Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Last Stand Hill

Getting close to the end of posts on the LBH battlefield.   In this post, I'll toss some photos of Last Stand Hill - easily the busiest of all locations on the battlefield.  I'd guess that 95% of the visitors think the whole battle happened here....

Monument on Last Stand Hill.   Little buckeroo courtesy of visiting tourists.

No Talk at the summit of Last Stand Hill...just a wee bit sunburnt!

The marker for the man himself, G.A. Custer.

I have NO idea why I can't get this photo oriented correctly.  Grrrr.   Anyway, this is a look at the markers on Last Stand Hill.  The visitor center and cemetary ar off to the right, in the area with trees.  Obviously, this wasn't there at the battle....

Another view in the same general area.   The river is down the slope near the tree heavy area; the village was beyond the river.    The distances involved are staggering - its a very eye opening experience to walk the battlefield after having only studied maps of the area.

Next time - the Reno/Benteen battlefield and random thoughts.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

More LBH Battlefield Photos - Deep Ravine

The entire end of the LBH battle which ranged between Last Stand Hill and Deep Ravine is a confusing affair.  Various theories exist about what happened when, etc.   Indian accounts vary, and sometimes create even more confusion with timing and sequence.   In very broad strokes, Custer and the regimental command element, plus C, E, and F troops were isolated on Last Stand Hill once Keogh's and Calhoun's commands were eliminated.  Survivors of Keogh's and Calhoun's commands tried to make it to the hill; various scattered markers show how unsuccessful they were.  Its truly sobering to stand on today's quiet Greasy Grass Hill and realize the terror and panic in the minds of those survivors as the warriors closed in.....its a chilling battlefield.

At some point, a substantial (40ish men) made for Deep Ravine.   Was this an ordered attack by Custer to see if he could still break through to the village?   Possibly hoping to link up with Reno, who "should" have been across the river pressuring the village?   Was Custer dead at this point?  Was the exodus to Deep Ravine a last desparate attempt to escape the slaughter?   Common sense tells me that doesn't make sense....after all....why would you "escape" towards the village and the heaviest mass of warriors?  

Anyway, some photos:

A view from Last Stand Hill down towards Deep Ravine (left in photo, toward trees).  You can see the string of markers down the trail toward the ravine.    The distances involved are truly staggering.   2000 warriors sounds like a LOT....until you begin to think of the enormous distances involved on the battlefield.   But - if I was a trooper on Last Stand Hill....I would NOT go toward Deep Ravine unless ordered!   I have a hard time believing it was an escape attempt, or a rout away from Last Stand Hill.  That just doesn't smell right.   Could the markers show deployments of a controlled skirmish line here and there?   Maybe the markers show where troopers fell on their way BACK UP to Last Stand Hill after being ordered down toward the ravine to see if a crossing to the village was possible?   Who knows....that's why this battle is so fascinating.

Looking toward Last Stand Hill, from the Deep Ravine trail.   Many, many folds in the ground to shield warriors that closed out the battle laying down every conceivable type of fire on the area (arrows, repeating rifle fire, single shot muskets....).

Runs-Her-Man on the Deep Ravine trail, looking toward Last Stand Hill.

No Talk adopting a tourist pose further down on Deep Ravine Trail, with Last Stand Hill in the background.

Looking up the trail created down to Deep Ravine.  Various markers dot the landscape as you look up to Last Stand Hill.  Consider the isolation and sense of helplessness that troopers might have had if they found themselves in this position on that hot June afternoon.

Even farther down the trail.   Note how far away Last Stand Hill is.   It might as well have been on the moon.

Next time I'll add some photos of Last Stand Hill.  I'll finish off with a couple of posts about Weir Point, and the Reno/Benteen battle area.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Calhoun's Hill

After failing to force a ford at Medicine Tail Ford, Custer's battalions came under increasing pressure from warriors starting to flood across the LBH river.  The Troops fell back uphill onto the southern end of Greasy Grass ridge, generally aligning around/near the knoll that would become known as Calhoun's Hill.  

