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"Fetterman masacre." Topic

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19th Century

2,097 hits since 16 Jan 2011
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Jan 2011 6:02 p.m. PST

Following the massacre at Sand Creek, the large outbreak of hostilities between U.S and the Indians occurred in 1866 when General Henry Carrington began to build a series of forts on the territories of the Sioux and Cheyenne in total violation of the Treaty-Harney Sanborn signed by the U.S. government in 1865. Faced with the threat of a military occupation of their territories, several Indian tribes coalesced under the authority of Chief Red Cloud.
Departed Fort Laramie in May 1866, Carrington, at the head of 700 men, marched to Wyoming to establish a new fort at Kearny. Once work begins, the Sioux did not stop to watch Carrington men. From the first day, the U.S.patrols were attacked and isolated by the indians. Men were scalped and mutilated. The construction of Fort Kearny, however, was completed in December 1866.
The construction was performed at 150 U.S. soldiers killed and almost as many wounded. The Indians had also seized 700 horses and cattle. Not a day passed without an alert triggered. The disastrous engagement between Fetterman, his soldiers and the Sioux is in this context.

Boastful convinced of the racial superiority of the Anglo-Saxons over all other peoples of the earth, Captain William Fetterman stated with 80 men, marching in a parade through the army camp of the Sioux. On 18 December 1866, a train of carts bringing wood from a forests adjacent to Fort Kearny was attacked by Indians; Carrington Fetterman gave the opportunity to prove his point by sending 81 men to the rescue with the detachment of loggers.
Fetterman Carrington had received the order to push the Indians but not to extend beyond a ridge named Lodge Trail Ridge. True to form, Fetterman disobeyed Carrington and pursued the Indians galloped beyond the prescribed line and out of sight of the fort. The Indians allowed themselves to pursue military and arrogant brought down his men in the ambush.
On the opposite side of Lodge Trail Ridge and Red Cloud was the bulk of its forces. At a signal, a thousand Sioux rushed out of the 81 men who were forced to Fetterman dig on a hill.
In this place, which will subsequently be called "Massacre Hill" Fetterman's men, armed with slow Springfield rifles, were shot one after the other. The battle ended in half an hour.
The military called this fight "Fetterman Massacre", the Indians called it "Battle of a Hundred Slain."
It was one of the worst defeats of the army in the West, and one of only two battles where there were no survivors.

To help Fetterman troops, Carrington sent almost all of his garrison to the rescue, even arming the prisoners, cooks and civilians. When the soldiers returned to the Fort in the afternoon, they brought the bodies of 49 men recovered in the snow. They did not find the others. The bodies were bristling with arrows, scalped, and some were decapitated and had suffered appalling torture.
The next day, General Carrington went in person to head a second relief expedition. Arrived at the scene of battle, he found nothing but corpses mutilated and scalped. One of the officers had 120 arrows in his body.
Fetterman's stupidity had cost Carrington half of the garrison of Fort Kearny. Red Cloud also known as the owner of the fort and would soon attack in force, it was decided to go to ask for reinforcements to Fort Laramie.
A civilian volunteer presented himself, named John "Portugees" Phillips. After three days and three nights at the end of one of the most spectacular rides in the history of the Far West, Phillips crosses 380 km on horseback through a terrible blizzard and crossing the lines of one of the largest Indian forces who have never been collected in the West. A few hours after his arrival, a part of the infantry at Fort Laramie came to the defense of Fort Kearny.
The Fetterman Massacre did for whites understand the need to raise a strong link between Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie.
General Carrington had called as responsable repeatedly before the fatal engagement. In a logic of military, the new fort was named Fort Fetterman, in honor of the impetuous captain.
The news of the Fetterman Massacre aroused a wave of criticism against the army. Fetterman's death.
General Carrington, was chosen as a scapegoat by politicians in Washington and relieved of his command.

Some questions about that battle.
a) The amount of indians was true?. More than a thousand?
b) Did the indians tried anyway to atack the Fort?
c) Are there any movie about that Old West episode?
d) Fetterman battle seems more to what we ususally read about Little Big Horn. I'm speaking about the "last stand", a complete US Cavalry unit surrounded by Indians. Not runing from them.
e) Did General Carrington wrote his memories?. Are there any book to read about this combat?
f) Did anybody had played a wargame of the Fetterman masacre?.

