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Battle of the Little Bighorn

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  • Battle of the Little Bighorn

    OK, I've been doing a little re-reading on this famous battle and I though I'd ask a question and get some feedback. This may have been asked before BTW but if so I couldn't find it. Also I'm not looking for controversy, just some basic assessments/opinions from people who are likely to be far more knowledgeable on the topic than me. Finally if there a pointers to a good modern text on the topic I'd be grateful. Now to the specific question.

    Given a starting scenario where Custer had listened to the advice of his scouts about the potential size of the force he was facing could he have retained the 7th cavalry as a force in being (is that the correct term?) at the end of the fight if they had stayed concentrated in one (heavily screened) column and then advanced into contact with the enemy? Or alternatively would it have made no real difference to the outcome - given the prevailing numbers, terrain, weapons and other relevant factors?

    Note 1: This doesn't mean he could still have successfully achieved his initial objective of securing non-combatants at the campsite and forcing the tribes to surrender. Instead the question is could he have advanced into the battle with only those forces immediately available to him at the start of the original battle (no reinforcements, no gatling guns, no artillery etc ) have been fully engaged by enemy and then have successfully withdrawn once engaged with most of his force intact?

    Note 2; The scenario also assumes the same number of native American warriors (no-more, no less) were deployed, that they were fighting under the same commanders etc AND his opponents were reasonably determined to prevent any withdrawal?
    Last edited by Monash; 10 Oct 20,, 08:43.
    If you are emotionally invested in 'believing' something is true you have lost the ability to tell if it is true.

  • #2
    The use of "enemy" seems way out of place here considering that the Indians were protecting their native lands. If there was an enemy it would be the invading force which happened to be the white man. I tend to nitpick the tiny details.

    Anyway, carry on...

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    • #3
      Originally posted by tbm3fan View Post
      The use of "enemy" seems way out of place here considering that the Indians were protecting their native lands. If there was an enemy it would be the invading force which happened to be the white man. I tend to nitpick the tiny details.

      Anyway, carry on...
      I was the term strictly in a military context, as in an opponent with whom you are engaged in combat. No moral judgements implied.
      If you are emotionally invested in 'believing' something is true you have lost the ability to tell if it is true.

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      • #4
        Custer was outmanned, outgunned, outmanuvered, outground, and out-thought, and out-commanded. It wasn't 2500 warriors against his one single battalion. It was 2500 warriors against one single company. His other two companies he sent to attack from the north while he attacked with one company from the south. Those two companies were driven off. Instead of running away like his other two comapnies, Custer decided to make a stand against the best light calvary in North America. That decision doomed his force.

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        • #5
          I see 2 major errors which doomed Custer.

          1. Poor reconnaissance

          2. Refusal of reinforcement.

          Custer did a poor job doing a thorough recon and, as a result, he grossly underestimated the force he was getting ready to attack. Additionally, this reconnaissance failure extended to his being completely unaware that the reservation Indians had been joined by the open range Indians. He never believed he was going to fight more than 800+ braves.

          Custer turned down the offer of General Terry, Department Commander, of a battalion of the 2nd Cavalry. The additional 300+ troopers could have been a game changer. He brushed off the aid saying the 7th could handle anything.

          I see zero issue with turning down the Gatling Guns...they would have slowed him down and his one hope was speed.


          FYI, in college in our dumpy old house we had the Anheuser-Busch commissioned Otto Becker a lithograph painting of Custer's Last Fight. They graced many a barroom across America. We used to break out BB guns and help General Custer out after a few beers.

          Had to replaster the wall by the end of the year.
          Last edited by Albany Rifles; 19 Oct 20,, 16:51.
          “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
          Mark Twain

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          • #6
            Thanks for the insights Gentlemen. They sought of reinforce the opinion I had formed already which is that Custer's preconceptions/ambition clouded his judgement on the day. I would still like to know if you think he could have salvaged something from the battle if he hadn't divided his command the way he did. As I see it (based on my sources to date) Custer saw the campaign as an opportunity to steal the thunder of all the other commanders then in the field and snatch whatever glory there was to be had for himself. Which in turn lead to to ignore the intelligence provided by his scouts regarding the size of the force he was facing.

            It also meant he formulated a 'plan' that (in his mind at least) would let him achieve a decisive victory using only the forces immediately under his command. I.E. 'corral' the native tribes who had left the reservation by sweeping in from all sides and capturing the non-combatants (woman and children) thereby forcing the warriors to surrender.

            Granted he was right to strike off the use of artillery or gatling guns because given the terrain and the adversary he was facing they would have slowed him down too much but refusing the offer of cavalry reinforcements!!!

            But do either you have an opinion as to whether he could have saved something from the situation if he hadn't divided his forces at the time and pace he did and instead had chosen to keep all companies together, then advanced as a single column into the encounter? My best guess is that the 7th cavalry per se would have been able to withdraw as a cohesive unit - with Custer's reputation in tatters (assuming he survived). Or would it have meant dooming most if not all of the 7ths Calvary to death?
            If you are emotionally invested in 'believing' something is true you have lost the ability to tell if it is true.

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            • #7
              Keeping 7Cav together would have denied Custer his OPOBJ and allow an escape route for the First Nations.

              But you have not noticed a very primary Custer failing - no reserves.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by WABs_OOE View Post
                Keeping 7Cav together would have denied Custer his OPOBJ and allow an escape route for the First Nations.

                But you have not noticed a very primary Custer failing - no reserves.
                Hence why that battalion from the 2nd Cavalry could have been crucial.

                He forgot the lessons he learned in the Civil War....after Travillian Station...sometimes called his First LAst Stand...he maintained a reserve for the rest of the war. He often used them brilliantly kater to turn a victory into a rout.
                “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                Mark Twain

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