That is the dilemma of fighting Indians. You must recon and attack at the same time. If you recon too much they flee. So the recon and attack should be part of the same plan. Tactics were changing greatly from CW to the Indian campaigns.
I believe Custer understood this and was on the attack when he decided to move down Reno Creek.
Yes, I agree. Here is how you organize an attack on an enemy you don't have contact with, and aren't exactly sure where they are:
You have a main body conducting a "movement to contact," a form of attack. Around this main body you have guard forces: advance, flank, and rear, as you deem necessary and have enough force to form.
This way, your guard forces make first contact during your movement to contact, and they "develop the situation" while your main body is free to take advantage of any opportunities that are developed to decisively attack and destroy the enemy.
Textbook attack, when you start in contact with the enemy. This tactic has been a standard since Alexander's days, so we should all be very familiar with it. You'll see it in every war, and all over the place in our Plains Wars.
Should we add some examples of "movements to contact" from our Plains' Wars other than LBH? Examples of "doctrine in practice" on the Plains?
Here's a fascinating piece out of the RCOI that I had missed before, that goes to our question here:
“Q: How far were you at any time from the general direction of the trail of Gen. Custer?” “I don’t think over two miles and a half at any time. Our march was a rapid one and I did not pay much attention.” “Q: You speak of the trail CPT Benteen pursued as not diverging a very great deal from that Gen. Custer pursued. How do you explain that?” “As I say, we went to the bluffs at the end of the valley, and LT Gibson would go on top of the hill, while we were skirting the edge, and reporting there was nothing beyond but steep hills and no Indians. The idea I had was, if they ran out of the village we would strike them on the left; and if to the right, then some other part of the command.” “Q: You do not desire to have it inferred that CPT Benteen was no further from Gen. Custer’s line than 2 miles and a half?” “No, sir. Gen. Custer went faster than we did, as we were going on a line of hills.”
Do you see that he is describing a flank guard force maneuvering? He is being careful to say that their course was intended to parallel the main body's to the left, and that they only got separated from Custer because Benteen, in the hills, could not keep up with Custer's faster column going down the valley.
At least Edgerly knew what his battalion's mission was, and was sensitive to being left behind...as was the astute Recorder.
The ratio of troops to Indians was different on the attack.
"American Horse's band of Miniconjou Sioux (37 lodges; perhaps 30-40 warriors)"
The casulaties were different also:
"The fighting at Slim Buttes cost the lives of two cavalrymen and one of Crook's civilian scouts, Charles "Buffalo Chips" White, as well as those of at least 10 Sioux."
Yeah, well, the comparison doesn't really apply since Crook wasn't involved in this attack. He had simply sent up an advance guard to contact friendly support people, and it "accidentally" ran into an unlucky Lakota village, and quickly charged it (without any reconnaissance, I might add...there could have been thousands of Warriors in the area for all they knew).
In the event, by the end of the day the numbers really were much like Custer's, as Crook left a rear guard behind to stave off the bulk of Crazy Horse's band...good action, that.
But at any rate, it shows that the Cavalry maintained a very aggressive attitude, and would always quickly charge any village it found out there...usually without much reconnaissance, I think, even after the LBH battle.
I'll see if I can look up the next big attack on an Indian village after LBH...should be Dull Knife's Cheyenne, right? Could see if Crook applied any of the lessons of LBH to that big action...
In October 1876, Colonel Mackenzie departed Camp Robinson with about 1,000 troopers of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment, U.S. 3rd Cavalry Regiment, U.S. 4th Cavalry Regiment, and U.S. 5th Cavalry Regiment. He also had a large contingent of Indian scouts, including Pawnee, Arapaho and Lakota. found the camp of Dull Knife and Little Wolf along Bates Creek near the North Fork of the Powder River. The Cheyenne warriors were having a celebration of their own because of a recent victory over the Shoshone Indians. Mackenzie waited until dawn, then attacked and drove the warriors from the village. Some were forced to leave their clothes, blankets and buffalo robes behind and flee into the frozen countryside. Dull Knife began to offer stiff resistance, and savage fighting continued. The Pawnee warriors fought with exceptional ability, and the Cheyennes finally gave way and retreated from their village. The Indian village of 173 lodges and all its contents were entirely destroyed. About 500 ponies were captured. Lieut. J. A. McKinney, U.S. 4th Cavalry, was killed, along with five enlisted men.
