So, I agree with most of your response, but the gist of my post was: A psychological defeat would have been just as good as a military defeat (probably less violence and casualties) in getting the vast majority of the Indians to give up far sooner than they hard, but it would not be the "glorious victory" that would have resonated in the military, the press, and the public.
Oh, I see, and yes, that is very good thinking, and very modern. We still haven't achieved that high a standard in today's Army, where we can reliably decide how little force we can use to achieve a moral victory over an opponent and get him to surrender with the least loss of life.
It is our goal, but VERY difficult to achieve at the tactical level. And we are training very hard on that too...some of that kind of training I am involved with. But we have a long, long, way to go to figure out how to get combat Soldiers and leaders to always think like this in combat situations...very tricky business, I think you can appreciate.
In order to figure out what Custer was thinking or trying to do, we’ll have to make some assumptions. One of these assumptions concerns whether or not he knew of Reno’s defeat.
Does anyone disagree that a “waiting for Benteen” scenario requires the assumption that Custer knew Reno had been repulsed and was no longer fixing the hostiles?
Seems to me we had some discussion on this topic on one of our boards, but I couldn't pretend to guess where.
What opportunities did Custer have to see, or know of, Reno retreating from the timber, for that is what we are talking about.
I think Custer knew, because I believe Bouyer saw it from "his" bluff and ran down and told Custer, and that is why Custer dispatched Yates at a gallop down to the ford...specifically to save Reno. That's my current model.
I think Yates had dismounted and was firing on the ford and the village before Reno's command had even gotten most of its survivors to the top of the bluff he retreated to.
Let me ask that question another way. If Custer believed Reno had fixed the Indians, would he have been likely to divide his five companies and spend what appears to me to be an excessive amount of time looking for a crossing?
By most accounts, Custer was not pressed for some time after arriving opposite the village. Absent intelligence to the contrary, Custer must have believed that Reno was holding most of the warriors at the upper end of the village. Why didn’t he cross in support of Reno if he believed Reno was holding the Indians in place? Would it have been reasonable for Custer to think “Reno is doing his part, but I’m just going to sit here, do a little scouting, and wait for Benteen to arrive before I do mine.” In my mind, there should be some degree of urgency in Custer’s actions that I’m not seeing.
However, if Custer knew Reno had been driven away, more possibilities are open. I’ve been skeptical that Custer knew of Reno’s defeat but I’m trying to rethink that.
I’m surprised more people didn’t weigh in on my initial question. It’s my impression that most posters on this board, or any other board for that matter, seem to think that Custer’s actions north of Calhoun Ridge were driven by the activities of the non-combatants.
<Oh, I see, and yes, that is very good thinking, and very modern>
This would only apply to fighting "Natives" . . . I don't think psychological victories make a huge difference when "modern" armies are fighting. They can regroup and make up their losses unlike the Indians.
Seems to me your question has to clarify a bit what might have been going on around the MTC crossing site.
Even though Reno may have "fixed" the enemy on him when Custer got to the MTC ford, that doesn't mean there wasn't still some significant opposition at that ford. Same for a possible crossing at the D fords, later.
I've always maintained that IF Custer delayed in MTC before moving on the village, it would probably be more to let Reno develop the situation more and allow more Warriors to get sucked onto him, leaving the village less defended. I think that is a better explanation than waiting for Benteen, IF your model includes some minutes of delay.
Custer wouldn't want to show his hand and cross the MTC ford until Reno had all the Warriors on him that were ever going to go there. That's the job of the fixing force...to allow freedom of manevuer for the maneuvering/flanking force.
But a couple things could mess this tidy situation up:
1) Too many Warriors were NEVER going to get on Reno, because there were already plenty there to handle Reno. IOW, the "fixing force" wasn't big enough...wasn't big enough a threat to suck the entire Warrior population to him. So MTC ford was still too well defended to cross mounted.
2) He heard that Reno was abandoning his fixing force mission, meaning both that he needed assistance, and that the Warrior force facing him at the ford would never get smaller than it was then...it could only get bigger with time, especially as Custer knew that many Warriors were already aware of his force in MTC...with time ALL would learn of it.
Either situation above would cause Custer to decide to send Yates to the ford, I think, to develp the situation there, and if the defenses were less than he thought, he could send Keogh in after him.
I agree that if there was any delay once in MTC, it was possibly to give Reno more time to develop the situation. But that is not the delay I’m talking about.
I’m trying to determine if there is any correlation between Custer’s actions north of MTC and Reno’s retreat.
I agree with the traditional model that by the time Custer arrived on Calhoun/Battle Ridge his presence, although noticed, was not hotly contested. The village was basically open to him. Numerous Indian accounts plainly state that when Custer first appeared, most of the warriors were at the upper end of the village with Reno. A period of long range desultory fire followed for some time until enough warriors returned from the Reno battlefield to give the Indians the advantage. Do you agree with this setting?
It is from this point on that I’m the most puzzled by Custer’s apparent dawdling but then my assumption had always been that Custer did not know of Reno’s retreat. If he did know, then his actions may not be that puzzling after all.
If Reno is no longer holding the Indians to his front, there is no immediacy for Custer to cross and strike their rear. I’m convinced that Custer, by this actions at and north of Calhoun ridge, was in a waiting/preparatory stage. The problem was, with Reno holding fast, why was Custer waiting?
With Reno on the fly, I can easily see why Custer might wait for Benteen to get into the action before he makes his next move. However, if he thinks Reno is holding fast, I can’t find any logic to Custer’s moves.
This is the point for which I was looking for opinions.