Thanks in advance for your guidance.


John Leahy16 Jan 2011 6:22 p.m. PST

It isn't much of a wargame. The Indians outnumbered the Cavalry by about 10-1 or more. No attack on the Fort was made. Fetterman was an idiot.

Personal logo GreyONE Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Jan 2011 6:28 p.m. PST

The fort was not attacked. The Indians retreated after their victory.

21eRegt16 Jan 2011 7:13 p.m. PST

Growing up in the vicinity of Fort Laramie it got a lot of press, comparable to Little Big Horn. We were told:

a) Yes, but only a fraction could get at the cavalrymen at any one time.
b) No direct attack was recorded.
c) None that I'm aware of.
d) Yes, they were cut off, not a running fight.
e) Nothing I've seen or heard about
f) I done some "wild west" wargames but they were all parts of the Little Big Horn campaign.

Atomic Floozy16 Jan 2011 7:53 p.m. PST

Your account doesn't say that the battle was fought on Dec. 21st. A blizzard blew in on Dec. 22nd & a succession of bitterly cold weather kept the Indians in their camps.

Carrington split his force to occupy 3 forts. One group was to reinforce Ft. Reno, one group built Ft. Philip Kearny (not Ft. Kearny, which was a different fort), & one group built Ft. CF Smith.

a) The number of Indians is estimated to be nearly 2,000 from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, & Sioux tribes.
b) Early on, the Indians adopted the strategy to lure soldiers away from the forts into ambushes or areas where the Indians felt they could overwhelm the soldiers with their numbers.
c) There have been references to the Fetterman Fight in movies, but the fight itself has never been filmed to my knowledge.
d) Fetterman & Custer aren't alone when it comes to commands that were surrounded & defeated. They were just the two with the largest number of causalties & caused the biggest outcry in the press.
e) Carrington didn't write a book about the Fetterman massacre, but his first wife, Margaret, did write a book which he edited for several editions. Perhaps the best book on the subject is "The Fetterman Massacre" by Dee Brown. For a fictional account "Sioux Dawn" by Terry C. Johnston is a good read.
f) The Fetterman Fight would be hard to make into an interesting game, especially if the players know the outcome of the battle. You would need a set of rules to taunt the the Army player into making some of the same decisions Fetterman did to engage a larger force, & also have rules that might limit the number of Indians attacking. Something like bad medicine to keep some hostiles out of the battle. On the other hand, there were some minor skirmishes that might be interesting to game, such as the attack at Crazy Woman Creek on 20 July, Haymond's action at Peno Creek on 17 July, & Carrington's action at Peno Creek on 6 December.

Chokidar17 Jan 2011 2:47 a.m. PST

Was there not an engagement fought a short time later that is known as 'the wagon box fight' which was a bit of the same scenario with the Indians lured into attacking a well prepared position of a small force in wagon frames?

Iowa Grognard17 Jan 2011 2:57 a.m. PST

Two notes,

First, I believe Carrington did write a book about his experiences there and I believe its called "Indian Question". Maybe it was written by his wife, but from my recollection of reading it, I don't believe so at all. I have it somewhere, but no idea where. The only place I could ever find a copy was actually at the bookstore on the fort grounds, about 15 years ago. I believe his thoughts/notes about the Fetterman fight is in there.

Second, there is an interesting story about a young trumpeter there. I believe from Sioux accounts he was the last one standing. In fact it was said that he fought so bravely the many warriors tried to get him to surrender, but wouldn't and eventually had to be killed. This story was told to me by a couple Sioux authors of differing renown and many great people with whom I had the opportunity to meet and spend time.

docdennis196817 Jan 2011 6:57 a.m. PST

Red Cloud was a military and political genius who gets too little press sometimes. He was also brilliant to see that all out war with the USA was a dead end for the free plains clans and some kind of compromise had to be made to survive! He simply has to be too respected by all sides in the conflict for what he did and who he was!

rvandusen17 Jan 2011 9:51 a.m. PST

A battle such as the Fetterman's Massacre seems best played as a disguised scenario. Change the location and names of the commanders.
In a more extreme case change the period or nationalities.

