Thursday, November 11, 2010

George Armstrong Custer At The Washita

George Armstrong Custer is a well-known and beloved historical figure in Monroe, Michigan, near our home town.  He is perhaps not so beloved near Cheyenne, Oklahoma, where Custer and the 7th Cavalry decimated Black Kettle and his band of outcasts at the Battle of Washita.  Ironically, Black Kettle's group were outcasts because they were acquiescing to the demands of peace by the Federal Government whereas others were backing the "dog soldiers" who were terrorizing white settlers.

The Custers' perspective of the Battle of Washita from The boy general: story of the life of Major-General George A. Custer, by Elizabeth Bacon Custer:

Additional information can be found in the Following The Guidon by Elizabeth Bacon Custer:

In crossing the Canadian River the quicksands the floating snow and ice were faced uncomplainingly and the nine hundred wet soldiers started up the opposite side without a murmur.

The detail of the officer to remain with the train always assigned according to turn fell to one of the finest of our officers. But Captain Hamilton was not to yield his privilege of being in a fight so readily.  One of the Seventh was suffering from snow blindness and to this misfortune was Captain Hamilton indebted for his change of duty.  In the long confidential talks about the camp fires he had expressed an ardent desire to be in an Indian fight and when the subject of death came up as it did in the wide range of subjects that comrades in arms discussed he used to say "When my hour to die comes I hope that I shall be shot through the heart in battle."

Also in Following The Guidon was Custer's very condensed official report (I've condensed it even more):
November 28 68

On the morning of the 26th eleven companies of the Seventh Cavalry struck an Indian trail numbering one hundred (not quite twenty four hours old) near the point where the Texas boundary line crosses the Canadian River. When the Osage trailers reported a village within a mile of the advance the column was countermarched and withdrawn to a retired point to avoid discovery.  
 The moment the advance was ordered the band struck up Garryowen and with cheers every trooper led by his officer rushed towards the village.

The conflict ended after some hours. The entire village numbering (47) forty seven lodges of Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes (2) two lodges of Arapahoes (2) two lodges of Sioux--(51) fifty one lodges in all under command of their principal chief Black Kettle--were conquered.   Everything of value was destroyed. 53 prisoners were taken squaws and their children among the prisoners are the survivors of Black Kettle and the family of Little Rock. Two white children captives with the Indians were captured. One white woman in their possession was murdered by her captors the moment the attack was made.
Two officers Major Elliott and Captain Hamilton* were killed and 19 enlisted men Captain Barnitz was seriously wounded.

*Captain Louis McLane Hamilton, the first casualty during the attack, was the grandson of Alexander Hamilton (See the NY Times account here and a memorial from the U.S. Cavalry School here).  An account of Captain Hamilton's actions at Washita from Custer's "My life on the Plains" book.

"Washita Battlefield" photographs, including one of Osage guides and one of officers of the 7th Cavalry taken near Fort Dodge, Kansas (including Elliott and Hamilton who were killed at Washita).

My other posts that mentioned Custer included "A Potpourri of Richmond Connections," "Mary (Richmond) Brownell & Sisters," and "Why Is George Armstrong Custer Mentioned In A Lapeer County Deed Book?."

Jim's blog "Palms-Americana" has pictures from our recent visit to the Washita Battle site.

No comments: