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Battle analisis of the Battle of Powder River

Each student will compile a written battle analysis based upon historical research that:

demonstrates understanding of the battle analysis methodology

applies the battle analysis

format

OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
Battle Analysis Format Guide
● Purpose: This guide supplements the information provided in the classroom
instruction and related lesson plan. It is not a definitive, line by line set of
instructions. Instead, it serves to help organize your final paper and offer tips.
● Nature: Battle analysis focuses upon a tactical engagement and the related
cause-effect relationships to develop insights relevant to current and future
operations. The accuracy and validity of your insights stems from understanding
what happened during the battle and the prior shaping events that set the
conditions in which the engagement occurred. Hence the battle analysis format
includes considerable coverage of the setting in addition to actual combat actions
and tactical command decisions.
● Compilation: The battle analysis differs from more typical research papers.
There is no introductory paragraph that sets the overall thesis and tone.
Similarly, insights and lessons learned replace the more conventional concluding
paragraph. Similarity does exist within the principal sections. You will write in
complete sentences and fully developed paragraphs that offer clear main ideas
substantiated by specific references.
● Writing style: IAW with the Army Writing Program, your writing needs to be
precise and succinct, free from excessive verbiage and dramatic emphasis.
Avoid the temptation to pontificate or become distracted by addressing national
policy decisions. The purpose of this assignment lies in the analysis of tactical
actions based upon a detailed reading of source material related to the battle.
● Format: The following pages offer some basic comments and guidance for
organizing and presenting your battle analysis. Guidance and suggestions are
presented either in bold, italicized print or plain text. This information is for your
use. Brackets [ ] denote information you must provide. Do not include the
brackets in your final product.
● Section titles: Use section titles throughout your paper to keep your work
organized and facilitate the grader’s understanding of your content. Section titles
should be placed at the top of the page with the exception of the first page. Do
not create your own section titles. Use the section titles provided in the lesson
plan, slide 8, and illustrated below.
● Section length: There is no mandatory length for each section.
● Battle analysis guides from other sources: Use of online battle analysis
guides is not prohibited, but the information provided in class and in the pages
below takes precedence.
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
● Peer review. If called upon to provide a peer review of another student’s paper,
provide constructive criticism. Do not be shy, and do not simply offer a “pass.”
The purpose of the peer review lies in helping others identify good points and
potential issues that they may not realize exist. Even a well-crafted paper can be
improved. The points below offer some suggestions for providing a useful peer
review.
o Did the author apply the correct organization and format?
o Does the author remain focused upon the battle or do they wander into
other subjects that do not contribute to an understanding of why the battle
occurred and how it developed?
o After reading the paper, do you have a clear idea of why the battle
occurred, the basic circumstances under which it was fought, and what
happened? If not, indicate where the information gaps are.
o Did the paper address the actions of both combatants?
o Did the author rely too heavily upon one source?
o Are there any obvious errors in content?
o Do grammatical errors making reading the paper or understanding the
author’s meaning difficult? If so, try to identify where the problems lie.
o Did the author rely heavily upon passive tense?
o Are there any vague or excessively general statements that could be
removed from the paper without altering its meaning?
o Finally, do the insights/lessons learned provided flow naturally and clearly
from the battle analysis, or do they introduce new details and information
not provided earlier in the paper?
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
The first page of your battle analysis should include the following information
and have a similar layout. Slide 18 in the lesson plan is a good example. This
first page will serve as a title page and Define the Battle. It does not count
against your page count.
[Your name]
[ABOLC Class Number]
[Date]
[NAME OF BATTLE]
USE 16 FONT, CAPITALIZE ALL CHARACTERS, AND BOLD
[Date of battle]
[Location]
[Name/designation of combatants and their commanders]
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
The second page of your paper should include your source list. Number your
sources 1-N, provide pertinent publication or identifying information, and for each
source identify its nature and relevance to your analysis in 1-2 sentences. Slides
19-20 of the lesson plan are good examples. You need to use at least 6 valid
sources. Your source list does not count against your page limit. Do not use
encyclopedias or similar sources, Wikipedia or its derivatives, or blog sites.
[SOURCE LIST]
This section title should be at the top of your page, centered, bolded, and use all
capital letters
[1]
[source name and identifying information]
[insert 1-2 sentences re source nature & relevance]
[2]
[source name and identifying information]
[insert 1-2 sentences re source nature & relevance]
[3]
[source name and identifying information]
[insert 1-2 sentences re source nature & relevance]
[4]
[source name and identifying information]
[insert 1-2 sentences re source nature & relevance]
[5]
[source name and identifying information]
[insert 1-2 sentences re source nature & relevance]
[6]
[source name and identifying information]
[insert 1-2 sentences re source nature & relevance]
For a PDF file from a research module, use the following format:
[name of battle] Research Module, File: [name of file exactly as it appears]
For example, the Groupement Mobile 100 file named Luedeke article AR JAN FEB
2001 would appear in your source list as:
Groupement Mobile 100 Research Module, File: Luedeke article AR JAN FEB
2001.
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
Page three will mark the start of your depiction of the Strategic/Operational
Setting for your battle. Capitalize, center, and bold the section title at the top of
the page.
[STRATEGIC/OPERATIONAL SETTING]
In this section explain why this battle was fought at its particular time and place.
In addition to the suggested information provided on slide 13 of the lesson plan,
the following are some additional considerations to help focus your effort.
● What was the principal mission/objective of each combatant?
● Were there key events or decisions made by the commanders that triggered the
battle?
● In addressing this section try to focus upon the battle and the events immediately
preceding its onset. For example, if you are analyzing the battle at Srok Dong on 30
JUN 1966 there is no need to explain how the US came to be in the Vietnam War.
Focus upon the overarching actions and goals of US and VC/NVA forces along
Route 13. If you are studying Brown’s Mill, you may wish to offer more information
in this section since the failure of Sherman’s cavalry formations to coordinate their
actions created an opportunity that Wheeler identified and exploited to force a battle.
● You may find it useful to generate a simple chronology of key events to organize
your thoughts and for possible inclusion in the appendix.
● Stay focused—some writers get distracted by the “big picture” developments and fail
to understand that the input in this section is simply setting the context for analyzing
the tactical conditions and actions.
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
Page 3 + X will mark the start of the Tactical Setting. The quantity of information
you provided in the previous section will determine whether Tactical Setting
begins on page 4 or later. There is no mandatory page number upon which
Tactical Setting, Describe the Action, or Insights/Lessons Learned must start.
Capitalize, center, and bold the section title at the top of the page.
[TACTICAL SETTING]
In this section address the tactical circumstances of the battle. Indicate the
relative status of the combatants. Other considerations include those found on
slide 14 of the lesson plan and the following:
● What did each commander seek to achieve and how did they prepare/deploy
their forces to accomplish?
● Were there any particular terrain, climate, or weather issues that influenced the
battle?
● Were there any technological factors in play? For example, at 73 Easting did the
2ACR have any advantages related to materiel that benefited its combat
effectiveness?
● Did planning considerations shape tactical developments? If you are addressing
the Hammelburg Raid, this event is not a single battle but a series of tactical
movements/actions intended to culminate in the liberation of US POWs held by
the Germans. Were the resources made available to the American task force
appropriate to the mission?
● Did the combatants have access to good intelligence regarding enemy
dispositions and intent?
● Were there any significant political or social factors that impacted tactical
developments? For example, during the first Thunder Run did political
indoctrination of Iraqi paramilitary forces result in intensified or reduced
resistance to TF 1-64 AR?
Capitalize, center, and bold the section title at the top of the page as shown.
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
[DESCRIBE THE ACTION]
In this section summarize the battle, highlighting key command decisions and
developments. Slide 15 of the lesson plans provides some considerations. In
addition you might think about the following:
● How were the combatants initially arrayed? If you have a good, clear map, you
can include it in the appendix. If you do so, be sure to reference it in your text
rather than leaving it up to the reader to determine its relevance.
● How would you characterize the battle overall? Movement to contact, ambush,
counter ambush, armored reconnaissance, or something else?
● What are the principal actions during the battle? Think in terms of phases,
decisions, key events (including the arrival or reinforcements or a flanking
action), or other developments that impact the combatants. At Srok Dong, for
example, did the American use of helicopters to transport infantry disrupt the Viet
Cong’s attempts to disengage?
● If you indicated key terrain considerations at least reference how the terrain
influenced the battle’s outcome. In the first Thunder Run, for example, did the
urban environment create any specific challenges for TF 1-64 AR (high angle
buildings, overpasses, civilian traffic, close range engagements, etc.)?
● The challenge in this section is to provide sufficient detail to get a sense of the
battle without becoming immersed in minutiae. Remember you are not writing a
book but trying to make sense of the battle and generate relevant lessons
learned. You should have more knowledge of the battle based on your research
and reading than is necessary for the paper. Select the most important and
significant items. One example from the experience of Groupement Mobile 100
lies in the early destruction of key French radio sets early in the action. You
would identify this event and indicate its consequences.
● Remember to address both combatants, not just the actions of US forces.
● For battles for which information on one of the combatants is limited (ie—some
Vietnam and OIF engagements), provide at least some general sense of how
these forces conducted themselves in combat. There is information available on
general composition, basic tactics, combat power, etc. even if we cannot identify
a specific unit and trace its actions and movements on the battlefield in detail.
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
Capitalize, center, and bold the section title at the top of the page as shown.
[INSIGHTS/LESSONS LEARNED]
In this section you will address the significance of your battle in terms of insights
or lessons learned that have relevance today. Studying history, or a historical
event like a battle, has limited value beyond basic information or entertainment
unless you can identify its significance, or put more bluntly, answer the “so
what?” question. In addition to the considerations found on slide 16 of the
lesson plan, here are some additional thoughts regarding this section.
● Do not introduce new details and information in this section. Instead provide
insights based upon your analysis. If you find yourself introducing new
information regarding command decisions, key events, etc., integrate this
information into an earlier section. You can still retain a lessons learned or insight
statement if applicable—it will now derive from what has already been presented.
