Skip to comments.US History : the Battle of the Little Bighorn in six minutes
Posted on 01/16/2008 8:43:47 AM PST by drzz
LIES ON GENERAL CUSTER AND THE LITTLE BIGHORN
1) Custer never massacred Indians. (see the Battle of the Washita)
2) Custer was one of the most brilliant cavalry generals of his times (see Custer in the Civil War)
3) Custer understood how to fight Indians (see the Battle of the Washita, the Battle of the Little bighorn -LBH)
4) Custer never underestimated his enemy at Little Bighorn (see before the battle).
5) The Indians at LBH were 1'500, exactly the number of warriors Custer expected to surprise with his 647 soldiers (an usual tactic in Indian warfare). There has never been "thousands of Indians" in Sitting Bull's village or "an impossible victory" as some still say without knowing what the evidence say. (see "LBH: before the battle, Custer's plan).
6) The Indians never ambushed Custer, never flanked him. They were surprised by the attack and most of their actions were late and disorganized. (see Accounts by hostiles, Last Stand)
7) The entire 7th cavalry wasn't massacred at Little Bighorn. 2/3 of Custer's troops, who had to lead front and flank attacks, were out of the battle after 30 minutes and never reached Custer. This military betrayal by Major Reno and Captain Benteen can be proven with strong evidence shown on this website. It also explains why the army never did any inquiry on the battle (see Little Bighorn cover-up, Benteen's scout, Reno Hill, Captain Weir), and let the American public dream about the "reckless Custer".
8) Custer's attack at Little Bighorn has been supported by such figures as US general in chief Nelson Appelton Miles, the most successful Indian fighter in US history (see Little Bighorn cover-up), and many historians and others.
This is all new to me.
Time to start reading, I am off to Amazon.com
to buy some Custer books.
What are you trying to do, stick up for the evil white man?
Sorry, drzz, but Custer was never the Indian fighter that Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was. Not to say Custer was totally at fault at the Little Big Horn as most critics claim, but he wasn’t the brightest star the military had at that time.
Many claim Crook to be the best, but he had few actual engagements and preferred negotiation over military tactics. Nelson Miles was also successful, but much of his ascension came through his marrying William T. Sherman’s niece (although Sherman didn’t like him). Miles & Mackenzie clashed in 1875 when Mackenzie was placed in command of the western section of the Department of Missouri. Sheridan ultimately sided with MacKenzie over that issue.
It was Mackenzie who proved the Llano Estacado to be far less formidable a Comanche/Kiowa stronghold than others believed. It was Mackenzie who raided the Kickapoo village in Mexico on only a handshake and promise of support from Sheridan. It was Mackenzie who, in the Red River War, attacked and destroyed the Comanche & Kiowa villages at Palo Duro causing the beginning of the end of their raids in Texas and West Oklahoma. And it was Mackenzie who attacked and destroyed Dull Knife’s village after the Little Big Horn battle. This was arguably the most influential Indian fight that brought the roamers back to the reservation...for good. Yes, it took another few years for Sitting Bull to comply from his Canadian hideaway, but the Dull Knife fight was the ‘writing on the wall’.
MacKenzie, while a great Indian fighter, wasn’t good at command. He was domineering, argumentative and an all-round jerk. But he fought and won. Sadly, he died young after a complete mental breakdown.
Just my opinion :)
But be careful of what books on Custer you buy. There are hundreds and not all get it right. Too many apologists for Custer. Too many hated Custer. Here's a place to go instead of Amazon (as a member I feel constrained to promote it): Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield. They have good information on all kinds of Custer literature. Another good place is the bookstore at the Little Big Horn Battlefield itself.
Go to the battlefield itself and look over the scene and see the weapons recovered from the battlefield, see where soldiers were when they were killed (or where they were found, the Indians took their dead with them)learn about the participants and decide for yourself why this happened. Custer obviously underestimated the strength of the Indians because he died there. Looking at the initial attack by Ried, and why he fled from the Indian camps North to high ground, and why the Ried / Benteen armies were unable to help Custer before the attack that killed him, and the mistakes made by the US Army in this battle, in which Custer was in command.
