35 PM
The American soldier even in 1876 was trained to fight as a unit/team (poor success in Custer's case). The American Indian seldom if ever fought as a unit, as an individual could fight or run away as he chose. As with ALL primitive cultures, too much importance was placed on the charisma of the leader. Living with nature was not a "noble" option, the white man's technology was willingly accepted and used by the Indians. Until quite recently, it was still illegal to give or sell alcohol to an Indian because of the resulting havoc. The American Indian of the 19th century (and previous generations) was worthy of no more respect or admiration than your run-of-the mill caveman.

entropy
July 24, 2005, 07:15 PM
The American Indian of the 19th century (and previous generations) was worthy of no more respect or admiration than your run-of-the mill caveman

Hoo boy, are you gonna hear respones on that one! :rolleyes:

It's not unrealistic for Custer to have requested retention of the Spencers for a little while longer.

He could have requested till he turned blue; Custer was persona non grata in the Army power circles of the time; You must remember who was the General of the Army. (Four star at the time; the five star rank wasn't created until the 1880's.) IIRC, it was Sherman, who was not enamored of Custer at all. And most of the General Staff agreed, for various reasons. It would not surprise me that that very enmity is why the 7th was issued Trapdoors in the first place. Picture if you will, some QM full or light bird sitting in a DC office looking at the 7th's TO&E. 'Hmmm.....that's Custer, the bastage. Let's see him fight the Indians with Trapdoors instead of Spencers. :evil: ' Could very well have happened. ;)

Vern Humphrey
July 24, 2005, 08:22 PM
It would not surprise me that that very enmity is why the 7th was issued Trapdoors in the first place. Picture if you will, some QM full or light bird sitting in a DC office looking at the 7th's TO&E. 'Hmmm.....that's Custer, the bastage. Let's see him fight the Indians with Trapdoors instead of Spencers."

The trapdoor Springfield was adopted long before Custer fell afoul of Secretary Belknap, President Grant, and the Army high command. In fact, in the late '60s, Custer was quite the fair-haired boy.

The decision to issue Springfields to all units was based at least partly on the Springfield's battle record in actions like the Wagon Box Fight. Once the decision was made, parts and ammunition for the Spencer were not stocked.

Finally, if the decision to arm the 7th Cavalry with Springfields was made with malice, what about the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th -- all of whom participated in this campaign, and all of whom were armed with Springfields?

Powderman
July 24, 2005, 10:13 PM
The American soldier even in 1876 was trained to fight as a unit/team (poor success in Custer's case). The American Indian seldom if ever fought as a unit, as an individual could fight or run away as he chose. As with ALL primitive cultures, too much importance was placed on the charisma of the leader. Living with nature was not a "noble" option, the white man's technology was willingly accepted and used by the Indians. Until quite recently, it was still illegal to give or sell alcohol to an Indian because of the resulting havoc. The American Indian of the 19th century (and previous generations) was worthy of no more respect or admiration than your run-of-the mill caveman.

Ah....excuse me?

The Native American was usually not trained to fight as a "unit", because they chose not to wage war on each other as a matter of course. Most of the conflicts between the tribes came about as a result of raids on the other tribes' resources--the resulting battle was not conceived because of a grand battle plan, but because the defenders had their families a short distance away.

Acceptance of the "white" man's technology? Sure. Willing acceptance of the white man's technology consisted of having your children separated from their families by force, and taken many states away to be forcefully assimilated into a European culture.

Willing acceptance of the white man's technology was being forced to go to "Indian schools" where you were swabbed with caustic solutions for sanitation, and being forbidden to speak your Native tongue or practice your beliefs, under pain of punishment.

As far as nobility or civilization is concerned:

1. The Native American did not take ancestral lands from the original inhabitants, forcing them to live on portions of their own homeland.

2. The Native Americans encountered by the first settlers were helped and were assisted, particularly when the settlers had no food. This favor was repaid many years later by the introduction of scalping (a French practice), the introduction of diseases, and in some of the Western states, actual hunting parties organized to kill Indians. These expeditions were so effective that entire tribes vanished from the face of the earth.