How about a French Foreign Legion water detail. Sent out to a nearby well to bring back water due to the fort cistern or well running dry.

If you want to stick with the Old West than make minor changes.

rvandusen17 Jan 2011 9:51 a.m. PST

A battle such as the Fetterman's Massacre seems best played as a disguised scenario. Change the location and names of the commanders.
In a more extreme case change the period or nationalities.

How about a French Foreign Legion water detail. Sent out to a nearby well to bring back water due to the fort cistern or well running dry.

If you want to stick with the Old West than make minor changes.

M C MonkeyDew17 Jan 2011 10:20 a.m. PST

The Fetterman Fight can make a cracking scenario. The trick is in the set up.

Give Fetterman the benefit of some sense and set up the action just as his mounted contingent is on the far end of the table and the foot contingent is in the center of the table (playing longwise on most tables).

Now Fetterman's goal is to extract his troops from the jaws of defeat. The goal table edge (opposite from where the mounted troops set up) is the ridge. The Indians will not cross the ridge because that is when they come under artillery fire from the fort.

For variations have Ten Eyck's rescue column arrive as a variable.

Also play a what if and replace the infantry muzzle loaders with the trap doors used at the Wagon Box and Hayfield fights.

If, as I do, you just like to get an insight into the how's and why's of things set up as above but have Fetterman continue his advance, ever contemptuous of the enemy.

Mrs. Carrington's book is a very good one. Dee Brown's is also very good, albeit it makes some assumptions. Fore example it is stated that "ten thousand" arrows were loosed during the battle. I doubt anyone counted them but 10,000 is exactly the number you would get if you took the author's estimate of warrior strength and stated 10 arrows per quiver and then did the math.

There are some other great resources too. Will check my library and add them if I can find them.

EDIT: Had a peek.Library is still a mess a year after the "Grand Design" of separating game room and library…sigh.

Still: Peter Cozzin's "Eye Witness to the Indian Wars; Vol. IV" has a number of interesting articles on the subject.

Dorothy M. Johnson's "Bloody Bozeman" is an excellent overview of the whole area and situation as well as the fighting. An absolute must read. It's a history book despite being from the author of "A Man Called Horse" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance".

I think Cyrus Townsend's "Indian Fights and Fighters" has a chapter on the subject as well.

Also second Souix Dawn. Never took to Terry C. Johnston's fiction but the historical parts of his historical fiction are spot on.

Inkpaduta17 Jan 2011 11:42 a.m. PST

Yes, there was a TV movie about the fight done back in the early 70s I believe. It did not show the fighting but was about the fort and Fetterman and the events that led up to the action.

RockyRusso17 Jan 2011 11:44 a.m. PST


Was there not a fictional version in "Centennial"?


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jan 2011 11:52 a.m. PST

Many thanks for your guidance, guys!
Quite interesting!.


Garryowen Supporting Member of TMP17 Jan 2011 2:01 p.m. PST

There was a TV movie by Turner called Crazy Horse. Really not a bad movie. It had the Fetterman fight in it. No snow. Not perfect, of course, but pretty good.

Visually this is a great movie. I don't think it is commerically available. I happened to tape it off TV when it showed.

Pretty good LBH as well.


Iowa Grognard17 Jan 2011 4:21 p.m. PST

I wanted to watch that but never did, thanks for reminding me!

In the tv movie made from the book "Son of the Morning Star" the 30 seconds they paid to the Fetterman fight also had no snow and was woefully done. The rest of that movie was quite good though.

One thing I recall from walking the Fetterman ground was how steep the little ridge was on both sides.

One auther I strongly recommend is Joseph Marshal III, you see him on the History Channel and PBS sometimes. I had the opportunity to meet, listen and talk with him once, a great experience. Great perspective on the period and peoples.

Here is a link to his site:

Iowa Grognard17 Jan 2011 6:54 p.m. PST

The more I think about this the more I remember from my time spent out there. Gaming this fight wouldn't be impossible, but very difficult. I remember the approaching gullies being very deep cut and running all the way up to the last stand area. Very difficult ground. Almost zero unwanted exposure for the attackers.

Another interesting fight in that area is known as the Wagon Box fight. A handful of soldiers on a wood cutting detail held off an overwhelming force of Sioux.

