that was a nice, coherent, measured response to the matters being discussed, and having said that, you'll not be surprised to hear that it is one that I totally agree with.
I think the evidence for there being at least two heads found in the village is very strong, there may even have been three, incidentally, could one of them been that of Bloody Knife, I don't think I've ever read whether anyone came across that particular head after the battle, or whether the tale of two sisters parading it around the village was part of Indian folklore that eventually came to the attention of white observers.
Either way, given that Indians did indeed behead a number of bodies; there are numerous illustrations of such things in the artwork concerning the battle, especially that by Red Horse, I don't think we should be surprised that a few of these heads were taken and paraded around the villages. There would likely have been many such incidents had not most other battles been fought some way from the village, thus meaning that the warriors would have to keep, and transport such a gruesome, smelly object for maybe several days. This one was convenient in that respect being right on their doorstep so to speak.
[Y'all-- I wrote this on November 24, so it does not take into account all the posts since.]
This is a very interesting set of questions and a very interesting discussion. To my way of thinking, the one thing you must always keep in mind when looking at this particular event is that because of the make-up of the bodies, it had to have been a planned movement. With only a couple of exceptions, the men found in Deep Ravine were from Company E. It is also reasonable to assume the movement emanated from the Last Stand Hill area. Why? Because that was where Algernon Smith’s body was found, indicating the movement—in all likelihood—began after Smith was killed; his troops would have been with him at that time.
I have always believed those bodies found in Deep Ravine did not go there voluntarily and a planned, organized move down the South Skirmish Line wound point to that theory being correct. Again… why? The distance from Last Stand Hill to perceived safety—can we say, the LBH River area?—is mind-numbingly long. It is one thing to measure distance on a map and interpolate that in your mind to mean, Oh, I can make that without too much trouble, but when you see it in real life, when you walk from the iron fence down the SSL to the bridge atop Deep Ravine, it is startling. (I’m in pretty good shape, despite my years, and I ran part of the way back up, and believe me, it is numbing.) You also have to consider 100-degree heat, fear, adrenaline, wool uniforms, and everything else, and you have to understand that part of the way up the SSL, looking at LSH, there is a bump in the ground, where, if you stood directly behind it, you could not see the hill. It would have been a perfect place to sequester Indians who wished to hide or fire at soldiers coming from higher ground.
To me, the only thing that makes sense with any organized movement in this kind of a situation is a desperate move for safety—a breakout. As ridiculous as that may sound, it was all that was left. And movements like that had worked before. (Initially, the Indians broke and ran when Reno charged from the timber and they only turned back when they realized Reno was running. Another example was during the so-called C Company charge from the Battle Ridge/Calhoun Hill area. Wooden Leg claimed the Indians got up and ran in the face of the charging soldiers, so this was a tactic well-known to the army. Whether or not, or for how long it might work, of course, was problematic.)
There was an enormous amount of smoke and dust, distorting the distance; there were an overwhelming number of Indians, but most of them were on foot and they were crawling and working their way closer to the troops, and were mostly unseen, impossible to get a bead on. If the soldiers could put together an organized charge, the Indians would theoretically melt away, and I am sure that is what happened—at least initially. The distances and heat, however, began to take their toll on the running troopers and they had to have slowed down. That hump in the terrain I mentioned above would have been a perfect spot to hide behind and hit the troops from the rear as they ran by. In addition, if you read Wooden Leg, there were a lot of Indians on Cemetery Ridge and north of that ridge, as well as north of LSH, boxing in the command and making a run down SSL the easiest and only choice. As the troops advanced and the warriors initially scattered, the Indians then consolidated, re-formed and attacked with others from Cemetery Ridge (there were already enormous numbers of warriors in Deep Ravine, the best reason I can think of not to go there). As the exhausted troops slowed, the Indians attacked and forced them into Deep Ravine where the real butchering took place. Those soldiers who did not go into the ravine were killed on the SSL and you see the markers there, strung out. This is also why you don’t find a lot of dead soldiers immediately below Last Stand Hill. It is why Godfrey, in his interview with Walter Camp, said there were so few bodies between the ridge on which Custer and his men were found and Deep Ravine.
Fred: I liked your article on this. However, permit me the honor of applying a little reverse psychology. This particular part of the battle has always been thought of in terms of where “the men died and the battle revolves around that fact": I prefer to think of it in terms of ’where they were found and it indicates nothing but the 'end.' Is there a difference? I’ll let the reader decide.
Your reasonable assumption that the ’movement emanated from LSH area’ is of course slightly flawed; of which I am sure you were well aware. This, because A. Smith, the commander of E company was found atop LSH. Question: What if A. Smith didn’t die first, but fled to LSH during the battle after his platoons had been decimated? In this case the prior ‘movement’ of his company could not be ascertained with any degree of certainty.
In your next paragraph, you assume that this ‘movement’ was from LSH. And point out the long distance over which the troops had to run; that is assuming they were on foot. What if they were not on foot? The platoon (troops if you prefer) found about 100 yards from the river were found in the ravine by both Benteen and Goldin. Both said that there was horses in there that had been killed with them. Benteen specifically pointing out that he believed that they had “rode” into it. These troopers had been mounted, and by Goldins statements correlating his observations with Benteen’s words, we know they had been killed down there with their mounts.
The other platoon of E company was found about 500 yards on up the slope of Deep Ravine Basin ie. SSL. There was no indication that any horses were found there, unless someone says otherwise, an assumption is out of the question, one way or the other. If E company had been trying to act as a unit for some action at the river, then the ‘movement’ was from the river back to LSH. The first platoon being driven into the ravine overran and killed by the pursuing Indians. The 2nd platoon, presumably still on their mounts, for some reason could not make it back to LSH. They may have been forced to dismount. And if that movement was as I have presented it here: Would it not have been possible that the commander of that platoon in a flight for their very lives, being at the head of that column, escaped and made it to LSH alone?