3. The Native American lived for thousands of years in the United States. During that time, the landscape did not change that much. In a relatively short 350 years, the land has been polluted, species of animals driven to extinction, forests have been clear-cut in a hunger for wood and building materials, and ancestral burial grounds and religious sites have been built upon and paved over.

And, let's not forget--the term "noble savage" was coined by the "white" man.

Cordially yours,

Powderman
(who happens to be 1/2 Keetowah Cherokee)

Vern Humphrey
July 24, 2005, 10:25 PM
As far as nobility or civilization is concerned:

1. The Native American did not take ancestral lands from the original inhabitants, forcing them to live on portions of their own homeland.

Yes they did -- for example, the Sioux only emerged onto the plains in the 1700s. Their "ancestral homelands" were still being contested by the Crow, who were there first, in the late 1800s.

The evidence is that virtually EVERY existing tribe at the time of European contact was either in the process of expanding, or being expanded upon.

2. The Native Americans encountered by the first settlers were helped and were assisted, particularly when the settlers had no food.

It's a matter of record that Opechecancnough hated the settlers at Jamestown (he was the instigator in John Smith's capture and near-execution) and led an attack to wipe the settlers out. One early town, Wolstenhome town completely disappeared in that attack.


This favor was repaid many years later by the introduction of scalping (a French practice), the introduction of diseases, and in some of the Western states, actual hunting parties organized to kill Indians. These expeditions were so effective that entire tribes vanished from the face of the earth.

Taking human trophies is endemic in all early societies -- the Irish were head-hunters, for example. The Scythians took scalps in the time of Ceasar. And the University of Oklahoma has (or had) remains of long before European contact that unmistakeably show the marks of scalping.

3. The Native American lived for thousands of years in the United States. During that time, the landscape did not change that much. In a relatively short 350 years, the land has been polluted, species of animals driven to extinction, forests have been clear-cut in a hunger for wood and building materials, and ancestral burial grounds and religious sites have been built upon and paved over.

There was no ice age? What happened to the Mammoths and other megafauna?

There is considerable evidence of damage to the environment -- albeit more in Meso America and South America than in North America. The Salt River Valley in Arizona is a North American example -- it was irrigated long before Europeans arrived, and the salts left by the evaporating irregation water destroyed its fertility.

And, let's not forget--the term "noble savage" was coined by the "white" man.


By Jean Jaques Rosseau -- who meant it as a compliment.

Vern Humphrey
(Part Mohawk)

slzy
July 25, 2005, 12:51 AM
if george had taken the gatling guns,presumably he never would have caught the Indians,or in concert with the other approaching columns,the hostiles may have been headed off,then hey could or might have been brought up to good effect. but as it was,he should have got every body together,see if he could head into the wind,and try those volley sights out.

telewinz
July 25, 2005, 07:20 AM
who happens to be 1/2 Keetowah (Keetoowah) Cherokee

Without civilization I'd be 100% Gaul ("Noble" Germanic savage), with civilization I'm 100% German American. Kicking and screaming, willing or not, "victim" or not, I'm delighted that civilization was "forced" upon my ancestors over a thousand years ago by the Romans or any other superior culture that came along. Maybe in a thousand years your descendants will feel the same way.

A thong bikini beats the hell out of a smelly loin cloth anytime!

Vern Humphrey
July 25, 2005, 09:56 AM
if george had taken the gatling guns,presumably he never would have caught the Indians,

The gatlings were not only heavy and cumbersome (think of a Napoleon howitzer in terms of weight and carriage) but they were pulled by condemned cavalry horses. It's doubtful they would have made it, and they certainly could not have kept up with the march.


or in concert with the other approaching columns,the hostiles may have been headed off,then hey could or might have been brought up to good effect.

