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Little Big Horn, With a Difference
This past May, I made my fifth trip to the battleground at Little Bighorn, and was once more impressed by what a raving incompetent LTC George Armstrong Custer was. Apologists for Custer often cite the fact that an appreciable number of the warriors who opposed him had repeating rifles, while the 7th Cavalry troopers were armed with single-shot Model 1873 Springfield carbines. To those folks, I have two words: Rorke's Drift.
I'm referring to a battle in the Zulu Wars, in which 119 British infantrymen took on an estimated 5,000 Zulu warriors over the course of one night in January, 1879. (The odds against Custer were roughly 2,000 to 568.) The soldiers of No. 1 company of the 24th Regiment of Foot were armed with the .450 Martini/Henry single-shot rifle, comparable in most ways to the Springfield.
The two British commanders were not exactly the cream of the crop. John Rouse Merriot Chard, the senior lieutenant, was an engineer officer, not an infantryman. Gonville Bromhead, the junior lieutenant, was an infantry officer, but so deaf he should not have been in the service, and was considered reasonably dim-witted to boot.
But unlike Custer, both men used common sense: They built barricades, hunkered down behind them, and let their highly disciplined soldiers let the good times roll. When it was all over, the Brits had suffered 17 killed and 10 wounded, while the Zulus had lost over 500 warriors, and it was probably much more than that. Custer's command, on the other hand, killed 60 warriors (maybe 100) and suffered 268 killed themselves.
Weaponry is important, sometimes even decisive. But in the end it's leadership that matters most. Too bad the 7th Cavalry didn't have any.