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September 07, 2007

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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.

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Comments

Gunslinger

M King: Do you have any more girl friends with guns? if so I'm in need of a heavy firarm for Bear/, Moose, etc. I too have some 30-06'sand usually load with l8o's. If was going wher you plan to go I would experiment with seveal gr bullets and thenpowder wt. You need to either play with the re-loading or buy some factory cheapo's and try 4-5 brands out in different wts. Me I would go with a 200 gr for Moose and the heavest for Mean old Grizs. the 250. good luck, not been a lot of help, but that gun will kill anything with any bullet you mentioned, just pratice and place your shots well. Now, what are you giving her for her Birthday??????

kws

Glad to see that the armchair generals are taking full advantage of their 20-20 hindsight. Tell me Mr GunNut, what sort of barricades are you going to build while trying hold a skirmish line during a battle on the northern Great Plains? Shooting a horse or mule and using that for cover is probably about all you could do in that situation and that's what they did. Reno had the time to do that and dig in behind them while the other part of the 7th was being slaughtered. Gatling guns would have been great if the Sioux would have been dumb enough to give the 7th time to position them to create a crossfire or ride straight into them. Swap the men & conditions of LBH & Rorke's Drift and you'd probably have similar outcomes.

RJP

Yes, Custer's brother did win the CMH twice. And it really grated on George who wanted one so bad he could taste it. Both awards were for doing the same thing, he single handedly captured an opposing regiment's battle flag. During the Civil War doing that was nearly an automatic CMH.

At Islandwana the British also had the problem that the wooden ammo crates were put together with screws and had a large tin can inside with the cartridges inside that. And guess what the British Army didn't issue enough of to go with them!!! No screwdrivers or can openers, where's a hardware store when you need one?

Michael King

Thanks for the opinion on bullet weight for the 338-06. I believe I will try the speer 200 grain hot core. It has a good sectional density and I have had good luck with speer bullets. As for the bigger stuff maybe the 250 grain grand slam.
As for my girls birthday I am thinking of maybe a 220 swift in a ruger 77V. I am sure I will be able to talk her into letting me use the rifle for coyote and prarie dog. I think it would be much better than the old Winchester in 218 bee that I now use.

kws

RJP: do you know offhand what unit Custer's brother was in? The 1st Michigan calvary led by Custer had helped stop JEB Stuart at Gettysburg and one of the Stuart's generals had lost their battle flag to the the 1st Michigan and it would be interesting if that was one of the flags that Custer's brother captured.

O Garcia

I have to agree with the Mongols comment. It's really not easy to say which was the best cavalry ever, light or heavy, but the Mongols did take their lion's share of serious scalps.

Alexander did have a great cavalry unit (which he led), as did the Parthians, the Sarmatians, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the various 'Turks'. But the Mongol Army was practically all cavalry. And they defeated nations that are supposedly more intelligent, sophisticated and culturally superior. Who else could claim having bested the Chinese, the Russians, several European nations, the Byzantines, and in Tamerlane's day, even the rising Ottomans (who were then just decades away from taking Constantinople)? From the Yellow Sea to the Black Sea, their empire was the largest land empire ever.

The American Indians should get enormous credit for mastering the horse in so relatively short a time, but the Mongols edge them in overall achievement.

RJP

Tom Custer was in the 6th Michigan when he won the 2 CMHs, both in April of 1865 during the final pursuit of Lee from Petersburg to western Virginia.
check any encyclopedia, including Wikipedia.

A. Wesley

As a young student, ( nothing ) like this was writen about Gen. Custer.he was a hero who lost.
It was the biggest cober up in all history. If the Calvery won a battle it was called " a big victory " If the Indians won a battle it was always a massacure.
WHY.. We we so dunb we just didn't want to admit the American Indaians whio us in battle.
How much more was COVERED UP IN HISTORY BOOKS,,? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
( almost like my e-mail comment going to be.

Johnny Boy

Don’t forget that Custer was set on making a charge into a village, into peoples homes. A charge of a couple hundred horses, going 30 miles and hour, makes NO distinction between a armed man fighting back, a 75 year old grandmother, a 3 year old child, or a pregnant woman. Custer was the sharp end of a genocidal policy that was carried out against the Native Americans.

Debate all that you want about tactics, weapons, flanking moves, supply issues, etc. making all the arm-chair general judements years after the fact that you want. But never forget waht the ultimate purpuse and reasonw as for the battle you are studying.

I have walked the Custer battlefield, (and several of my own battlefields) and spent years as a Combat Officer in the US Army, spent years at war, and spent years studying the history of war, past battles and tactics. The more time I have spent studying war, at war and debating 5.56 vs .7.62, the best way to resupply a troop of M1’s, why the Mongals where so tough, how Casear won at Alesia, the more I realize we need to spend more time studying how to prevent war and win the peace. Make no mistake, we must study and understand war, 2nd palce is ok in football, 2nd place in war means death to people and nations.

Study how to win and keep the peace as much as you study war.............We made this mistake in Iraqi, we sure knew how to apply firepower but we are finally realizing we need to also know how to apply nation building and bring about peace.




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