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Korvessa06 Sep 2012 8:42 a.m. PST

So I found a new Custer book on sale for $7. USD The Last Stand by Philbrick. I just started it – so can't comment yet. So anyway, this lead me to reviewing some old TMP posts. I am no expert, but I have read a half dozen books or so and been to the battlefield. But there are some questions that I have:
1) It seems to me blaming Custer for national policy is a bit unfair. He was opnly a lt colonel.
2) It is understandable he wouldn't believe reports on the size of the native encampment. Wasn't it one of the largest gatherings of natives in centuries? Plus, his experience with McClellan always over estimating the enemy may have ben on his mind (my thoughts only).
3) I suspect that not a man in any of the three collumns thought the Indians would stand and fight like they did. It seemed like all the decisions were based on the fear that they couldn't find them and then they would just get away like they always did before.
4) I don't know that deviding his forces was as bad as it seems today (Worked for Lee at Chancelorsville) – with our helicopter and radio view of the battlefield. The natives did not have a true command structure and all warriors were pretty free to do as they wish. They would have had trouble responding to multiple threats at the same time. Hitting them from multiple points should have worked (perhaps the cavalry rolled a DR1). As it turned out, the plan was poorly timed and execurted even worse.The Indians were basically able to respond to each threat individually rather than simultaniously. Which must have helped tremendously.

Just because a plan doesn't work, doesn't necessrily mean it was a bad plan.In American football analagy – just because you go for it oin 4th and one, and fail, doesn't mean it weas a bad plan.

Garryowen Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2012 9:17 a.m. PST

Korvessa, I think you have it right. I have studied the fight since I was a kid, decades ago. I have been to the battlefield on foot, horse and vehicle countless times.

A very interesting book to read is called Small Wars. I am too lazy to check the author, but it was written by a British officer around the turn of the 19th-20th century as a sort of primer on European type forces fighting less advantaged cultures (to keep the PC people from going berserk).

Reading that would lead one to beleive that what Custer did at the Little Big Horn was pretty much the way you had to do it if you were going to suceed (as opposed to just survive; if you want to just survive, ride away). However, the author points out that the "right" thing does not always work. When it does not, the results are usually catastrophic to the European type force.

You cannot fool around reconnoitering as the enemy will not wait. You must be extremely aggressive. Pay no attention to numbers. You divide your commmand to hit on more than one front and to prevent escape. All of those are risky. Do them often enough, and the odds catch up.

When I have given a Custer and the LBH course at a local university's Osher Life Long Learning program, near the beginning, I give the famous quote by the fabulous Napoeonic light cavalry general, Lasalle. I am paraphrasing, but more or less it is "Any cavalryman who is not dead by the age of thirty is worthless."

I explained to them that if you were going to truly act as a cavalry commander should, you will take great risks. Sooner or later the odds catch up with you.

Tom

Dan Beattie Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2012 9:38 a.m. PST

Two very good analyses.

mjkerner Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2012 9:59 a.m. PST

I agree with you, Korvessa. Regarding your point #4, go with what works. It worked for Custer at the Washita (well, not for Lt. Elliot and his troopers), so why not at LBH.

Also, Greg Michno's book Lakota Noon presents an excellent analysis of LBH, and makes a great case for the fact that the Indian village was not near as large as has been historically presented, and that adds to the relative soundness, or at least reasonableness to split the command.

Wolfshanza Inactive Member06 Sep 2012 10:31 a.m. PST

Custer had divided his forces before and it worked. Couple of what ifs…What if Reno hadn't been splashed in the face with the scouts blood and brains, he seemed to somewhat lose it at that point ? What if Crook had notified the other columns of his debacle and the change in hostile tactics in a timely manner ? Just wonderin' ?

Inkpaduta Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2012 11:50 a.m. PST

You are right and there have been too many people whio know nothing about the battle that make Custer out to be an idiot.

Custer was famous for his luck. he had the ability to work his way out of bad situations and make quick decisions.
But his luck absolutely failed at LBH. Ever assumption he made was wrong. he thought he had been discovered and had to attack. Wrong. He was afraid the village would break up and run thus he split his command, wrong. he thought it was a normal sized village his men could handle, wrong. He believed Reno was holding in the woods thus rode to attack the village farther down the river, wrong. he assumed that his orders to Benteen would be followed, wrong.

Bottomline, one really really BAD day for Custer.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Sep 2012 11:52 a.m. PST

Philbrick's book is a good one as is the recent one by Donovan.

1. He was a convenient scapegoat for the Army. Someone had to be blamed and Custer was dead.

2. I sort of agree. If Crook had done his job Custer would have had solid evidence well before the battle. However, as Custer approached the village, the trail clearly showed it was a huge village. I just believe he had total faith in the combat ability of the 7th and underestimated the Indians.

3. Yeah, this was an overriding concern of the army in general. Custer's mistake was pushing his regiment so hard that he arrived a day early and the men and horses were tired.

4. The Military Rides done at the LBH have almost all the Officers faced with the same decisions making the same tactical choices.

Reno and Benteen completely failed Custer. Benteen should have been courtmartialed. However, his bravery and leadership at Reno Hill made it impossible for that to happen. It is incontestable that Benteen could have reached Custer had he shown any real desire to do so. Custers dispositions and Boston Custers last battlefield intelligence assured Custer that Benteen could reach him. Since Boston Custer had ridden through Benteen's Command to reach Custer. Custer maintained 2 Companies to keep the approach to Benteen open. Many say that if he had it would have meant more 7th Cavalry dead. Perhaps. Although when the relief force from Weir Point were able to make an orderly retreat back to Reno Hill facing most of the same force with only one Company making a fighting withdrawal. In fact, they lost only one man doing so. It makes for a very interesting 'what if'. My own belief is that the battle would still have been lost, but some men would have been rescued. I have found some satisfaction that my belief (which I have held for a long time) has been supported by the most recent publications on the battle.

Tom is an authority on the battle so take his post to heart. I have been interested in the battle since I was a little kid. I think a lot of us are drawn to the last stand of both sides.

Thanks,

John

Major General Stanley06 Sep 2012 3:47 p.m. PST

Certainly Reno and Benteen failed Custer. However, once Benteen made contact with Reno then Reno was the senior officer and he issued Benteen new orders. Those may have been more to Benteens liking, but that's neither here nor there. Actually Reno should have been courtmartialed. Oh wait he was, and he was cleared. That goes back to the point about scapegoats. Even if Benteen had moved more quickly he would only gotten there in time to help extricate Reno.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Sep 2012 4:46 p.m. PST

Actually, no. He was duty bound to do as Custer ordered. He made no attempt and even can be accused of slowing down. There was no discretion in those orders. Benteen come quick and bring the ammo packs. That's an order that had the battle turned out differently Benteen absolutely would have been court-martialed for his failure to do so.

Thanks,

John

Jeroen72 Inactive Member07 Sep 2012 2:52 p.m. PST

Ermm..but doesn't the first part (come quick) contradict with the second part (bring the packs)??

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Sep 2012 3:12 p.m. PST

I'm not Custer so cannot say exactly what he meant. It has been speculated by some experts that he meant for Benteen to have his troops bring some of the packs with them while the rest of the pack train arrived later.

Bottom line is when your Commanding officer gives you a written order you are duty bound to follow that order. No subordinate officer in that command may countermand it unless the CO is dead. Or if Benteen had fought his way there and had not been able to get to Custer after doing everything possible there may have been an excuse. None of these applied. He left Custer's command in the lurch period.

Thanks,

John

DJCoaltrain07 Sep 2012 6:46 p.m. PST

The ammo was loaded on pack mules. They do not move fast. IIRC – The pack train was not part of Benteen's command, until he encountered it on the way to Reno Hill. Also, IIRC, the pack train wasn't an Army unit, but filled with civilian handlers.

Benteen was out of touch with Custer, as far as he knew Custer and Reno were still in touch. It wasn't until Benteen arrived at Reno hill that he realized how badly Reno's command was mauled in the valley.

Also, I think it necessary to point out that when Capt Benteen joined Maj Reno – Major Reno became the senior officer in charge. As such, all command decisions became his, not Benteen's. And, remember Reno was in Benteen's chain of command. One doesn't simply disregard the orders of the senior officer present, especially in the presence of a hostile force.

Furthermore the combat situation had changed dramatically since Custer had sent the note. Reno's command was insufficient to stand alone against the forces arrayed against him. For Benteen to ignore Reno's grave situation and ignore Reno's orders would have been stupid beyond belief.

