Title page for ETD etd-0417102-170705


Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Baker, Harold Douglas
Author's Email Address hbaker2@lsu.edu
URN etd-0417102-170705
Title Misguided by Experience: A Defense of Custer's Actions at the Little Bighorn
Degree Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (M.A.L.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Stanley E. Hilton Committee Chair
Karl A. Roider Committee Member
William A. Clark Committee Member
Keywords
  • washita
  • cavalry tactics
  • sitting bull
Date of Defense 2002-04-08
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
At midday on June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer split his Seventh Cavalry Regiment into three elements and attacked an enormous village of hostile Indians situated along the Little Bighorn River in modern-day Montana. Custer and his immediate command of five troops, a total of 225 men, did not survive the fight.

Immediately following the battle, officers-Reno, Benteen, Brisbin, Terry, Gibbon-began to recreate the history of the campaign's recent events in an effort to explain the disaster and clear themselves of responsibility. Their self-serving omission of facts and their convenient "remembrance" of things that had not happened fully blamed Custer for the calamity and heavily influenced future historical assessments of the battle.

Numerous explanations for the disaster have surfaced over the years. Driven by vain personal motives, Custer allegedly disobeyed General Terry's orders by taking a direct route to the Indian village and then rushing his exhausted men into battle without waiting for Gibbon's support. He did not conduct a thorough reconnaissance and ignored the warnings of his scouts. He violated a basic maxim of war by splitting his force in the face of the enemy, and his midday attack destroyed any hopes for surprise. Finally, Custer's actions displayed an overall ineptness at fighting Indians.

Some of the assessments hold truths, but they must be placed in the context of what Custer knew at the time and expected to encounter. In fact, given his prior experiences and information at hand, Custer correctly configured his forces and acted appropriately by attacking the hostile village. His forces, however, were not enough to overcome the combination of peculiar circumstances, some of his own creation, that opposed them.

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