I think Custer moved north because there were significant numbers of Indians to the north. Large enough to present a danger to his immediate command or to Benteen's battalion, the pack train and the rear guard if he crossed the river and left them in his rear. I think he turned north to drive those Indians off. He stopped on Calhoun Hill, and waited for Reno, reinforced by Benteen, to resume his attack.
In a letter to his wife dated 4 Jul 1876, Benteen wrote, "Had Custer carried out order he got from Genl. Terry the command would have formed a junction exactly at the village - and have captured the whole outfit of tepees, etc. and probably any quantity of sqauws, pappooses, &c. &c. but Custer disobeyed orders from the fact of not wanting any command - or body to have a finger in the pie, and thereby lost his life. (3000 warriors were there.)"
I don't want to talk about whether or not Custer disobeyed orders at all. I'd like to get at the battle that didn't happen, the battle that some (though not Benteen) say would have happened on 26 Jun had Custer not attacked a day early.
I don't find any hint in Custer's orders that the two columns were supposed to meet and a predesignated place on the 26th or the 27th of June.
Nevertheless, was this the plan?
If yes, is it likely or possible that such a plan was conveyed to Custer verbally?
If no, where did that idea come from?
How did Benteen get the idea that the two commands would form ''a junction exactly at the village?"
Could there have been a great victory on the 27th in which both columns participated?
I have my own ideas about these things, but I'd like to know what others think.
Does anyone else have other questions along this line?
Again, I'd like to stay as far away as possible from a discussion of Custer's disobediance.
Ray, just the fact that Terry tried to give Custer his gatlings and his cavalry indicates to me that Terry didn’t expect to play much of a part in this thing. So, to answer your question, no I don’t believe there was ever a “hammer and anvil” scenario envisioned by Terry or Custer. The distances involved, the limited communications between the two separate commands and the lack of accurate intelligence telling them exactly where the Indian village was located would have prevented Terry from ever trying to pull something off like that.
No. I think Custer probably intended to ford the LBH and attack the village when he sent Martin off, but as he moved toward or into the area of MTC he, for the first time, ran into significant resistence from the north. If he was already moving down MTC toward the ford, he had to break off this movement, turn right, and shift the axis of his attack north. If he had not committed his command to a cross river attack, he could continue to manuever generally north. In either case he would be driving the Indians down river. He may have had to fight for Calhoun Hill, but the movement to Calhoun was probably accomplished with few casualties on either side. All the fighting near the ford or on Nye Cartwright could have been part of the manuvering involved in driving the Indians northward.
You could say that I'm suggesting two seperate turns to the north.
Although there may have been Indians on the east side of the LBH and south of MTC when Custer turned away from Reno, I don't think there were enough to figure into Custer's thinking at that time. I think he turned away from Reno simply to go down river and attack the village from a second point.
The second turn would have to do with the number of Indians coming toward MTC from the north.
I see the early fighting on the east side of the LBH as a meeting engagement with neither side expecting to run into the other in the MTC area, with Custer being successful at first, but having to face more and more Indians, especially after Reno's retreat.
I too believe that Custer followed the eastern bluffs in order to attack from another direction and I agree with you that Custer’s companies were under fire all across NC and on Calhoun ridge with little casualties on either side. We’ll probably differ on what Custer saw down on the flats from his location on Calhoun/Battle ridge.
I’ve discarded one of my long held assumptions that Custer didn’t know of Reno’s retreat. And that bit of intelligence is why he never attempted to cross the river. It was time for Plan B and that was to keep the Indians on the west side of the river and moving northward until such time as the rest of the regiment caught up with him.
For a fair amount of time after Custer’s arrival on Calhoun/Battle ridge, he could do pretty much as he pleased. He liked what he saw. The Indians were abandoning a very large village and moving in the direction he wanted them to go. Like you said, Custer was pulled further north because of the presence of warriors in the Cemetary ridge area that he needed to push back to the other side of the river. Same is true for Ford D. He wasn’t checking out a ford. He saw something he didn’t like and he wanted to break it up and move it away from the ford.
All this goes back to my initial question. Do you think Custer would have displayed a “you stay on your side of the river and I’ll stay on mine” tactic if he thought Reno was holding is own down south?
Last Edit: Jul 22, 2009 22:42:17 GMT -5 by gamabry
And even if this far fetched scenario of a proposed joint attack on the 26th were true, Terry's column arrived a day late and a dollar short. Thus it is a moot point irregardless. What is more likely is a scenario of Custer delaying his attack till the morning of the 26th, only to find the village gone and the 3000 warriors riding north to massacre Terry's command of 400.
"The more I see of movement here (Little Big Horn Battlefield), the more I have admiration for Custer, and I am satisfied his like will not be found very soon again.”
~ Gen. Nelson Miles, Commanding General of the Army ------
"With our cherished ones deliverance within our grasp we waited breathless two hours, for the order that never came."
I think Terry tried to spin this off after the disaster to show that his planning was sound, but Custer couldn't make it work. I doubt Sheridan or anyone else bought that, and the matter was never pressed of course.
Terry's instructions are always open to interpretation, but my read is that of Sheridan's original planning...that you have several forces converging on a target area so that at least ONE of them has a chance to strike the traget and damage it.
After such a strike, the other forces might be in position to pursue the enemy survivors.
The much better investigation, I think, is WHY Benteen wrote this to his wife. Does anyone think he believed it when he wrote it?
Is Benteen deliberately lying to his wife? For what purpose?
My read here is that he is just being glib due to the shock and guilt he felt so soon after the disaster to his regiment...not really thinking clearly.