As it was, by the time the gerry-rigged relief force reached Weir's Point Custer's force was already doomed. The sacrifice of more soldiers in a pointless/hopeless rescue mission would have been idiotic. Also, remember the relief force could hardly have moved forward w/o stabilizing the situation on Reno Hill.

You can't leave men to die in a vain effort to rescue that which is already lost. As soon as Custer was killed trying to cross the river his command was doomed – much the same as the loss of Col Baker led to the disaster at Ball's Bluff.

Furthermore, the argument can be made, successfully, that Custer left Reno unsupported in the valley. If I were Reno, I'd have been mad as Hell for being left to face the whole Indian force while Custer was somewhere unknown. I bet the men of Reno's command thought they'd been abandoned as had been Lt Eliot.

Ironic that Custer should have died in much the same way as Lt Eliot. Some might say it was justice served to the right man.

Culpability for the disaster on the LBH belongs to Sheridan. It was his plan, he selected the commanders, and the units.

And one more thing, give the Indians credit for having waged a superior fight. They defeated their enemy despite inferior numbers and inferior weaponry.

DJCoaltrain07 Sep 2012 6:54 p.m. PST

John Leahy 07 Sep 2012 3:12 p.m. PST

Bottom line is when your Commanding officer gives you a written order you are duty bound to follow that order.

*NJH: Not true. First, the order must be a legal order. Second, the order must be executable.

No subordinate officer in that command may countermand it unless the CO is dead.

*NJH: Not true. The senior officer present commands when the commander is not present. Reno had every authority he needed to countermand Custer's written order. It's termed "Command Decision," and every line officer knows it.

"….the act of arriving at a decision and acting upon it without the direction of, or orders from a higher authority. i.e. an independant course of action without the sanction of a superior."

Cincinnatus Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2012 11:28 p.m. PST

Benteen had written orders from his commanding officer and as far as he knew, they were still legitimate and legal orders. So he had direction from a higher headquarters and chose to ignore it in favor of the course of action he preferred to follow. He has the right to take that course of action but then he also has the risk of being held to task for that decision.

Your contention is that he was legally obligated to follow Reno's orders even though it should have been obvious that Reno was in no condition to issue legitimate orders? Interesting interpretation on that situation.

I think the real situation was that Benteen was more than happy to leave Custer hanging out there and when the magnitude of the disaster became known, everyone involved closed ranks and pointed the finger at the only one who couldn't defend himself.

Also – I won't get into the weapons debate but you really believe the Indians had inferior numbers at the battle??

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Sep 2012 12:04 a.m. PST

Ok, let me reply. I completely agree with Cincinnatus's points on orders. A written order from your unit C.O. that is ignored will normally bring about one of two results. A commendation for performing an action that was vital to the action OR a courtmartial. Benteen's actions doomed the 5 Companies with Custer while helping to save the Companies at Reno Hill.

Some other points. The pack train was a military one. It had MacDougal's Company plus 5-10 men from each other Company making it the 2nd largest command at the LBH.

Yes, by the time the Cavalry reached Weir Point it was over for Custer. I'm talking about the 1-2 hours wasted by Benteen before that. It has been well documented how even the men in his command questioned WHY he was taking so long.
Boston Custer came from the pack train and passed through Benteen's command yet still reached Custer. There was absolutely no reason why a determined officer could not have done the same.

Since Custer and his command did not survive we don't know why he didn't support Reno. It has been postulated and in fact seems quite logical to believe that Custer did not realize how large the village was and thought he would find a ford at the end of the village in time to support Reno. Makes sense.

If Benteen had done his job and shown ANY urgency he never would have met Reno. Even so, the Indians were not pressing the men on Reno Hill vigorously at that point.


Thanks,

John

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Sep 2012 12:07 a.m. PST

Anyone can say Custer made mistakes at the LBH. But to suggest he was an idiot who did something completely out of line with tactics at the time is simply not understanding the warfare against the Indians on the Plains.

Thanks,

John

DJCoaltrain10 Sep 2012 7:37 p.m. PST

Cincinnatus 07 Sep 2012 11:28 p.m. PST

Benteen had written orders from his commanding officer and as far as he knew, they were still legitimate and legal orders. So he had direction from a higher headquarters and chose to ignore it in favor of the course of action he preferred to follow. He has the right to take that course of action but then he also has the risk of being held to task for that decision.

*NJH: Benteen was on his way to Custer, IAW his orders, when he chanced upon Reno. When he encountered Reno, Reno became the ranking officer and Benteen was no longer in command. Because Benteen followed Custer's written order until it was countermanded by Reno, Benteen lacks culpability.

Your contention is that he was legally obligated to follow Reno's orders even though it should have been obvious that Reno was in no condition to issue legitimate orders? Interesting interpretation on that situation.

*NJH: The 19th century military mind-set was of such a nature. That frame of mind led a lot of men to death in WWI, even when it was obvious frontal assaults were essentially futile – The Somme, or the lunacy of the 1st through 12th Isonzo.

I think the real situation was that Benteen was more than happy to leave Custer hanging out there and when the magnitude of the disaster became known, everyone involved closed ranks and pointed the finger at the only one who couldn't defend himself.

*NJH: I doubt very much that Benteen, or Reno ever derived any pleasure from the knowledge that Custer died along with so many of their brother officers. They may not have liked Custer, but I doubt they were so cold as to willfully leave their brother officers to die miserably on a barren slope.

Also – I won't get into the weapons debate but you really believe the Indians had inferior numbers at the battle??

*NJH: Absolutely not. The Indians had inferior numbers for the campaign. They had three columns converging upon them, and they used interior lines to good effect. At the Rosebud, the Indians may possibly have outnumbered Crook. But at the LBH, they greatly outnumbered Custer's entire force. Also,once again at the LBH they used interior lines to defeat Reno first, Custer second, and they prevented the Reno/Benteen force from aiding Custer. Give the Indians credit for their victory.

DJCoaltrain10 Sep 2012 9:35 p.m. PST

John Leahy 08 Sep 2012 12:04 a.m. PST

Ok, let me reply. I completely agree with Cincinnatus's points on orders. A written order from your unit C.O. that is ignored will normally bring about one of two results. A commendation for performing an action that was vital to the action OR a courtmartial.

*NJH: Reno and Benteen were courtmartialed – and cleared.

Benteen's actions doomed the 5 Companies with Custer while helping to save the Companies at Reno Hill.

*NJH: First, the decision for Benteen to continue moving in the direction of Last Stand Hill was not Benteen's to make.
Second, there were seven companies to save on Reno Hill. The choice was between saving seven companies and keeping the supplies/ammunition out of Indian hands, or possibly saving five companies, of which no one had any good intel. Third, Custer could have had four more companies of Cavalry from the 2nd Cav. Those four companies would have made his command a full third larger. Those four companies would have made a huge difference in the fight.

Some other points. The pack train was a military one. It had MacDougal's Company plus 5-10 men from each other Company making it the 2nd largest command at the LBH.

*NJH: Possibly. However, one company plus 88 troopers would not be the second largest detachment on the field.

Yes, by the time the Cavalry reached Weir Point it was over for Custer. I'm talking about the 1-2 hours wasted by Benteen before that. It has been well documented how even the men in his command questioned WHY he was taking so long.
Boston Custer came from the pack train and passed through Benteen's command yet still reached Custer. There was absolutely no reason why a determined officer could not have done the same.

*NJH: One man riding a good horse can go places a Commander in charge of four Companies and a pack train full of mules cannot. BTW – Boston's ride only added to the death toll on Last Stand Hill.

Since Custer and his command did not survive we don't know why he didn't support Reno. It has been postulated and in fact seems quite logical to believe that Custer did not realize how large the village was and thought he would find a ford at the end of the village in time to support Reno. Makes sense.

*NJH: Are you saying Custer formulated a plan based on no knowledge of the terrain and barely more about the stength of his enemy? That's a rheorical question. Of course he did, and how could a plan based on the permanence of smoke and winds be successful?

If Benteen had done his job and shown ANY urgency he never would have met Reno. Even so, the Indians were not pressing the men on Reno Hill vigorously at that point.

*NJH: Mules laden with heavy burdens do not understand urgency. Also, why didn't Custer fall back along his own trail when he sent the message to Benteen? It would have the smart move.

Dividing your forces in the face of an unknown enemy, in your enemies homeland, and on an unknown battlefield isn't a good tactic.

