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Custer the American Hero?

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

  1. dlofting

    dlofting Sergeant

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    The following is the first post from a thread on the Little Bighorn Association Message Board, that asks the question
    Did Custer disobey Terry's orders by crossing the divide?

    An area of great controversy over the years has been the debate over whether Custer disobeyed Terry's orders by crossing the divide and attacking a day early. A secondary argument has been over the reasons why Custer did not send scout Herendeen down Tullocks Creek to contact Terry's command. This thread will examine this issue from different perspectives. Feel free to join in with your own views.

    We'll begin this examination by looking at the views expressed by LBH author and researcher Fred Wagner, who clearly believes that Custer violated Terry's orders in this regard. His views are explained in his book The Strategy of Defeat at the Little Big Horn:

    Custer's instructions were clear: scout the upper reaches of the Rosebud, then cross to the upper Little Big Horn, move north down that river, and drive the Sioux into the blocking point Terry was to reach on the 26th.... Regardless of the decisions Custer had reached ... his choices were now to to continue south along the Rosebud, possibly risking detection ... and losing track of the village, or to leave the Busby camp at night in an attempt to cross the Rosebud-Little Big Horn divide, hiding out for a day while Terry moved into the Little Big Horn valley. If this would be the plan, it meant Custer's scouts could keep track of the hostiles and Custer would still have the elemnent of surprise, still attack from above, and still block escape routes to the east.

    (Fred now quotes from author John Gray's analysis given in his book Custer's Last Command):

    Custer could follow Terry's recommendation by marching up the Rosebud tomorrow [the 25th] and starting down the Little Big Horn the next day, thus preserving the timing. Even if these marches were made at night, however, he would leave a trail as readable as a poster, and discovery would warn the village to flee and scatter. He would also lose track of the village and at best have to search for it again, at worst it could escape undetected back to the Rosebud and eastward or down the Bighorn and attack Terry's weaker force on the march.

    Fred: While one hates to cry sophistry with such a fine academician as Gray, he is ... rationalizing assumptions and equally ... cutting Custer a lot of slack here, for as we have seen, no one thought to warn the Sioux of Custer's approach even though they claimed ... to have seen a regiment of cavalry a day's ride away.... They had no idea Gibbon had returned to the Rosebud and they were completely unaware of Reno's earlier movements ..., Terry's presence, and now Custer's proximity. (p. 14-15)

    So with this in mind it is necessary to look at what Terry expected of his cavalry commander. The importance of Tullock's Creek is predicated on the assumption Custer would obey his instructions.... As can be seen from his orders, it was specifically stated Custer "should thoroughly examine the upper part of Tullock's Creek, and ... should endeavor to send a scout through to Colonel Gibbon's column, with information of the results of your examination." We see no requirement to include plans to have found Indians before sending Terry the information required. The commanding general wanted to know if Tullock's was clear. By tossing aside the importance of scouting this area, we assume it was acceptable for Custer to disobey his orders. While we have seen he was given a certain amount of latitude in the execution of those orders, Custer was given no latitude in their interpretation. He was ordered specifically to examine "the upper part of Tullock's Creek" and ordered specifically to "endeavor" to report his findings to Gibbon. He neither examined nor endeavored.

    He was also directed to continue south, regardless of whether the trail would leave the Rosebud environs. The following phrase, "Should it be found (as it appears almost certain that it will be found) to turn towards the Little Horn, [General Terry] thinks that you should still proceed southward," already anticipates and precludes Custer's rationale for following the Indian trail; "unless you should see sufficient reason for departing from [these orders]," would, therefore, not apply here because Custer's reasons have already been preempted, they have been pre-considered insufficient. In other words, following the Indian trail just because it might diverge from the Rosebud was not sufficient justification for Custer to do what he did. It was not an option. At this point, all Terry knew -- and expected to know -- was Custer was moving up the Rosebud, following his orders. The forethought in the orders trumps the afterthought of their execution. (p. 39 - 40)

    Read more: http://thelbha.proboards.com/thread/2874/custer-disobey-terrys-orders-crossing#ixzz4UMVwsknD
     

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  3. Arioch

    Arioch Sergeant

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    If I remember correctly...Didn't Custer get his first commission with the Michigan Cavalry?....or maybe a member later on? (perhaps after the 'creamed onions' incident)...My point is: folks like to lionize the 'hometown boy'...

    ...and Custer had a great "PR" department...namely, Libby Custer....she ensured and lobbied to keep his 'good name' in posterity....

    I guess it depends on where you come from. Custer definitely has a mix of purported good, and purported bad...

    I think we get caught up in our own labeling:...Hero, character, etc...If I had to pick a word it would be 'legend'....
     