The record shows that was impossible -- one column, Crook's, had already been fought to a standstill on the 17th of June (Battle of the Rosebud) and Crook had turned back to Goose Creek to care for his wounded and resupply. Of course, Terry, Custer and Gibbons knew nothing of this.

Controlling the three columns over such a vast distance with no communication but gallopers was impossible.

Remember also, the gatlings were .50-70, with such a looping trajectory that you can't employ them as we would a modern machinegun.


but as it was,he should have got every body together,see if he could head into the wind,and try those volley sights out.

Probably to little effect -- the indians would have simply scattered. But in any case, he could never have created a situation where he could use them to any effect.

entropy
July 25, 2005, 10:16 AM
Without civilization I'd be 100% Gaul ("Noble" Germanic savage)

No, that would be sniveling Frenchy savage! :neener: JK!

The main difference there is the Romans, while believeing themselves to be superior, did not seek to completely eradicate the Gauls, but instead sought out trade relations with them, brutally crushed those who refused, and rewarded those who became allies with partnership with, and eventual citizenship in, Roman society.

richyoung
July 25, 2005, 12:21 PM
The Native American was usually not trained to fight as a "unit", because they chose not to wage war on each other as a matter of course.

Horespucky. The Indians fought constantly - if they didn't have a rival tribe to fight, they fought different factions in their own tribe. Sometimes they fought just for the heck of it, as a chance to "count coup" on an enemy.

1. The Native American did not take ancestral lands from the original inhabitants, forcing them to live on portions of their own homeland.

Your right, the "Native Americans" WIPED OUT and EXTERMINATED the original, Caucasian inhabitants when they immigrated from Asia. There are still Indians today - not so for North America's original people.

2. The Native Americans encountered by the first settlers were helped and were assisted, particularly when the settlers had no food.

In some cases. In others, they aggressively wiped out settlers. Roanoak, anyone?

This favor was repaid many years later by the introduction of scalping (a French practice),

..a practice used BY indians, to get paid for killing OTHER Indians, and instituted by the Brittish, I believe. Either way, the Native American's took to it like ducks to water...

the introduction of diseases,

...decades before Louis Pasteure's "germ theory" explained WHY and HOW disease waws transmitted - hardly a deliberate act.

and in some of the Western states, actual hunting parties organized to kill Indians.

...and vice-versa, of course. Not that the natives weren't above having a little fun with the captives before they killed them, said "fun" including such humane treatment as rape, skinning alive, staking out over ant mounds, use for target practice, hence the admonision to "save the last round for yourself."

These expeditions were so effective that entire tribes vanished from the face of the earth.

Some tribes needed to - never a shortage of Indain scouts from other tribes ready and willing to help wipe out the worst of the bunch.

3. The Native American lived for thousands of years in the United States. During that time, the landscape did not change that much.

During that time, the Plains Indians would deliberately set prarie fires, (some of which consumed areas the size of states when they got out of control), in order to stampede buffalo over cliffs, after which they would...take and eat only the tongues. (Verified by archeological evidence). If the landscape didn't change much, it was due to a lack of technology to do so, not some "noble desire" otherwise. The vast majority were hunter-gatherers - they exterminated the food in one are - and left. Not to come back until years later, after they have eaten there way through somewhere else.

In a relatively short 350 years, the land has been polluted,

In some areas, yes. By and large we live a much cleaner, longer life than the Native Americans did - our primary sources of energy, (petroleum, gasoline, nuclear, coal with stack scrubbers) are much cleaner and have less impact on the environment as a whole, than attempting to support a population this size on wood, animal dung, and coal (burned in the open in small furnaces, no scrubbers.)

species of animals driven to extinction,

The Indians did some "extincting" of their own, see "Kennewick Man"...

forests have been clear-cut in a hunger for wood and building materials,

Rubbish. There are MORE trees in North America NOW than when white man first set foot on the continent. See, we FIGHT forest fires, and we PLANT trees, something the "noble red man" was not noted for doing.

and ancestral burial grounds and religious sites have been built upon and paved over.

...this sort of thing tends to happen when you lose a war.