Last Edit: Nov 26, 2018 15:41:45 GMT -5 by moderator
Why is this an advance guard? Under this type of construction Custer could be the advance guard for Terry who the advance guard for the army etc etc
Yes, it is a pretty liberal interpretation of the term "advance guard," but is still appropriate, I think. Most moving columns will have an advance guard, to handle any eventuality up ahead of the main column, even if the column is not attacking, and is just moving around.
Now this would imply that Mills has some security and route preparation responsibility for the main column, and I'm not sure if he did, or not. Even though he was stuck out in advance to make contact with friendly elements, he still may have had advance guard responsibilities. Certainly the fact that he did, indeed, attack the first enemy he found, indicates that he is at least acting like an advance guard.
Yes, and that applies to the higher levels of tactics, as much as it does to the Soldier level.
Combat units have all these "battle drills" that they either do automatically, or at a signal, to handle certain situations where communications would be too slow or difficult.
A lot of these are "actions on contact," which I know some of you have training in. These can be for the point of a patrol, but it can also be for the point of a battalion...for an "advance guard." And they aren't all that different...you overrun or take cover, you figure out what's the beef, and you try to pin down your contact or maneuver him out of position.
I think in theory you are correct but was there any expectation when fighting Indians in the middle of the day that it would work? Did that type of fighting lend itself to traditional plans of attack? During the CW did an attack on a military target of troops result in scattering as well as Indians, fighting, retreating slowly, running or surrendering.
In the Civil War a cavalry squadron as an advance guard would often attack enemy outposts and scatter/overrun them, and pursue them down the trail. Or, if they ran into a bigger force than they could rout, they would dismount and keep them pinned down until the main body came up to attack them, often by making a flanking maneuver. Sometimes the enemy would attack THEM, and in this case they conduct a fighting withdrawal allowing the main body to deploy a defense, or to counter-attack.
If we search about any Civil War campaign, you'll find plenty examples of all these things routinely happening, year after year after year...
From Pvt Thompson's vantage point where was Crazy Horse when he observed Reno's moving down the valley? Apparently he did not observe Crazy Horse until the end if at all.
Did Thompson ever identify Crazy Horse? I don't recall that. But most likely all those Warriors riding past him at "Thompson's ford" included Crazy Horse's group that moments before had been up on 3411 watching Reno rally on "his hill." Now they were galloping hell bent for leather into the village to Ford B to get between the village and Yates' approaching column.
I do not buy that separate tribes could not fight on different fronts at the same time. That seems more likely than not to occur to me if the size of the village is large and composed of different tribes. You hear the soldiers are coming and for whatever reason you have to go get your horse and get ready. On your way back you see soldiers coming toward your family and your end of the village. Do you stop and think well they attacked first somewhere else so I must go there or do you go after the threat to your family?
That's a possibility, but we should look to history to see if this was possible. Remember that these Warriors weren't all that organized due to the sudden attack, so their control was even less than normal.
But even in a VERY controlled situation, with clear tribal organizations that fought at Rosebud, they could not fight on two fronts...they shattered as soon as the cavalry rode up on their flank. That should be the most telling indicator of all what would have occurred at LBH. The only different variables are the nearness of the village, and the larger Warrior numbers, but against that is the greater disorganization of their tribal groups at LBH.
But neither can be proved, and that in itself is enough to commend itself to an attempt to scatter the Warriors with a two-pronged attack. Otherwise, what chance of success DO you have, to scatter the Warriors and destroy the village, as the attacking cavalry commander?
Note that you don't have the option to say "it can't be done." It is your MISSION to get that done, so you set up the best chance you can to make it happen. Isn't Custer's plan that best chance? Is there one with more promise?
Destroy the village. Period.
Timing is everything and that first .5 hour in my opinion required all 12 companies to be engaged. That doesn't mean in one spot but engaged somewhere against the "Big Village".
You are so right about that! Battles are won or lost in minutes...so if you mess up by only 10 or 15 minutes of a tactical fight, you can really get burnt. Not much tolerance for error in a firefight with an aggressive, well-armed, and more numerous enemy, to be sure.
Take the Washita example and put into action Reno and his 3 companies. While 9 companies are in other locations and allow enough time for the other tribes to get there and see what would have happened.
