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Custer the American Hero?

Discussion in 'Other Notable Biographies' started by major bill, Dec 29, 2016.

  1. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    I don't think so, besides I'm British old chap, no point asking me.
     

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  3. Schwallanscher

    Schwallanscher 2nd Lieutenant

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    right, haven't you been among those guys' henchmen for some time?
     
  4. chellers

    chellers Brigadier General Moderator Trivia Game Winner

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    Speaking of henchmen, what say we get back to the topic of Custer?
     
  5. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    I have no idea who the posh narcissists are, I don't think you could possibly mean me, I'm not posh, I am in fact quite common, just ask my butler.
     
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  6. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    Absolutely, thanks for keeping us in check.
     
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  7. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    So getting back to Custer, I have a question about Little big horn, I'm really struggling with exactly what happened at this particular battle. I've read a few books that quite clearly lay down the events of that day, most books will state that they are basing their timeline of the battle on past witness statements and archaeological excavations. The problem that I have is that I have read numerous reports from various archaeologists that claim that there is no accurate archaeological evidence to support a lot of the claims made by various authors and historians. The last article I read stated '"Certainly there is (no) archaeological evidence of a swirling, furious finale to the Custer battle - no famous last stand.", I also watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel where archaeologist Douglas Scott argued that Little big horn was like a crime scene, and that bullets and cartridges could show with certainty where Custer was, and where the Indians were. It could also show the skirmish lines and the movements of the troopers.

    Now, the problem is, that other archaeologists have stepped forward and they are now saying and I quote ' The battle had happened 108 years earlier. Works had been done to build a visitor centre, a monument and the markers of the troopers. The whole topography had changed : some ravines were deeper and even the Little Bighorn river had changed because of the rain and the snow.

    Worse, the battlefield hadn't been protected at all. In 1881, soldiers and Indians made a re-enactment of the battle on the battlefield itself. They fired bullets and recreated the fight. Their bullets, cartridges and steps were spread all over the battlefield.
    Even worse, "relic hunters" had stolen a considerable amount of cartridges and bullets. Their main target was, of course, the legendary hill where Custer had died. Some accounts said that in Deep Ravine, which wasn't a main point of the battlefield, more than 1'000 bullets had been stolen. This stealing's happened daily, from 1876 to 1984. No Little Bighorn superintendent ever tried to stop them. In 1940, the superintendent just wrote in his diary that stealing's were happening.

    Thousands of cartridges disappeared. The whole battlefield was "contaminated", as it is said in the Crime Scene Investigation. Little Bighorn could never be considered as a crime scene. But Richard Fox, Douglas Scott and their archaeologists worked as if it were the case. In his books, Fox said that relic hunting happened, but he wrote only a few lines on them. The fact that thousands of bullets and cartridges had disappeared didn't matter much to the archaeologist.

    There is also the issue of Indian testimonies, one article that I read claims, Indian testimonies can be used if they are put in a timeline according to the movements of the witnesses and their location : the battle began with Reno in the woods, then Custer in Medicine Tail Coulee, then the battle on the ridges and hills. Indian testimonies (we have hundreds of them) clearly concord that Custer's movements were these : a skirmish near the river and on the hill (Nye Cartwright Ridge), and then an hotly contested battle, with many skirmish lines, all long the hills. Indian told searchers that many of their charges (White Bull's, Low Dog's, Rain In the Face's, Two Moon's) failed because of the hot fire. Some even said that they had doubts about the outcome of the entire fight (Sitting Bull).
    Then Lame White Man arrived and charged the soldiers, breaking the lines of Custer's left wing. Soldiers on the rear guard were killed, the others ran away towards Custer Hill (aka Last Stand Hill). Then Gall and Crazy Horse charged Calhoun Hill and the Keogh area, breaking the lines. During all these charges, the fight was hot, and the resistance of the soldier was simply heroic. It was a hand-to-hand battle with soldiers making stands all over the field. Captain Keogh, for example, was found in the middle of his men, with five dead Indian horses around him.


