There were some repeating rifles at the Little Bighorn in Indian hands, but the majority were muzzle-loading flintlock and caplock guns. There were bows and arrows too. The tactic the Indians seemed to follow was to get as many warriors as close as possible to the particular cavalry position they were attacking through stealth, by crawling through ravines and tall grass. Like the example above, they would pop up and take a shot and crouch back down. When they got close enough they could use their bows to great effect. Custer had about 250 men or less with him spread out in several positions. The Indians started at the first of these and concentrated their warriors until they just overwhelmed the troopers. Those troopers who could, moved to the next position along their line of defense. The Indians gained what firearms and ammunition was left, adding to their firepower against the next objective. The troopers became demoralized and put up less resistance. At least I believe that's how it went; it's been a while since I read about it. The Springfield model 1866 was a trapdoor rifle and by the time of the Little Bighorn campaign all of the infantry units would have had trapdoor rifles. The cavalry units had been switching out their Spencer and Sharps carbines for the Springfield model 1873 carbine. The Indians also would have had a few years to learn about trapdoor rifles and how to use them. It seems like the major tactical error was to allow too many of the enemy to approach too closely so that the disadvantages of firearms with a shorter effective range and weaker stopping power were greatly reduced and the advantage of volume of fire was enhanced (think: get there first with the most men.) I gather that Custer was willing to attacking a superior Native American force because boldness and mobility on the part of the cavalry had always had always allowed them to concentrate overwhelming firepower to their own advantage. The one major difference between the Little Bighorn conflict and previous engagements was the size of the Indian fighting force which placed the advantage back with the Indians. Custer probably thought his boldness along with extra ammunition would carry the day right up until the dominoes began to fall and then it was over very quickly.If nothing else I have read that at Little Big Horn the Sioux were armed with repeating rifles while Custer's men were still using one shot muzzle loaders. I would think that this was not an uncommon occurence throughout the West.
If nothing else I have read that at Little Big Horn the Sioux were armed with repeating rifles while Custer's men were still using one shot muzzle loaders. I would think that this was not an uncommon occurence throughout the West.
All well and good. But the salient question remains. Were Custer's men armed with single shot carbines or repeating rifles. If the former Custer with 200 men is facing multiple thousands of Souix, if the latter it is essentially 1500 men facing the same number. Given the former every single casualty of Custer is a significant reduction in his force. Also if the Indians are indeed equipped with repeating rifles their kill ratios also increase exponentially.Lots of factors going on with Little Big Horn
The Battle of the Little Bighorn Gunshot Trauma Analysis: Suicide Prevalence Among the Soldiers of the 7th Cavalry
The case for possibly contaminated evidence
In referring to Custer's Battalion, Red Horse stated, "The troops used very few of their cartridges. I took a gun and a couple of belts off two dead men. Out of one belt two cartridges were gone; out of the other, five. It was with the captured ammunition and arms that we fought the other body of troops [ on Reno Hill]." "These different soldiers discharged their guns but little. I took a gun and two belts off two dead soldiers; out of one belt two cartridges were gone, out of the other five. The Sioux took the guns and cartridges off the dead soldiers and went to the hill [Reno Hill] on which the soldiers were, surrounded and fought them with the guns and cartridges of the dead soldiers. "
Native stigmata on weapons captured from Custer's column
All well and good. But the salient question remains. Were Custer's men armed with single shot carbines or repeating rifles. If the former Custer with 200 men is facing multiple thousands of Souix, if the latter it is essentially 1500 men facing the same number. Given the former every single casualty of Custer is a significant reduction in his force. Also if the Indians are indeed equipped with repeating rifles their kill ratios also increase exponentially.
If the troopers had stayed on horseback and maintained their distance they would have had the advantage of firearms with superior range and accuracy if they could hit anything.
On the other hand of course the Indians spent 27 hours a day practicing their marksmanship??!!That's the problem with getting tunnel-vision on technology.
Even if Custer's men had Winchester 73s, they'd still have been poor marksmen (since the Army's target practice policy at the time was dictated by paucity) and the conditions that created the column's broken morale with mass suicides hadn't changed, so the debacle would have lasted a bit longer.
Since gunpowder weapons were invented, soldiers have had to expend 100's of shots to incur one casualty.
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