Just exactly did where did you get this somewhat romanticed view of the Native American, and the correspondingly demonized view of western civilization?

Powderman
July 25, 2005, 01:14 PM
Without civilization I'd be 100% Gaul ("Noble" Germanic savage), with civilization I'm 100% German American. Kicking and screaming, willing or not, "victim" or not, I'm delighted that civilization was "forced" upon my ancestors over a thousand years ago by the Romans or any other superior culture that came along. Maybe in a thousand years your descendants will feel the same way.

Ah, don't get me wrong. I'm not a believer in visiting the excesses or sins of the fathers on anyone else. What has happened in the past needs to stay in the past. It's over, it's done with, it's finished--now, let's move on.

And, progress in any civilization usually is uncomfortable--look at the Industrial Revolution. Sure, in the last 200 years, we have invented, devised or fabricated most of the things we take for granted today.

The one real disadvantage that I see lingering from the Industrial Revolution is the advent and continuation of the large metropolitan areas--the aftermath of the huge populations formed around the megafactories.

Still, one has to wonder--if our forefathers had taken the approach of living alongside the original inhabitants, instead of pushing them aside--what would our country be like today?

toivo
July 25, 2005, 04:43 PM
Your right, the "Native Americans" WIPED OUT and EXTERMINATED the original, Caucasian inhabitants when they immigrated from Asia. There are still Indians today - not so for North America's original people.I believe you're referring to Kennewick man. The problem is that the research is ongoing and there is no reliable evidence that he is in fact "Causcasian" and not Paleo-Indian. Some people would like him to be, so that they could deny Native American claims to property rights, relics, etc. The fact is that even if the above-mentioned scenario were true, that Paleo-Indian migrants from Asia wiped out a pre-existing civilization, this would in no way validate European claims to the North American continent, unless you believe that sovereignty and property rights should be based solely on race.

It's impossible to establish the "original" homes of the world's people; there has just been too much migration, conquest, extermination, etc., throughout history. The irony is that the European settlers of North America brought the concepts of rule of written law, private property rights, etc. to the new world while at the same time violating these principles in regard to the Indians.

our primary sources of energy, (petroleum, gasoline, nuclear, coal with stack scrubbers) are much cleaner and have less impact on the environment as a whole, than attempting to support a population this size on wood, animal dung, and coal
That's the key phrase; population pressures require new technologies. But you're suggesting that the Native Americans were to blame because their technology couldn't support the masses of Europeans that were pouring into their land.

Don't confuse technological superiority with morality. Some Native American practices seemed "savage" to the European settlers, but it was technologically advanced societies that created the Holocaust and the atomic bomb. The fact is that humans of any culture are capable of "savagery."

There is a tendency in these discussions to fall into the "good guys/bad guys" view of history. It doesn't work that way. Cultures respond to pressures, with a variety of results. Whenever I hear the "superior civilzation" talk, I get very uncomfortable, because the logical conclusion is that the guy with the best weapons gets to make the rules. That's a pragmatic position, but it's not a moral one.

This thread was a lot more interesting when it was about weapons and tactics.

telewinz
July 25, 2005, 07:01 PM
The main difference there is the Romans, while believing themselves to be superior, did not seek to completely eradicate the Gauls, but instead sought out trade relations with them, brutally crushed those who refused, and rewarded those who became allies with partnership with, and eventual citizenship in, Roman society. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me especially compared with the "usual terms" offered throughout human history. The Indians were treated much better than the Gauls, we also agreed to cloth, feed and house them (didn't always do a good job), a social program waaay ahead of it's time. Our current welfare recipients are unhappy with their lot also only they don't have any land to trade in barter! Have you EVER seem an Indian reservation, often it's on a choice piece of real estate, not the wasteland often depicted. Yea what a raw deal, free clothes, food, housing, free hunting and fishing, no income tax, free education, gambling, and free relocation to a reservation you chose. Them poor cheated redskins...offer me that deal and I'll be 100% American Indian too (the hell with being German).
http://www.armenians.com/Genocide/
Now if you want to talk about a people exterminated less than 100 years ago(1.5 million!), lets talk about the Armenians, they would have killed for the deal we gave the American Indians.Still, one has to wonder--if our forefathers had taken the approach of living alongside the original inhabitants, instead of pushing them aside--what would our country be like today? Ever been to a third world city like Calcutta?