● Avoid overly general or vague statements. In general, if you can remove a
sentence from your paper without altering its meaning or content flow, it is too
vague and contributes nothing toward your analysis.
● Be sure to provide at least 4 insights or lessons learned. If you have done your
work correctly, you should be able to provide more than 4.
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OFFICE OF THE ARMOR BRANCH HISTORIAN
You are not required to use maps, diagrams, graphics, tables, etc. If you do so,
place each such item in the appendix on a separate page. Appendix pages do not
count against the overall page limit. Number each item and make sure you have
referenced each one in the text. Do not leave the reader guessing as to your
motive in including these items. The source of each item should be identified in
the same manner applied throughout the text. Capitalize, center, and bold the
word “Appendix” at the top of the page on which it begins.
[APPENDIX]
[Figure #, Name or designation of item, (source #, page or other)]
Example for this image:
Figure 1: 16th Cavalry Regiment Distinctive Unit Insignia (2, pp. 12)
9
COLONEL JOSEPH J. REYNOLDS AND THE SAINT PATRICK’S DAY
CELEBRATION ON POWDER RIVER: BATTLE OF POWDER
RIVER (MONTANA, 17 MARCH 1876)
A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U.S. Army
Command and General Staff College in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree
MASTER OF MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE
Military History
by
MICHAEL L. HEDEGAARD, MAJ, USA
B.S., Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, 1987
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
2001
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
i
MASTER OF MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE
THESIS APPROVAL PAGE
Name of Candidate: Major Michael L. Hedegaard
Thesis Title: Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds and the Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration on
Powder River: Battle of Powder River (Montana, 17 March 1876)
Approved by:
_________________________________________, Thesis Committee Chair
Jerold E. Brown, Ph.D.
_________________________________________, Member
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Gleason, M.A.
_________________________________________, Member
Lieutenant Colonel John M. Koivisto, M.A.
Accepted this 1st day of June 2001 by:
_________________________________________, Director, Graduate Degree Programs
Philip J. Brookes, Ph.D.
The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the student author and do not
necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College or
any other governmental agency. (References to this study should include the foregoing
statement.)
ii
ABSTRACT
COLONEL JOSEPH J. REYNOLDS AND THE SAINT PATRICK’S DAY
CELEBRATION ON POWDER RIVER; BATTLE OF POWDER RIVER (MONTANA,
17 MARCH 1876), by MAJ Michael L. Hedegaard, USA, 102 pages.
The Battle of Powder River occurred on 17 March 1876 in southeastern Montana.
Historians and researchers have consistently overlooked the importance of this battle on
the outcome of the Great Sioux War of 1876. Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds set out to
destroy the Indian camp established by the combined Cheyenne and Oglala Sioux in
order to push the Indians back to the reservations and allow miners to enter the Black
Hills to mine gold. Reynolds failed to accomplish this mission. The intelligence from
his Indian scouts was flawed. Logistically, the soldiers were not fed, clothed, armed, or
supplied for actions against the Indian tribes during the winter months. There was no
written doctrine for the soldiers to follow. Tactically, Crook was delinquent because of
the overconfidence in his force against the Indians. Crook failed to support Reynolds
with troops, ammunition, logistics, and supplies. The outcome of this battle contributed
to the defeats of Crook at the Rosebud and Custer at Little Big Horn because it caused the
Indians to form a massive nation for self-preservation. Historians estimate that Crook
faced more than 1,500 warriors at the Rosebud and Custer faced more than 2,500 braves
at the Little Big Horn.
iii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Many thanks for assisting me, either physically, mentally, or motivationally, goes
to the people who helped me during this past year writing this thesis. First and foremost,
to my wife Christy who spent many hours with me proofing my writings, offering
support, and motivating me when I just wanted to be finished. I know this was a
distraction. I owe you one. To my committee for your time invested in the professional
development of this basic soldier. To my friend Jim Dulemba for the many hours on the
phone and for pointing me in the right direction for research material and listening to my
all-too-often ranting about “new” findings. Your expertise on this battle is second to
none. To Larry and Linda Thomas, the owners of the ranch on which the Powder River
Battlefield is located, for allowing me to invade your privacy to walk the battlefield and
study the terrain. The lunch and coffee you offered was a Godsend on those cold
December days. To Bob Carroll, who allowed me to see the many historical exhibits in
his museum that was closed to the general public.
iv
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
APPROVAL PAGE ………………………………………………………………………………………..
ii
ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………………………………..
iii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ………………………………………………………………………………
iv
FIGURES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..
vi
PREFACE …………………………………………………………………………………………………….
1
CHAPTER
1. BACKGROUND …………………………………………………………………………………
8
2. THE LONGEST DAY………………………………………………………………………….
26
3. THE ATTACK…………………………………………………………………………………….
41
4. REPERCUSSIONS………………………………………………………………………………
68
5. CONCLUSION……………………………………………………………………………………
78
FIGURES………………………………………………………………………………………………………
86
BIBLIOGRAPHY…………………………………………………………………………………………..
97
INITIAL DISTRIBUTION LIST ……………………………………………………………………..
102
v
ILLUSTRATIONS
Figure
Page
1. Route of Crook’s Column at Powder River……………………………………………….
86
2. Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds. ……………………………………………………………………
86
3. General George Crook ……………………………………………………………………………
86
4. Chief Two Moons …………………………………………………………………………………
87
5. Captain Anson Mills ………………………………………………………………………………
87
6. Captain Alexander Moore……………………………………………………………………….
87
7. Buffalo Overcoat……………………………………………………………………………………
88
8. Army Issue Gray Woolen Mittens ……………………………………………………………
88
9. Muskrat Fur Gauntlets ……………………………………………………………………………
88
10. Frank Grouard, Scout…………………………………………………………………………….
89
11. Egan’s “White Horse” Troop………………………………………………………………….
89
12. Reconnaissance Confusion …………………………………………………………………….
90
13. Looking Northeast from Moore’s Ridge into the Indian Village………………….
91
14. Reynolds’ Plan ……………………………………………………………………………………..
92
15. Looking North across Thompson Creek …………………………………………………..
93
16. Looking Southwest from the Indian Village……………………………………………..
93
17. Actual Attack Routes …………………………………………………………………………….
94
18. Indian Counterattack and “Horseshoe Defense”………………………………………..
95
19. Sheridan’s Campaign Plan……………………………………………………………………..
96
vi
PREFACE
INTRODUCTION
The Battle of Powder River occurred on 17 March 1876 in southeastern Montana
north of present-day Moorhead, Montana (figure 1). Historians and researchers have
consistently overlooked the importance of this battle on the Great Sioux War of 1876
(also know as the Yellowstone and Bighorn Campaign, the Centennial Campaign, and the
Bighorn Expedition). Because this battle occurred three months prior to the Battles of the
Rosebud and the Little Big Horn, many fail to tie its significance into the rest of the
campaign.
Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds (figure 2), commander of the Third Cavalry
Regiment, set out from Otter Creek in the late afternoon of 16 March 1876, with the
purpose of destroying the Indian camp established by the combined Cheyenne and Oglala
Sioux. His mission, given him by Brigadier General George Crook (figure 3), was to
attack the Indian camp, defeat the Indian braves, destroy their supplies, and steal their
ponies. General Crook directed Reynolds to “shoot everything in sight.”1 This strategy
was meant to push the Indians back to the reservations and allow miners to enter the
Black Hills and mine the gold without fear of Indian retribution.
This thesis will examine how the Battle of Powder River played a role in the
operational losses in the battles of the rest of the Centennial Campaign. The Battle of
Powder River began a series of mistakes, blunders, and lost battles, all directly or
indirectly contributing to the massing of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes just prior
to Custer’s fatal last day.
1
There has been a dearth of research conducted on the Battle of Powder River.
Historians have generally ignored this battle for the past 125 years. This thesis will
address questions about the leadership of the campaign. Did the debacle of the Battle of
Powder River lead to the loss of Crook’s force to Crazy Horse at the Rosebud and the
destruction of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn? Did Colonel Joseph J.
Reynolds’ prior soiled reputation affect his mental state? Did General George Crook,
leader of the campaign, place Colonel Reynolds into the role of leader of the attack on the
Indian camp in an attempt to save Reynolds’ previously soiled reputation? Did the
attitude of Reynolds and Crook have an effect on the outcome of the battle?
The leadership of the U.S. Army assumed an arrogant attitude that led to mistakes
and overestimations of the U.S. Army readiness, training, and tactical posture. Was the
attitude of the leadership that lead to the refusal of arms, ammunition, rations, and more
troops because they thought the Indians would not fight? What effect did the poor
preparedness (clothing, food, and shelter) of the U.S. Army soldiers have on the outcome
of the battle? Did this black mark in U.S. Army history occur because the soldiers were
too cold and tired to continue to fight? Were the soldiers trained to fight or even to
survive in the arctic-type temperatures?
Following the battle on 17 March, nothing was heard of this expedition until 22
March when General Crook forwarded a brief account of his Battle on Powder River.
Crook stated in his dispatch that the result of this fight was the destruction of Crazy
Horse’s village of 105 lodges. It was, instead, the village of Two Moons (figure 4), the
principal warrior. Many historians assert that the battle resulted in little else than a series
of remarkable blunders that allowed the Indians to make their escape, losing only a small
2
quantity of their property. General Crook, in his dispatch, asserted that the total number
of warriors would not exceed two thousand instead of the 15,000 or 20,000 hostile
Indians in the Black Hills and Big Horn Country. It was upon this estimation that the
remainder of the expeditions in the Centennial Campaign were prepared. Many of the
nearly two hundred warriors at Powder River, along with their families and
approximately 700 to 1,000 ponies, would live to fight again against the Army at the
Battles of the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn.2 This failed attempt to knock out the
combined Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribe served to warn the Indians of the intentions
for a summer campaign by the U.S. government.