This portion of the battle tends to be more confusing to me, as the only eyewitnesses were either the Indian scout Curley (who observed some of this action before skedaddling) or the Indian warriors themselves.

In general, I believe the battalion made its way to higher ground, with Calhoun's L Troop generally facing to the rear in the direction the Battalion had just come from.  In effect, they were the rearguard of the Battalion, as the other Troops faced southeastward toward the river.  Calhoun's L Troop appears to have been on higher ground, with other Troops deployed on lower ground toward the mass of warriors coming up from the river.  Calhoun's L Troop seems to have been a rock of resistance, and stood their ground for some time.   On the reverse slope of Calhoun's Hill (in general locational terms), Keogh's I Troop was placed as a reserve in waiting.   At some point, Calhoun was overwhelmed by the volume of fire from the dismounted warriors, with a handful of survivors fleeing up Greasy Grass Ridge toward Custer's location near/at "last stand hill".  Tom Custer's C Troop may have been somewhere between Calhoun's Hill and the warriors coming up from the LBH river, at some point moving on the lower slopes of the Greasy Grass Ridge to joing back up with GA Custer and the command element, along with F and E Troops.

I don't think that Keogh's I Troop put up too long of a resistance.  I believe that after Calhoun was swamped, the attacking warriors swept over the hill and took I Troop in a hurry.   The cluster of fallen markers for I troop doesn't look too much like an organized position to me, nor are they in a position that anyone would choose as a good defensive position.

Anyway, on to the photos!

A view from the approximate middle of Calhoun's position on Calhoun's Hill, looking up the ridge toward Custer's final position on "Last Stand Hill".  You can see the monument on the knoll in the distance.  The warrior's primary attack would have come up from behind the camera and to the left of the camera.   Keogh's I Troop would have been off to the right corner down hill from L Troop.  C Troop would have been downhill and to the left.

A view towards Keogh's I Troop.  The markers for the fallen troopers are in the distance - look up from "Crazy" on the plaque.

A closer view of the markers.  Note the handful of markers towards the left of the photo.  I believe these would have been a handful of troopers either trying to escape towards Custer on Last Stand Hill, or possibly a small element dispatched by Calhoun or Keogh to make contact with Custer, before the end came for their Troops.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On to Medicine Tail Coulee and Medicine Tail Ford

So, continuing my battlefield photo tour...

While Reno's attack started down the valley, Custer and his battalion (Command element, C, E, F, I, and L troops) moved to their right (to the North, heading west in Medicine Tail Coulee) to gain a position to attack the (they hoped) rear of the village. 

This photo shows Medicine Tail Coulee.  Custer's battalion moved from right to left.

Another photo of Medicine Tail Coulee.

As Medicine Tail Coulee opened up as it opened to the LBH river, Custer broke up E troop into its two constituent platoons.   The first platoon, E troop (under Smith) was originally diverted a bit to the North in the coulee to drive off a small group of warriors. 2nd platoon, E troop (under a very new Lt. Sturgis) was directed toward the Medicine Tail Ford.   Sturgis stopped a couple of times as his command (only around 20 men) neared the ford.  It seems obvious to me that Sturgis was a little taken aback by what he was hearing in the direction of Reno's fight, and as he neared the ford it was obvious that he was nowhere near the end of the village.   But, orders being orders, he eventually started to cross at the ford.  It seems around 15 to 20 warriors had gathered on the village side of the ford, and started firing as 2nd platoon started to cross.  One of the first to get hit was Sturgis, and warrior accounts seemed to focus on another leader also getting hit (the platoon sgt?).  At this point, the remaining troopers gathered the wounded/dead and fell back.   This is surely evidence that Custer was still dictating the flow of the battle, and retained command initiative.  E troop's "assault" was clearly an attempt to determine the extent of the village.  If successful, I have no doubt that Custer would have pitched in with the rest of his command.   From his remaining troop's position in the Coulee, Custer would have been observing the failure of Sturgis' attack.   I think this lead to his decision to continue up the ridge and find the extent of the village and find the next best place to attack.