Kaylee
July 25, 2005, 08:55 PM
At risk of wandering too far afield from the topic at hand..

"It's easy to be enviromentally conscious when all your trash is either biodegradeable or rocks" :p
Source -- A modern Indian (of plains extraction I think) from the web... somewhere. I always liked that quote. :)

Anyhow.. look, can we drop the whole "Noble Savage" thing finally? As has already been noted, the whole disneyesque Dances With Wolves-plastic-pony-beads view of Indians is just plain insulting I think, just as much as the "ignorant savage" stereotype that preceded it. Like every other human culture on the face of the planet, they had some remarkable nobility and some outright barbarity.

As to the Indian Schools.. heck, my grampa grew up in one, and his folks ran the darned place. Maybe not the best solution, but when I look at the mess that's been going on in Israel..... there haven't been many Cherokee suicide bombers in the last fifty years, ya know?

Finally, one thing I REALLY like about modern Indian culture.. they were honoring vets in a big way before it was cool. In many ways (like some immigrants) they're more American than many others who claim the title.

-K

Malamute
July 25, 2005, 11:20 PM
A couple of my Navajo friends occasionally mention the there are more Navajos now than there has ever been, they now have more land that they have control over, and they didn't have pickup trucks and running water back then.

I agree many Indians had a tough go, and many didn't make it through, but some did pretty well overall considering.

telewinz
July 26, 2005, 02:46 AM
they were honoring vets in a big way before it was cool. In many ways (like some immigrants) they're more American than many others who claim the title. They HAVE come a long way, my hats off to them.

richyoung
July 26, 2005, 11:54 AM
I believe you're referring to Kennewick man. The problem is that the research is ongoing and there is no reliable evidence that he is in fact "Causcasian" and not Paleo-Indian.

You have that backwards. There is no reliable evidence, indeed, NOTHING other than posturing by local AmerInd tribes, to suggest that he ISN'T anything other than what anthropologists have said he is - a Caucasian male with a Clovis spear point imbeded in his hip This, of course, also fails to take into account the OTHER Caucasian remains found all the way from the Pacific Northwest down to Mexico City - about ten ina ll, I beleive.

Some people would like him to be, so that they could deny Native American claims to property rights, relics, etc. The fact is that even if the above-mentioned scenario were true, that Paleo-Indian migrants from Asia wiped out a pre-existing civilization, this would in no way validate European claims to the North American continent, unless you believe that sovereignty and property rights should be based solely on race.


...isn't that what the "poor Indians" claims are based on?

MICHAEL T
July 26, 2005, 01:13 PM
Were's CUSTER that what this is suppose to be about.

Vern Humphrey
July 26, 2005, 01:22 PM
Were's CUSTER that what this is suppose to be about.


He's down in some gulley in the Little Wolf Mountains, cursing and swearing and trying to get those d*mn gatlings up the other side. :neener:

Byron Quick
July 26, 2005, 01:59 PM
1. The Native American did not take ancestral lands from the original inhabitants, forcing them to live on portions of their own homeland.

2. The Native Americans encountered by the first settlers were helped and were assisted, particularly when the settlers had no food. This favor was repaid many years later by the introduction of scalping (a French practice), the introduction of diseases, and in some of the Western states, actual hunting parties organized to kill Indians. These expeditions were so effective that entire tribes vanished from the face of the earth.

3. The Native American lived for thousands of years in the United States. During that time, the landscape did not change that much. In a relatively short 350 years, the land has been polluted, species of animals driven to extinction, forests have been clear-cut in a hunger for wood and building materials, and ancestral burial grounds and religious sites have been built upon and paved over.