The Powder River skirmish remains obscure in history compared to the plethora
of information on the Battles of the Rosebud or Little Big Horn. One can only speculate
who the chief of the Indian tribe was at the Powder River camp. At the time, the troops
believed the chief was Crazy Horse. Subsequent evidence strongly indicates that it
consisted of Old Bear’s Cheyennes and some visiting Oglala Sioux under He Dog. Old
Bear and He Dog were older chiefs, relegated to leading the tribe as elders and the village
was likely under the control of Two Moons, the principal warrior. The village was
composed of approximately 200 warriors and their families.3 This scarcity of
information on the Indian leaders and warriors compels this writer to focus on the
perspective of the U.S. Army and its leaders.
Although this thesis will deal primarily with the U.S. Army perspective, Indian
accounts will be used to illustrate key points. Most of the information will be taken from
the accounts of the Indian scouts used by the U.S. Army. General Crook was well known
for using Indian scouts to hunt and track other Indian tribes. In 1866, companies of
3
Indian scouts were organized by legislation and approved by Secretary of War Edwin M.
Stanton. There were two companies of fifty Indian scouts sent to fight hostile Indians,
one being under Crook’s command. Crook found that the Indian scouts already had the
basic tracking, shooting, and hunting skills necessary to follow the trail of other Indians.
Crook would also use the scouts as part of his fighting force. The Indian scouts that
fought with Crook often initiated skirmishes and warned Crook of imminent danger.4
The U.S. Army officer’s memoirs and the first-hand accounts tend to be
dramatically enhanced when finally put to paper, often many years after the battle. This
delayed and often self-glorifying view of the battle lends itself to inaccurate and
exaggerated force sizes, body counts, and individual attendance. Thus, the modern
researcher must compare personal accounts from differing perspectives to gain the
ground truth, or at least the “consolidated lie.” The reader must also take into
consideration that many senior officers of the day surrounded themselves with aides and
newspaper writers that they liked, and who liked them. This often led to one-sided
stories and glorification of the senior officer.
Much has been written on the Battles of the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn, so
much so that many people are not aware of the significance of the Battle of Powder
River. This thesis is a critical view of leadership, preparedness, and the general state of
the U.S. Army during the Indian wars, particularly how it applies to the Battle of Powder
River.
While this thesis focuses on the Battle of Powder River, it will discuss some of
the effects of this battle on the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn battles. This battle will
be discussed from a tactical, logistical, and leadership perspective. All of these battles
4
will be used to illustrate certain points brought out at Powder River since the failures of
the rest of the campaign could have been averted by using lessons learned from its first
battle.
This thesis will be broken into six chapters. These chapters include the
introduction, background, prebattle, battle, postbattle, and conclusion. Within these
chapters, the battle will be examined from many different angles. These include, but are
not limited to, leadership, command, intelligence, logistics, unit cohesion, planning,
operations, training, legal issues, and morale. The leadership and command of both the
U.S. Army and the Indian tribe will be assessed. The U.S. Army officers and
noncommissioned officers (NCOs) that will be focused on include General Crook,
Colonel Reynolds, Captain Noyes, Captain Mills, Captain Moore, and NCOs within the
unit.
The intelligence collection came almost exclusively from the Indian scouts that
General Crook had with him as guides. These scouts were not only the eyes of the
Cavalry, but also the first line of defense against Indian attacks. Some of the intelligence
that the U.S. Army overlooked during this entire campaign came from the census taken
by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the actual agents on the reservations that estimated
the Indian strength at over 20,000. It was also estimated that the tribes could gather more
than 4,000 warriors at any time if pressured into fighting.5 Crook’s response to these
estimates was to rationalize, correctly, that the Indians would separate into small bands of
less than 1,000 during the winter to forage over eastern Montana and western Dakotas.
Of these tribes, the true target was the 8,000 “winter roamers” that held the majority of
the staunchest rebels. This number included the Indians that refused to return to the
5
reservation at any time. This number also included both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.
The goal was to drive these “hostiles” back onto the reservation, defeating the “summer
roamers” desire to travel off of the reservation.
Logistics in the Great Plains during the time of the Indian Wars was a daunting
task, to say the least. Dealing with the bitter cold, lack of water, distances traveled, and
vastness of the territory was every quartermaster’s nightmare. There were many battles
where the soldiers fought with little or nothing to eat or drink for days, extending their
rations to lighten the load on their horses for more flexibility and stealth. Likewise, an
examination of the status of the forces on the frontier, as well as the equipment they
chose to use and not to use, will demonstrate the ingenuity and all too often ineptness
displayed by the leaders and soldiers of the regiment.
This thesis will show an understanding of the morale of the unit at both its high
and low points. The bonding of the soldiers throughout the Indian wars was nothing
short of incredible, with the soldiers standing by each other until death, facing the trials
and tribulations of battle together.
The planning, operations, and training of the U.S. Cavalry and Infantry soldiers
left much to be desired. The units would often deploy from garrison with ill-trained
soldiers, untested in the ways of combat with the Indians. These soldiers often learned
from the school of hard knocks, with an NCO or harsh winter as their teacher. The
relationship between the doctrine of the Civil War and the way the Cavalry and Infantry
units attempted to bastardize it to fit into the Indian wars will be examined.
This thesis will paint a portrait of the Indian leaders in this battle and how they
perceived the white man and U.S. Army soldier. Their doctrine pertaining to the land
6
they chose at the Powder River, why they were so hard to find, and the makeup of their
village will be examined. This thesis will also examine their general preparedness and
how they survived the long winters that often stopped the U.S. Army soldiers from
deploying out of garrison due to the bitter, killing cold.
Finally, a careful study of Powder River will demonstrate that there is a probable
cause and effect between the lost opportunity by Colonel Reynolds and his men, and the
defeat suffered later by the U.S. Army in the remainder of the Centennial Campaign.
This thesis will show that the mistakes that Reynolds is blamed for and carried to his
death are ones of, in some cases, bad luck, poor reconnaissance, poor judgment, and all
too often a result of the harsh conditions his soldiers were under.
1
Cornelius C. Smith Jr., “Crook and Crazy Horse,” Montana, the Magazine of
Western History, spring 1966, 14.
2
Robert Marshall Utley, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the
Indian, 1866-1891 (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 249.
3
Utley, 249.
4
Oliver Knight, Indian Wars Beginning in the West (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1960), 175.
5
John S. Gray, Centennial Campaign, The Sioux War of 1876 (Norman and
London: University of Oklahoma Press), 36.
7
CHAPTER 1
BACKGROUND
Any study of the 1876 Centennial Campaign must start with an understanding of
the past and the backgrounds of the leadership. This leadership analysis includes General
Phil Sheridan, Lieutenant General George Crook, Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds, Captain
Anson Mills, Captain Henry Noyes, Captain James Egan, and Captain Alexander Moore.
It also includes the Indian leaders Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Two Moons, and Wooden
Leg, as well as Indian scouts that were paramount to the U.S. Cavalry during the Indian
Wars. This section will also address equipment issues, morale, logistics procedures,
training, and winter operations tactics that the U.S. Army and the Indian tribes faced.
In 1874, President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, on the heels of the 1873
financial panic and under the counsel of General William T. Sherman and General Phil
Sheridan, proceeded to march troops into the region surrounding the Sioux reservation in
South Dakota. In 1874 it was discovered that the region was rich in gold deposits, but the
treaty of 1868 had given the rights to the land in the Black Hills to the Sioux tribe. The
U.S. government needed to find a way to circumvent the treaty. In a letter to General
Sherman, Sheridan painted an unbelievably rosy picture of the Yellowstone Basin, west
of the Black Hills, to be so full of gold that one need just reach into the clear water and
pluck out stones of gold.
This letter was intended for Sherman with the sole purpose of being printed by the
National Press, causing a rush of miners and gold diggers to the area. The Sioux Indians
had the only hunting rights on the Yellowstone River tributaries west of their reservation.
Sheridan hoped an increase of miners would be an opportunity to destroy the available
8
game that the Indians hunted, driving the Indians off of the land. Sheridan was bound by
law to enforce the treaty that did not allow whites the opportunity to settle or mine on the
reservation itself, but he could encourage settlement in the surrounding area of northern
Wyoming and eastern Montana. His plan was to encourage whites to settle heavily into
the eastern Montana. This would drive down the wild game population and cause
congress to change the hunting rights of the Sioux when the white population became too
large to ignore.1 This tactic was also designed to drive the Sioux back onto the
reservation because of a lack of game to be hunted.
The stories in the press were well received by the white population. Because of a
slump in the economy, people were willing to risk everything to mine for gold in the
Black Hills and become rich, even if that meant encroaching on the reservation. Many
groups of miners gathered to set off for the Black Hills. Their intent was to raid the
Sioux reservation and illegally mine the region. Sheridan wrote a dispatch to the Armies
in the territory stating “Should companies now organizing at Sioux City and Yankton
trespass on the Sioux Indian Reservation, you are hereby directed to use the force at your
command to burn the wagon trains, destroy the outfit, and arrest the leaders, confining
them at the nearest military post.”2 His true feelings were revealed in his closing line
when he stated “Should Congress extinguish the Sioux claim to the region, I will give
cordial support to the settlement of the Black Hills.”3
During the winter of 1874 the mining parties were able to slip past the Army
patrols and reported the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. This report fueled the
protests of miners since they were unable to stake claims in the Black Hills. Sheridan
became aggravated by the audacity of the miners. He could not believe that they had
9
gone onto the reservation to mine the gold. He was so outraged that he sent two
detachments of soldiers to arrest the miners, against the advice of Sherman. The
detachments were unable to accomplish their mission because of bad weather and turned
back. In April of 1875 the Army apprehended the renegade miners and escorted them off
of the reservation. This only seemed to fuel the fire of the whites. They now, more than
ever, wanted their chance at the gold that was seemingly all over the Black Hills.
In the summer of 1875, the Department of the Interior commissioned geologist
Walter P. Jenney to survey the Black Hills to discern the relative worth of the ground of
the reservation. They had hoped to get an idea of the worth of the land in order to
purchase the property, along with all rights to it, from the Sioux tribe. In September of
1875, a formal U.S. government commission met with the Sioux council outside of the
Red Cloud Agency. The Sioux nation was greatly divided on the proposal to sell the land
of the Black Hills, and when the meeting ended, no settlement was agreed upon. The
commission recommended that Congress set a fair price and force the Sioux nation to
accept it.
