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With Custer at the Little Big Horn

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by telewinz, Jul 21, 2005.

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  1. telewinz

    telewinz Member

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    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.
     
  2. Perfesser

    Perfesser Member

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    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'.
     
  3. 1911Ron

    1911Ron Member

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    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.
     
  4. Kaylee

    Kaylee Moderator

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    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."
     
  5. Jim K

    Jim K Member

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    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
     
  6. Mauserguy

    Mauserguy Member

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    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.
     
  7. Moondoggie

    Moondoggie Member

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    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.
     
  8. Trebor

    Trebor Member

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    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.
     
  9. jondar

    jondar Member

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    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.
     
  10. telewinz

    telewinz Member

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    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.
     
  11. Coltdriver

    Coltdriver Member

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    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.
     
  12. MICHAEL T

    MICHAEL T Member

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    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.
     
  13. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    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"

    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.

    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.
     
  14. entropy

    entropy Member

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    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.
     
  15. Onmilo

    Onmilo Member

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    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.
     
  16. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    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.
     
  17. Turkey Creek

    Turkey Creek Member

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    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-
     
  18. Hobie

    Hobie Member

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    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:
     
  19. Bart Noir

    Bart Noir Member

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    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
     
  20. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    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.

    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.
     
  21. Boats

    Boats member

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    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.
     
  22. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    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.
     
  23. STW

    STW Member

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    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.
     
  24. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    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.
     
  25. STW

    STW Member

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    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?
     
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