Custer obviously underestimated the strength of the Indians because he died there.
History has shown Custer had estimated Indian presence to be fairly close to what it was (1800 warriors or so). Actual Indian strength was greatly inflated after the fact by the public (and the military) because that's the only way they could come to grips with how someone like Custer could be defeated by a group of "savages". Custer's defeat was a defeat in detail. He separated the wings of his regiment as he had at the Washita. The river and the Eastern bluffs inhibited two of these wings from aiding each other (Custer sent Reno over the river to attack the village, while he and his 5 troops remained East of the river). The third wing under Benteen dawdled in their support of either wing. The Indians were able to successfully take on each wing in detail, and prevent Reno & Benteen from coming to Custer's aid until it was too late.
Another significant factor in the defeat was in the quantity of repeating arms (especially Winchesters) in the hands of the Indians. They were able to concentrate great firepower at pivotal points during the battle.
Custer's separating his command under other circumstances may not have been the mistake it became. But geography played a role in making it so.
see where soldiers were when they were killed (or where they were found, the Indians took their dead with them)
The markers aren't an accurate portrayal of body locations. They can be generally used to indicate where bodies were found, but many are misplaced, some of the markers meant for the Reno fight were place on the Custer portion of the battleground. Also, the markers near Deep Coulee are especially misplaced because of how the burial was conducted.
Sorry, Reno not Ried... Despite the locations of the markers as the Indians must have displaced some of them before the Army even got there, and the resulting horror of the death of a possible Presidential candidate, the Army would have certainly covered up some of the truth, although its looks bad enough for Custer despite that fact. Reno did go into the village and fled North to higher ground (my daughter and I have walked the entire battlefield and spent time at the museum and cemetery) due to the resistance initially encountered. Benteen was late to the fight for whatever reason, and the 2 Armies were not much help to Custer after they split up. Custer should have kept his Armies together, and American history of the West would probably be totally different than it is now.
I'd agree. He didn't, for two reasons I can fathom: 1) He didn't at the Washita and was successful (although Maj. Joel Elliott, had he lived, might have disputed that); 2) He was concerned many in the Indian village(s) would escape if they weren't surrounded. The first is debatable, the second is a proper argument IMO.
It's one of the great battlefields to visit. It properly takes days to do it right. I happen to have an unfired Indian bullet given to me by a good friend (also a LBH history nut), who was given it by then Park Ranger Don Ricky. It was found on a ranch adjacent to the battlefield. And, yes, it was taken legally. I have an affidavit.
You gotta figure he just had to make a call. I think both are on target, as well as I think he was a bit anxious to succeed and sent Reno in before assessing the enemy force, then was unable to communicate with him as the Cheyenne were able to intercept messengers, a factor that he had normally had to face. Going back to your original thought, he did underestimate Crazy Horse, but he would have survived without splitting the force. Interesting stuff, as I lived a few miles from Beecher’s Island battlefield in Colorado and have a pretty good understanding of the battle for the West.
When you consider that the small force at Beecher's Island was able to withstand multiple Indian attacks and hold on for a week or so, it's obvious that Custer should have been able to had he not divided his force. He may not have been successful against the villages, but he would have survived with far fewer casualties.
That’s quite a web-site, thanks for sharing. I saved it to refer to later. Indeed the US Army was undefeatable..and everywhere. Custer only needed a couple of days and the Army could have had the entire 6 battalions did I read? right there to help. Bear in mind the idea was to capture and place Indian forces back on the reservation...which was encroached by gold miners..”chiefed by the double tongues” as Ten Bears said.
Time was against the Indians, as it usually is with aboriginal civilizations. Whether it be the military, civilization's advancement, the railroads, the slaughter of the buffalo, the Indian lifestyle was DOA. They just didn't know it, nor could they.
Unfortunately, while many in the military dealt with the Indians in a relatively humanitarian way (for the period, and after subjugation), the government in all its wisdom saw differently. Money was to be had and the Dept. of the Interior did everything possible to see that the proper parties were compensated while the Indians were left to shift. A sad tale.