This proposal led to a secret November meeting at the White House in
Washington, DC. Sheridan, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and the secretary of the
interior were summoned to the White House for council with the president. Knowing the
possibility of a Sioux War on the northern plains, Sheridan gave Crook command of the
Department of the Platte in April. Sheridan requested Crook’s presence at the White
House for this meeting. By the summer of 1875, Crook estimated that nearly 1,200 gold
miners were in the Black Hills, trespassing on the Sioux reservation.4
10
Sheridan got everything he wanted from the November meeting. The president’s
order to protect the Sioux reservation would continue, but the Army was no longer
responsible for it. The effort to purchase the Black Hills by the government had been
shut down by the nomadic bands of Sioux from outside of the reservation. The president
wanted to drive these Indian leaders onto the reservation in order to control them. If the
Indians were unwilling to comply with his order, the president told Sheridan to initiate a
winter campaign against Crazy Horse, Gall, and Sitting Bull.
Six days after the meeting at the White House, the Indian Bureau Inspector
reported that the winter roamers, Indians that stayed off of the reservation year around,
“were in possession of the best hunting ground in the United States”5 and the U.S.
government should send Army troops to “whip them into subjection” in a winter
campaign as soon as possible. The Secretary of the Interior sent word to Sitting Bull and
all other winter roamers that they were to report to the Agency immediately. If they did
not report by 31 January 1876, the Army would force the roamers onto the reservation.6
Only one month from the conference with the president, the U.S. government had waged
war with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and all other winter roaming Indians who were off
the reservation. It seems unconscionable that the War Department, acting on orders from
the President of the United States, would declare war on the Indian tribes when this is the
sole responsibility of the Congress of the United States. The Treaty of 1868 set aside
land for the Indian tribes to hunt and live on, and the whole Indian Nation was correct in
disregarding the imposition by the War Department. The white population of the United
States was angry that the Indians would not give up the Black Hills to mining. Greed and
11
disregard for the “savages” was surely the impetus behind the nearsightedness of the U.S.
government.
Ulysses S. Grant chose General George Crook to lead the winter campaign into
the Indian Territory in southwestern Montana. Crook was an Indian fighter with the
reputation of, at least in Sherman’s mind, being the greatest Indian fighter and manager
the Army ever had. He had fought the Apache in Arizona and the Shoshone, Paiute and
Nez Perce on the west coast. During the Civil War he fought the Confederate with Ohio
on the side of the Union forces. During the Civil War in 1861, Crook served in guerilla
actions in West Virginia and at the battles of Second Bull Run and Chickamauga. After
the war, Crook returned to the Pacific Northwest, where he fought for two years against
the Paiute. Because of his success, President Grant personally placed Crook in charge of
the Arizona Territory. Beginning in 1871 he waged a successful campaign to force the
Apache onto reservations. Crook spent his entire military career, with the exception of
the Civil War years, on the frontier fighting the Indians. He earned the distinction of
being the lowest-ranking West Point cadet ever to rise to the rank of non-brevet major
general.
In 1806 the Army began awarding brevet rank. Borrowed from the British
service, brevet rank was honorary rank awarded to an officer for meritorious conduct.
Rank was a confusing issue initially during the research for this thesis since a person
would be referred to as a captain one day, and a general the next. In the early 1870s,
brevets were on the way to extinction by permitting only actual rank to be referred to in
orders and prohibiting the wearing of brevet uniforms. Gradually, brevets ceased to be
awarded and medals replaced them as means of conferring honor.7
12
The winter of 1872-1873 found Crook’s men chasing and harassing roving bands
of Indians who refused to enter the reservation. Under Crook’s General Order No. 10, all
such Indians would “be regarded as hostile and punished accordingly.”8 Having
completed his mission against the Apache in Arizona, Crook was transferred to the
northern Plains in April of 1875 where he took command of the Army of the Platte. He
was first given the impossible task of removing a rapidly growing hoard of gold miners
from the Black Hills. By 1876, he was part of the winter attack designed to drive the
roamers back onto the Sioux reservation.
Joining Crook on the Centennial Campaign was General Joseph J. Reynolds. He
had been serving as the Regimental commander of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and general
of volunteers in the reconstruction of Texas. Reynolds was a veteran of the Civil War,
where he fought with the Union in numerous battles, and of the Mexican War. The
history of Major General Joseph J. Reynolds is a shaky one. From his command of a
Union Division to his time as the general of volunteers, Reynolds seemed to draw
attention as a poor leader of soldiers and as one who might have been the unluckiest and
most misunderstood general officer of the nineteenth century.
Receiving an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point,
Reynolds graduated in 1843, tenth in a class of thirty-nine. In 1845 he joined troops
under General Zachary Taylor in Texas. He returned the following year to West Point as
an instructor of history and geography and stayed until 1855. After a tour of duty in the
Indian Territory, he resigned his commission to teach engineering at Washington
University in St. Louis. In 1860 he resettled in Indiana to enter the grocery business with
his brother. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Reynolds returned to duty as a Colonel in
13
the Tenth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers and was soon appointed brigadier general of
United States Volunteers. He distinguished himself in the fight for western Virginia and
was promoted to Major General in 1862. He commanded a division in the Army of the
Cumberland at Chickamauga and in fighting near Chattanooga, organized the defense of
New Orleans in 1864, and led the Nineteenth Corps in the capture of Mobile. In an
abstract from his Master of Military Arts and Science thesis, Commander David M.
Kapaun, Jr. cites the relative lackluster performance by Reynolds division at the Battle of
Chickamauga.9
After the Civil War, Reynolds again resigned his commission in 1866 and
accepted a commission as Colonel of the twenty-fifth Infantry before he transferred to the
Third Cavalry. Reynolds took charge of the Department of Arkansas at the end of the
Civil War and was subsequently transferred to Brownsville, where he assumed
responsibility for the military sub-district of the Rio Grande.
In September 1867 he succeeded General Charles Griffin as commander of the
Department of Texas in Galveston. Reynolds quickly became caught up in the turmoil of
political reconstruction as he moved to seize control of the state by the Republican party.
Before the arrival of democratic General Winfield S. Hancock as his superior in the Fifth
Military District, Reynolds appointed more than 400 Unionists and Republicans to state
offices. Reynolds organized the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention of
1868-69 after completing a registration of Texas voters that disfranchised thousands of
Democrats and former Confederates,
In March 1869 his former classmate, President Grant, appointed him to command
the Fifth Military District, and apparently aroused Reynolds’ interest in a United States
14
Senate seat. The Republican party in Texas, however, emerged from the 1868
convention split between moderate and radical wings. As Reynolds sought the favor of
the moderate Republicans under A. J. Hamilton and subsequently the radicals under E. J.
Davis, he split the party further and weakened whatever support may have existed for his
senatorial candidacy. In February 1870 he stepped aside as a candidate due to opposition
across the state and across party lines. The termination of military rule in Texas in April
1870 had effectively ended Reynolds’ political career. Reynolds returned to military
duties on the frontier in 1872.10
Reynolds’ second-in-command during the Centennial Campaign was Captain
Anson Mills (figure 5). During the Civil War, Mills served with the Union as a member
of the 18th Infantry Regiment, part of 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of the Ohio. Mills
credits himself for the Army getting rid of “scales,” which were shiny accoutrements
worn as decoration during battle in days of fighting with short swords.11 On Christmas
day of 1862, Mills was transferred from General Steedman’s Brigade to Rosecrans’ Army
of the Cumberland in General Shepard’s “Regular Brigade” and fought at Murfreesboro
against Bragg and Breckinridge. Mills also fought at Chickamauga where the “Regular
Brigade” lost over 30 percent of their strength in killed, wounded, and missing. They lost
an entire battery (taken by the Confederates) and all of the horses were killed. Mills
participated in the capture of the 500 guns of the Confederate Army at Missionary Ridge,
which laid siege to Chattanooga following the battle of Chickamauga. His own heroic
account had him in the depths of the enemy artillery barrage, only moments from death.12
After the war, Mills was detailed as a recruiter based on his time in service. He
and his wife were sent to Fort Aubrey, Kansas, via Leavenworth. Mills later wrote that
15
the weather was so cold that one of his men froze to death and several others got
frostbite. Another notable event in Mills’ memoirs includes spending time at Fort
Douglas, Utah where he learned first hand of the Mormon religion from Brigham Young
himself.
As commander of Company H, Mills was known for his strange sense of
leadership and military bearing. He encouraged a different form of punishment for any
man in need of discipline. Mills had the post carpenter construct a very unprepossessing
wooden horse and a wooden sword about six feet long, with its business end painted
bloody red. Any soldier reported for disorderly conduct had to ride this horse for a
certain period of time, dismounting occasionally to groom it with a currycomb and
provide it with a bucket of water. Most men came to dread “riding the horse” more than
they did spending a month in the guardhouse.13
Upon arrival at Fort Bridger, Utah in 1866, Mills’ two companies were equipped
with Spencer breech-loading carbines. Although this was a definite step up from the
Springfield muzzle-loaders that they were carrying, the Spencers had heavy metallic
cartridges for 50-caliber ammunition. This ammunition was cumbersome and loud when
carried in the old Springfield ammunition boxes. Mills designed a leather belt with 50
loops on it so the soldiers could carry their ammunition around their waist. The belt was
easily constructed of leather by the post saddler. Mills quickly gained numerous patents
for his ammunition belt and it was distributed throughout the U.S. Army and to numerous
armies around the world. This invention made Mills wealthy and allowed him to
continue to produce many other items of equipment, mostly for military use.14
16
In 1869, congress passed a law reducing the Army from 60,000 to 30,000 men.
