February 8, 2023
Here is a question me and my historian friends have wrestled with for a very long time: "Why did Custer really fail at the Little Bighorn fight?"
Of course, if you've read or listened to some contemporary musings about the fight you no doubt have heard that Custer was a psychopath, and an egomaniac, a certified nutjob—and worse–and he was lusting to be president of the United States. The attack in Montana was merely a stepping stone to the White House.
Conversely, in the 1960s, The Custer Battlefield, as it was known then, had West Point Ride Alongs and as one of the story goes, the West Pointers rode over the ground Custer rode over and the soldiers were told what decision the Boy General made at each juncture, and the West Pointers agreed with Custer at each turn. The point being the military tactical types agreed with Custer adding that he made solid decisions. So, who's right and why did everything go south?
It's complicated, and sometimes the answers are contradictory, but I'll try and explain how all the right moves led to the disastrous outcome. Here are the questions we need answers for:
Mysteries of The Little Bighorn
Were His Tactics Actually Solid? Paul Andrew Hutton Explains:
1. Splitting his command without knowing how big the village was, is a major, tactical error.
The 13th Horse Custer had a dozen horses shot out from under him in his earlier Civil War career. He always acted brashly and it always worked, until it didn't. As the Old Vaqueros are fond of saying, "Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness."
In Conclusion: Everything that could go wrong, did. Everything that worked before, did not. Between the tall grass and the In-dins dressed in white-man-clothing, the tide turned slowly, then quickly, and all the training and all the warfare theories went out the window. Add to that, the eager beavers, the superior firepower and the inevitable incompetence of Custer's subordinants and you have, to coin an old phrase, a perfect disaster.
A Cut Above The Rest
Isiah Dorman, an African-American scout with Custer, was shot and mortally wounded in the Reno fight, because, unlike the troopers, he stood and fought. Not long after, the In-din women come onto the field and start butchering all the downed troopers they could find.
Sitting Bull rode into this scene and recognized Dorman, who was married to a Sioux woman. The Sioux chief gave the dying Dorman water and said to the women, "Leave him alone, he's a relative." The women politely waited until Sitting Bull was gone and then lopped off Dorman's head and cut him into tiny pieces.
If this sounds familiar, it's because most of this is my outline-script for my latest YouTube video. Here's the link so you can follow along.
The Final Contradiction
"If we hadn't been led by a coward we'd all be dead."
—Company commander Charles DeRudio, referring to Reno