Confusion regarding the settling of the West is partly fueled by innaccuracies in movies and stories as my Mom pointed out that Ten Bears was a Commanche not a Sioux...as he was in “Dances with Wolves”
Ironies abound. Custer didn't hate the Indians and they didn't hate him. He opposed the policy of forcible return to the reservations, testified against it in front of Congress, and nearly lost his command as a result. Major media darling. May have been the most photographed man of the 19th century. Had he lived he may have been the tribes' best hope at stopping the policy that led to the battle.
He does appear to have lost track of precisely where their forces were on his approach. Reno's movements were probably responsible for that. I would not categorize Reno's performance as a "betrayal" although he was court-martialed and several contemporary analysts did so. But certainly he also wasn't where Custer expected him to be.
The hill itself is a lousy defensive position but was probably the best one within reach by the time Custer did figure out what was really happening. But he'd have been flanked at some point unless he were relieved - the Lakota and Cheyenne had some of the best light cavalry commanders in the world at the time. Preventing that was probably why Keogh was where he was. That isn't obvious on a map but standing there it's pretty clear.
That's just my subjective and admittedly amateur impression. BTT for a great topic.
IMO, this tells it all. The history of the Indian Wars is fraught with second guessing. Custer did little different from other commanders in other campaigns. The biggest drawbacks to such tactics (in this instance) was the size of the villages, their proximity to one another, and his concentration of his wing on the bluffs as opposed to Reno in the valley. The bluffs and river divided his command beyond what normal tactics would allow. And it left him (and possibly Reno had Terry not showed up soon) with an indefensible position.
And, yes, it's a great topic.
Update to the thread because of further good information.
Having sat and read further on plains Indians wars, I read that Reno had disobeyed orders and went along the Rosebud Creek just prior to returning to Custer and General Crook to tell them that the Indian village was further West and along the Little Bighorn River. He was later court martialed for the offense. Seems like he was used as a scapegoat for the Last Stand.
Reno did travel beyond the area he was ordered to scout and moved over to the Rosebud prior to his return to camp on June 19th. Gen. Terry was not happy with him. However, this allowed him to discover the Indian trail up the Rosebud, which Terry then assigned Custer the task of following. Terry would take the balance of the expedition, Including Gibbon’s command, over to the Big Horn and ascend that stream. Had it not been for Reno going beyond his orders, this trail would not have been found at the time.
Much has been written of Custer’s ascent of the Rosebud in context of Gen. Terry’s orders, both written and verbal. I have a copy of those orders hanging on my office wall and have read them often. I have to tell you, I can’t see where Custer violated the spirit of Terry’s orders. He did not continue South as directed once the trail proved to go over the divide toward the Little Big Horn, and he did not scout the upper portion of Tullock’s creek. But the trail was so large and fresh by that time, that heading further South may have seemed impractical as would have a scout of Tullock’s creek. And, Custer was not one to move away from the presence of the enemy.
Once the Indian camp was found, Custer decided to encamp for the day, but believing his command had been discovered by Indians (a false belief - the camp wasn’t notified), he decided to move on his own. Terry’s orders explicitly state that “...the Department Commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy, and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy”. I’m sure Custer understood the spirit of these words, and acted accordingly. I, for one, can’t fault him for that.
Custer’s top priority was to have a great victory to prop himself up socially in Washington
to do that he had to make sure the indians did not escape at the Little Big Horn
the rest is history
“Custers top priority was to have a great victory to prop himself up socially in Washington”
That’s a myth without any historical evidence
Thank you very much! Custer’s story is awfully misunderstood
I never said that Custer was the best. McKenzie was a great fighter, although the BEST was Nelson A. Miles, who smashed Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph!
What’s interesting is that Nelson Miles, when he became US General-in-chief, defended Custer in a book and in public. He said that Custer had been betrayed and that Custer himself was a great fighter.
“Seems like Reno was used as a scapegoat for the Last Stand.”
No, Reno was a pure disaster.