Mills traveled with his regiment to Atlanta for the reconsolidation, and in 1871,
transferred from the Infantry to the Cavalry because he thought that the Cavalry would
provide more opportunity for success. His first duty as a Cavalry officer was with the 3rd
Cavalry Regiment in Fort Halleck, Nevada with follow on duty at Fort Whipple in
Prescott, Arizona. In December of 1871, he moved to 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort
McPhearson, Nebraska. When he arrived in January of 1872, he was under the new
command of General Reynolds.
Another of Reynolds’ battalion commanders was Captain Alexander Moore
(figure 6), who was a native of Ireland and was appointed as a Lieutenant in the
Thirteenth Wisconsin Infantry when the Civil War began. His service was categorized as
distinguished and he was quickly brevetted Lieutenant Colonel of volunteers for gallantry
and distinguished conduct in the Army of the Potomac prior to Gettysburg. He was also
a brevet colonel of volunteers for gallant and highly meritorious conduct in the battle of
Gettysburg. In 1867, he was appointed captain in the Thirty-eighth Infantry, and
assigned to the Third Cavalry in 1870.
In the late 1860s, the Army was beginning the conversion to a standardized
clothing, equipment, and quartermaster system. Change to equipment and clothing was a
slow process. Because of the lack of experience of the U.S. soldiers fighting in the arctic
type conditions, many of the troops were put in harms way due to their equipment. Many
of the changes that were made were based on making the clothing look better, not more
comfortable or warmer. The clothes worn by the soldiers were neither practical nor
lightweight, though the over garments did offer warmth against the bitter cold of the
17
winter expedition. Prior to the Centennial Campaign, most of the force had never lived in
or fought in temperatures as extreme as those experienced during the march into
southeastern Montana. The uniformity was nonexistent in an organization that prided
itself on uniformity. Many of the soldiers wore whatever clothing they could muster,
often trading their buddies or the supply sergeant for a more effective barrier from the
cold.
Understanding the clothing challenges provides insight into the plight of the
troops in the regiment. A passage from the memoirs of Captain John G. Bourke, a
member of Crook’s staff, provides a description of the “typical” northern plains soldier
during the winter campaign.
For underwear, individual preferences were consulted, the general idea being
to have at least two kinds of material used, principally merino and perforated
buckskin; over these was placed a heavy blue flannel shirt, made doublebreasted, and then a blouse, made also double-breasted, then Mission or
Minnesota blanket, with large buttons, or a coat of Norway kid lined with
heavy flannel. When the blizzards blew, nothing in the world would keep out
the cold but an overcoat of buffalo [figure 7] or bearskin or beaver, although
for many the overcoats made in St. Paul of canvas, lined with the heaviest
blanket, and strapped and belted tight about the waist, were pronounced
sufficient. The head was protected by a cap of cloth, with fur border to pull
down over the ears; a fur collar enclosed the neck and screened the mouth and
nose from the keen blasts; and the hands were covered by woolen gloves
[figure 8] and over-gauntlets of beaver [figure 9] or musk-rat fur.15
These soldiers bore the look of an underfed buffalo wandering around the prairie on the
back of a horse. They were so bundled and encumbered by the heavy clothing they wore
that they were not able to fight in their standard equipment. Many soldiers spent part of
their own meager wages on warm clothing because the Army did not have a system to
keep them equipped.
18
Doctrine used in the Indian Wars was generally gained by experiences of the
individual soldiers. The doctrine learned during the Mexican War, the Civil War, and
early Indian wars was not formally recorded. This lack of forethought ensured that the
Army continually needed to “reinvent the wheel” every time they fought against irregular
forces.
The U.S. Army fought against irregular forces throughout the entire nineteenth
century. For example, it fought against more than 150 Indian tribes from the southeast to
the northwest United States. Before that, it fought against Confederate raiders and
guerrillas in Mexico. Following the Indian Wars, the Army fought against
revolutionaries in the Philippines. Because of the Army’s ability to adapt, they were able
to eventually win each conflict, even though the Army fought each engagement with
irregular forces in what seemed to be a doctrinal vacuum. The Army was almost always
successful, but never developed doctrine (or even just a written example of lessons
learned) to aid in the next conflict.
Guerrilla activity during the American Civil War never amounted to much more
than harassment. Although the uniformed forces on such battlefields as Shiloh,
Antietam, and Gettysburg decided the war itself, the constant harassment by the irregular
forces caused commanders on both sides to spend resources to protect the valuable
supply stocks. Virgil Carrington Jones has stated that “gray ghosts and rebel raiders”
operating in northern and western Virginia prevented Grant from implementing his plans
for an attack against Richmond for the better part of a year. Even though this might have
prolonged the war, there is no evidence that these guerrilla activities were decisive.16
19
Although the Indians of North America used guerrilla tactics, they were not
necessarily participating in a guerrilla war. Unlike the guerrillas of Mexico or the
Confederacy, they were not part-time soldiers hidden by a friendly population. They did
not act in support of an existing regular Army. These were people under attack by
numerous groups of settlers, gold miners, railroads, stockmen, trappers, and the military.
They responded with violence in a sporadic fashion with no strategic plan. Often they
resisted only because they saw no other choice. They fought as nomads or from unsecure
bases, not like the Mexicans and Confederates that were hidden by a larger population
living behind the lines of their enemies.
The Army’s task in the west was more difficult because the Indians did not
usually move on foot, nor did they stay on a relatively small possession of land. General
William T. Sherman described the war against the Indians as the “hardest kind of war.”
The Indians would attack settlements on horseback, in small bands, and then ride off into
the unsettled west. The Indians used wide expanses to travel and could make raids many
miles from their tribe. This made the job of proving which tribe committed the crime
almost impossible, and made catching up to the guilty warriors a difficult, if not
impossible, task. The speed at which the Indians moved was unparalleled by any of the
other guerrilla forces of the nineteenth century.
Much of the Army’s work in the west during the Indian Wars was that of a federal
police force. It served eviction notices on Indians and then forcibly removed them when
required. If Indians were off of the reservations, the Army found them and forced them
back. If the Army could not coax them back onto the reservation, it would attempt to
arrest the Indians. This amounted to little more than an armed attack to force the Indians
20
to surrender. If these Indian bands raided white settlers, the Army’s task was to track
down the guilty parties and bring them back for punishment. These activities sometimes
looked like war due to the numbers involved, but for the most part they were routine but
difficult police work.17 The Indians of the west rarely engaged in what we would now
refer to as a real war. Although most Indian tribes had a basic knowledge of tactics, they
usually lacked discipline and chiefs that were able to control warriors in the heat of battle.
Widely known for their stealth and ferocity, the Indians fought in a way that was
significantly different from that of the other irregulars engaged by the Army in the
nineteenth century. They were not attempting to wear down the enemy by harassment.
They fought as they did because it was the only way they knew to fight. Their success in
staying off the reservations as long as they did was more from the Army’s small size and
inability to learn from previous engagements than from the Indians’ skill in fighting.
To keep up with the nomadic Indian warriors, the Army needed to change its
strategy about how the soldiers would be armed and what they would carry. The soldier
needed to lighten his load, carrying only the bare minimum necessary to be able to travel
the great distances covered by the Indians when the Army was in pursuit. The typical
soldier was burdened by an average of forty-two pounds less than the soldier that fought
in the previous wars.18 This weight reduction allowed the Army horses to keep up with
the Indian bands that carried no more than a weapon and ammunition in the summer
months. Leaders realized that to win at irregular warfare, the Army needed to actively
patrol and keep constant pressure on the enemy. This worked well against the Indians in
the west, and by the mid-1890s, the Indians were driven back onto the reservations and
subdued.
21
In military terms the Indian Wars have received far more attention than they
deserve. Most historians would agree that the Indians were little more than a nuisance to
the Army. Except for a few significant successes, such as that against the U.S. military in
the beginning of the Centennial Campaign, the Indians merely fought to hunt on the land
they had survived on for hundreds of years. Even though the Army fought nearly 1000
engagements with the Indians during the years encompassed by the Indian Wars, most of
these conflicts were small-scale battles, lasting relatively short periods of time.
In the eye of the Indian, the soldier was often considered the least of his worries.
In his book Frontier Regulars, Robert Utley states that the Army was only “one of many
groups that pushed the frontier westward and doomed the Indian. Other frontiersmen-trappers, traders, miners, stockmen, farmers, railroad builders, and merchants . . . share
largely in the process. They, rather than the soldiers, deprived the Indian of the land and
the sustenance that left him no alternative but to submit.”19 The pressure of an expanding
white civilization, not the campaigns of the Army, was the primary reason for the end of
the Indian resistance. Even though the Indian Wars were fought over a longer time than
any other wars fought by the Army, they might have been the least relevant of the Army’s
nineteenth-century experiences fighting against irregulars.
Robert Wooster, in his study of the Army in the West, found no significant
connection between the Army’s Civil War experience and its doctrine of irregular warfare
against the Indians. Officers could not agree over such fundamentals as the timing of
offensives, the optimum composition of forces, and the use of Indian scouts. Wooster
observed, “Military success against Indians was thus not attributable to a national
strategic doctrine understood and practiced by officers in the field. It was instead the
22
result of a commander’s personal experiences in the west, his perceptions of Indians and
the natural environment, the abilities of his subordinates, and simple good fortune.”20
The Indian Wars in the nineteenth century taught the Army a lot about irregular
warfare. Although these wars were fought throughout the United States against more
than 125 distinctly different tribes, the most obvious similarity between the Indian tactics
and that of other guerrilla techniques used against the Army in the nineteenth century is
General George Crook’s observation that Apaches “only fight with regular soldiers when
they choose and when the advantages are all on their side.”21 This observation might just
as easily have been made about Mexican, Confederate, or Philippine guerrillas. Even this
basic observation would have been helpful in training the young officers of the United
States Military Academy. Young officers like Moore, Mills, Noyes, and Egan who
would lead men in the futile, and often lethal, actions like the battle at Powder River.
22
1
Paul A. Hutton, Phil Sheridan and His Army (Lincoln and London: University of
Nebraska Press, 1985), 291-292.