In your next to the last paragraph you state: “To me, the only thing that makes sense with any organized movement in this kind of a situation is a desperate move for safety…” Believe it or not, one way or the other, it was! For if they were running from the Indians in a failed movement towards the river, then a desperate run for LSH makes as much sense. But it just as easily could have been a rout to LSH from the river; as the ’breakout’ you propose.
No matter which, I agree with this statement: “ As ridiculous as that may sound, it was all that was left. And movements like that had worked before. (Initially, the Indians broke and ran when Reno charged from the timber and they only turned back when they realized Reno was running….”)
Respectfully submitted: Boston
Ps: Can someone do something to make this page appear like all the rest? T'is quite disconcerting in trying to read. Thanks
Ps: Can someone do something to make this page appear like all the rest? T'is quite disconcerting in trying to read. Thanks
Very disconcerting, but get used to it. It's usually Clair's fault because he doesn't size his maps to fit. <g> But this time, it's BBT who posted a long hyperlink -- twice. It can be prevented by using tinyurl. Only takes a second.... tinyurl.com/
Fred, even if Smith was killed at LSH, there still would have been other officers in charge there. I don't see a sergeant moving a large body of troops off of LSH going to deep ravine unless "all" officers were dead. I understand there were a few live ones that jumped up and ran when the NAs moved onto LSH for the final kill, but not 20 some.
Smith may have been wounded early. I suspect all the early wounded may have concentrated with Custer and HQ cause that is where the surgeon was located. May have been Smith wounded at the ford (take your pick of fords). Anyway it seems logical to me for any wounded to concentrate with the surgeon. Then they would need troops to be assigned for protection. That may account for why Custer got stuck where he was being burdened and slowed down with the wounded. Reno had the same issue with wounded on Reno Hill.
Post by bandboxtroop on Dec 2, 2008 18:23:17 GMT -5
Fred Ive always had the opinion that Lt Smith was one of the officers hit at the ford . He fits White Bulls account of officer in buckskin with black moustache. And Boston I dont see Smith fleeing from his command. Read about Smith in the Civil War and his service with the 117 New York Infantry and his role at the Battle of Ft Fischer. He charged Confederate earthworks and was horribly wounded in left arm and could not raise the arm he had to have help getting his jacket on and off. Smith was one of the officers with saddle holsters, to carry extra revolvers as he couldnt load a revolver quickly. His character is not one to flee from his command as it is being destroyed. Sturgis would have been in charge and as Keough suggested Lt Porter sent to help the inexperienced Sturgis.
Well, I've always preferred the old story of Custer being chased from ford B to Calhoun hill. Where he dismounted Calhoun's and Keogh's men to fight a rear guard action, while he took the rest to Custer Hill, the highest point to establish a command post to conduct operations.
He then dispatched various company's here and there, and as the Indians always said that the Grey Horse Troop stood on Custer Hill. Custer kept that one troop there while, C & F manovered. Then right before that position was overrunned they turned their horses loose, just as the Indians said. And after Smith and Custer were killed the other's decided to vamous to make a stand where it was safer. Makes the best sense to me any way.
The Indians said that Custer never got to the river. And this has always been the way it was told. So I don't see no reason to dispute it, do you? And no, I don't believe that any of them ran away, not one of them, do you?
At the moment I tend to agree with you, especially the bit about reverting back to the old story; in my view the simplest explanations are often the best, although tomorrow, well, who knows, I may well think, and believe something else entirely.
I have to say I've long struggled long and hard with the two big explanations that are usually trotted out as to why Custer delayed any direct attack on the camp, the first, that he was awaiting Benteens arrival, has rather fallen out of favour in recent years, and the second, that trip to ford D that no one seemed to know anything about until fairly recently.
With regard to the ford D option, a belief that is mostly based on John Stands in Timbers account, maybe the attraction of this theory is that it allows for all sorts of side scenarios to come into play. There is either the recon, or the the repulse at ford D itself, then there's the movement back towards Cemetery ridge, and a possible pause in the area that lasted anything between 20/30 minutes. Next we have the various theories as to the deployment of E and F companies, with E either having its horses run off, or if not, then abandoning them as they either deploy, or flee; according to whichever explanation you favour, towards Deep ravine.
But this is not the end of it, for we also have several other elements that can to be woven into the story. There is the one about E having to move towards LSH on foot, in order to drive away the Indians that are sniping at them from the safty of the ridge, and while they are doing this; seems to me as if they are getting the raw end of the deal, what of F, what are F company doing?
Well, F company are apparently keeping a low profile in the Basin while all this is going on, something that has always struck me as a very odd indeed given that the whole command seems to be on the verge of falling apart.
Now I know that lots of you have trouble with the Indian testimony, but JSIT apart, there seems to almost nothing in the other accounts that supports this scenario, but there are several accounts that do talk about at least two separate groups leaving LSH at different times, groups moving down towards the Indians, moving down towards the river. Yes it can be argued that some of the accounts may have confused these two movements, but all of them? I seriously doubt it.
As I say, I'm with Boston here. The bones of what happened lie to some extent within those Indian accounts. Dismiss them if you will, but looked at as a whole, they show a command that was put on the back foot fairly soon after coming into contact with the hostiles, a command that is having to improvise and react to what the Indians are doing rather than take its time and do things in its own way. A command that is being pushed in a direction it didn't particurly wish to go, before being eventually corralled and wiped out, in short, a battle that didn't last as long as many imagine.