Several of our members have suggested that the Custer battalions were forced to Battle Ridge and Last Stand Hill by a general rout instigated by Custer being shot at Medicine Tail Ford. Do you agree with this sentiment? Or do you think Custer chose to advance northward from Medicine Tail Coulee on his own volition in order to remain on the offensive. Tell us your opinion....
Last Edit: Jun 15, 2009 1:06:53 GMT -5 by moderator
I will begin by stating that if Custer was indeed shot at MTF, I doubt very much the notion that this incident would cause some sort of massive panic among his troops and veteran officers leading to a "wild" rout or buffalo stampede northwards, away from his support. Custer was certainly an inspiring leader who provided a great deal of esprit de corps among his men, however, to assume that his death would somehow deflate all sense of hope and plunge otherwise experienced and trained soldiers into a mass of jelly-kneed schoolgirls is something I would reserve for a B-grade Hollywood movie.
Can we think of any other examples from the Civil War or Indian Wars where a US army commander was shot or killed and his entire army then disintegrated in panic within minutes?
History or Hollywood? It would appear to me that, ironically, the latter often seems to have a great effect on how we view the former.
I see no evidence for a rout. I think the temper of the men of the 7th Cavalry is well exemplified by Godfrey's example that afternoon...a very small force under great pressure. I think all the companies would act like that, under similar circumstances.
I agree with Bill that the death of Custer at any ford would simply change decision makers. The new decision maker would take some time to decide what to do next...whether to carry on with the mission, or give up on the mission and hole up in defense. He would probably do the latter, at least for a short time until he could determine what to do next.
So if Custer is down, you should see all his wing going into a strong "hedgehog" defense. Keogh would have taken command of the wing in this situation, and the headquarters personnel would be around him.
I think Custer was wounded at a ford, just not MTF. He moved north toward the ford D area, was wounded there and the headquarters group was on it's way back to Keogh. When they hit the top of Battle Ridge, they could see that Keogh was not reachable or already disposed of. Either way it ended there.
If our model includes Custer hit at a ford, this is the most plausible way to fit it, I think. It is the only way I can see to have Yates go north, and have Custer shot at a ford, if you want to include both those elements in your model.
bc model # 97: At the watering hole, Keogh takes his battalion to the right. Custer and E. Company and maybe F company was well, take to the bluffs to move north. E company was seen on the bluffs by some in the valley fight but that doesn't rule out F Company was either ahead, behind, or just over the ridge. They all reunite in the MTC with E & F closer to the river. Martini gets sent back. (Rossi stays on the rocks) There is no evidence and I don't believe Custer got to MTF/ford B. I do believe there is some credence in the reports of all the crows hauling off bucket loads of shell casings to sell to train travelers. Nothing more than a few skirmishers would have gotten close to the river, and possibly a scouting party led by one of the missing lieutenants. I haven't ruled out that Custer went by there on his scout with E company in the same general area where it is alleged Thompson saw him. I have nothing to support F company going with E except that they were in the same assigned battalion and why split a battalion to have a company on the river flank heading towards battles unknown and especially with Custer with them.
Custer takes E & F towards MTF with Keogh's battalion in reserve and staying some distance back. E & F get within 600 yards where they engage in some skirmishing across the river and on the bluffs. Custer decides this isn't the best place to attack with it being the middle of the village, women and children escaping to the north, and enough village to the north that he needs to go there to contain it. Custer sends Keogh back up the MTC to Luce & NC ridges to cover their rears/backtrail on the move north with Keogh to move north with them holding off those streaming over from the Reno fight. Custer takes Yates battalion towards Cemetery Ridge staying down west of battle ridge proper.
They spend some time and prepare their attack at the D fords. They attempt at D1 and cross over at D2 as noted by the tracks seen by Girard. If Custer was shot, he was shot here which is what helped force them back to Cemetery Ridge. I think he was shot there which is why the charge collapsed and not because of NA fire. From Cemetery Ridge, they see Gall and also see Crazy Horse coming up Deep Coulee/Ravine to try to flank Keogh on Battle Ridge. They see Co. C being charging down to stem the tide. Co. E is sent over to Deep Ravine to stop Crazy Horse and support the C Company charge. This while HQ and Co. F move to LSH to late to move any further as Keogh is being chopped up.
Below is one of Treasuredude's June 2009 pictures of MTC from the sign as the road winds down from Weir Point with the road going west at this point and the camera facing northwest. This first picture looks towards the ford but the ford is a few hundred yards to the left. You can see where the road crossed the water drainage part of MTC where the concrete culvert is. Just a little after the road curves to the west from the culvert, you can see the end point of Butler Ridge as it rises to the northeast. The road winds on the narrow plain portion of MTC going towards the Realbird ford and then you see the road go up Greasy Grass Ridge. towards Calhoun hill. Left and out of the picture is where the plain widens out to join Deep Coulee and where it would be easy to move over to the Realbird ford and deep Coulee. The beginning of Deep Coulee is between the small line which is the rise of and where the road goes over Greasy Grass Ridge.
Another point of reference in the top middle of the photo is the visitors center and cemetery which is in view from here. You can also make out the monument on LSH as well as cars on Calhoun hill and Calhoun ridge if you look close enough. The view tends to shorten up the distance, doesn't it? As Custer, you, or me sits there in the area of this sign on the south bank of MTC, the approach to the D fords is in sight and an easy command to give to tell a couple troops to head to MTF while the rest of us head to the Calhoun/LSH/Cemetery Ridge complex to attack the D fords:
In this photo below from the same position but looking more north across MTC you can see, in the middle of the photo above the rocky ledge, Luce Ridge and the sloping ridge below Luce where cartridges were found. Most were found on the lower ridge and some up on top. I believe one of the these is called false Luce but I'm not sure which. The skirmish line appears pointed more towards the ford. The optical illusion of the flat maps makes it look like the line points towards the MTC.:
The next photo below is basically the same one as above except my mug has been inserted to block the beautiful view and the camera is pointed a little more westerly. Note just to the right of my head on the slope of Luce are some of Realbird's grazing horses. These horses are in the second photo as well if you noticed.