    As anyone that even has a passing interest in Custer and Little big horn is aware, the last stand is the name given to the fight where Custer lost his life. The problem is that there are those 'experts' that are arguing that the last stand either did or didn't happen or that it didn't happen the way we have been told it happened.

    The archaeologist Dr Fox for example argues that there was no 'Last stand' and that there were no heroics involved, moreover Dr Fox claims that he had rediscovered forgotten Indian accounts of the battle, and a previously unknown Indian map of the engagement,'.

    So after my long post, my question is what is the accepted authentic timeline of the battle and which historian/archaeologist do people place their faith in when it comes to telling the story of LBH.
     
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  8. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    Welcome to the mystery of the Little Bighorn. There is no accepted timeline of the battle, at least not for the 5 troops that died with Custer, just some theories. These are based on known facts of course, but where the facts end, timing studies, archaeology and Native American accounts take over (not to say that Native American accounts aren't factual, they were just told in way that "white men" had trouble understanding). I could go on and on. Suffice to stay that the hardcore LBH students spend days and days walking, or better yet, riding the battlefield trying to piece things together.

    Fox's theory kind of shocked me when I first read it, but it is consistent with Benteen's observations about the position of the bodies. He only saw signs of organized resistance on Calhoun Hill. Then again, Benteen has been accused by some of lying or at least not telling everything he knew at the Reno Court of Inquiry....so who knows.

    Start with your favourite book on the battle, get a hold of a good map of the area with at least the markers shown (so you know approximately where the soldiers bodies were found), use Google Earth and develop your own theory about what happened.
     
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  9. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    That's very helpful, I don't suppose anyone will ever really know the truth about that day, even those that were there would only have had a limited view of certain situations. One more question if you don't mind, what about the large number of Indian witness testimonies, do they add up or do most of them tell conflicting stories? The reason I'm asking is that in my experience of studying many historic battles, every single witness to a battle tells a different story.
     
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  10. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    The Native Americans tended to describe only what they, personally, saw happen. They didn't incorporate what they might have heard from another person, like the European American would. For example a warrior might have said, "Custer did not go to the river" which the interviewer (probably Walter Camp) took as an absolute statement. What the NA was saying was that he "did not see" Custer go to the river. As you can imagine, this lead to perceived inconsistencies between witnesses, until it was sorted out many years later. "Lakota Noon" by Greg Michno is a good book on NA testimonies/observations.

    By the time the interviews were conducted the Native Americans were again "wards" of the government. It's quite possible that some thought it was not prudent to tell the exact story and so may have talked a about a stout resistance or last stand that in fact didn't happen. They may have said what they thought the interviewer(s) wanted to hear.
     
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  11. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    I'm going to put you on the spot here, I hope you don't mind.. what are your thoughts on the last stand, did it happen? No problem if you don't want to respond to that.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
  12. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    Something else to consider about LBH

    One thing you rarely see discussed are the actual conditions of the battlefield and the part that terrain and weather played. Prussian General Carl Von Clausewitz is credited with the concept of the "fog of war" meaning the inherent confusion and unexpected things that influence the outcome of a battle. That was probably a major factor in the chain of events at the Little Bighorn - including real fog. The plains of Montana are dusty and hazy especially in late afternoon. The battle area overlooking the river is steep and winding with deep ravines (called coulees) that can make horses and men disappear from sight, only to seemingly pop up out of nowhere someplace else. Add to that the dust from thousands of horse hooves and the smoke from the weapons and it is very likely that there was a pall over the entire battlefield that prevented direct observation, coordinated action or effective assessment. This obscuring of the battlefield would have affected the 7th Cavalry more than their opponents, who had home field advantage.

    Source: Little Bighorn, Crow Agency, MT
     
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  13. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    I think there was a "last stand" in the area where Custer was found. How long it lasted, I don't know. I also think there was fairly strong resistance by "L" Troop at Calhoun Hill. Something caused a panic in "horse holder ravine" which was the area between Last Stand Hill and Calhoun Hill occupied by Keogh's "I" Troop. It was probably a charge.....either the one led by Lame White Man or something that Crazy Horse led, and it may have come from the east. Keogh was no slouch when it came to a fight, so it was something that came quickly, without much warning.
     