In my studies concerning the LBH battle, I have learned that all the Leaders/Commanders involved made serious mistakes. Everyone was underestimating his opponent, and everyone was misreading his opponents plan of action.

BTW – I didn't say Custer was an idiot, he did graduate from West Point. I said throwing lives away to save lives already lost is idiocy. A good commander must always look to keep his command intact and spend the lives of his men frugally. The strategic situation must always be kept in mind when acting tactically.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Sep 2012 11:03 p.m. PST

Wow, DJ, your reply about dividing your forces is simply flat out wrong when applied to the Plain's War. To this day when the US Army does military rides at the LBH almost universally the Officers make the same decisions that Custer did. Also, it was a tactic used by other Commanders as well during these wars. Also, letting Indians escape from your grasp was a sure fire way to be relieved, transferred or demoted. The Army was almost universally more concerned with the Indians escaping than with them staying to fight. The fact that they did so in such large numbers is what makes the LBH Campaign so atypical.

Custer attempted to find the end of the village to capture the women and children and hold them hostage. This would force the warriors to accept defeat. That's why Custer kept advancing. He also was trying to pull Reno's bacon out of the fire.

Actually, you are incorrect. Pack mule trains under Crook could operate very quickly. The men of the 7th simply hadn't had the training or experience to make them so.

I do not understand at all your point about Custer and the plan. It doesn't make sense to me. Please elaborate.


Oh, for the record. Custer never said bring the pack train. He said bring the packs. He also never even said bring the packs with his first message from Kanipe. He said come on. So, Boston Custer who had maybe a 20-30 minute head start on Benteen's Command when Kanipe reached Benteen, yet his command simply could not have reached Custer in enough time? Sorry, that's impossible.

Reno's column-140 men plus Indian scouts
Benteen 115-126 men
Custer 225 men
Pack Train 131-141 men

Regardless of if it actually was the largest (and I believe it was or was as strong as Reno's detachment) it's arrival was in time to make Reno Hill defensible.

Benteen was not courtmartialed at this time.

Again, a written order cannot be superceded except under the circumstances Cincinnatus and I mentioned. There is no over riding an order just because. Otherwise you'd have chaos in command.

So, Colonel issues an order to the Captain and moves on. Major comes by and gives Captain another order since he is nearby and so on. That simply doesn't make any sense and violates the chain of command. I'd say you got some serious convincing to do here DJ! wink

Finally, I know you aren't serious when discussing the outcome of the Reno Courtmartial as any real determination of proper decision making and actions that day! You're kidding, right. grin That trial was simply to provide some CYA for both the Administration and the Army. Period.

Thanks,

John

DJCoaltrain11 Sep 2012 10:32 p.m. PST

John Leahy 10 Sep 2012 11:03 p.m. PST

Wow, DJ, your reply about dividing your forces is simply flat out wrong when applied to the Plain's War. To this day when the US Army does military rides at the LBH almost universally the Officers make the same decisions that Custer did.

*NJH: You mean cadets interested in a passing grade and an Army career reach the same conclusions as Custer??? Whoa, what are the odds?? That really doesn't surprise me. I bet if they taught the AWI campaign for Long Island each and everyone of those same cadets would leave their flank hanging and the road that led behind their lines unguarded. Pointing out the flawed thinking of the Saints of your military service is akin to sexually assaulting the base Commander's wife on the steps of the base Chapel at noon.

Also, it was a tactic used by other Commanders as well during these wars. Also, letting Indians escape from your grasp was a sure fire way to be relieved, transferred or demoted. The Army was almost universally more concerned with the Indians escaping than with them staying to fight. The fact that they did so in such large numbers is what makes the LBH Campaign so atypical.

*NJH: Military history is full of examples of the use of the same tactics over and over eventually leading to defeat. Just because something worked before doesn't mean it will work again. If anything, military history teaches us that tactics and strategies become obsolete very quickly.

Custer attempted to find the end of the village to capture the women and children and hold them hostage. This would force the warriors to accept defeat. That's why Custer kept advancing. He also was trying to pull Reno's bacon out of the fire.

*NJH: There is no evidence of either assertion. Custer had already demonstrated a disregard for non-combatants, and Custer could hardly have known how badly things had gone for Reno in valley.

Actually, you are incorrect. Pack mule trains under Crook could operate very quickly. The men of the 7th simply hadn't had the training or experience to make them so.

*NJH: So expecting the mule train to act with speed and urgency is unreasonable.

I do not understand at all your point about Custer and the plan. It doesn't make sense to me. Please elaborate.

*NJH: Custer's plan was based upon nothing. He had very little intel about the force opposing him. The little info he had he chose to ignore in favor of his beliefs. He had no knowledge of the terrain upon which he chose to fight. The terrain was not conducive to his plan of attack. He fatally underestimated the Indian's will to resist. Custer's plan of attack was based upon what he believed to be true and not the facts of the situation. That's the worst thing a commander can do.

Oh, for the record. Custer never said bring the pack train. He said bring the packs. He also never even said bring the packs with his first message from Kanipe. He said come on. So, Boston Custer who had maybe a 20-30 minute head start on Benteen's Command when Kanipe reached Benteen, yet his command simply could not have reached Custer in enough time? Sorry, that's impossible.

*NJH: Cavalry horses are not pack animals. You can't just take a pack off a mule and toss it on a horse. And, you can't just hand it to a trooper and have him carry it.

Reno's column-140 men plus Indian scouts
Benteen 115-126 men
Custer 225 men
Pack Train 131-141 men

*NJH: I do not have my notes handy, so I cannot properly dispute yours.

Regardless of if it actually was the largest (and I believe it was or was as strong as Reno's detachment) it's arrival was in time to make Reno Hill defensible.

*NJH: Ummnnn…Sounds like you're making my point that Benteen and the Pack Train were essential to holding Reno Hill??

Benteen was not courtmartialed at this time.

*NJH: ?????

Again, a written order cannot be superceded except under the circumstances Cincinnatus and I mentioned. There is no over riding an order just because. Otherwise you'd have chaos in command.

*NJH: BINGO!!!!! Officers are not martinets. And, as I said before, Command Decision provides room for flexibility and iniative.

So, Colonel issues an order to the Captain and moves on. Major comes by and gives Captain another order since he is nearby and so on. That simply doesn't make any sense and violates the chain of command. I'd say you got some serious convincing to do here DJ!

*NJH: I've seen it happen more than once.

Finally, I know you aren't serious when discussing the outcome of the Reno Courtmartial as any real determination of proper decision making and actions that day! You're kidding, right. That trial was simply to provide some CYA for both the Administration and the Army. Period.

*NJH: Are you saying the US Army might act in a manner less than honorable? Are you saying that US Army officers might not be concerned with the facts, but rather their own careers?

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Sep 2012 8:38 a.m. PST

Norris, the amount of replies that are simply incorrect is surprising.

The Army Staff rides are done by serving officers of the US Army. Captains, Majors, etc. I have to admit that I thought you were pulling my leg. But if you really aren't aware of this it puts the rest of your comments in a new light.

The comment about Military History and repeating tactics is exactly one of the wonky replies I'm talking about. The entire US Army from West Point to the field teaches exactly that! That's why Campaigns thoughout history are studied and staff rides are made.

Custer disregarding the non-combatants and not being aware of Reno's situation again are incorrect. Authors like Donovan and Philbrick have been universally hailed for their books on the LBH. They make the same points as have others. Even as long ago as Panzeri's book the same comments have been made about non-combatants and Reno. Even at the Washita Custer had 50+ women and children captured and taken with the Cavalry. Mitch Boyer and Curley saw the Reno action and rejoined Custer. There is no reason to think they wouldn't have told him about this.

The point about pack trains and expecting them to be quick being unreasonable. I think you may be referencing that Benteen could NOT have gotten the pack train quickly to Custer. That completely supports my speculation that Custer meant 'bring packs' and not the mules. Neat how logic works, isn't it! grin

You seem to like beating the drum about Custer not having a plan, not knowing the terrain and so on. Well, unless you want to contradict every surviving account he had a plan. He had broad information about the terrain provided by the Indian Crow scouts who were familiar with the area. They had hunted there many times.

The packs. Well, there are two options here. First, if Benteen had done as ordered when Kanipe reached him he wouldn't have worried about the packs. Custer made no mention of them. Second, so having the 3 Companies with him each bring a single pack is impossible? That would have been at least 3000 rounds.