I agree...chances are you would have had a dismal result.
He sends Benteen out, if Benteen finds the enemy he supposed to engage them until he supports him. But at the same time he sends Reno in the exact opposite direction to engage the enemy, tells him he will support him. Then turns North and puts himself in a position where he cant support either one. I'm sure I have something wrong and I would appreciate it if you could educate me. Remember a good teacher always teaches to the worse student (Thats me).
Be Well Dan
This ain't easy...that's why they pay the Generals the big bucks...
A main body, executing a "movement to contact," meaning advancing on an enemy you don't have contact with (don't know where, don't know how many), will put out a substantial chunk of its force as "guard forces." You put them out in all directions from the main body, but they all move in the same direction as the main body.
Here, Custer initially feels he only needs a left flank guard and a rear guard, with a screen of Indian scouts out in front. That is because he can see fine two miles in front of him, and the terrain can't hide any enemy to the right of him (and no danger of attack from down the escarpment). So he begins his movement toward the enemy.
At Lone Tipi, he senses imminent enemy contact, but can't see two miles ahead...he can't see past the bluff along the river. So he now decides to put out an advance guard as well as his other two. Now he has guard forces to his rear, left, and front...with only a foraging party to his right (less threat from that direction, and he can see farther that way).
The rule is, when a guard force makes actual contact with the enemy, the main body commander decides how to deal with that contact. He normally maneuvers his main body on the most "attackable" flank of the force fighting his guard force. If there is no good flank avenue of attack, he might move up right behind the advance guard and take over the fight from there.The guard force keeps the enemy pinned down so they can't block the main body's deployment.
In the meantime, the other guard forces are to move to the point of contact (still keeping scouts out all around). But it is not desirable for these other guard forces to get engaged in any other fights now that the initial guard force has "gotten it on."
So Custer's move to the right is his reaction to Reno's report that "the enemy are coming out to fight...to block me." Custer deploys his main body as a flank attack around his right flank (left flank of the enemy's).
While in a general way, Benteen might have been a flank guard, that was not Beneteen's mission. Benteen's mission was to find Indians and fight them until Custer sent support. His battalion was simply moving toward the LBH valley by a different route. Custer was on another route and could as easily have been said to be guarding Benteen's right flank. Benteen never discribed his mission as a flank guard.
The hills and valleys to the left of Reno Creek seemed to have bothered Custer. While Hare and the Crows operated to the right of Reno Creek, Varnum and the 7th Cav scouts operated to the left and apparently cleared the mouths and lower parts of the valleys to the left of Reno Creek. It may be that Custer's intention was for Benteen to clear the upper part of those valleys. In any case, as Benteen made clear in his report and later in his reply to Gen Rosser, his orders recognized from the start the possibility that there were no Indians in that direction and that Benteen could return to the main trail at his own discretion. Benteen would not have been allowed to do this, if he was a flank guard. Furthermore, Custer did not alter his march to allow Benteen, travelling as he was over more difficult terrain, to keep up with the main column.
Sir, I'm sure you know tactics and I'm not looking to argue with you but better understand what your saying, I'm a little confused. He sends Benteen out, if Benteen finds the enemy he supposed to engage them until he supports him. But at the same time he sends Reno in the exact opposite direction to engage the enemy, tells him he will support him. Then turns North and puts himself in a position where he cant support either one. I'm sure I have something wrong and I would appreciate it if you could educate me. Remember a good teacher always teaches to the worse student (Thats me).
Be Well Dan
By the time Custer released Reno, he was no longer worried about any Indians on the left and he knew Benteen was returning. When Custer turned to the north, it was to attack the enemy from a second position. Even Reno understood that that was Custer's intent and said so in his report. All the fighting battalions were in supporting distance of each other.
Clair: I will tell you exactly why I think Benteens early movements were for information. Yes he was given those quaint "pitch into" orders. I do believe though that the purpose of the move was that if Custer was ever questioned by Terry as to checking out if any of the hostiles had moved southwest into the Big Horns, Custer could have said no, because I sent Benteen out there to check it out. Therefore if you want to call CYA a flank guard be my guest.