Here is Lieutenant Godfrey’s testimony, Little Bighorn veteran:
“Reno was already in the fight and his (Custer’s) own battalion was separated from the attack by a distance of two and a half to three miles. He had no reason to think that Reno would not push his attack vigorously. A commander seldom goes into battle counting on the failure of his lieutenant; if he did, he would provide that such a failure should not turn into disaster.”
“During a long time after the junction of Reno and Benteen (on Reno Hill) we heard firing down the river in the direction of Custer’s command. We were satisfied that Custer was fighting the Indians somewhere, and the conviction was expressed that “our command ought to be doing something or Custer would be after Reno with a sharp stick.” We heard two distinct volleys which excited some surprise, and, if I mistake not, brought out the remark from some one that “Custer was giving it to them for all he is worth.”
“At no time during the battle was Reno’s conduct such as to inspire confidence. His faltering advances down the valley, his halting, his falling back to the defensive position in the woods in the old river bed before his command had suffered a single casualty in the ranks; his disorganized, panic retreat to the bluffs with practically no resistance, his conduct up to and during the siege, and until the arrival of General Terry was not such as to inspire confidence or even respect, except for his authority; and there was a time during the night of the 25th, when his authority, under certain conditions, was to be ignored. We thought he ought to go, his attention was called to the firing on the Custer field; it was suggested that he go; he was waiting for the ammunition packs to replenish the ammunition; then he waited for the delayed pack train.”
Oh! I forgot to apologize before talking about the bad, bad Whites :-)
“He did not continue South as directed once the trail proved to go over the divide toward the Little Big Horn, and he did not scout the upper portion of Tullocks creek.”
That’s a myth. Custer asked his scouts to travel in Tullock’s creek valley and report to him any discover of tracks. They didn’t find any.
He DID scout the Tullocks Creek valley. Terry used this lie to cover his ass, but the truth is, Custer never ignored any of the general’s advice.
It is very interesting country to be sure. I was there on an absolutely spectacular autumn day, the path of the river marked with yellow and red trees among the green. The hill itself was bare and grim by comparison. The gravestones outside the fenced area seem to pop up out of bare ground - it must be one eerie place under moonlight on a clear night.
He DID scout the Tullocks Creek valley. Terry used this lie to cover his ass, but the truth is, Custer never ignored any of the generals advice.
Well, you're in possession of information I've never seen. The time to scout Tullock's Creek was when the scouts were sent out at the Busby Bend of the Rosebud late on the 24th. Scout George Herendeen was expressly with the command to report back to Terry on what Custer's command had found. Custer did send his scouts out that evening, but there's no evidence they actually scouted the Tullock's Creek area (that I'm aware of). They returned saying the trail was fresh, and moved up Davis Creek to the pass in the Wolf Mountains. And George Herendeen remained with the Custer command throughout the battle. He was never dispatched to Terry with any kind of a report.
Jeffry Wert, in his book "Custer" goes on from here..."For Custer, the information demanded a decision. Much has been written since about his disobedience of Terry's orders that recommended a movement to the headwaters of the Tongue before turning west, and a scout down Tullock's Fork. The general prepared the instructions, however, uncertain about the village's location and believing it to be, most likely, on the upper Little Big Horn, not on the lower section of the river as the Crow had discovered. Although Custer had intended to scout the Tullock's Fork region, the evidence indicated no lodges had moved down the stream. Confronted with the new information, he concluded to follow "a hot trail," in Herendeen's words. Except for Crook's command, of which Custer knew nothing, the Indians had eluded the army for months, and now he had them within grasp. He chose to use the discretion that Terry had given him.
"After Varnum departed, Custer met with his officers and recounted the intelligence. He planned to cross the divide before daylight, conceal the regiment during the twenty-fifth, and attack at daylight the next day, he explained."
Other volumes I have on the battle (which are in my nephew's possession at this time and aren't available to consult) also support this contention; Custer may have wanted to scout the Tullock's Creek area, but the trail led up Davis Creek to the divide. He chose to follow the trail.