Ok, you say it was vital for the Pack train and Benteen's Battalion to hold Reno Hill. My point is that 'Benteen' must have thought Reno and the pack train could hold it. After all, he did leave Reno and advance after Weir, didn't he. My point all along is that he should have done the same thing only earlier instead of wasting time.

Reno was courtmartialed in 1879 over the LBH. Benteen NEVER was about his performance there.

Ok, the Command decision statement is sorta correct yet totally wrong when applied to the LBH. A written order can be changed, ignored or overridden. If it is illegal, countermanded by a superior officer, attempted to be carried out but cannot due to battlefield circumstances or simply ignored. The latter choice will surely be met with courtmartial unless a spectacular success has been achieved.
Benteen ignored the order. The ONLY reason he didn't suffer for it was Custer was dead and the political situation called for a scapegoat. A living officer might make damaging statements at a trial. A dead Democrat cannot. Also, the honor of the regiment was at stake. Benteen did perform well at Reno Hill. The surviving officers would not have condemned the man who led them there. They did express their opinions away from the trial about Benteen's performance before the defense and those were fairly scathing of his behavior.

Finally, your last comment about acting in an honorable manner and so forth is baiting. If you're trying to say that men like Godfrey would lie to enhance themselves I'd say you would be the only person ever to do so. The man was completely honorable. Most of the officers were.

I really enjoy discussing and speculating about the LBH. You and I have done so for years. I am a little concerned that this time you seem to be mentioning so many things that simply aren't true or never happened.

Thanks,

John

Cincinnatus Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2012 10:19 a.m. PST

John has covered things pretty well as he keeps up on all the current thinking regarding this battle.

But I want to mention a couple of points:

First about tactics.

Tactics become obsolete when the opposition studies them and determines counter measures. While the Indians might have recognized the way the cavalry would act, to say that they were able to "use interior lines" or to imply that they developed counter measures to the tactics used by the cavalry because the tactics didn't vary is just silly.

The indians couldn't develop a cohesive strategy for fighting a single battle, much less a campaign. It just wasn't within the cultural ability to do more than act as small independent groups all doing what they saw as the best thing for them as individuals.

That doesn't mean that sometimes, they didn't hit on the right thing to do, but you can't attribute their success to operational thinking which would be required for the argument that reusing tactics was bad and led to the defeat. Frankly, that's just a "grasping at straws" argument. (which seems to be happening a lot here)

Secondly, on motivations.

I find little motivation for Custer to allow Reno to be hung out to dry. Any failure on Reno's part would directly affect Custer's ability to accomplish his mission. Even if he could accomplish it, the losses suffered from allowing Reno to be defeated would certainly tarnish the victory.

But the same cannot be said of Benteen. There was a long history between the two. So it's not hard to see the motivation. Benteen is faced with the choice to support Custer and possibly help him to a great victory, or he can dither around and let Custer get a bloody nose and fail. Given that Benteen hated Custer, which makes more sense from a motivations standpoint?

There's a reason why solving crimes involves finding motives. Because if you understand the motives of the people involved, the actions can be more easily understood.

Note I never said anyone was happy Custer's command was wiped out but to think that they wouldn't be happy to see Custer have to retreat and fail at the mission is hugely naive. No one could have foreseen the magnitude of the disaster but when it became apparent how badly things had gone, there were a number of people who were going to do what they could to make sure they didn't get blamed for it. As John said, the court martial was just window dressing. It had to happen but there was no way the verdict was going to be anything other than what it was. There's just no motivation to find any other result.

DJCoaltrain12 Sep 2012 9:46 p.m. PST

John and Cincinnatus – Just because a person is a military officer doesn't mean he/she can't be an evil-lying-lowdown-rotten to the core SOB who'll do anything to further his/her career, and damn the affect on others person. I've met them, worked with them, and never ever trusted a single word they said. I have no doubt in my mind that every last surviving officer and official connected to the LBH debacle immediately went into CYA mode. Which is why I'm always very skeptical of anything they said/wrote, and why I don't join those pointing fingers at Reno, Benteen, or any of those on the field of battle.

BTW – I find no crime at the LBH. I look at the actions taken and evaluate the actions. Were they efficacious, or disastrous? That's all we can do because that's all we can objectively evaluate. A person's motives, emotions, state of mind, or thinking are subjective.

DJCoaltrain12 Sep 2012 10:29 p.m. PST

John Leahy 12 Sep 2012 8:38 a.m. PST

Norris, the amount of replies that are simply incorrect is surprising.

*NJH: Just because I do not agree with your assessments, doesn't make them incorrect.

The Army Staff rides are done by serving officers of the US Army. Captains, Majors, etc. I have to admit that I thought you were pulling my leg. But if you really aren't aware of this it puts the rest of your comments in a new light.

*NJH: I'm a graduate of the Air Force "Squadron Officer School," now called "Squdraon Officer College." I'm also a graduate of the Air Force "Air Command and Staff College." I also attended an Army class on how to engage and neutralize mobs and rioters. Plus many other professional military classes, programs, training sessions, and et cetera. I did this for a goodly portion on my adult life. The purpose of the vast majority is to assure that all attendees respond in the same manner to a crisis. Conformity of action and thought does have it's purpose. However, it also means that the mistakes of a preceding generation will be passed on to the next. The cadets reach the same conclusions as Custer because they were indoctrinated in such a manner as to do so.

The comment about Military History and repeating tactics is exactly one of the wonky replies I'm talking about. The entire US Army from West Point to the field teaches exactly that! That's why Campaigns thoughout history are studied and staff rides are made.

*NJH: If a cadet reaches the same conclusions as a loser, and is willing to apply the same tactics as a loser, then we have failed to learn from history.

Custer disregarding the non-combatants and not being aware of Reno's situation again are incorrect. Authors like Donovan and Philbrick have been universally hailed for their books on the LBH. They make the same points as have others. Even as long ago as Panzeri's book the same comments have been made about non-combatants and Reno.

*NJH: Thus far in my readings, I've not gotten the feeling that Custer was particularly concerned about the fate of non-combatants during a battle.

Mitch Boyer and Curley saw the Reno action and rejoined Custer. There is no reason to think they wouldn't have told him about this.

*NJH: Soooo, Custer knew Reno was being pounded into pemican and did nothing to help Reno? Everyone seems so concerned about Reno and Benteen riding to aid Custer, yet no one bothers to ask why Custer failed to ride to help Reno, or link up with Benteen.

The point about pack trains and expecting them to be quick being unreasonable. I think you may be referencing that Benteen could NOT have gotten the pack train quickly to Custer. That completely supports my speculation that Custer meant 'bring packs' and not the mules. Neat how logic works, isn't it!

*NJH: Please describe how the cavalry troopers were supposed to carry those packs, guide their horses, and shoot a weapon to fight their way through the Indians to get to Custer?

You seem to like beating the drum about Custer not having a plan, not knowing the terrain and so on. Well, unless you want to contradict every surviving account he had a plan.

*NJH: Plans have contingencies. What were Custers?.

He had broad information about the terrain provided by the Indian Crow scouts who were familiar with the area. They had hunted there many times.

*NJH: "Broad information" is like saying there's a lot of water in the Pacific Ocean, but there are many islands. Try kayaking from CA to HI with that "broad information." Custer needed detailed information to properly formulate a plan with a high degree of success.

The packs. Well, there are two options here. First, if Benteen had done as ordered when Kanipe reached him he wouldn't have worried about the packs. Custer made no mention of them. Second, so having the 3 Companies with him each bring a single pack is impossible? That would have been at least 3000 rounds.

*NJH: See my above question regarding the efficacy of having cavalry troopers ride into combat carrying packs.

Ok, you say it was vital for the Pack train and Benteen's Battalion to hold Reno Hill. My point is that 'Benteen' must have thought Reno and the pack train could hold it. After all, he did leave Reno and advance after Weir, didn't he. My point all along is that he should have done the same thing only earlier instead of wasting time.

*NJH: I don't think he wasted time. The situation on Reno Hill needed stabilizing.

Reno was courtmartialed in 1879 over the LBH. Benteen NEVER was about his performance there.

*NJH: My mistake, but it proves my point that Reno was in command, not Benteen.

