Sunday, July 15, 2012

Final Little Bighorn Post

Sorry for the delay in getting this final post up for the LBH battlefield tour.   Real life has a way of intruding on blogging...

I'd like to finish with just a couple of photos from the Benteen/Reno siege area, and sign off with some random thoughts about the battle.

First up:

Could it be Keogh's horse Comanche?   No....just a free roving horse, looking for food from tourists on the path down to the Reno/Benteen siege site.

So much for controlling the high ground.  This photo is from the northern end of Benteen's position, looking up and out toward Weir's Point.    You can easily see how simple it was for the warriors to hunker down behind slopes and ridges and just pop off at the cavalry without exposing themselves.

View from weir's point toward Last Stand Hill (look toward the horizon, above the roadway, to the right of the area of trees around the visitor center).   This is a photo zoomed in about 10X or so, giving an approximate perspective that Weir and others at this point would have had of the final stages of the battle on Last Stand Hill.   Personally, I think any of their observations about seeing Indians doing this or that, or waving guidons, is entirely created after the fact based on what they found out after the battle.   With dust from the battle, and the distances involved, I'm highly doubtful that they really saw much of anything that they could make out.

So - some random thoughts wrapping up my fantastic visit to the LBH battlefield.

1)   If you ever get a change - GO!  It is a great battlefield to visit, and very haunting.  This is one of those battlefields that gives immediate enlightenment about the battle once you see the ground and visit the area.    Highly, highly recommended.

2)  Sheridan Wyoming as a short drive of about 60 miles to the battlefield.   There are plenty of places to stay - we stayed in the new Hampton Inn and were very satisfied.   I can't say much for the food in Sheridan, though.   I spent almost $90 for a dinner for two (steak) at the "best" place in Sheridan, and the steaks tasted like mule hooves.    Our second dinner in Sheridan was at Pizza Hut.   Nothing fancy, and the place smelled slightly odd like all Pizza Huts, but the food was good and dinner cost $20.

3)  I've read often comments like "if only Custer had taken the Gatling guns".    Really?   Really?   How was he going to get them there?   His pace would have been glacial, and he wouldn't have had a chance of catching up to the village.   Additionally, the Indian warriors weren't stupid.  They didn't fight like Zulus or Mahdists.   Massed charges weren't a Plains Indian warriors "cup of tea", until they were certain that they would be successful.    Let's assume that the Gatlings were there - most likely they would have been with Reno.   OK, so what?   I don't think he would have been dropping warriors like flies as they mindlessly charged the Gatlings.    Most likely the warriors would have just spread out and enveloped the Gatlings and "boom", drop them where they stood.   I really don't see much of an effect from the Gatlings on a highly dispersed target they would have been facing.   These weren't WW1 Maxim guns, but Gatlings with a fairly fixed cone of fire.

4)  Custer and his troops were exhausted on the day of the battle.  I've ready many estimates that Custer might have only had an hour or two of sleep in 36 hours.   I was up for 32 hours one time for work, and I can tell you - you're mind just doesn't work right.   It takes much longer to make a decision, things don't sink in, and you almost feel numb.   True, adrenalin would have kicked in for the troopers, but still - a bad, bad situation to put yourself into.

5)  The distances on the battlefield were VAST.   In my mind, the chief failure of Custer once he pitched in was to think there was ANY chance of Benteen making an appearance and affecting the battle.   I'm not thinking about any person vendettas by Benteen slowing his approach, etc, but just the large distances involved and a simple time/motion study of how long it would take him to get to where Custer wanted him.   It just wasn't going to happen.

6)   I wonder if the 7th had been brigaded with an infantry regiment, or few infantry companies, possibly mounted, if things would have worked out differently.   Indian warriors didn't like coming up against infantry ("long rifles") because of the long range of their weapons.    An interesting "what if".   I think the biggest issue is that the infantry would have slowed the column (see the Gatling discussion above).

7)  In my opinion, Custer wasn't incompetent, and he wasn't an idiot.   He was a fighter, and he finally got the target "cornered".   He wanted to enhance his reputation, but he wasn't stupid enough to throw his life away on something he considered suicidal.   I think the lack of battle preparation (rest, reconnaissance) led him to make some bad assumptions about the scope of what he was getting into.  From the flow of the battle it looks like he was in tactical control until towards the end of the battle, looking for opportunities to dictate the tempo and flow of the battle.   He just ran out of time and resources, and the final result was inevitable.

That's it!


  1. On #3, would either the Gatlings or mountain artillery have been advantageous if employed against the village, provided firing positions could have been obtained?

    I'm not sure I agree with comment #6.

    My understanding is that the trapdoor Springfield carbine significantly outranged most of the modern firearms that the Sioux and Cheyenne had; the bullets were also significantly more lethal, given much better propellent and higher powered charges. What the Springield lacked,t hat botht he Winchester and the old Spencer carbines had, was a magazine. Thus, at the short ranges of the fight, the Winchester put out more lead. My understanding that British practice with their magazine-fed rifles was to save the magazine for the Mad Minute, and hand-load bullets for longer range skirmishing.

    From the photos you've posted of the fight, it looks to me like there are lots of covered approaches to reduce the space and time under fire, nullifying the longer range of the Springfield. It looks like a series of short-range shoot-outs, where the old Spencer and it's seven round magazine may well have served better.

    On #7, I firmly agree. The more I read about Custer, the less he fits the stereotype, and the hazier and less well defined his character, personality and methods become. The man is very much a mystery.

  2. Regarding using the Gatlings or mountain artillery against the village; my thought is that it would have been even more like kicking a wasp's nest. With indescriminate fire into the village, I can't see the guns lasting long from swarms of warriors, who essentially were fighting to protect their families and way of life.

    1. I always thought the Gatlings could have been used on the pony Herds. Killing or dispersing their transport would have denied them a way to flee far and no way to take their tents or provisions. It worked splendidly on more than one occasion for Col. Renald McKenzie, who subdued the Comanche and N. Cheyenne as well as other tribes along the Red River. In ten years he lost fewer men than Custer did on one day. Goes to show that dying in battle even if it is due to incompetence is a sure way to immortality, especially if you leave behind a dedicated widow.

  3. If your goal is to fix the Sioux and force them to fight - and your major concern is that they will flee and escape your grasp - forcing them to come at you in the open might not be a bad idea.