  4. civilken

    civilken Sergeant Major

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    he did his job well during the Civil War I don't think there's any question about that most of the dislike comes from people who are against the way he treated the Indians.I can't rationalize his feelings on the Indians problem by saying he was a man of his times. But then you have to say why be mad at the plantation owner he was just a man of his time.iit's like everything else in life rarely black and white.
     
  5. Legion Para

    Legion Para Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif

    War isn't fair and many who deserve recognition often don't get it. Sometimes it's all about being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes it about who you know.

    'Fortune Favors The Bold' and I think it applies to Custer.
     
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  6. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Corporal

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    As a Custer buff, I can tell you that nearly all modern Custer scholars reject the claim that Custer disobeyed Terry's orders. The definitive treatment of this subject is Dr. Charles Kuhlman's exhaustive study Did Custer Disobey Orders at the Battle of the Little Big Horn? More recent treatments can be found in the books by Donovan, Philbrick, Liddic, Utley, etc.
     
  7. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Captain

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    I don't know about "double standard" Confederates killed and enslaved Indians and plenty at that.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  8. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    I'm assuming to sell books?
     
  9. dlofting

    dlofting Sergeant

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    Most of the discussion centres around the discretion that Terry gave Custer and whether he (Custer) was within the "bounds". Also when a General provides his "suggestions" are those actually orders. Terry was a lawyer before the Civil War and his orders to Custer certainly reflect that training.
     
  10. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Corporal

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    I'll just repeat the fact that nearly all Custer scholars nowadays reject the notion that Custer disobeyed Terry's orders. There are a few Custerphobes who cling to that nonsense, such as Fred Wagner in the Little Bighorn Association forum (where I have posted many times), but such diehards are in a tiny, dying minority. Just go read Dr. Kuhlman's study on the subject and/or go read the treatments by noted Custer scholars like James Donovan, Nathan Philbrick, Robert Utley, John Gray, Robert Nightengale, Larry Sklenar, T. J. Stiles, and Bruce Liddic.

    I am unaware of any widely published Custer scholar who does not reject the old Republican myth that Custer disobeyed Terry's orders. Fred Wagner is not widely published. His horribly boring Custerphobe book has sold very poorly, and his arguments are routinely shredded by genuine Custer scholars on the LBHA message board.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2016
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  11. dlofting

    dlofting Sergeant

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    I have read Fred Wagner's book, and I can understand why it sold poorly......you have to really have patience and an overall understanding of the battle to read it. I enjoyed it, but it did take time.

    I still see both sides of the argument and don't think it will ever be settled.
     
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  12. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    Understandable however his entire life tells a different story.
     
  13. Bee

    Bee 2nd Lieutenant

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    Including Washita?
     
  14. War Horse

    War Horse Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2016 Member of the Year

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    Absolutely
     
  15. Joshism

    Joshism Sergeant

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    Did anyone else who was nearly (or actually) expelled from West Point and/or finishing at/near the bottom of their West Point class ever accomplish as much or more, in terms of either "success" or fame, as Custer did?
     
  16. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    Custer performed well during the Civil War with a few exceptions, such as getting himself into trouble at Trevalian Station. He maintained high morale in his units and led with great elan and panache.

    After the war, though, things were different. His leadership style led to a division of the 7th Cavalry into cliques. He was ineffective as a leader of postwar troopers. While his strategy at Little Big Horn was mainstream at the time, it depended on Reno to not break and run. Reno broke and ran, freeing warriors to go after Custer. Had Reno held firm, it's possible Custer could have reached the rear of the village and captured the noncombatants hiding there, which would force the warriors to surrender.
     
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  17. ivanj05

    ivanj05 First Sergeant

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    As far as I am aware. Custer knew that Reno had broken and ran, which makes his decision not to seriously alter his tactics all the more suspect.
     
  18. FZ11

    FZ11 Sergeant Major

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    Sure,I can agree with that.
     
  19. FZ11

    FZ11 Sergeant Major

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    Wagner is just wrong. The "escape routes" are to the South,not the East as Wagner states. Not mentioned above is the fact that Indians are discovered on Custer's back trail and Custer is urged by some scouts to promptly attack. Turns out that the Indians are not part of the LBH encampment,but Custer doesn't know that. So Custer attacks a day early. Clearly Custer has great flexibility in Terry's orders. One can question why Custer did not send a scout north as ordered. One of history's mysteries. So Custer made several misjudgements,ran out of ammunition,and the rest is history.
     
  20. FZ11

    FZ11 Sergeant Major

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    The 7th troopers are not Civil War quality troopers like Custer previously commanded and Custer appears to overestimate their fighting prowess. Custer also underestimates his opponents and their reaction to his surprise attack. Custer is not going to capture any noncoms,here. The village is too large and their are too many warriors. Custer's surprise actually works against him as the Indians don't have time to flee...they react and fight!
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2016
  21. FZ11

    FZ11 Sergeant Major

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    Enjoyed the Custer's Last Stand article. Thanks!
     

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