Ok, the Command decision statement is sorta correct yet totally wrong when applied to the LBH. A written order can be changed, ignored or overridden. If it is illegal, countermanded by a superior officer, attempted to be carried out but cannot due to battlefield circumstances or simply ignored. The latter choice will surely be met with courtmartial unless a spectacular success has been achieved.
Benteen ignored the order. The ONLY reason he didn't suffer for it was Custer was dead and the political situation called for a scapegoat. A living officer might make damaging statements at a trial. A dead Democrat cannot. Also, the honor of the regiment was at stake. Benteen did perform well at Reno Hill. The surviving officers would not have condemned the man who led them there. They did express their opinions away from the trial about Benteen's performance before the defense and those were fairly scathing of his behavior.

*NJH: Benteen was not in command – Reno was in command.

Finally, your last comment about acting in an honorable manner and so forth is baiting. If you're trying to say that men like Godfrey would lie to enhance themselves I'd say you would be the only person ever to do so. The man was completely honorable. Most of the officers were.

*NJH: Perhaps because I know that officers are human.

I really enjoy discussing and speculating about the LBH. You and I have done so for years. I am a little concerned that this time you seem to be mentioning so many things that simply aren't true or never happened.

*NJH: Reading more opens up more possibilities. I have Philbrick's book on my nightstand. It's next in the cue. Right after I finish "Gunfight" a history of gun-control in teh USA – so far it's very interesting.

DJCoaltrain12 Sep 2012 10:46 p.m. PST

Cincinnatus 12 Sep 2012 10:19 a.m. PST

John has covered things pretty well as he keeps up on all the current thinking regarding this battle.

But I want to mention a couple of points:

First about tactics.

Tactics become obsolete when the opposition studies them and determines counter measures. While the Indians might have recognized the way the cavalry would act, to say that they were able to "use interior lines" or to imply that they developed counter measures to the tactics used by the cavalry because the tactics didn't vary is just silly.

*NJH: Your response has an euro-centric bias. I agree, the Indians did not have a general staff, nor strategic theoriticians. That doesn't mean they didn't use their interior lines to shift forces to counter first one opponent then another. What would you call that action?

The indians couldn't develop a cohesive strategy for fighting a single battle, much less a campaign. It just wasn't within the cultural ability to do more than act as small independent groups all doing what they saw as the best thing for them as individuals.

*NJH: I wonder how they won the campaign and the two major battles of the campaign?

That doesn't mean that sometimes, they didn't hit on the right thing to do, but you can't attribute their success to operational thinking which would be required for the argument that reusing tactics was bad and led to the defeat. Frankly, that's just a "grasping at straws" argument. (which seems to be happening a lot here)

*NJH: Underestimating the intelligence, and planning ability of one's opponent is the first step toward defeat. You seem to think fairly little of Indian intelligence, is there a reason for such?

Secondly, on motivations.

I find little motivation for Custer to allow Reno to be hung out to dry. Any failure on Reno's part would directly affect Custer's ability to accomplish his mission. Even if he could accomplish it, the losses suffered from allowing Reno to be defeated would certainly tarnish the victory.

*NJH: He did it to Lt Elliot. Why wouldn't he do it again to someone he didn't like?

But the same cannot be said of Benteen. There was a long history between the two. So it's not hard to see the motivation. Benteen is faced with the choice to support Custer and possibly help him to a great victory, or he can dither around and let Custer get a bloody nose and fail. Given that Benteen hated Custer, which makes more sense from a motivations standpoint?

*NJH: I do not think Benteen was willing to risk the lives of his friends and brother officers to see Custer humbled.

There's a reason why solving crimes involves finding motives. Because if you understand the motives of the people involved, the actions can be more easily understood.

*NJH: We're not solving a crime, we're evaluating the actions taken at a battle.

Note I never said anyone was happy Custer's command was wiped out but to think that they wouldn't be happy to see Custer have to retreat and fail at the mission is hugely naive. No one could have foreseen the magnitude of the disaster but when it became apparent how badly things had gone, there were a number of people who were going to do what they could to make sure they didn't get blamed for it. As John said, the court martial was just window dressing. It had to happen but there was no way the verdict was going to be anything other than what it was. There's just no motivation to find any other result.

*NJH: I'm supposed to have the cynically jaded role in this discussion, you're stealing my lines. I do not ascribe such motivations, because there is no way to verify them.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2012 5:32 a.m. PST

Hey, I'm happy you're going to read Philbrick. Great book. I think it will help to open you up to the latest scholarship on the LBH. I think you'll find it quit interesting. I'd also suggest reading Donovan. It covers the Reno trial too.

I could make another lengthy post refuting each of your points highlighting why you are incorrect. However, I can't seem to get you to accept even some of basic facts about the battle. So, I'll just make some general points.

You post Reno was in command. Reality was no he wasn't. He was in a daze and ineffectual. Whether that was due to drunkenness (as asserted by many there) or shock or a combination is unknown. But other than trying to recover his buddy he did almost nothing command related during the attack on Reno Hill.

You constantly talk about Custer's lack of a plan, how splitting up his command was not a valid tactic and so on. Yet, it is accepted both at the time and now by the military as an effective means to win the battle. Garryowen posted above saying the same thing. This gent is an authority on the battle and past president of the Custer society. He knows his stuff. He mentions the book 'Small Wars' by Caldwell. I went back and started to reread my copy. Starting on page 164 he begins discussing about how using a divided Command is an effective tool vs an Irregular/native army. He describes having a frontal attack made to get the attention of the enemy while a force attempts to flank or strike in the rear of the enemy force (sound familiar). He then writes about the actual battles where it was done. This book was the Battlefield bible for British officers. Again, a complete refutation of your point about Custer's tactics or lack of a plan. Yet, I will bet you'll readily dismiss it. You also keep saying that Custer wasn't trying to save Reno and he could have turned back. Yet, the facts of his movements refute this. First, Indian resistance at this point is almost non-existent. Why would he turn back? He tries to advance down Medicine Tail Coulee but cannot make a crossing. Whether this is due to it being in the middle of the village or something else we don't know. But he did attempt it. Later he again tries to get to the village at Deep Coulee. But things have hit the fan now and he is unable to proceed. Till the end he is trying to find a way to reach the end of the village and probably the women and children to capture them since they have all fled in that direction.

That brings us to my dilemma. I enjoy debating the LBH with you. I should, since we have been doing it for so many years now. grin However, you keep disregarding what are accepted facts, tactics or evaluations by authorities in the field. I find this quite frustrating since it means we have no baseline to operate from and we debate things that shouldn't have any debate involved.

I agree that when complete speculation is involved debate is wide open. I enjoy it. However, so many assumptions you arrive at are totally refuted by the facts or simply incorrect that it makes the debate like riding a merry go round rather than a factual progression. I could list every point made by you as fact that is flatly incorrect. But have already done so for the most part.

I also seem to be picking up this vibe from you that you detest most Army Officers you have encountered or have disdain for them at a minimum. That seems to be coloring your views to a large degree. You also keep mentioning that the Army wants group think and the futility of studying the tactics of past Campaigns (something which every professional military does). I believe that if I have to choose between who is correct, I'll side with the Professionals since you seem to have an ax to grind here. You also keep talking about Cadets and Staff Rides. Staff rides have been used by Professional militaries in Europe and the USA for centuries as an effective learning tool on tactics. They are done by Field officers and not by cadets. Again, I'll side with the professionals.

So, while I have enjoyed parts of our exchange I really would have liked it to have been based on common ground by using known facts or informed reasoning based on the facts.

Thanks,

John

deephorse13 Sep 2012 7:55 a.m. PST

John, I'd be interested in your view on the following subject;

custer1876.com/gpage7.html

A few things strike me as unusual about Kanipe's story;
1. was it normal to send a messenger with just a verbal message? This would be open to loss of meaning etc. if not passed on exactly as given
2. the 7th was very short of sergeants that day (as recorded by Panzeri and no doubt others), so why send such a valuable man on a mission that a trooper could have done?
3. isn't it the case that the only living witness to the circumstances under which Kanipe left the main body was Kanipe himself? I don't know whether or not Martin was able to corroborate Kanipe at all?

I have certainly seen Kanipe doubted in posts on another forum.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2012 12:49 p.m. PST

Hi, I'll answer your questions below.

1. Not unusual at all. Done even today.

2. A Sergent was a man you could depend on. Besides, you'd expect to see him return when the other column rejoins you.

3. I'm not sure of your perspective here. Was Kanipe deserting or just being a coward? Seems pretty unlikely since he'd have no way of knowing that the column would be slaughtered. Plus, he'd be in serious trouble after the battle.

