Saturday, June 25, 2016

This Day in History: Custer's Last Stand

It was hot by the time the battle began. Custer's men were tired from a long forced march. Custer, following a strategy that had worked so well eight years before at the Washita River, split his forces into a three-pronged attack. In his experience, and in his firmest belief system, Custer knew that the natives were no match for the United States Cavalry and particularly his own command, the 7th. He had a simple plan: draw the warriors into a fight at one end of their camp, forcing the women and children to flee in the opposite direction, Then Custer himself, with 225 men, would overtake the women and children, capture them, and – given his ruthlessness – this would force the warriors to surrender. Catch the women, tame the men. He had been ordered to wait. Two whole armies were coming to rendezvous with him in one more day. But commanders have the leeway to make contrary decisions based on conditions on the ground. Custer saw an opportunity to end the conflict in one stunning blow,. He, of course, miscalculated. 140 years ago today, he and all 225 men who rode with him died in a battle that took less than thirty minutes, It was the most stunning defeat suffered by the U. S. Army in the entire Plains War, but it only postponed the inevitable push to crush Native American freedom. So I mark the anniversary of the Last Stand, June 25, 1876. In the grander scheme of things, it was a temporary setback to western expansion and a temporary boost to the warriors who fought, but it remains one of America's most iconic historical events. Many books have been written about Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I hope to add my own to the mix. As Rachel Maddow might say, “Watch this space.”

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