Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Anniversary of Lt Col Custer's Last Stand

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, usually referred to as Custer's Last Stand, occured 137 years ago today on June 25th 1876. This battle has been made famous through many books, a few movies, and still retains many myths.  Hands down, the best book on the subject is the recent work by Nathaniel Philbrick called "The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn".

The U.S. Army in the midst of the Plains Indians Wars sent several columns of Cavalry and Infantry to fix and destroy the Indians. Custer, for reasons probably pertaining to his vanity or ego about sharing what he thought would be glory and probably some disrespect for the Indians ability to fight a fixed battle, located a large Indian encampment on the Little Bighorn River the morning of June 25th 1876 and despite warnings from his Crow Indian Scouts concerning how large and therefore how many warriors he faced, Custer decided not to wait on the other columns, but to attack, fearing the element of surprise had been or would be lost.

The village the Crow Scouts spotted consisted of Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, women and children led by Crazy Horse, Chief Gall and Sitting Bull. Custer divided the 7th Cavalry, which consisted of 12 Companies into three forces: Three companies (Co A, Co G and Co M) under Major Marcus Reno; three comapnies (Co D, Co H and Co K) under Captain Frederick Benteen; and kept five companies under his own command (Co's C, E, F, I and L). The 12th Company, Co B, was commanded by Captain Thomas McDougall to guard the pack train and supplies.

Custer sent Major Reno to attack the Indian camp from the East and draw their attention while Custer rode around North of the camp to attack the camp from the rear (the West end of the camp) and prevent the Indians from escaping.

The Indians had no intent on escaping, even if they did, the warriors would have fought until the women and children were able to withdrawal. Major Reno was unsuccessful in pentrating the camp and was driven back sustaining heavy casualties. Lt Col Custer was discovered trying to circle the camp and was engaged on the move until heavy Indian forces pinned the largest portion of his command on a hill known as Last Stand Hill.

It was here that the majority of Custer's force, approximatley 210 men, were killed. Total casualties for the 7th Cavalry were 268 killed and 55 wounded out of a total force of 700 men. ...a stunning loss for the Army and a great victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho. A big loss for the Custer family as not only did they lose George Custer, but Custer's brother, brother in law and nephew were also killed.

Of course, the story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn would not be complete without the story Commanche, the mount of Captain Miles Keough who died with Custer. Commanche a veteran Cavalry horse was wounded several times by bullets and was found one or two days after the battle, badly wounded, but nursed back to health by surviving members of the 7th Cavalry. He has often been referred to as the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand, which wasn't true as there were other horses found alive. Commanche was described as a 15 hand Bay gelding, who like beer by the way, and was retired after overcoming his wounds, only to be used for cermonial purposes. Commanche died 15 years later and remains today perserved in a environmentally controlled glass case at the University of Kansas.

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