The only thing Kanipe presented to Benteen and McDougal was that The Indians were falling back and we caught em unaware. He made no extraordinary claims to either Benteen or McDougal.


edit*****
Ok, I went to the link. I was not really impressed. It appeared to be a vanity press style publication. Of the 8 reviews of Unger's books since 2004 2 are by the same person. It would seem that any serious book on the subject would have attracted loads more attention. Especially when it purportedly is exposing completely new info. I have serious doubts about these books.

Thanks,

John

Cincinnatus Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2012 9:25 p.m. PST

DJColetrain – you really need to read more about the period. You argue against things that the credible historians agreed upon decades ago.

DJCoaltrain13 Sep 2012 9:47 p.m. PST

John Leahy 13 Sep 2012 5:32 a.m. PST

Hey, I'm happy you're going to read Philbrick. Great book. I think it will help to open you up to the latest scholarship on the LBH. I think you'll find it quit interesting. I'd also suggest reading Donovan. It covers the Reno trial too.

*NJH: Thanks.

I could make another lengthy post refuting each of your points highlighting why you are incorrect. However, I can't seem to get you to accept even some of basic facts about the battle. So, I'll just make some general points.

*NJH: First, motives and personality disputes are too subjective for critical analysis.

You post Reno was in command. Reality was no he wasn't. He was in a daze and ineffectual. Whether that was due to drunkenness (as asserted by many there) or shock or a combination is unknown. But other than trying to recover his buddy he did almost nothing command related during the attack on Reno Hill.

*NJH: Reno was the ranking officer on Reno Hill. Drunk (possibly), dazed (maybe), ineffectual (always), shock (his command had just been badly mauled), any, or all of the above – none of that matters. Reno was the ranking officer, and the military takes a dim view of junior offficers usurping the command authority of the senior officer present.

You constantly talk about Custer's lack of a plan, how splitting up his command was not a valid tactic and so on. Yet, it is accepted both at the time and now by the military as an effective means to win the battle.

*NJH: A plan has contingencies, a plan has fall-back positions, a plan has lines of communication, a plan has lines of supply, a plan has reserves that can immediately support the front line, a plan considers terrain problems, a plan considers worst case outcomes, a plan considers the possible responses of the opponent, a plan covers the various "what ifs," in short – a plan is more than you go here and I'll go there.

Garryowen posted above saying the same thing. This gent is an authority on the battle and past president of the Custer society. He knows his stuff. He mentions the book 'Small Wars' by Caldwell.

*NJH: In all sincerity, I mean no disrespect to Garryowen. However, the President of The CUSTER Society must necessarily have a bias toward Custer.

I went back and started to reread my copy. Starting on page 164 he begins discussing about how using a divided Command is an effective tool vs an Irregular/native army.

*NJH: That may have been the prevailing thinking, but LBH and Isandlhwana made it clear that was not the way to defeat a determined foe. The tool was used one time too many.

He describes having a frontal attack made to get the attention of the enemy while a force attempts to flank or strike in the rear of the enemy force (sound familiar). He then writes about the actual battles where it was done. This book was the Battlefield bible for British officers. Again, a complete refutation of your point about Custer's tactics or lack of a plan. Yet, I will bet you'll readily dismiss it.

*NJH: On the contrary at LBH and Isandlhwana the tactic was used to great success by the native armies. The allies defeated Napoleon when they began using his own tactics against him. A tactic is not successful forever, and the same tactic can not be used for every situation.

You also keep saying that Custer wasn't trying to save Reno and he could have turned back. Yet, the facts of his movements refute this.

*NJH: At which time did Custer determine that Reno was being beaten in the valley? And if he didn't know Reno was getting ripped a new one, then Custer failed Reno. As soon as Reno was being flanked on the valley floor, the position Reno held became untenable. Because there were no proper lines of communication between the seperate detachments, no one but Reno knew how bad things were in the valley. Custer kept moving as if Reno were just fine.

First, Indian resistance at this point is almost non-existent. Why would he turn back?

*NJH: That's precisely when a Commander should become a bit more suspicious. With a village that large the (2,500 – 4,000) fighting men had to be somewhere. And, that most likely place was on Reno's front.

He tries to advance down Medicine Tail Coulee but cannot make a crossing. Whether this is due to it being in the middle of the village or something else we don't know. But he did attempt it. Later he again tries to get to the village at Deep Coulee.

*NJH: I agree, and you say we can't agree on facts.

But things have hit the fan now and he is unable to proceed. Till the end he is trying to find a way to reach the end of the village and probably the women and children to capture them since they have all fled in that direction.

*NJH: Why would the non-combatants move toward the cavalry?

That brings us to my dilemma. I enjoy debating the LBH with you. I should, since we have been doing it for so many years now. However, you keep disregarding what are accepted facts, tactics or evaluations by authorities in the field.

*NJH: The LBH is open to considerable conjecture. I do not generally dispute Benteen's timeline and his activities. I do not generally dispute Reno's timeline and his activities. I do not generally dispute the verifiable timeline and verifiable activities of the Indians. I am skeptical of any timeline and the activities of Custer after he parted from Reno.

I am also unwilling to point fingers at junior officers when the responsibility for success or failure rests solely upon the shoulders of the man in charge.

Was Custer's "plan" IAW SOP – I think so. Was it an appropriate plan for this circumstance – most emphatically – NO. There were several salient aspects of the looming battle that Custer, and his officers failed to note.

I find this quite frustrating since it means we have no baseline to operate from and we debate things that shouldn't have any debate involved.

*NJH: This is not science, we can't prove anything with any degree of finality. That's why books about the ACW and the LBH keep being published. There are perspectives still unexplored.

I agree that when complete speculation is involved debate is wide open. I enjoy it. However, so many assumptions you arrive at are totally refuted by the facts or simply incorrect that it makes the debate like riding a merry go round rather than a factual progression. I could list every point made by you as fact that is flatly incorrect. But have already done so for the most part.

*NJH: I still have questions about the LBH, which is why I continue to read about it and visit the site whenever I pass by.

I also seem to be picking up this vibe from you that you detest most Army Officers you have encountered or have disdain for them at a minimum.

*NJH: No, not at all. I was an officer myself. I just think it necessary to point out that officer's don't walk on water, or leap tall buildings. They're human and have human frailities. I've served with officers of great courage, men with whom I'd storm the gates of Hell. I've also served with men who should never have been allowed to wear the uniform.

That seems to be coloring your views to a large degree.

*NJH: Nope!

You also keep mentioning that the Army wants group think and the futility of studying the tactics of past Campaigns (something which every professional military does).

*NJH: Not group think. The military always needs a certain measure of conformity as regards fighting doctrine, otherwise we'd have never gotten anything done. We all depend on one another to follow doctrine. It's like driving, everone needs to be on the same page regarding rules of the road.

I believe that if I have to choose between who is correct, I'll side with the Professionals since you seem to have an ax to grind here. You also keep talking about Cadets and Staff Rides. Staff rides have been used by Professional militaries in Europe and the USA for centuries as an effective learning tool on tactics. They are done by Field officers and not by cadets. Again, I'll side with the professionals.

*NJH: LOL!!! I was one of those professional officers you're so willing to side. firetruck

So, while I have enjoyed parts of our exchange I really would have liked it to have been based on common ground by using known facts or informed reasoning based on the facts.

*NJH: I often like to take the road less traveled. And, if I agreed with everything you posted, I'd never have any reason to post. After I read Philbrrick's book, I'm sure the LBH will come up again and we can have another go at one another.

DJCoaltrain13 Sep 2012 9:55 p.m. PST

Cincinnatus 13 Sep 2012 9:25 p.m. PST

DJColetrain – you really need to read more about the period. You argue against things that the credible historians agreed upon decades ago.



*NJH: If everything was agreed upon, then why do folks keep writing books about it?? Over the years I've been to the LBH four times and expect to go again in a year or two. While stationed at the Pentagon I read all the materials about the LBH that were available in the library. Just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean I haven't done my homework. Too many folks think Custer, Reno, or Benteen lost the battle – when the real truth is that the Indians WON the battle.

Cincinnatus Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2012 6:50 p.m. PST

It's not that you disagree with me, you disagree with every credible source on the subject in some very key areas.

I don't disagree the Indians won but you completely (and I mean COMPLETELY), misrepresent how the plains Indians fought. That you equate them with the Zulus when it comes to tactics and operational abilities shows exactly how little you understand their style of warfare.