2
Ibid., 292.
3
Ibid.
4
Ibid., 294.
5
Ibid., 300.
6
Ibid.
7
Russell F. Weigley, History of the United States Army (New York and London:
Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1967), 110-111.
23
8
Martin F. Schmitt, General George Crook His Autobiography (Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1960), 22-23
9
David M. Kapaun Jr., “Major General Joseph J. Reynolds and His Division at
Chickamauga: A Historical Analysis” (Thesis, Master of Military Art and Science, Fort
Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College, 1999), Abstract.
10
Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1910), 276.
11
Anson Mills, US Army, My Story (Washington, DC: Press of Byron S. Adams
by Anson Mills, 1918), 87-89.
12
Ibid., 92-93.
13
Ibid., 106.
14
Ibid., 112.
15
John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook (Lincoln and London: University of
Nebraska Press, 1971), 252-53.
16
Virgin Carrington Jones, Gray Ghosts and Rebel Raiders (New York: Holt,
1956), 35.
17
John M. Gates, The Army and Irregular Warfare (Wooster, OH: The College of
Wooster, accessed 19 November 2000) available at http://www.wooster.edu/history
/jgates/book-contents.html; Internet.
18
Albert Brackett, “Our Cavalry: Its Duties, Hardships, and Necessities at Our
Frontier Posts,” Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, 4 (1883):
385-86; Archibald Forbes, The U.S. Army, North American Review, 135 (1882), 144-45,
in US Army Command and General Staff College, C600 Syllabus/Book of Readings,
(Fort Leavenworth: USACGSC, July 2000), 454.
19
Robert M. Utley, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian,
1866-1891 (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 410-411.
20
Robert Wooster, The Military and United States Indian Policy, 1865-1903 (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 213.
21
George Crook, “The Apache Problem,” Journal of the Military Service
Institution of the United States, 7 (October 1886): 263.
24
22
25
CHAPTER 2
THE LONGEST DAY
Most accounts of the Battle of Powder River totally disregard the days prior to the
battle. Most of this chapter relies on J. W. Vaughn’s book The Reynolds Campaign on
Powder River. Vaughn gives the only account of the events leading up to the battle.
Unless otherwise stated, the references for this chapter come from Vaughn.
On the bitter cold morning of 1 March 1876, 883 soldiers of the Big Horn
Expedition set out from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming Territory, on the first leg of the
Centennial Campaign. They began to search for villages of Sioux and Cheyenne “Winter
Roamers,” the Indians who refused to return to the reservations as required by the 31
January deadline.1 The next twenty-six days would be the toughest of the soldiers’ lives.
With spirits high and morale set to do battle with the “hostiles,” Crook was confident that
his men were up to the task of destroying the will of the Indians who wished to remain
free and off of the reservations.
Included within the column that cold March morning were 30 commissioned
officers, 662 enlisted, 35 Indian scouts, 5 pack trains with 62 employees, 89 wagon train
employees, and 5 ambulance employees. Transportation included 85 wagons, 656
horses, and 892 mules.2 Crook knew that the soldiers would need nourishing food to aid
them through the cold winter conditions. He ordered the cook to include seventy head of
beef on the hoof to provide fresh meat to the cold and tired soldiers. The cattle would be
slaughtered along the way as necessary.
The column traveled in long lines that stretched for miles into the distance. In the
front of the column were the Indian scouts, led by the chief of scouts, Major T. H.
26
Stanton. The procession that followed the scouts was 10 troops of Cavalry, 2 companies
of Infantry, ambulances, the wagon train, the pack train, and in the rear of the formation,
the 70 head of cattle. The goal of the column commander was to travel twenty to thirty
miles per day, reaching Montana by 9 March. Because of the bitter cold and excessive
snowfall, the column would not reach Montana until late in the afternoon of 11 March.
On the second night after the departure from Fort Fetterman, hostile Indians from
the northwest attacked Crook’s column. Around two o’clock in the morning, Indians
attacked the sleeping column and stampeded the cattle herd.3 After first light the next
morning, Crook sent a team of scouts to track the lost herd. The scout team returned with
news that the cattle were gone and that they would likely wander back to Fort Fetterman.
Crook made the first mistake of the expedition by not sending his cavalry after the lost
herd, effectively losing all of the fresh meat he had planned to use to feed his column
during the long march into Montana. Ironically, Crook would later court-martial
Reynolds for losing the captured pony herd, insinuating that Reynolds should have sent
his cavalry after the ponies.
From this point on, the column was under constant surveillance from the native
Indians. Smoke signals could often be seen warning the tribes of the arrival of the white
soldiers to the area. Surprise was the decisive element of the Crook plan, but the Indians
knew were he was and what his intentions were. Crook came up with a plan to slip
through the Indian screening forces. He would hide his cavalry and march most of his
infantry back towards Fort Reno, giving the impression that his forces were returning in
defeat. On the morning of 7 March, his infantry departed, intentionally attracting the
attention of the Indian reconnaissance while his cavalry hid in the valley, completing the
27
successful ruse.4 The cavalry remained unseen by the Indians for the next ten days,
allowing them freedom to maneuver and regain the element of surprise.
Late in the morning on 16 March, Crook’s column of five Cavalry battalions,
pack trains, camp equipment, and the band of scouts spotted two horsemen riding slowly
down Otter Creek. With the help of field glasses, now referred to as binoculars, the two
horsemen were soon identified as Indians. This delighted the soldiers who were happy to
see that their recent days of forced marching and cold food would be rewarded with a
successful battle.
Crook sent Grouard out alone for speed to investigate the Indians. Although
Major Stanton was the chief of scouts, Grouard was generally considered the head scout
because he was favored by Crook. His experience as a tracker and scout was
unparalleled. Grouard (figure 10), whose real name was Walter Brazeau and whose
Indian nickname was “The Grabber,” came upon the two Indians walking along Otter
Creek. The Indians were tracking buffalo sign and did not see Grouard. As the two
Indians continued tracking down Otter Creek, Grouard watched them and surmised that
they were hunting and had recently come from their village. When the two Indians were
directly across the creek from Grouard, they looked up towards him and quickly bolted
into the wood line to the far side of Otter Creek. Grouard was sure he had not been seen,
but was unsure what the two curious Indians were looking at. They seemed to be looking
right at him.
Looking over his shoulder, Grouard realized that his scouts and the column of
soldiers, which stretched over two miles, were fast coming upon his position. The two
Indians had seen the scouts, but Grouard was unsure whether they could discern if his
28
scouts were another Indian party or white soldiers. He assumed that the Indians would
think his scouts were a Crow war party and would return to their village to tell of the
arrival of an unfriendly tribe. Grouard waited for the column to catch up to him. When
General Crook arrived, Grouard expressed his displeasure with Crook for not keeping the
scouts with the rest of the column. Crook reportedly stated that he attempted to keep the
scouts with the column by ordering them to stay close, but the scouts disobeyed and
continued ahead of the column. Grouard told Crook that the two Indians had seen the
scouts, but that the column was probably as of yet unseen because of the large hill
between the two Indians and Red Clay Creek.
Crook, an experienced Indian fighter, estimated the Indian strength in this area to
be only seven to eight hundred braves and that they would be spread out in small bands to
winter over the harsh season. This estimation, as well as the necessity for speed and the
security of the pack train, drove Crook to divide his forces. He sent three battalions after
the two Indians in an attempt to ensure surprise at the Indian village and two battalions
with the pack train. Crook would also stay with the pack train, offering command of the
troops attacking the Indian village to Reynolds. Lieutenant J. B. Bourke, the aide-decamp to General Crook, would later surmise that Crook was offering Reynolds an
opportunity to salvage his soiled reputation gained at Chickamauga and as the
commander of the Department of Texas.5
The reasoning for splitting his forces and the orders he gave Reynolds are still
unclear today. Reynolds reported that Crook told him to “capture the Indian village, kill
or capture as many Indians as possible, run off their pony herd, and do them as much
damage as possible.”6 Later, during the court-martial of Reynolds, Crook would state
29
that he also told Reynolds to “capture the pony herd and carry off the meat and provisions
so that they could be used by the troops of the column.”7
After a hearty meal, Reynolds and his troops set out after the two Indians at about
5:20 P.M. The column had already been moving for an entire day in the bitter cold and
was now going to track the two Indians with no sleep and weary legs. With Grouard and
the scouts in the lead, the column could make good time, and Reynolds would have the
best opportunity of following the two braves and finding their village.
The night would be cold and long, trailing the Indian tracks through a harsh,
howling blizzard and no moonlight with temperatures colder than 30 below zero. The
scout Grouard would prove his worth over and over, finding even the slightest hint of the
Indian’s trail. He would often get down on all fours to squint at the ground, looking for
the most indistinguishable impression. Frank Grouard would dart around, looking for the
faintest sign of the trail, lose the tracks, then, just as quickly, pick them up again with
what the others in the column could only consider divine intervention.8
Almost every hour, the call would come from the back of the column to halt in
order to allow the column to close up. The freezing wind beat at their faces, but they
continued after their prey. Grouard took turns with his best tracking scouts looking for
sign. When one would get too cold from foraging for sign on his hands and knees, a
fresher scout would take his place and continue the hunt. The snow seemed to lighten up
as dawn approached and it brought crisp clear skies and bitter cold temperatures. This
was a bone chilling cold that bit at the faces, hands, and feet of the scouts and soldiers.
Wintertime in Montana is bitterly cold. Although it is possible that the
temperature reached the extreme low that has been reported in numerous sources during
30
this time period, it is highly unlikely. The temperatures quoted in the books by Vaughn,
Bourke, and Werner of between forty and fifty below zero might be a stretch since all
accounts tell of the thermometer mercury jelling in the bottom of the glass tubes. From
records at the Western Regional Climate Center of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration of the time period between 1948 and 2000, the coldest
temperature recorded on 17 March of any year was three degrees below zero in 1965.
