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Battle of the Little Big Horn


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#1 Old Guy

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Posted 12 April 2005 - 06:08 PM

I suspect most of us have read accounts and analysis of the battle.

I've often wondered what the outcome of the fight would have been if Custer had not split his forces.

What if all 900 or so 7th Cavalry troopers had assaulted the camp from the south, where Major Reno made his abortive attack on that June day?

Cavalry tactics of the time would have had the unit approach in a line abreast and dismount as action became imminent. It's likely that two companies, plus the baggage train would have been held in reserve and to function as flank guards.

In the skirmish line, I think every fifth man would have been holding horses, while the others moved forward in a staggered line abreast. We would be talking on the order of 600 riflemen spread out across a half mile front -- perhaps a bit less.

There were somewhere 1,500 and 2,000 warriors in camp that morning, but they actually were surprised by the attack -- a point many accounts fail to note. The braves reacted quickly, but chaotically. Only their overwhelming numbers and Reno's timidity caused his attack to fail, even though he had far less men than Custer could have had, if the unit had stayed together. Reno suffered most of his losses on the hectic retreat -- not in the brief stand-up fight.

Custer was buried by hordes of warriors, but his portion of the 7th was too scattered for effective defense. This was partly his fault and partly due to the rugged terrain.

I wonder if a solid striking force, even armed, as they were, with the single-shot, rolling block Sharps carbines, might have fared far better?

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#2 Gunny

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Posted 12 April 2005 - 08:51 PM

I think Little Big Horn was a lesson in Custer's arrogance to be very honest. Either that or he was way too impatient. There is a little matter of a couple or three Gatlings that were left behind when he went on his little jaunt. Coupled with the fact that he didn't like new fangled gadgets. Hmm....maybe a lesson in impatient arrogance?
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#3 Old Guy

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 08:34 AM

There's no question that Custer waded into a situation he didn't understand and that his arrogance led to the deaths of over 700 men.

What I'm wondering is: what if he'd kept his forces together? Even with the lack of adequate recon and his overweening pride, he did surprise the Indians.

They boiled out of the camp piecemeal, though that was enough to drive Reno back and eventually (within an hour) swamp Custer's scattered forces. But would they have been able to overrun 500-600 troopers in skirmish line?

I've been at the battlefield several times. The major impression one gets upon seeing it is the sheer magnitude of the space. It's over three miles from where Custer's men were killed to the ridge where Reno and Benteen held out through June 26th.

The area where Custer fought is extensive -- at least a mile across and maybe half a mile in depth. Various sources have maintained that his men must have killed quite a few warriors during the fight, but more recent work and an evaluation of Indian accounts makes clear that they suffered few casualties in the Custer fight. Probably less than fifty. The two-day battle with the troopers to the south may have cost them more dearly, but no accurate figures are available.

So, my question is: Could the Indians, as disorganized as they were, deal with a compact fighting formation in the same fashion?

Jim

#4 Canuck

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 10:53 AM

Its also a classic case of UNDER ESTIMATING your enemy!!!
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#5 Gunny

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 11:04 AM

I think Jim, that they probably could have. Without proper fortification you still have men in the open with rolling block rifles against, correct me if I'm wrong, mounted warriors. Even if you fire in amongst them, there are still 1200 of them moving fast. Fast enough that dismounted troopers would had been overwhelmed IF attacked frontally. Now, did the indians circle them like you see in the westerns? I seriously doubt it, but I could be wrong.
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#6 Twitch

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 11:46 AM

Perhaps with twice the cavalary forces it would have simply taken the warriors twice as long to eradicate them. :blink:

#7 Canuck

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 12:20 PM

and if they had repeaters in place of the breach loaders they may have...............but as it was the overwhelming numbers carried the day and IMO would have if they still where all together.
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#8 Gunny

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 12:43 PM

Custer was also too impatient. He left those Gatlings because they were slowing him up. A couple of Gatlings would have turned that tide in my honest opinion.

I stand by this tho, No dismounted force stands much of a chance against a mounted foe.
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#9 Old Guy

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 01:21 PM

Follow this link for an excellent discussion of the weapons at the Little Big Horn and a damn good overall appraisal of the battle.

http://www.lonestarr...com/Custer.html

I think you'll see why I wonder if a single force might have performed better.

I've read several books on the battle and a dozen or more articles like this one. The points raised in the article are valid and backed up by archeological evidence as well as the layout of the battlefield and known history. And, of course, the author has studied the weapons extensively.

Oh, and I was incorrect on the 7th weapons. Springfield rolling blocks, not Sharps.

Doh!

Jim

#10 No105_Archie

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Posted 13 April 2005 - 08:24 PM

If Custers men had fought like Napoleonic infantry I think they could have defeated the indians. They could have "formed sqaures" if they were subjected to charges on horseback and been quite effective in a tight controlled advance against ( one assumes ) a somewhat ragged fighting style of the indians. It seems to me that they were defeated ( as Jim says ) by spliiting their force and not fighting cohesively.
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#11 Rat Patrol

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Posted 09 June 2011 - 09:25 PM

I suspect most of us have read accounts and analysis of the battle.

I've often wondered what the outcome of the fight would have been if Custer had not split his forces.

What if all 900 or so 7th Cavalry troopers had assaulted the camp from the south, where Major Reno made his abortive attack on that June day?

<clip>

Jim


there is an interesting History Channel Video "Custer's Last Man: I Survived Little Big Horn" about a lone survivor from C Company .... whose horse runs off, after the rider is struck in the face, stunned, the horse is then shot causing the flight ...

According to Frank Finkle - when they got to the ridge, they could see what was happening down below, and they waited for women and children that were fleeing Benton's attack, that it was Custer's hope to grab some hostages as Custer had done 8 weeks earlier and force the Indians to surrender.

according to Finkle and Indian attackers / survivors Custer had plenty of time to see what was happening to Benton, and leave the ridge heading back to combine forces and not get massacred

#12 mikew

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Posted 11 June 2011 - 06:20 AM

Wow, impressive thread resurrection!

I've seen a few 'We can finally reveal the truth' documentaries over the years, but I'd put my money on general arrogance as Gunny postulates:

I think Little Big Horn was a lesson in Custer's arrogance to be very honest. Either that or he was way too impatient. There is a little matter of a couple or three Gatlings that were left behind when he went on his little jaunt. Coupled with the fact that he didn't like new fangled gadgets. Hmm....maybe a lesson in impatient arrogance?

Only a couple of years later, the british army suffered the same fate at Islandwana for probably similar reasons.

#13 TCat

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 01:37 PM

I understand that the Indians had the Henry and or Winchester repeating rifles not the antiquated bow and arrow. They did not have the heavy ballistics like that of the soldier's 45-70's. Their rifles were basically chambered for pistol cartridges. The Indians were close enough however to be very effective with the rapid reloading advantage. FYI, in case you didn't know, the 45-70 cartridge is alive and well today. It is loaded with modern nitrocelluose powder, not with the 70 grains of black powder used in the Springfields back then. Hence, the name, 45-70, a 45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. :)


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#14 mikew

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 02:25 PM

FYI, in case you didn't know, the 45-70 cartridge is alive and well today. It is loaded with modern nitrocelluose powder, not with the 70 grains of black powder used in the Springfields back then. Hence, the name, 45-70, a 45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. Posted Image

I didn't know that. Thank you!

#15 Odontaspis ferox

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 05:16 PM

I was there.

With a babe.

But she said, like, it wasn't such a big horn.

Thanku and goodnite.
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#16 Stans

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 05:52 PM

I was there.

With a babe.

But she said, like, it wasn't such a big horn.

Thanku and goodnite.

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