I'm not criticizing Custer. As I stated in an earlier post, he was not one to go off on a tangent because of orders when the evidence showed otherwise. I see no fault with that, and, apparently, neither did Terry because his orders gave a certain degree of latitude in exactly these types of circumstances.
If you have conclusive evidence that a scout of Tullock's Fork was indeed made, I wish you would present it.
I believe you can access the bookstore online. If not, you can write them and have them send an order form.
Especially if a rancher nearby decides to take pot shots at some coyote bothering his sheep, or whatever :)
Yeh - or if the visitor center happens to leave the tape of the singing on all night. I’d stop running right about Billings...
to do that he had to make sure the indians did not escape at the Little Big Horn
That's possible. Much has been written about his aspirations (especially in regard to the Presidency). The problem with that is it's speculation based mostly on anecdotal evidence. And we'll never know the answer since Custer's aspirations died with him.
Then you'd be stopping far sooner than I would.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Custer did ask Herendeen earlier on the 24th to begin a scout of Tullock’s Creek along with Charlie Reynolds, but Herendeen, supported by Mitch Boyer, suggested it would be better to do that later as the command would be in a better position. Custer postponed the scout.
This conforms with his wishes to scout the area, but in no way supports an actual scout being made. Sorry for the omission.
Lieutenant Edgerly testified that the scouts DID enter the Tullocks Creek valley to look for tracks and reported to Custer that they were none
Custer didn’t scout Tullocks Creek with his entire regiment, but his scouts did enough to inform him that no one was in this valley.
He then knew that he had to go in the Little Bighorn area. He also wanted to scout the LBH area on June 25 to look for any other tracks around the main Indian village, but it didn’t go that way because some Indians surprised his soldiers and he had to attack at once.
Benteen was sent to the South to do the same job the scout had previously done in Tullocks Creek : look out for tracks.
Sorry, it’s not Lieutenant Edgerly, it’s Lieutenant GODFREY in his CENTURY article.
Godfrey said that the regiment was doing a lot of halts and was moving slowly because the scouts were looking for tracks in the Tullocks Creek valley.
They reported to Custer that they hadn’t find any
Custer’s aspirations for Presidency should have been noted somewhere, especially in the St Louis Democrat Convention. But Dr Lawrence A. Frost never found anybody or any record which said that Custer had even begun a want-to-be-president campaign
I should have added, “and the weakness of his command”. Thank you for the post. The amount of time and energy to researching battles in the West is unlimited. The testimony of Lt. Godfrey is pretty damaging. Forces on Reno Hill definitely did not help Custer. I remember when we walked from the cemetery over to Reno Hill and saw the locations of the riflemen and bunkers on the hill suggested exactly what you’re saying, that they were in a defensive position, but thinking back it is hard to believe that no one was able to get a messenger through considering how close they were to each other. I can’t imagine Custer not being able to order Reno or Benteen to attack the forces either to his flank or between the 2 in a cross fire.
I’ve been there twice, and probably will go again, as I like to vacation just South of Livingston and pass the battlefield either on the way or the way back to Colorado. Montana is the last great frontier of open country and “Big Skies”. The valley of the Little Bighorn River is awesome. Heading South into Bighorn Canyon and traveling along the Bighorn River West from Buffalo, WY is the greatest fishing anywhere.
What testimony was this? In what court? It wasn't the Reno Court of Inquiry. Please provide details as this is interesting stuff.
Just to let you know further what I have, In W. A. Graham's "The Custer Myth", page #336, there is a document titled "EDGERLY'S STATEMENT TO HEIN". It reads "(From "Memories of Long Ago," by Lieut.-Col. O. L. Hein, (1925), pp. 143-45)
"On June 25th (1886) the tenth anniversary of Custer's last fight was celebrated at the Post (Fort Custer), by a reunion of the surviving officers of the Little Big Horn campaign, including my old friend and classmate, Captain W. S. Edgerly, at the conclusion of which a number of the officers and ladies of the garrison made a visi to the battlefields.
"Interesting information with reference to Custer's campaign was imparted to me by Edgerly in the following account that he indited for me: Extract from General Terry's Order to Custer.