One of the things so interesting to me is the ability of soldiers at the wagon box to keep up a rate of fire with their weapons as opposed to soldiers at the LBH after the change in doctrine and weaponry.

Grand Duke Natokina17 Jan 2011 11:14 p.m. PST

Wood was gathered for firewood. Up there it was a necessity for survival in the Winter. And I agree with John Leahy. Fetterman was an idiot.
One of the warriors that Red Cloud used to lure Fetterman into the trap was a young Crazy Horse.
The Wagon Box fight was just the opposite. The men were armed with the new Allen's converted Springfields. They essentially turned the old front stuffers into breech loaders.
The Lakota could not stand against an enemy who was behind cover and who could hit them beyond the range of their weapons.

Norman D Landings18 Jan 2011 5:01 a.m. PST

Iowa, SotMS "cheats" in its depiction of the Fetterman fight…

They filmed the set-up in snowy terrain, with appropriately-uniformed troops… but they didn't actually film the fight.

What they actually show in the combat scenes is footage from the LBH battle – summer uniforms, different terrain, and of course… no snow.

It's an unworthy gaff in an otherwise very good production… once you notice it, "it cannot be unseen"!
If they couldn't film the fight, far better to have faded to black and have the voiceover continue.

Thoughts on the Fetterman Massacre:

Fetterman was familiar with the Indian tactic of feigned withdrawal followed by ambush. He had been specifically warned about it by officers at the Fort, but more importantly, he saw it happen.

Two weeks before the Massacre, Fetterman was part of a detail (commanded by Carrington) which rode to drive off an attack on the wood train.
Carrington led a party which consisted mostly of mounted infantry, with a small group of cavalry commanded by Lt. Grummond, while Fetterman led a similar force, (with his attached cavalry commanded by Lt. Bingham.)

Both Grummond & Bingham's cavalry quickly outdistanced their mounted infantry units, despite orders to stay together.

In the case of Grummond's group, the Indians did not need to use decoys… he advanced regardless and they simply let him through, then formed up to attack Carrington's group as they followed. Grummond and the men who followed him turned back and broke through the indians to rejoin Carrington.

Bingham never returned – he was dragged from his horse and killed in melee. But his party had been in sight of Grummond's, and they reported that Bingham's group were led away by a single indian decoy!

Fetterman regarded the actions of Grummond and Bingham as thoroughly reckless, and wrote that he 'could not account' for Bingham's decision.

CooperSteveOnTheLaptop21 Jan 2011 2:57 p.m. PST

Vestal's Biography of White Bull (who was at both fights) WARCRY says:

"The amount of indians was true?. More than a thousand?"
Yes. More than a thousand Sioux & Cheyenne PLUS numerous Oglala

"some were decapitated and had suffered appalling torture."
'All the troopers were killed in the battle, fighting, with weapons in their hands & ammunition in their posession. It was therefore no 'massacre' as it has been called. [except Fetterman & Brown who had shot themselves. White Bull was shocked & bewildered when Vestal questioned him about torture of enemies Plains indians just didn't do it. He was revolted when Vestal explained about negro lynchings to try & convey the concept to him. Accordingly the indians were bewildered when Whites shot themselves 'rather than be taken alive'.]

'The monument on the battlefield gives Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux credit for leading the Indians in this battle, but all the Indian testimony, both Sioux & Cheyenne, is unanimous in stating that Red Cloud was not present, & took no part in the fight, or in planning it. Crazy Horse was leader of the Oglala, Black Shield of the Minnconjou.'

CooperSteveOnTheLaptop21 Jan 2011 3:00 p.m. PST

White Bull explained the mastermind of the Massacre was a dying chief called White Swan who with his dying breath invited the tribe to attack the whites in his memory.

Whites seemed to want to credit any Indian victory to a 'great general'. I've read treatments of the Litttle Bighorn where Sitting Bull is the enemy C-i-C. Vestal/White Bull's version was of a mass of panicked warbands swarming out of the camp to attack the cavalry wherever they could, there was no battle plan or overall commander.

M C MonkeyDew21 Jan 2011 4:47 p.m. PST

Just posted a Fetterman scenario to my blog at

AAR to follow.


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