Wednesday, November 3, 2010

George Armstrong Custer Pays the Price at Little Big Horn

The Battle of the Little Big Horn also known as Custer's Last Stand took place on June 25,1876 on the banks of the Little Big Horn River in Southern Montana Territory.
Most say that George Armstrong Custer made a deadly mistake when he split his command, which numbered over 650 men organized into three battalions. Commanding the other two battalions were Major Reno and Captain Benteen. Custer commanded the third unit himself.
             Custer chose to ignore his scouts' reports about the size of the Indian encampment. Unfortunate because the Indian force located on the banks of the Little Big Horn River was huge. It has been estimated that there were over 2,500 warriors.
Benteen and his Calvary were sent to the west to search the southern bluffs for Indians, Reno was to cross the river and attack the southern end of the Indian camp and Custer was to attack the middle of the encampment with his cavalry.
Reno never succeeded in attacking the village because he realized a trap was set for him.   Reno ordered his Calvary to dismount and form a defensive formation instead of attacking--losing a third of his cavalry in a running battle. Reno did not regain control of his resources until reaching a bluff on the other side of the river. Finally, his cavalry was able to regroup and fight a pitched battle.
Benteen realizing that he had been sent on a deadly mission returned and found Reno's outfit in trouble.    Satisfied just to hold the bluff Reno and Benteen were able to hold off the Indians until nightfall.
Four miles upstream Custer took his men toward the central ford of the Little Big Horn River. The Indians swarmed from everywhere, coming across the river and up into the gullies. Custer never reached the river and was forced to higher ground by the Indians.   He quickly set up a position in the front with a defensive rear guard on the high open ground
     The Sioux attacked and over ran the rear guard while Crazy Horse attacked the unit led by Custer. In the end, all 197 men on the hill were killed in less than 20 minutes.
                Custer made some serious mistakes, ultimately leading to his death and the death of his men.  First he split his command, leaving a force two small for the task.  He also refused additional help because he wanted to capture all the glory for himself and the 7th Cavalry. Second, he greatly underestimated his enemy, not so much in numbers, but in ability to fight. Obviously, Crazy Horse was a very able commander. Third, he overestimated the ability of his own men. The men were tired and the horses were tired—they should have rested a day before going into battle.  Overall, Custer’s mistakes cost him his own life as well as the lives of his men. Gallantry and over-zealousness are two very different traits in combat leaders. Gallantry, gets men killed—but normally for good reason and often with positive outcome. Over-zealousness normally just gets men killed. Custer was an over-zealous commander at Little Big Horn.

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