DJCoaltrain14 Sep 2012 8:35 p.m. PST

Cincinnatus 14 Sep 2012 6:50 p.m. PST

It's not that you disagree with me, you disagree with every credible source on the subject in some very key areas.

*NJH: Completely wrong.

I don't disagree the Indians won but you completely (and I mean COMPLETELY), misrepresent how the plains Indians fought. That you equate them with the Zulus when it comes to tactics and operational abilities shows exactly how little you understand their style of warfare.


*NJH: I do not misrepresent how they fought. I note how they fought during the LBH campaign and consider their tactics within the context of the much broader arena of military history. Whether or not they intended to use interior lines to their advantage is immaterial, the fact remains they did use them. That's all that matters to me, because I see the LBH within the context of battles before it and battles after it.

As for the Zulus, you completely miss the point I was making. I do not equate the two styles of warfare. That would be like equating the Mongols and the Romans. However, the Sioux Nation and the Zulu nation do indeed have something in common. They both attacked part of a divided European style armed force and defeated that detachment to the great consternation of Euro-Centric folks. The defeats were only three years apart and put the lie to the success of the divide-my-forces tactic. After the defeat the Brits made sure their final drive to Ulundi made use of the square formation, and at Ulundi they fought in square – no divided forces.

There is only one criteria for determining the success or failure of the commander's tactics for a battle. Did he win, or did he lose. If he lost, then logic dictates that his choice of tactics was wrong.

Cincinnatus Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2012 9:48 p.m. PST

You couldn't be more wrong. Sometimes the proper tactics still lead to a defeat. That one side wins a battle in no way justifies their tactics or damns the other side. Sometimes luck plays the biggest factor.

You do not equate the styles of warfare but you are basically saying the same thing when you discuss the tactics used against each of them as if they should have been the same. Splitting forces against the Zulu (a disciplined and organized foe being directed by higher command) was just asking for trouble. Splitting them against the Indians (a disorganized and ad hoc loose confederation of warriors) was only wrong when the Indians decided to act out of character. And don't give me any crap about them acting that way because they were aware of the Cavalry's tactics. Complete hogwash. The Indians fought as individuals. Their culture did not allow for acting as a nation or cohesive force. That's what you continue to ignore. When the individual warrior felt he had done enough, he went home. That prevents any master plan from even being formed, much less carried out.

Speaking of master plan, why is it that you continue to harp on Custer not having a plan other than "you go there" but then ignore that the Indians didn't even have that small amount of planning. On the Indians BEST day they didn't have that type of overall guidance or leadership at the top of their force structure. So why is it that it damns Custer but is fine for the Indians?

Also, you criticize Custer for not doing more scouting (a debatable point) but then ignore that the Indians system for scouting and patrolling was completely deficient. They were surprised at the LBH even though they knew the Cavalry was in the area and had been spotted by some Indians only miles from the camp.

If option A gives you a 90% chance of accomplishing the mission and option B gives you a 30% chance, going with A and failing doesn't mean it was the wrong choice. All a leader can do is give his troops the best chance to succeed and hope that things go his way. (which is easier when your subordinates follow the orders they are given instead of dithering around)

DJCoaltrain15 Sep 2012 9:47 p.m. PST

Cincinnatus 14 Sep 2012 9:48 p.m. PST

You couldn't be more wrong. Sometimes the proper tactics still lead to a defeat. That one side wins a battle in no way justifies their tactics or damns the other side. Sometimes luck plays the biggest factor.

*NJH: Luck is just preparation combined with opportunity. I do not believe in luck. And, I'm a damned good poker player.

You do not equate the styles of warfare but you are basically saying the same thing when you discuss the tactics used against each of them as if they should have been the same.

*NJH: My apologies, but I'm having difficulty understanding where you're trying to take me with this statement. My only point to the comparison was the use of divided detachments by the Euros and the full weight of the native forces falling upon one of those detachments. That comparison was made to demonstrate the failure of the "divide our forces" tactic on two seperate continents.

Splitting forces against the Zulu (a disciplined and organized foe being directed by higher command) was just asking for trouble.

*NJH: I do not think the Brits really believed the Zulus were going to fight so well.

Splitting them against the Indians (a disorganized and ad hoc loose confederation of warriors) was only wrong when the Indians decided to act out of character.

*NJH: I do not think the Indians acted out of character. Let me explain. Personal courage was not necessarily a problem with the plains Indians. Demonstrating that courage was of paramount importance to the warriors. There was no better venue than a battlefield in front of the entire Sioux Nation. A chance to display bravery and courage on the battlefield before the whole nation was an epic opportunity the likes of which no living warrior could have envisioned. In such a circumstance I would expect the fighting to be bitter with no quarter on either side. It would have taken a lot of bravery and courage NOT to fight with great elan that day.

And don't give me any crap about them acting that way because they were aware of the Cavalry's tactics. Complete hogwash.

*NJH: I don't speak to you in such a manner, therefore I expect the same courtesy in return.

And, I do find your dismissive attitude regarding the Indian's ability to think rather disconcerting. They had the ability to observe and recognize patterns of behavior just as other human did. Is it inconceivable that they should not know their enemy and his practices???

The Indians fought as individuals. Their culture did not allow for acting as a nation or cohesive force. That's what you continue to ignore. When the individual warrior felt he had done enough, he went home. That prevents any master plan from even being formed, much less carried out.

*NJH: I do not dispute that assessment, but, as I note above, the LBH was no ordinary encounter.

Speaking of master plan, why is it that you continue to harp on Custer not having a plan other than "you go there" but then ignore that the Indians didn't even have that small amount of planning. On the Indians BEST day they didn't have that type of overall guidance or leadership at the top of their force structure. So why is it that it damns Custer but is fine for the Indians?

*NJH: First, Custer was a West Point graduate. Second, Custer had fought in the ACW. Third, Custer was not a stupid commander. Fourth, having a detailed plan should have been second nature to a man with such an education and such experience. It seems out of character.

As you note, the Indians had no central planning.

Also, you criticize Custer for not doing more scouting (a debatable point) but then ignore that the Indians system for scouting and patrolling was completely deficient. They were surprised at the LBH even though they knew the Cavalry was in the area and had been spotted by some Indians only miles from the camp.

*NJH: First, Custer was a trained warrior, and a combat veteran. I'd expect more "curiousity" about the terrain from such a person. Second, coordinating the convergence of four detachments over rugged and unknown terrain requires detailed intell about the terrain. Third, noting the high bluffs should have made it clear that supporting Reno in the valley might not be so easily done. Fourth, noting the bluffs should have made it clear that support from the valley floor would not be easily rendered by Reno.

The Indians probably expected the Cavalry to come after them in the early morning, which would have been SOP to achieve surprise. Also, please remember that Custer was the professional warrior, not a "citizen warrior." He was a trained professional officer and I would expect more of a trained professional than the average warrior.

If option A gives you a 90% chance of accomplishing the mission and option B gives you a 30% chance, going with A and failing doesn't mean it was the wrong choice.

*NJH: I think we're disagreeing about the efficacy of option A, or the implementation of option A – not sure yet.

All a leader can do is give his troops the best chance to succeed and hope that things go his way. (which is easier when your subordinates follow the orders they are given instead of dithering around)


*NJH: I do not disagree. However, if Custer thought Reno and Benteen were so unreliable, disloyal, or mutinous, why did he put them in Command of their respective detachments? Custer could have put his brother Tom (a very capable officer, and loyal to a fault) in charge of Reno's detachment. Custer could have put Miles Keogh in charge of Benteen's detachment (another very capable officer). However, Custer chose to place Reno and Benteen in command, therefore he must have had faith in their ability to perform their professional duties. Which is why I'm reluctant to attribute any malevolence to their performance on that fateful day.

Korvessa15 Sep 2012 11:17 p.m. PST

As I understand it – Custer did try and get rid of Reno at the beginning of the campaign, but was not allowed by his superiors.
He was stuck and picked commanders by strict seniority

DJCoaltrain16 Sep 2012 6:59 a.m. PST

Korvessa 15 Sep 2012 11:17 p.m. PST

As I understand it – Custer did try and get rid of Reno at the beginning of the campaign, but was not allowed by his superiors.
He was stuck and picked commanders by strict seniority

*NJH: Custer didn't have to pick his detachment commanders by seniority. He could have kept Reno and Benteen with his command. Even if forced to include them as part of his misson force, he wasn't forced to place them in command of the detachments. IIRC – Custer had fairly broad instructions regarding his mission, but no specifics as to command structure. Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.

