Skip to comments.History What-If: Could Custer Have Survived the Battle of Little Big Horn? [June 25, 1876]
Posted on 06/25/2019 7:36:18 AM PDT by Red Badger
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They were surrendering and at the end of their rope. The press wanted to hear good tales of heroism and for some ‘fire water’ Indians were more than happy to oblige.
Rain-in-the-face has an account of a few even playing dead and as the squaws were about to go for the family jewels in the typical mutilation method, those guys ran.
I stand by what I said about the Indians being sincere in their praise of the troopers. They didn’t BS when it came to praising bravery.
I haven’t read enough about Isandlwana as I’d have liked. I did not know than any of the Zulus had long range rifles.
The Brits were about as outnumbered in that battle as Custer at LBH.
Bravery/Cowardice at the battle isn’t a blanket statement.
You want bravery? Read up on James Butler, Capt. Weir and his rescue attempt, or Keogh’s men surrounding their decorated Captain after he fell off his horse from a shot through the leg. His line collapsing basically caused the rest of Custer’s unit to stampede or panic.
If you want cowardice, well read up about Curly, one of Custer’s scouts. Or all of the men who died in the deep ravine (at least 20 of them).
There’s plenty of both to go around.
Enlisted man. Originally scheduled for Custer’s 7th, but suddenly sent to the 5th Cavalry.
He must have enlisted that very year. Good grief! You’ve got me. That’s a hell of a factoid to know. So who is it so I can read up about him?
I think the “Rawhide Kid” was the last western I read of that medium.
I stand with what I said about the Indians praising the troopers for their bravery.
I used to read “Jonah Hex” when I was a kid. The movie really disappointed. Too silly, as the “twin mounted” gatlings can attest..
The best read on Isandlwana is “How can man die better”.
written by Lt Col. Mike Snook. He commanded the Royal Welsh Regt. for a couple of year. He dispels many myths about the British Army’s defeat in this battle.
Except the forensics don’t lie.
Will definitely buy it.
It was for sure. He compiled it back in 1903 I think, so you must have read it I’m sure.
Here’s the Wikipedia on him. Interesting fellow, though when you campaign for your own Medal of Honor it takes the bluster off the award.
“One big disadvantage for Custer was that the Indians had better rifles than the troopers.” [laplata, post 4]
“Very good point that is often lost among non-gun people.
The Indians were in large part armed with Winchester repeating rifles, while Custer’s troops were armed with single shot Trapdoor Springfields.” [Yo-Yo, post 8]
“...Ive never heard an explanation as to why Custer wasnt issued repeating rifles....” [laplata, post 14]
“...Custer wasn’t issued repeating rifles because the U.S. Government never bought any repeating rifles. It was the Army’s opinion that the lever action rifles of the time, that used the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge, were inferior to the Trapdoor Springfield firing the .45-70 rifle cartridge.” [Yo-Yo, post 21]
“Ive heard that some people in the Army command were resisting switching to more modern rifles, because they thought that soldiers would just waste ammunition firing willy nilly, instead of carefully aiming their shots. I believe it wasnt until the Spanish-American War that that line of thinking was completely uprooted.” [Boogieman, post 36]
“Repeaters were expensive and somewhat unreliable. A number of units were issued repeaters and they were given bad reviews by soldiers as well as officers. The subject was dropped and they continued to use the Springfield Trapdoor...One of the problems was the repeaters used much lighter rounds than the 45-70 and were less effective at longer ranges.
The investigation after the battle led the Ordinance Dept to replace all copper jacketed 45-70 with brass jacket. The copper jacket had expanded in the rifle as heat increased to the point that the fired round could not be ejected. Brass expands less.” [buffaloguy, post 51]
“...the .45-70 easily beat out the .44...one of the deciding factors when they chose the new rifle - 1873...they should have at least had Spencers....” [Roman_War_Criminal, post 71]
“...The cartridges were made of copper and it was a known problem...Many broken knife points of Army knives were found on the battlefield hence the decision to change the cartridge to brass.
I have read the supposed debunking of that reasoning and it was unconvincing. My own 45-70 is competitive when the barrel runs at about 140 degrees.” [buffaloguy, post 78]
“Most of the Indian’s repeaters were 32-40s a very light round suitable for hunting...” [buffaloguy, post 101]
The US Army’s use of 45-70 wasn’t a whim, it was official government policy. Land forces doctrine was that individual aimed fire at long ranges was preferred: remained true until after 1945. The supposition was that long-range aimed fire from trained, disciplined troops would take out any adversary firing weapons of shorter range.
BGen Stephen Vincent Benet assumed the post of Chief of Ordnance of the US Army in 1874; he stated that Ordnance would stop accepting critiques and suggestions from the rest of the Army, because field forces were unable to understand the technical aspects of the new weaponry then being developed.
Cartridge case material was copper until years after June 1876. Brass wasn’t used until the British invented deep-draw forming techniques, and improved heat-treating of brass, in the late 1870s. Smith & Wesson’s first revolver - the No 1 in 22 Short rimfire - had to fire copper-cased rounds. They ballooned and stuck so badly that the design was modified to include a flat disk between the standing breech and the chambers, which rotated with the cylinder.
Though the 45-70 was centerfire, it is important to recall that outside priming had not yet been perfected. Cases were still thin, to permit the firing pin to indent the back of the head far enough to ignite the primer (which was crimped inside the head). Bulging and ruptures were an unavoidable problem.
As several forum members have pointed out, the repeaters of 1876 fired cartridges of lower power. And there weren’t very many; Christopher Spencer’s rifle was obsolescent, as was the Henry. Winchester’s M1866 was being made, but their M1873 had been introduced only a couple years before June 1876. The first repeaters that could handle the 45-70 did not appear until 1879; Marlin introduced the first lever action in that chambering in 1881.
The War Dept remained convinced that repeaters were too complex, costly, and unreliable to issue to troops. And most modern gun enthusiasts don’t realize how heavy such rifles were: single shots were weighty, but a full-size repeating rifle stuffed full of 45-70 rounds was that much heavier. Officers argued that troops would balk at carrying all the weight.
“They’ll shoot up all their ammunition” was unprovable, but it was taken very seriously in the War Dept. The warning was invoked against breechloaders, manual repeaters, semi-auto rifles, and full-auto personal issue arms: long after 1898. Fears that the supply system would collapse under battle demands were frequently voiced.
Also, recall that after ACW ended in 1865, the organized military existed only at the sufferance of a parsimonious Congress and an indifferent public. Army officials worried more about selling off huge quantities of obsolete muzzle-loaders, or converting guns to fire cartridges - at the lowest cost.
32-40 Ballard & Winchester was a highly accurate target round and is still in demand. But it wasn’t introduced until 1884, eight years after Little Big Horn. Not sure when repeaters for it first came out; when Winchester’s M1894 was first sold, it chambered 32-40.
“Custer had three Gatling Guns at his disposal. But Custer thought they would slow him down, so he left them behind at the fort.
This guy at the link below says Custer was right in declining those guns. They were completely unsuited for the terrain. As for me, Id have taken those guns,...” [Leaning Right, post 5]
“...The wheeled guns were not nearly as heavy to haul as the ammunition boxes.” [odawg, post 49]
A more careful look at the topography, along the Little Big Horn River in southeast Montana can help.
The ground that the 7th had to traverse that June day was not all gently rolling prairie. Patches of exposed clay, highly eroded and crisscrossed by deep gullies and steep hillocks, are easily seen from the battlefield. Wheeled vehicles could not have crossed it; lightly burdened men on foot would have had trouble. Laden horses and mules would have had a tough time. They’re called badlands.
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