That could certainly be part of the purpose of Benteen's mission. Custer would not want the village to escape to the south, in case part of it was near or even south of Ford A. Benteen would "scoop them up." You make this sound like "CYA," ....don't know why. It is just good tactics...Custer doesn't want the village escaping to the south any more than Terry does. I don't see what Terry's orders have anything to do with it.
Is everything Custer does have evil, or self-serving, intent, in your mind?
But you must agree that Benteen's mission was NOT just to gain information, if he was to prevent anything from escaping to the south. That is a combat mission, not a recon, eh?
In fact I have no interest at all in finding out why battles were lost and who is to blame. My only interest is in finding out why battles are not won.
Hmmm...interesting that you find some distinction in this. Isn't the reason that battle are not won, is because someone is to blame for losing them? So if you find that blame, you find the reason for the loss, I would think. Inescapable. But it could be just a way of perceiving the "blame" or "reason," which may be what you are saying.
I agree that the reasons for losing a fight don't have to be "personal." I try to analyze objectively a decision-making error.
Battle are lost because someone makes decision-making errors. And the other side takes advantage of those errors.
With this in mind I conclude that this battle was not one because the scheme of maneuver was flawed from the outset. I have not decided yet as to why that was but it is very apparent that it was, and that fact was the only reason that a battle that should have been won was miserably lost.
I agree that this contributed to the loss...it was one error considering the incompetence of the subordinates intended to carry out such a scheme of maneuver...not the choice of the method itself.
With proper execution, I believe his decision as to scheme of maneuver would have been very successful.
I do agree that this is a good way to look at the "blame" game.
Now you, and perhaps others, can rebutt this, but the fact remains that major elements of the command lost contact with one another, and there was no centralized direction of the battle after Custer turned right onto the bluffs.
The Indians won without centralized direction of the battle, eh? In mobile cavalry combat, centralized control is NOT DESIRED. That is an "infantry and artillery" thing. We don't buy that.
What we believe in, and you see it reflected in all my military and leadership theory concepts, is lack of central control with highly aggressive and capable subordinates making independent decisions to support the common goal ("intent"). Without having to be told...good subordinate decision making based on a competent read of the situation...out of communication with the overall commander.
That's cavalry. And LBH is a great example of what happens when the unit can't pull it off.
After that each element of the regiment could only guess as to where the other part was and what it would do. You cannot win a battle that way.
Yes, you can, in the cavalry. We MUST win battles that way. It is the ONLY way that we fight, you see. We are not infantry.
The premier cavalry officers make decisions with very little information..."intuitive decision making" using best guesses based on reasoned assumptions. That's what we teach in cavalry schools these days, and always have.
It is a very different world than taught at FT Benning, don't you think? Now that the Armor school has merged with the Infantry at Benning, it will be interesting to see how tactical leadership instruction changes.
So if that then is the situation, it is the chosen scheme of maneuver that was the causal factor, and the person that chose it must bear responsibility for not winning.
I think with your standards you are exactly correct. With my standards, it is almost irrelevant, the scheme of maneuver. Two very different military philosophies.
While in a general way, Benteen might have been a flank guard, that was not Beneteen's mission. Benteen's mission was to find Indians and fight them until Custer sent support.
That is a flank guard's mission, Ray. Flank guards are not the same as "flankers" that are merely a screen out on the sides. It is a combat mission for a formation.
His battalion was simply moving toward the LBH valley by a different route. Custer was on another route and could as easily have been said to be guarding Benteen's right flank. Benteen never discribed his mission as a flank guard.
The reason he doesn't is because he fell behind...a tactical sin. He doesn't even want to reveal that he was to "pitch into..." anything he came across, which is what makes him a "guard" force, and not security or recon. That has to be dragged out of him at the RCOI. But he reveals it in several places.
It is that "pitch into," and his parallel route to the main body, that makes him a guard force. He has the same mission Reno would have...to "pitch into" any force he comes across and hold it until the main body can maneuver to destroy that force.
Isn't that what Benteen is to do? And if he hits nothing by the time he gets to the LBH valley, he turns north.
The hills and valleys to the left of Reno Creek seemed to have bothered Custer. While Hare and the Crows operated to the right of Reno Creek, Varnum and the 7th Cav scouts operated to the left and apparently cleared the mouths and lower parts of the valleys to the left of Reno Creek. It may be that Custer's intention was for Benteen to clear the upper part of those valleys.
Yes, I think so.