This reading was taken at Broadus, Montana, approximately thirty-two miles north of the
battlefield. The coldest day in March between 1948 and 2000 was 8 March 1996 at
twenty-six below zero. The coldest day ever recorded in Broadus, Montana is fortyseven below zero on 22 December 1972.9 Since the highest ground they traveled over
was only one thousand feet higher than Broadus, the temperature can only be assumed to
be two degrees colder than that recorded. If the wind chill is added, the temperatures
could have appeared much colder. If the temperature was thirty below zero, and the wind
was blowing between ten and fifteen miles per hour, the temperatures would have felt
between fifty-eight and seventy-two below zero.10 Most references to the wind during
the days leading up to this battle do not mention blizzard-like conditions, so the
probability of the wind exceeding fifteen miles per hour is unlikely.
Reynolds again sent Grouard and a few of his other scouts to find the Indian
village and a traversable trail off the steep mountainside. He ordered his troops to
dismount and take cover within a narrow ravine. He did not allow the soldiers to build a
fire for fear of being seen by any Indian camp nearby. The sides of the ravine would at
least provide shelter from the freezing wind. The soldiers, tired from twenty-four hours
of forced march, huddled together to keep warm. Some of the soldiers lay down on the
31
frozen ground to rest “just for a minute, you know,”11 risking certain death from exposure
and frostbite. The officers and NCOs that had experience with the damage caused by the
bitter cold walked the line of soldiers, kicking and rousting them to keep them from
falling into the eternal sleep, watching for signs of frostbite on faces, hands, and feet.
This gesture of professionalism no doubt saved countless amputations and possible
deaths of the soldiers of the column.
Grouard, one of the best Indian scouts to work for the U. S. Army, had tracked the
hoof prints of the Indian ponies throughout the night. Through the driving snow and
severe temperatures, Grouard crawled along the tracks left by the ponies until he came to
the Powder River.12 He had seen the valley that the Indian village was camped in and
studied it through a thick fog that ascended from the riverbed. He had located the village
by listening for the bells that the Indians kept around the necks of their ponies and stayed
until daybreak to count the tepees. Grouard estimated that the village was between 50
and 100 lodges with as many as 700 to 1,000 Indians.13 Grouard was so close to the
village that he heard an Indian trying to summon the support of the village. A small band
of braves had already circled back to find the Reynolds column, but had taken the trail
lower on the mountain than the one the column of soldiers took. The two parties missed
each other in the dark. Meanwhile, Grouard sent another scout, John Shangrau, along
with several other scouts, back to Reynolds’ column to bring the troops forward without
delay.
It was an extremely cold Montana morning on 17 March 1876. Colonel Joseph J.
Reynolds waited with his pack train four miles behind his Indian scout, Frank Grouard.
Around six-thirty in the morning, Shangrau and the other scouts reached the column with
32
word that Grouard had found the Indian village near Powder River and the trail leading
there. They also advised him that the river was still four to six miles away across some
of the worst terrain they had yet encountered. Orders were immediately given to mount
up and move out. As the daylight grew in intensity, the column marched faster and with
more purpose. During the traversing of the difficult terrain, many of the horses strained
muscles and injured their backs while sliding down the grassy, frozen slopes of the creek
beds and ravines. The soldiers were excited to know that the Indian camp was close.
They quizzed the scouts as to the size of the village and what they had seen. They would
soon find out first hand the status of the Indian camp.
Colonel Reynolds gave orders to the adjutant, Lieutenant Morton, to assemble the
regiment by companies of two abreast on line. With more than 300 soldiers plus their
horses, the maneuver amazingly took less than thirty minutes to complete. By seven
o’clock, the companies of the regiment were on line and prepared to receive their orders
for the attack on the Indian village at the base of the mountain. As the regiment was
being assembled, Reynolds and Moore planned the attack. The most amazing thing about
this maneuver was the limited time necessary for the unit to accomplish the task. Later,
the difficulty the individual commanders had in simple tasks prior to the battle will be
discussed.
Many issues arose during the planning stage. Because of the fog that still hung in
the air, the regimental commander could not see the village. He could only see some of
the terrain that led down the mountain to the village, but he knew that there was at least
three inches of snow on the ground. He asked Grouard for details on the best route to the
village, but the incredible Indian scout was unable to explain a clear, concise route in
33
detail. Reynolds had to give broad guidance, with less-than-clear direction of movements
necessary for the attack.
From most accounts, Reynolds used relative directions rather than cardinal
directions that confused the battalion commanders when they realized the Indian village
was not where the scouts told them it was. From the court-martial logs of Colonel
Reynolds, the general understanding of the attack was that Moore’s battalion was to
screen to the northwest of the Indian village in order to defeat the Indians fleeing the
attack. Mills was to establish a position to the south of Moore orienting due east in order
to defeat any Indians fleeing the attack and to be the regimental reserve. Egan’s company
was to attack the village from the south to drive the Indians to the west, and Noyes’
company was ordered to approach the village from the south, capture the pony herd, and
drive them back to the south.
Reynolds actual orders, however, were riddled with relative directions. From the
testimony of Lieutenant Morton at the trial of Captain Moore, Reynolds orders were:
“Captain Egan was to go around on the right of the village which was supposed to be on
the creek bottom (this was not visible from the point where Reynolds was giving his
orders). Captain Moore, with his dismounted battalion, was to go around to the left of the
village and capture the Indians as they fled the attack.”14
Reynolds chose Egan’s “White Horse” troop (figure 11) to make the cavalry
charge though the village. Egan’s troop was the only troop that was still in possession of
their revolvers. The other companies were told that the attack on the Indian village
would be made with carbines, so those commanders ordered their troops to leave their
revolvers at the pack train that was with Crook miles behind the regiment. Mills later
34
stated that he did not think the cavalry charge was a sound plan since the revolvers were
not very accurate and a cavalry charge on horseback would only serve to wake the
Indians. The normal technique used by cavalry was to dismount and attack the Indians
on foot to increase accuracy and increase the range of the carbines. This method was a
well-established technique and was much more successful in this rough country where
cavalry charges were difficult, if not impossible.
There was a state of relative boastfulness and overconfidence throughout the
regiment in the hours leading up to the attack. This was the fight they had been looking
forward to for the past seventeen days, ever since leaving Fort Fetterman. The
combination of hard days of marching, sleepless cold nights, and lack of food had given
the entire unit a sense of euphoria. Captain Moore told his troops that he “wanted the
opportunity to crawl close to the enemy and give them a blizzard of lead and get a
bucketful of blood.”15
The fifteen scouts were divided equally among the companies with Grouard
leading Moore’s battalion into position for the screen. Reynolds dismounted Mills’
battalion under the insistence of Mills and Lieutenant Morton. Between the location of
the mission brief and the village was a small bluff on the eastern edge of the mountain.
The bluff was flanked by a deep ravine running northeasterly down the mountain on one
side, and southeasterly down the mountain on the other side. By now the sun was above
the horizon, and any hope of attacking a sleeping village had evaporated with the
morning fog.
Frank Grouard led Moore’s battalion to the bottom of the mountain, stopping on
the north side in the valley of Thompson Creek. The soldiers of the battalion led their
35
horses on foot since the terrain was too rough to ride down. They dismounted their
horses and gave the reigns of every eight horses to one rider to hold. Although their
position at Thompson Creek was masked from the Indians, it was about one mile from
the Indian camp. Soon Reynolds rode up and told Moore that he was too far away to be
useful in the battle. Moore inquired with Grouard about the details of the village, and
was told by Grouard “the whole caboodle was there–Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and
all.”16 This was later proved wrong, but the promise of fame for capturing the two Indian
warriors was tantalizing.
By now the regiment was in broad daylight, and Moore’s battalion realized that
the village was not where they thought it should be. There would be no way for them to
attack the village from the northwest. From their position this far south, Moore refused
to move his battalion for fear of discovery by a few Indians that the soldiers saw among
the pony herd. It is still unknown today why Moore had such a difficult time following
the orders of Reynolds to screen the high ground to the northwest of the village.
It is the contention of this writer that there was a breakdown in communications
between the scouts, Grouard and Shangrau, and Reynolds. From this writer’s research of
the ground around the battlefield and the accounts of Shangrau recorded in interviews
with Eli Ricker, the scouts could see both the deep ravine to the south of the high ground,
Thompson Creek, and the ravine to the north, Flood Creek, the one that Moore should
have led his battalion down.17 The scouts, upon returning from their last reconnaissance
of the village, stated that they could see the village, and the ravine to the north and south.
They also stated that they were looking down at the village from a vantage point of 1,000
feet above the village.
36
For these two statements to be true, they would have had to be on the high ground
to the west of the village during their reconnaissance. This meant that when they
communicated the position of the village in relationship to the surrounding terrain,
Reynolds understood that he could send a force around the bluff to the northwest of the
village. When the scouts returned to lead the column back to the east, Shangrau must
have taken the regiment down the wrong ridgeline. From all accounts of the routes to the
battle, the regiment traveled east across the ridge south of Thompson Creek (figure 12).
Reynolds sent Noyes’ battalion down Graham Creek and Mills and Moore down
Thompson Creek. From the reconnaissance information of the scouts, Reynolds must
have assumed that the village was just east of Hospital Bluff. This mistake or
misunderstanding between the Indian scout and Reynolds probably meant the difference
between success and failure of the mission.
Looking to the southeast, Moore observed Mills’ battalion advancing onto the
same ridge as his own battalion. Concerned that the small ridge already held more troops
than it could safely hide, Moore went to Mills to discuss other options. While Moore
moved to Mills’ position, Reynolds sent word to Mills to dismount where he was, use one
holder for every ten horses, and follow and support Captain Moore. Captain Mills later
testified,
When I got near the foot of the mountain, Captain Moore came halfway down
and motioned me not to come forward; supposing there was danger of being
discovered, I directed my men to halt and lie down. I went myself up the
mountain to see what was the difficulty. I went about half way up the
mountain and Captain Moore said to me, “there is no use of your command
coming up here, you can’t get into the village this way, there is an impassible
ravine between me and the village.” I replied that I was ordered to support
him and asked him what I was going to do. He said take a position that
overlooked the village, and there ought to be some way to get in.18
37
Mills decided to climb to the top of the ridge to get a look at what Moore could
see. From that position, Mills got his first look at the Indian village (figure 13). He
realized that it was not only a very large village, but also much further away than he
thought. From this vantage point, Mills estimated the village to be at least one thousand
yards away. He knew that from here even the best sharpshooters in the regiment would
not be able to reach the village, let alone hit an Indian brave trying to escape the attack.