And, let's not forget--the term "noble savage" was coined by the "white" man.



1. The Dakota were living in Michigan when Europeans first came into contact with the tribe. After acquiring the horse, the tribe expanded westward into Minnesota and the Dakotas. Their Sacred Black Hills that the dastardly white men stole from them? They stole from the Kiowa. In fact, please tell me of any tribe that has ancestral land that the archaeological record does not show to have been earlier inhabited by a different tribe. Give you a hint: the earlier tribe did not give up its land through sale or negotiation. Do a search of the Athabascan language family. It exists in two regions of North America. The original inhabitants of one area did not speak an Athabascan language. They were Anazazi. The archaeological digs show they were attacked and under siege for a long time. Had to start living in cliff dwellings for protection.

2. You're only telling part of the story here. Sure, they helped but then some of them changed their minds. There was no warning of the first major attacks.

3. Sorry, the archaelogical record shows that at least 100,000 trees were felled by Native Americans in New Mexico. Many scientists believe that this was enough to flip the area's climate from arid to desert. Many scientists also believe that Native American hunting methods contributed to the extinction of the mammoth, the sabretooth tiger, lion, camel, horse, ground sloth, and on and on. There was a mass extinction on the North American continent 10,000 years ago, friend. It's not conclusive yet but a good bit of the evidence points at man being at the very least a major contributory reason. The only men around were Native Americans.

Several of the items you mention are true. However, even where true, your list is biased to the point of complete inaccuracy by what you leave out. Accident?

telewinz
July 26, 2005, 08:40 PM
I guess some would suggest that we should "learn from our mistakes" and not impose our western civilization (and resources) on other races/cultures. If true maybe we should stop imposing our cultural values on the races of Africa. After all, maybe their is nothing wrong with starvation, poverty, genocide, rape or any other of a dozen cultural "values" that we don't understand or HAVE THE RIGHT TO INTERFERE WITH! I suspect that if TV commercials were around 150 or 300 years ago, their would be more than a few "native" Americans asking and welcoming our "interference". How come no one ever cites the examples in which we were welcomed? Maybe because it never happened or maybe it doesn't get the PR supposed victims do?

North Texan
July 26, 2005, 08:42 PM
This thread was pretty interesting. Until it turned on the Native American, just like the white man of many moons ago.

telewinz
July 26, 2005, 10:04 PM
Until it turned on the Native American, just like the white man of many moons ago. Could you be more specific? I do not view Indians (a 60's & 70's fad) as "special" or any other race or culture for that matter. It is not unfair to have to compete in this World. I do know that in the long history (or prehistory) of man, the American Indian suffered no more than most and were treated better than many. My ancestors, the Gauls or Goths weren't treated any better than the American Indians and maybe worse. But some peoples are intent on claiming the title VICTIM, OK if that's their goal fine with me. I guess it's still in vogue to wish to be "empowered" by being declared a victim. Ok, under the power invested in me by my ancient Gaul medicine man/warrior relative, I hereby grant all American Indians the title of victim. Now that that's over with, how does that change or address your problem(s)? What happens when one culture COMPETES with a more advance culture? The same thing that happened to the American Indian and the same thing that has happened to many, many nameless cultures before them. Again the American Indian is not "Special" IMHO. Their experiences just occurred in more recent history and a lot of TV shows and movies were made on the subject. My favorite is "Little Big Man".

North Texan
July 26, 2005, 10:16 PM
:D

Vern Humphrey
July 26, 2005, 11:09 PM
Just to get back on thread, I invite anyone to take Custer's orders from Terry and a map and compute the mileage involved. I make it 217 miles.

Now, Terry tells us he made up his plan based on how far his subordinate commanders (Custer and Gibbons) said they could travel. He specificially says Custer told him his marches would be "Thirty miles a day, at first."

Custer left the mouth of Rosebud Creek at about noon on the 22nd of June, and was supposed to complete that 217 mile march and link up with Gibbons by the 26th.

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