"'The Department Commander desires that on the way up the Rosebud you should thoroughly examine the upper part of Tulloch's Creek.'
"When we arrived in the neighborhood of Tullock's Creek we ran on a hot trail that led straight to the Indian village. It would have been useless to scout this creek, for we knew the Indians were in front of us."
While this is second-hand, it shows Edgerly giving a different account of any scout of Tullock's Creek. What Edgerly is stating here is that "in the neighborhood of Tullock's Creek" obviously means at the Busby camp (or at the stop just below the Crow's Nest), and the trail described was the one up Davis Creek and over the divide "that led straight to the Indian village".
In addition, in the same volume, beginning at page #261, there is the written letter by George Herendeen, scout, to the Bozeman Herald published January 22, 1878. In it he confirmed my story in an earlier post that he was to report back to the Terry command, that Custer did ask him earlier on the 24th to scout Tullock's Fork and was told they would be in a better location later to do so. He states he told Custer that they were going in the right direction and "I could only follow his trail" meaning he wouldn't go any other way than they were already headed. There is nothing further in his letter about any subsequent scout of Tullock's Creek.
I'd appreciate any specific details on the evidence you have. AS you can see, it throws a different light on events the day before the battle. And myself and others would appreciate having any and all concrete source evidence there is.
Ah, but what exactly is meant by "...his scouts did enough"? This is the crux of the issue. If you read my post #33, the scouts returned to Custer at the Busby Bend and reported the trail led up Davis Creek with no evidence of it diverting elsewhere (i.e. Tullock's Creek). This does not mean that they had to scout Tullock's Creek to ascertain this. It means there was no physical evidence of any divergence from the trail to the divide. You see? Now go to my post #46 where there's a statement by Edgerly that contradicts any idea of a scout of Tullock's Creek being made at that time. Frankly, I find this highly questionable.
Ah hah! Now we're getting somewhere. W. A. Graham's "The Custer Myth" (which I've referenced in posts above) contains a large portion of Godfrey's Century article. What Godfrey actually wrote was: "The march during the day was tedious. We made many long halts, so as not to get ahead of the scouts, who seemed to be doing their work thoroughly, giving special attention to the right, toward Tulloch's Creek, the valley of which was in general view from the divide [This cold not be a reference of Tullock's Creek from the valley of the Rosebud but, more likely, from the divide between the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn, i.e. from the Crow's Nest where it is indeed visible]. Once or twice signal smokes were reported in that direction, but investigation did not confirm the reports. The weather was dry and had been for some time, consequently the trail was very dusty..."
Please not how he words this. He uses "toward Tulloch's Creek" and "the valley of which was in general view from the divide". Also "smokes wre reported in that direction". The sure implication is that scouts were out in force in the general direction of Tullock's Creek. But none of this confirms they ever scouted the valley itself. Compare this to Herendeen's earlier mention of Custer wanting to scout the area but both Herendeen and Boyer tell him to wait; which he agrees to. Then consider the Edgerly statement noted in above post #46 that "When we arrived in the neighborhood of Tullock's Creek we ran on a hot trail that led straight to the Indian village. It would have been useless to scout this creek, for we knew the Indians were in front of us."
I submit to you that while Godfrey's statements in his Century article may imply that a scout was made, this is only an implication, they are rather ambiguous, and there is no other written or oral evidence to sustain it. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary.
I'm not trying to pick an argument. I'm trying to get at the facts. If there's anything that sustains Godfrey's inference that a scout of Tullock's Creek was indeed made, then it should be made evident. I'd like to know one way or t'other. While not important to the outcome of the event itself, it would shed more light on the overall story.
I'm with you on this. As I noted above, it's conjecture. And that's something I dismiss.
Have you ever made the stop at Ft. Phil Kearney to visit the site and the battlefields of the Fetterman and Wagonbox fights? That’s another interesting part of the Plains Indian Wars that’ right in that particular backyard. It’s just off the Interstate near Story, WY. In fact, the Fetterman fight occurred right on the Bozeman Trail, within sight of the Interstate.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.