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Custer Follows Orders

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  • Custer Follows Orders

    Instead of rushing ahead and getting half his regiment killed, Lt. Col. Custer actually follows orders.

    The combined tribes on the Greasy Grass face eight companies of infantry, sixteen companies of cavalry, and a detachment of Gatling guns, all under the command of Brigadier Alfred Terry.

    Terry is regarded as one of the best non-West Pointers to serve the Union in the Civil War, but he has never fought Indians.

    The combined tribes fought Crook ten days earlier on the Rosebud; Crook had fifteen companies of cavalry and five of infantry, plus 200 allied Indians. The battle on the Rosebud was a grueling six-hour running fight; unusual in the annuals of the Plains, the hostiles stayed on the field and fought, rather than hitting and running.

    A six-company detachment under Captain Royal charged too hastily and ended up in a situation eerily similar to Custer's fate; ultimately it was extracted under covering charges from the Indian allies and Crow scouts, and fire support from the infantry; the hostiles refused to engage the infantry as the long Springfields made it far too dangerous. While heavy in cavalry, Crook could not bring the hostiles to bay due to his forces' slower pace.

    In the end Crook held the field and inflicted somewhat heavier losses on the enemy, but immediately withdrew.

    Terry is expecting Crook's force, unaware that they turned back. he has about 1600 troops versus approximately 1000 hostile warriors.

    The Indians are short on ammunition after the battle of the Rosebud, having only enough for one good fight. Their morale is good, believing they defeated Crook, but their main purpose in gathering was to work out what to do in their changing world, a situation badly restricted for just having fought a large battle. Sitting Bull is at the peak of his personal power; less a 'chief' than an authoritative medicine man, his negativity, hostility to the whites, and inability to get along with many people (particularly the smaller Plains tribes) is pushing the councils towards war.

    Nearly half of Terry's force are fresh from Reconstruction duties and are on their first Plains expedition; few of his men have faced Plains tribes in battle. His unit commanders and a few senior NCOs are veterans of the ACW. Terry himself has never faced Indians and was counting on Crook's expertise. Like most of the veterans of the ACW, Terry has little experience commanding units of his expedition's size, and spent much of the war as a (highly regarded) division commander. He has not seen combat since 1865.

    Terry's force is better balanced than Crook, with eight large companies of infantry whom the Plains Indians loathe and fear.

    So what happens? A clash is inevitable; the united tribes feel they have won and are looking forward to a leisurely summer debating their peoples' future. All except Sitting Bull, who is predicting that 'many soldiers will fall into our camp'.

    Terry believes Crook will be drawn to the sound of battle, and in any case his orders are to bring these Indians to heel.

    So how do you think it would have played out?
    Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

  • #2
    The Indians would have performed a delaying action while they retreated, just as they did historically. The warriors will skirmish and try to keep their losses down while the camp packs and moves away from the fight.

    The major reason Custer lost historically, was the 7th wasn't that well trained or lead. When surprised near or at Medicine Tail Coulee, his five companies collapsed into rout. You can tell from the position of the bodies from there to Last Stand Hill. They fell in clumps of several for the most part, the companies being mixed. This same pattern is common in other routs, such as at Isandlwana in South Africa.
    This rout no doubt occurred as the unit was surprised and hit in the flank by large numbers of Indian warriors. Custer's unit, obviously still mounted, was unable to fight effectively, or establish a formed position. So, they ran and the Indians chased them, killing stragglers as the cavalry disintegrated into chaos. The Indian descriptions of this fight correspond closely to other routs.

    Reno survived his contact because it was to his front and he was able to establish a reasonable front to withdraw behind.

    Custer lost his fight being isolated and no doubt running out of ammunition as well as suffering mounting casualties. Reno survived because of the arrival of the pack train allowing him to replenish his ammunition.

    In this scenario, the Indians wouldn't try to make a stand up fight. They'd delay the troops and run away.


    • #3
      Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
      Reno survived his contact because it was to his front and he was able to establish a reasonable front to withdraw behind.

      And was very quick to withdraw to it!
      "If w had not been lead by a coward, we'd all be dead." is how I think one trooper put it.

      However... let's not forget that Custer was approaching from the north and achieved near-total surprise. He was practically on top of the encampment before anyone knew he was coming.
      ... and before he really knew what he was up against.

      In this scenario, he is moving more deliberately to coordinate his actions with the other Generals (instead of playing the glory-hound). In fact, if he had his Gatlings, he would have had to move more deliberately, those damn things weighed a ton. The 7th would have had more time to digest Scouting reports, and would probably have stayed together as one unit for survival and because an envelopment would have been left to the other Regiments coming up from the south.

      If surprise could have been maintained -
      It is possible, probably even, that the combined tribes would have looked up at the ridges and seen 750+ cavalry lined up on the high ground, and decided right then and there that surrender was the best option.
      It would have been sensible, their families were right there with them, and from a distance Gatlings look a lot like cannon.
      The longer Custer dithered, the more likely that peace could have been had that day, and the slaughter of that day and the even greater slaughters of the following year could have been avoided.

      Not very dramatic, but there it is.

      If surprise was not achieved, Custer would still have been in a good position to block the Indian retreat. In the long run, it would probably been almost as deadly for the 7th, but it would have been even more ruinous for the Tribes involved if they were the slightest bit unlucky.

      That's my take on it, anyhow.
      "Why is the Rum gone?"

      -Captain Jack


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