A view towards the LBH river, and Medicine Tail Ford.  E troop, 2nd platoon, would have approached the ford directly away from the viewer's perspective.   Custer would have been located a bit further back (behind this marker), observing the flow of battle.

Another view.

A zoomed in shot towards Medicine Tail Ford.  E troop, 2nd platoon approached the river through here, attempted to cross, and fell into disorder and confusion when its command element was eliminated.   After some inconclusive skirmishing from 2nd platoon and 1st platoon (which moved toward the ford for support), action here faded away as the reconstitued E troop moved back toward the rest of the battalion.

Next post:  We continue with the battalion as it makes its way up and along the ridge.

I should point out that the battle "narrative" is my interpretation, based on reading, but more importantly what my eyes told me looking at the ground.   I make no claims for consistency with any single source, nor do I claim ultimate accuracy.   Most of this just seems like common sense.....to me!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Little BigHorn Battlefield Visit - Reno in the Valley

Arriving at the LBH battlefield for the first time is odd...you're driving up I90 without realizing that you are in fact driving right through where Reno's dismounted skirmish line was deployed, and right in the vicinity of the huge pony herd and village area.

Reno's battalion swept down the valley from the left, dismounting at the area of the present red roofed buildings in the upper right of the photo.  The buildings are immediately to the east side of I90.  The photo is taken from the bluffs to the east of the river.

Another view of Reno's position from a slightly different position.  Trace along the line of I90 until you see the red roofed building, and that's Reno's dismounted skirmish line position.  The tree area to the east of that (closer to your viewing perspective) is the wooded area adjacent to the river that he fell back to as the pressure mounted from the Indian warrior's assault.

Another, wider angle, shot from a different angle.   Again - look for the red roof building to locate the skirmish line position.

A zoomed in photo of the red roofed buildings where the skirmish line was located.  Sorry for the slightly fuzzy focus....zoomed in and a windy day.

After "charging" down the valley, dismounting to a skirmish line, and then falling back into the woods, the next phase was a generally panic stricken rush to "get out of Dodge" and get over the river and up onto the bluffs....to perceived "safety".  Not one of Reno's finer moments....

You can see the flat area on this side of the river that Reno's fleeing troopers crossed over to, and the rugged ravines that they faced as they ascended to "safety".   

A closer look at the area.  

A closer view of the hills, folds, and ravines that the troopers fled up to get to the bluffs.   Hard to recreate this terrain on a wargame battlefield.

One can only imagine the sheer terror the troopers felt - a frontal assault gone bad, seemingly hordes of warriors boiling out of the village, the redeployment into the wooded area and then the panic stricken rout to the river.   If they managed to survive that far, they then had to get across the river and up to the top of the bluffs.    It's easy to see why Reno's battalion was effectively spent and ineffective after this experience.

More in the next post as I follow the battle flow through photos.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Plains Indian Wars Battlefield Visits

Just back from a long weekend visit to the Little Bighorn battlefield (aka "Custer's Last Stand"), the Fetterman fight (massacre?), Wagon Box Fight, and Ft. Phil Kearney, along with my trusty sidekick and wife - Lisa.

All I can say is "wow".  I regret that I haven't made it to these sites before.  Even with a lifelong interest in the Batle of the Little Bighorn, and fully aware in my mind of the distances involved, it was stunning to see the vast distances and space of the LBH battlefield.   I'll expand on my opinion of the battle in a future post, but all I can say is - if you haven't gone, you really need to go.

The Fetterman fight battlefield was similar.   Vast spaces, windswept hills.

In both cases, the slope of the hills and rugged nature of the ground was eye opening.

My wife and I decided we needed Native American ("Indian") names in honor of our visit, so we decided on:

Brent:    No Talk

Lisa:   Runs-Her-Man

Here are a couple of photos of No Talk and Runs-Her-Man at the Fetterman fight battlefield.

No Talk posing on the ridge at the Fetterman battlefield.  Monument in the right distance.

Runs-Her-Man on the ridge, with the valley and hills behind where the Lakota lay in wait for the Fetterman detail.