In any case, as Benteen made clear in his report and later in his reply to Gen Rosser, his orders recognized from the start the possibility that there were no Indians in that direction and that Benteen could return to the main trail at his own discretion.
I agree that he was to return to the main body, but was it ever said to "return to the main trail?"
Some believe he was to go to the LBH valley, and then turn up and rejoin the main body...not on its trail, but on its left flank. Do you think this is possible? Was going back to the "main trail" even allowed in Custer's intent?
Benteen would not have been allowed to do this, if he was a flank guard. Furthermore, Custer did not alter his march to allow Benteen, travelling as he was over more difficult terrain, to keep up with the main column. rch
Some do think that Custer did not travel as fast as he could have down Ash Creek, just so that Benteen could keep up through the more difficult terrain. They think "slow trot."
Some also believe Custer halted for a bit at Lone Tipi to allow Reno to take the advance guard, and to allow Benteen to catch up, in case he was being left behind.
A flank guard should be given instructions as to when to cease its mission...when the conditions they are to guard against no longer apply. That would be no villages to the south of Ash Creek, so I don't find a problem with that injunction.
The main question is if Custer's intent was for Benteen to go all the way to LBH before ceasing his guard, or if he was allowed to cancel his mission early if he didn't think any enemy were that far south, and rejoin Custer's "main trail."
No matter how good you are, you have to get there first...
I see no indication in anything Reno or Benteen said that a 2 mile limit from the main body entered into their thinking. This seems to be something you imposed on the situation because you think it sounds about right.
Sure...as a cavalry officer and cavalry historian, I know that two miles is about how far out a guard would be in this situation, for a force Custer's size.
The main calculation is time and distance...the guard should be just far enough out so that it intercepts any enemy force before it can interfere with the deployment of the main body, and not so far that it can't be supported before it is overwhelmed. In this situation, two or three miles is just right, and indeed that is what Benteen adopts.
Benteen admits as much in a letter, when he says: "...supposing I had found up that valley that Reno and Custer found down the river - how in the name of common sense was Gen'l Custer to get back to where I was in time to keep the troops from being chewed up as it were by the combined reds?"
You see, he is making this calculation about how far out his guard force should be...not too far that he can't be supported. That WAS part of his thinking on his mission...rather revealing, don't you think?
Along with this, he says in a different letter: "...to go left for the purpose of hunting for the valley of the river - Indian camp - or anything I could find." Combine this with his "pitch into" instructions, and his concern that when he does, he needs to be supported by the main body, and you've got all the elements of your guard mission, I think.
No matter how good you are, you have to get there first...
By the time Custer released Reno, he was no longer worried about any Indians on the left and he knew Benteen was returning.
What indicators do you find that Custer "knew" Benteen was returning when he sent out his advance guard, at Lone Tipi? I see that he was "looking" for Benteen.
Note that Pennington believes that probably SGM Sparrow was actually sent to Benteen from Lone Tipi at this time, not earlier, to tell Benteen that the village had been spotted and Reno was going in. But he admits that this is just conjecture on his part...a "most probable" scenario.
When Custer turned to the north, it was to attack the enemy from a second position. Even Reno understood that that was Custer's intent and said so in his report. All the fighting battalions were in supporting distance of each other.
I agree. Reno admitted that later he realized this, after the fact...he never admitted that he knew this at the time he decided to retreat from the timber, but I believe that he did. And certainly he SHOULD have.
No matter how good you are, you have to get there first...
I believe Custer kept an eye out for Benteen. He had to know Benteen was returning because when Custer sent Martin back he was told to follow the trail to Benteen. If Benteen was not on the trail or at least in view of it Martin would not have fetched up before his company commander. The length of time between dispatching Reno and dispatching Martin, leaves no doubt that Custer had to know that Benteen was returning to the main trail when Custer ordered Reno into action.
There is no reason to believe that Sharrow was sent to Benteen at any other time than near the beginning of Benteen's movement to the left. At one point Sharrow was sent forward to Lt Hare requesting information.
How Custer knew Benteen was returning, I don't know. Dust is, I think, the best way, but he could have picked up information directly from one of Varnum's scouts. That scout may not have passed the infromation through Varnum, and later may have been killed or skipped to the Yellowstone.
Last Edit: Nov 3, 2013 18:13:24 GMT -5 by moderator