Cincinnatus Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2012 8:30 a.m. PST

I'm done debating this with you DJ. Your mind was made up long ago. But the most annoying part is you don't really refute points, you just argue a tangent because it's easier. And even occasionally contradict your own logic across posts.

Just recently on the World Series of Poker a guy went all in pre-flop with AK and was called by AA. AK ended up sucking out a flush. No such thing as luck? AK was just better prepared?

DJCoaltrain16 Sep 2012 7:31 p.m. PST

Cincinnatus 16 Sep 2012 8:30 a.m. PST

I'm done debating this with you DJ. Your mind was made up long ago.

*NJH: Kettle and pot. Besides I wasn't debating, I was examining. The LBH Battle has 136 years of bitter acrimony with all sorts of people making all sorts of claims for this point and that point. If there were any finality to it, folks would have shut up long ago. My mind is not made-up about the LBH, which is why I continue to read and examine the facts as they become known. I doubt any of us will ever know all the whys and wherefores of the battle. We can't peer into the minds and the hearts of men long dead. Maybe I'm way off-base, or maybe I may have a thing or two correct. Recent writings (in magazines) indicate that Custer may have been shot dead while leading his men across the river. That thinking certainly challenges the common image of him standing proudly on Last Stand Hill to teh bitter end.

But the most annoying part is you don't really refute points, you just argue a tangent because it's easier. And even occasionally contradict your own logic across posts.

*NJH: That's because I'm discussing and investigating the LBH Battle, I'm not wedded to any particular theory. My thinking is always open to change. I do modify my thinking as I go along – I may be an old dog, but I'm willing to learn new tricks.

Just recently on the World Series of Poker a guy went all in pre-flop with AK and was called by AA. AK ended up sucking out a flush. No such thing as luck? AK was just better prepared?


*NJH: Texas Hold'em isn't poker, nor is acey-duecy, seven-twentyone, Indian poker, or a whole lot of other games people play for money. Real poker involves each player having his/her own hand of five cards (draw or stud), or even seven cards (seven stud), and no wild cards. Boutique games are not poker. And, BTW – baseball with the DH is a crime against humanity. Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a player. There you are, more tangents and more reasons to think me incapable of staying on point.

John Thomas8 Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2012 5:48 p.m. PST

Custer had a good publicist. He should have been court martialed and cashiered after Trevilian Station, let alone have a command years later with the same lack of skill present.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Sep 2012 6:44 p.m. PST

Hi John. Would you care to substantiate the last part of your statement? Or do you consider the fact that Sheridan agreed to Custer resuming his command means he (Sheridan) was no proper judge of Command skill?

Thanks,

John

John Thomas8 Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2012 7:00 p.m. PST

Sheridan is half the battlefield commander the history books have painted.

Like Pleasanton before him, Ol' Phil was a political animal first and foremost and a practicing tactical general not so much. If it had be Stuart rather than Hampton at Trevilian Station, Grant would have had no cavalry after the middle of June 1864 until it could be rebuilt from scratch.

Senior Union cavalry commanders by and large useless to the point of obscenity. The division commanders were poorly served by their immediate commanders and the AoP commanders overall.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Sep 2012 10:15 p.m. PST

That sounds like an opinion of a gent from the South. wink Of course, you seem to miss the obvious point about Custer and his Command. Whatever, Custer did his actions would reflect on the Army. If Sheriden was as politically astute as you suggest it makes zero sense for him to appoint an idiot to lead the 7th.

I might also point out that Custer was also the Commander who helped save the Union Army's bacon at Gettysburg. However, I will focus on his actions during the Plain's War. Military professionals as well as experts on the Plain's War have found the tactics he used to be appropriate for the LBH. There were missteps made. However, the tactical plan was sound for fighting Indians.

I also noticed that you posted no info on WHY he didn't have any tactical or Command skill at the LBH?

It's quite easy to toss stones with hindsight. It becomes much less so when dealing with the facts.

Thanks,

John

John Thomas8 Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2012 4:49 a.m. PST

Not another one. I was born and raised in Ohio, directly related to George Thomas, and live in NC 'cause that's were the job is located.

Come back and try again, next tie without the ad hominem attack.

The cavalry fight at Gettysburg is irrelevant to the outcome of the battle. Lee was as badly done by Stuart at Gettysburg as the AoP was done by it's senior cavalry commanders the whole war.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Sep 2012 7:16 a.m. PST

Ok, I can see this discussion is over. First, I don't make attacks. I was joking with you as the wink showed. Thin skinned folks belong on the Napoleonic boards.

Since your reply didn't address any of the questions I posed OR make any supporting statements about your original remark I can see you aren't here to debate. You just want to try and stir the pot.

Lastly, to say that the cavalry fight at Gettysburg was irrelevant tells me all I need to know.

Thanks but no thanks.

John

John Thomas8 Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2012 7:28 a.m. PST

Picket's charge was deceided by 1500. The cavalry action didn't start until 1500, hardly germane when the battle was decided elsewhere on the field.

And Custer's tactics at LBH were wholy incorrect given the outcome.

George makes a fine poster boy for press-created greatness, but in truth when he was presented the opportunity he killed many of his troopers needlessly.

John Thomas8 Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2012 4:07 p.m. PST

The historian must always be prepared to wonder whether the ‘heroes' of history are not, in fact, the villains,

Custer was a product of PR, not solid battlefield command decisions.

Read Eric Wittenberg's work on Trevilian Station, Glory Enough For All. He exposes both Custer and Sheridan for the PR dandies they were.

Nasty Canasta Inactive Member16 Oct 2012 5:43 p.m. PST

Grant was the author of U.S. military policy from 1868-76, noy Custer. To imply as much is grossly incorrect.

From 1867-1876, Custer was engaged in seven fights with Indians. Of the seven, he was attacked by Indians five times and was the aggressor on two occassions: Washita and LBH.

Custer was not at the river, and hence could not have been killed there. He was on Nye-Cartwright Ridge at the time of this event with companies C,I, and L.(Curley's 1913 interview via Russell White Bear and Walter Camp).After sending back Martini Custer wants to make sure of a visual contact point for Benteen. Remember throughout this fight Custer maintains positions on ground as high as possible. The Gray Horse Company (E Troop) made it to the river, but not with Custer. The casualty here was dressed in a buckskin jacket (so were 11 of the 13 officers viewed by Godfrey at the Divide). Custer and Harrington were the only two that had taken their bucksin jackets off.

Reno was not court-martialed for actions at LBH, but for action stemming from conduct umnbecoming an officer afterwards at Fort Meade.

The argument involving rank, orders, etc., is sterile, and will not bear fruit despite all the verbal manure stacked upon it. Custer was anticipating assistance from Benteen and it never arrived. That was the entire reason Frederick Whitaker berated Reno publicly from the fall of 1876 onwards. Reno was exonerated and Benteen never brought up on charges. Like O.J., both denied any culpability but yet were damned in the court of public opinion.

On his own he asked for, and was given a "court of inquiry" which was held at the Palmer House in Chicago.

Nasty Canasta Inactive Member16 Oct 2012 6:01 p.m. PST

John Thomas8 "The historian must always be prepared to wonder whether the ‘heroes' of history are not, in fact, the villains." Heroe's and villians are subjective to time, culture, and certainly outcome. Rather than spouting tired cliche's most people are somewhere between your extremes.

"Custer was a product of PR, not solid battlefield command decisions." Once again, this is a subjective analysis, but I know of others that have stated the same thing based upon various amounts of research. Apparently both Sherman and Sheridan would not share your convictions.

"Read Eric Wittenberg's work on Trevilian Station, Glory Enough For All. He exposes both Custer and Sheridan for the PR dandies they were." So did Grant, Mackenzie, Nelson Miles, George Crook, etc. They all wanted their battlefield victories pronounced. That is how you get promoted, it is also how you put together your resume' both then and now. You cannot blame Custer for newspapermen wanting a good story, in fact they attached themselves to Custer, not the other way around. Having been shot at it in 41 engagements, Custer knew that reporters are fickle, that dead generals, despite past successes are no longer a lead story.

Or were Schwarzkopf, Powell, Eisenhower, Patton, and Audie Murphy just PR dandies also? I believe they also used numerous reporters and the media to tout their achievements.

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