Mills moved his company down into the ravine and into position to follow and
support Moore’s battalion. Mills realized that the climb over the rough terrain would be
extremely taxing, so he ordered his men to take off their overcoats and leave them in a
pile. The overcoats were supposed to be recovered after the battle. In the confusion of
the conflict, the forty-eight overcoats were never seen again. The next night, the
temperatures would again drop well below zero, and Mills’ company was left without the
shelter of their warm overcoats for the rest of the mission. Mills later came under
pressure for allowing his soldiers to be exposed to the bitter cold by not retrieving the
overcoats from the mountain. His defense was that he asked Reynolds for permission to
return to gather the coats, but Reynolds refused because it was too dangerous and the
Indian force might capture or kill the supply party.
Reynolds had earlier instructed Mills to send a messenger if he needed Lieutenant
Johnson’s company to support his attack and, if so, whether he wanted them mounted or
dismounted. While still in the valley below, Mills sent word to Reynolds that he did not
need the extra company, and that he was prepared to attack, positioned only about one
hundred and fifty yards from the village.19 This estimation would lead Reynolds to the
38
conclusion that both Moore’s and Mills’ battalions were prepared for the attack. Nothing
could have been farther from the truth.
20
1
J. W. Vaughn, The Reynolds Campaign on Powder River (Norman, OK:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), 204.
2
J. W. Vaughn, The Reynolds Campaign on Powder River, 45.
3
Ibid., 204.
4
Dr. William G. Robertson, Dr. Jerold E. Brown, William M. Campsey, and Scott
R. McMeen, Atlas of the Sioux Wars (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies
Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College, [1995]), Map 9 (description).
5
John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook (Lincoln and London: University of
Nebraska Press, 1971), 270.
6
Vaughn, The Reynolds Campaign on Powder River, 61.
7
Ibid., 61.
8
Jerome A. Green, Battles and Skirmishes of the Great Sioux War, 1876-1877
(Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 6.
9
Western Regional Climate Center, Period of Record Daily Climate Summary for
Broadus, Montana, Daily Records for Station 241127, Period Used 7/1/1948 thru
7/31/2000 (accessed 2 January, 2001); available from http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgibin/cliRECt.pl?mtbroa; Internet.
10
A. J. Young, D. E. Roberts, D. P. Scott, J. E. Cook, M. Z. Mays, and E. W.
Askew, Technical Note Number 92-2, Sustaining Health and Performance in the Cold:
Environmental Medicine Guidance for Cold-Weather Operations (Wind Chill Chart, US
Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, Massachusetts, July 1992)
Appendix A, 42.
11
Vaughn, The Reynolds Campaign on Powder River, 63.
12
Robertson, Brown, Campsey, and McMeen, Atlas of the Sioux Wars, Map 10
(description).
13
Ibid., 65
39
14
Ibid., 69
15
Ibid., 73
16
Ibid., 74
17
Eli S. Ricker and Eli Ricker Tablets, “Narrative of John Shangrau” (Interviews,
Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, 1906-07), Tablet 27, 70.
18
Vaughn, The Reynolds Campaign on Powder River, 77.
19
Ibid., 79
20
40
CHAPTER 3
THE ATTACK
Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds stood atop the frozen ground, knee deep in the snow,
wondering why it was taking his battalions so long to get prepared and into position for
the attack on the Indian village. It was almost nine o’clock in the morning, and it had
already been light for more than an hour. Reynolds’ plan was to attack the Indian village
from the south with Egan’s company and to use Noyes’ company to capture the pony
herd. Moore’s battalion would establish a screen line to the northwest of the camp and
pick off the Indians as they ran away from the attack. Mills’ battalion would be held in
reserve to either strengthen Moore’s battalion or to reposition to assist Egan’s attack
(figure 14).
The soldiers of Moore’s battalion had been waiting in hiding for more than half an
hour. Many lay in the snow for fear of being discovered. The bitter cold was temporarily
staved by the rush of adrenalin that the soldiers had built up, wanting to finish their
mission. All waited for Captain Egan and his men to make their charge from around the
bluff in the valley to the south.
Meanwhile, Noyes’ battalion struggled to cross the frozen ground. Their
movements were hampered by the deep ravines and gulches that were difficult in the
summer months and almost impossible with the snow and ice during March of 1876.
One of the horses broke its neck when it slipped on some rocks and crashed to the ground
in the icy canyon. The men were forced to lead their mounts to the bottom of the
mountain to get into position for the attack, a maneuver that took more than half of an
hour in itself. From their position prior to the attack, Mr. Strahorn, a reporter and war
41
correspondent following the campaign and writing for the Denver Rocky Mountain
News, estimated that they were still at least a mile from the village.1
Noyes commanded the battalion to form two companies abreast and begin
movement northward towards the village. Some men rode their mounts while others led
them. Because of the difficulty of the traverse down the mountain, some horses fared
better than others. The battalion crossed one more major ravine, the twenty-foot-deep,
forty-foot-wide Thompson Creek (figure 15). This ravine was so dangerous that the unit
had to lead their mounts in single file, picking their way down the steep ravine and
slowing the column to a crawl. The ravine was hidden from the village, giving the troops
the advantage of coordinating the crossing. Once across the ravine, the battalion moved
swiftly toward the village, Egan’s company on the right, Noyes on the left.
This set up Egan’s company to continue into the village, and for Noyes’ company
to wait to take the pony herd. Most of Egan’s men remained on foot as he ordered them
to a company front, aligning the company with fifty men abreast, while Noyes’ company
remained in columns of two. Egan, about two hundred yards from the southern edge of
the Indian village, commanded his men onto their mounts and ordered the charge. The
men started the charge on line, at a brisk walk. The order he gave was to keep at a walk
until they entered the village or until discovered in order to save the horses and allow the
line to stay intact for the longest period of time. Once discovered by the Indians, they
were to charge at a slow trot.
The animals were too fatigued to do anything other than walk or trot. The long,
cold days with little food had taken its toll on the mounts. When the troops were close
enough to the village to be within pistol range, they were to fire their pistols and storm
42
the village. Egan’s company bisected the pony herd that was feeding south of the village.
The ponies separated, allowing his company to pass through the center, then reformed
behind the troops when they had passed.2 The attack began.
Among the ponies was a young brave of about ten years old. As the company of
forty-seven men passed the young brave, he made no motion to warn the tribe of the
oncoming danger. The young brave stood stoic, blanket wrapped tightly around his body
for warmth, starring at Egan. Lieutenant Bourke leveled his revolver at the young brave
but Egan stopped him, saying that they needed to continue in silence and not alert the
tribe.3 It is important to note that only Bourke tells of his attempt to silence the child, and
only in his book. There is no mention of the incident by any other officer in the attacking
company. After the company passed the herd, the young boy let out a “war whoop” to
clear the village, and eventually the troops began to see movement in the village. As the
attack began, Egan glanced at his watch and saw it read five minutes after nine.
As the village came into view, Egan was astonished to find that the orientation of
the attack was slightly askew. His intent was to attack the village from southwest to
northeast, but as he followed the Powder River with his right flank, the village rose to his
left. It was not as close to the river as he had expected. The Indians had used the bluffs
and ravines to the west of the river to place their teepees, keeping them sheltered from the
harsh winter wind. This position of the village forced Egan’s company to attack the
village from southeast to northwest. Although a change from the original plan, this
would allow the company to force the Indians into the planned screen line of Moore’s
battalion. With more time to assess the situation, Egan would have realized that the
chance of fratricide would be increased exponentially between his unit and Moore’s.
43
However, he would not have taken into account the incorrect position of Moore’s
battalion.
To the south of the village, Moore and his one hundred soldiers waited for the
attack. Believing his screen line was in the correct place for the attack, Moore estimated
he was about one hundred and fifty yards from the southern edge of the village. In
reality, Moore’s battalion was closer to one thousand yards from the village. Based on
the author’s personal knowledge of the battlefield and using the accounts of the soldier’s
sworn statements, Moore and his men were not close enough to effect fire into the village
with any accuracy. From his position on the ridge behind Rawolle’s ridge, Moore could
not see more than one-quarter to one-half of the village. He would have been able to see
the tops of the teepees, but not down to ground level where the Indians would have been.
He also would not have been able to see any of the village to the north and northwest, the
direction that was deemed his responsibility in the battle plan.
Mills, being held in reserve, saw Moore on the small ridge and held his battalion
in the ravine south of Moore’s ridge. Mills climbed near the top of the ridge to discuss
the strategy with Moore. Moore told him that they were right on top of the village, about
one hundred and fifty yards away. Mills climbed to the top of the ridge to see the village
for himself. When he reached the summit, Mills was astounded that the village was
closer to one thousand yards away. A possible reason for Moore misjudging the distance
to the village is that depth perception is reduced when air temperature is below zero
degree Fahrenheit and wind speed is over ten miles per hour. Visual acuity is reduced
when air temperature is below twenty degrees below Fahrenheit and wind speed is over
twenty miles per hour. These effects become particularly significant for viewing
44
distances greater than twenty feet.4 That morning, the temperatures were reported to be
at least thirty to forty degrees below zero and the wind was blowing steadily. However,
this does not account for Mills’ lack of difficulty judging the extreme distance to the
village.
In the distance, Mills could see more than one hundred teepees in the morning
light. It was a very large village with the teepees spread out among the trees and ravines
from the mountain on his left. The Indian chief had chosen a very good place for his
people to camp. Mills became concerned that Moore’s battalion would not be able to
reach the village with their fires and told Moore that he needed to move his battalion
forward. Moore told Mills that …
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