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  14. Waterloo50

    Waterloo50 Captain Silver Patron

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    Custer was a horse soldier but the Little Bighorn was not a cavalry battle. It was a dismounted infantry fight. Most of the combat was on foot and low to the ground. There are two reasons for this.

    Nine years earlier at the Wagon Box Fight in Wyoming, Native American warriors had been schooled on the futility of charging headlong into massed rifle fire, especially repeaters. In that furious action, 26 troopers with new breech-loading rifles and six civilian woodcutters with 16-shot lever action Henry rifles held off 1,000 braves for most of a day and lived to tell about it. One of the Indian leaders that day was Crazy Horse, the tactical leader at the Little Bighorn. By the time of the battle, his braves had repeaters of their own, which Custer's men did not.

    The other factor is that Custer's men left their sabers back at their home base to save weight. That means they had no close in weapon with which to fight from horseback. A cavalry charge was the armored assault of its day, depending on audacity, shock, momentum and violence to carry out its mission. That meant cold steel and flashing blades at a full gallop. Instead, Custer's force had to dismount to fight with their single shot Springfield rifles. The Indians had lances, tomahawks and war clubs for close in fighting and got better use out of cavalry tactics than Custer did. If Custer had maintained the ability to fight close in on horseback, the outcome may have been very different. Why would an experienced horse soldier like Custer leave the sabers behind? Probably the same reason anybody leaves something behind. They don't think they'll need it.
     
  15. 1NCCAV

    1NCCAV Private

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    Do you think Keogh may have been hit early? His leg wound pretty much corresponds to the wounds on his horse Comanche, so Keogh was likely still mounted when wounded. Perhaps Keogh was unable to exert much control over I Troop for very long.
     
  16. 1NCCAV

    1NCCAV Private

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    Of course, Keogh was stripped but not mutilated. So he must have been in command long enough to do something to impress the natives. The other possibility is the natives didn't mutilate Keogh because they saw his papal medals and thought they were big medicine. I've also read that he did not wear his papal medals in the field but was wearing a Catholic emblem of some sort around his neck that might have been off putting to the natives.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
  17. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    It's entirely possible. I believe his body was under the bodies of a number of other soldiers.
     
  18. Musket Man

    Musket Man Private

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    I agree with an earlier statement about the "mystery" of Little Bighorn and what happened. I know I have did a little research on the Little Bighorn and if you read three articles you will get three opinions on Custer's actions.

    But back to the original post on how good of a cavalry leader/soldier he was. In my opinion he performed above average. In my opinion he was brave and courageous and rallied his men when the odds were not in his favor. He usually got things done. Whether or not if people agree with his tactics is another story. I am sure if you could ask him he may have done thing differently knowing all the information that we know now and have available. I have often wondered how "modern men" would have made decisions if the information was as scarce as it was then. It furthers my respect for everyone, North & South, that fought in this war and helped shape this country as we know it.

    I read a book about Custer that I thought it was a good read. It was about his life before and during the ACW. Its title is "Custer 1861-1865 The Custer America Forgot" by Paul D. Walker. The book speaks of his battles and strategies that took place during his involvement in the ACW. I am sure there are plenty more books about him that may be just as good, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

    Take Care
    Donald
     
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  19. 1NCCAV

    1NCCAV Private

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    FWIW, the I Troop guidon was later recovered from the camp of American Horse.
     
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  20. 1NCCAV

    1NCCAV Private

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    Custer seems to have been temperamentally suited to to execute the mission he assigned to Reno.
     
  21. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    That's interesting that he wore those medals, or some Catholic emblem. The Sioux knew exactly what they were. They had been in contact with French Catholics since about the mid-1600's - still a lot of them Catholics today. However, if they thought it was his medicine, you're right - they'd leave it alone. Never know what might happen if you mess with somebody else's medicine! Maybe it was a saint, something like that?
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2017

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