I don't claim to be an expert on the terrain (someone correct me if I'm wrong in this post) but I believe this is Butler ridge as it comes in from the ford at the left and then becomes what is called Luce Ridge. Blummer/Nye/Cartwright ridge extends northerly from the hilltop above my head. If troops were on Luce, It would be a natural progression to move north along B/N/C ridge, then down Deep Coulee, and back up to Calhoun Ridge.
Note also that the right edge of the 1st of Treasuredude's photos overlaps about an inch with the 3d photo. Benteen talked about a trail of shod horses going up an easy slope up Butler Ridge about 3 furlongs/660 yards from the ford. That would start on the right side of the 1st photo along a ravine moving northeasterly and comes in on the left side of the third photo and behind my head and basically towards those horses and on to Luce Ridge. Another alternative would be to take that wider ravine that you see in the 1st photo a ways east of the road which takes a more northerly and direct route to Calhoun Ridge. Or the third alternative could be that assuming any MTF attacking companies didn't just crossover to Deep Coulee at the MTF ford, then one batallion took the wider ravine direct to Calhoun and the other batallion withdrew up the slope to Luce.
The MTC Crossroads: That is the point I'm referring to in my alternatives which shows up in the 1st photo in MTC where there is a knoll just below the wide ravine going north and to the right of the slope to Luce, and all of which is just below the visitors center and a hair to the right in the photo. These MTC Crossroads although maybe not heretofore identified by photo are important because many different battle theories have a split in this area. They include movement to the ford and retreat back by some or all forces, a dual move towards the ford and up towards Calhoun/LSH, movement along the ridges, etc. so about all theories have to have troops at this MTC crossroads. And when we think about the various possible tactical moves we also have to remember that there are a number of different theories about the make up of the battallions and which companies went with who and where. A number of authors disagree about whether 2 or 3 companies went towards MTF and who they were. Most have E going towards MTF but Michno and Doran place E up on Luce. That's the MTC Crossroads Conundrum.
What's central to Luce in all this is that it is ideal as an original movement position, a fallback position from a MTF attack, a supporting position for an MTF attack, a defending position for NAs crossing and coming from the Reno Hill area, Reno crossing area, Bouyer bluff area, and from MTF into MTC, and finally just a basic skirmish line to engage in long range skirmishing/sniping with NAs at MTF.
Technically, Custer didn't need to really attack the village if we think about Luce, B/N/C and Two Moons account of skirmishers up on battle ridge. They just bottle up the village with skirmish lines. Reno's attack on the south end was basically skirmish lines that engaged and contained the NAs (for a while anyway). A line of skirmishers at Luce at MTC would contain the middle there, and a line of skirmishers with some moving down to the Cemetery ridge, area would contain the north end of the camp. Then wait on Terry. A bold move at Ford D may result in the capture of the women and children and cause a surrender before Terry got there. That would work as long the ammo pacs were brought up for a long seige and hope nobody ran out of ammo before they were overrun the massive number of NAs.
As an aside, the day after Scott/Treasuredude took these pics which I borrowed from his Montana Mayhem II post, I watched and took pictures of that group of a dozen or so reenactors who were running around MTC before they headed towards Luce and then up Butler ridge towards the head of B/N/C ridge where they had their little gunfight with the 2 NAs, anyway they rode over behind that little knoll I'm calling the MTC crossroads and stopped for a few minutes there before they came into view again.(I know it doesn't mean anything but anyway.)
I have always thought he had to cross the river SOMEWHERE in his plans although why not go straight at the village ?
This is an interesting assumption...let's back up a bit. Custer didn't have to cross the river, or even to attack. His prime requirement was to kill lots of Warriors. The best way to do this is dismount on the defensive and let them come at you, IF they will.
So if Warriors were swarming all over the hills coming right at him, this is the BEST situation Custer could have hoped for! It plays right into all the cavalry strengths, and all the Warrior weaknesses.
Even in the Civil War, it was drilled into all veteran officers that it is best if you can be on defense. As long as the enemy wants to keep charging you, let 'em come. You'll eat them up for breakfast, and all day long.
Thousands of Warriors attacking his steady skirmish lines is EXACTLY what Custer wanted, all along, if he could arrange it.
Your pictures show all those beautiful fields of fire...most longer than the carbines could even shoot. They could pick off Warriors from 1,000 yards away all day long, if they had a good defense set up around Calhoun Hill.
Not great fields of fire with valleys of long grass. Plenty of exposure for the guys on the hill.
Same exposure for all, right? Whomever sticks their heads up to fire, they become the target.
Certainly, all the Warriors are going to dismount far, far, away, and begin the long process of trying to crawl as close as they can to the Soldiers without being shot, don't you think? And they can't do this with much mass...only in dribs and drabs.
What most Soldiers see from Calhoun Hill is empty grass on and on, with some dust in the distance (especially behind ridges), and little heads popping up now and then to shoot. Not like the paintings at all, until the Warriors manage to get close and in mass so that the hand-to-hand combat begins.
If you were standing there on 25 June 1876, before Lame White Man's charge against Calhoun Hill, it would look not too different from the photos above, even with hundreds of men "in the picture." You'd hardly see them, on either side. You'd see cavalry horses the best, and even most of them were behind ridges and in draws, so you won't see them in the photos above, either.
The best thing you could see are puffs of smoke from rifle reports, and some rising dust behind ridges where horses are moving out of sight.