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Posted on Nov 20, 2006 in Armchair Reading

Second-guessing Custer

By Adam Lynch

Dear Editor,

Second guessing Custer has been a popular exercise ever since the Little Bighorn battle ended but I believe your recent "generous" examination is flawed.

You blame Custer’s not knowing the size of the Indian village on Gen. George Crook’s failure to forward such information. The truth is, Crook had no idea of the rapidly escalating size. You conveniently overlook the fact that Custer had been repeatedly and specifically warned of the unprecedented size of the encampment yet he chose to airily dismiss the advice of his own scouts. A more prudent general would have evaluated what he was hearing but headstrong Custer was never prudent.

As to subdividing his force into three "maneuver" battalions, you argue it was a common army tactic. However, what was not "common" was Custer’s lack of any overall, unified control of the three groups. If he had a plan he never shared it with his commanders. He sent Captain Benteen off on a wild, uncoordinated ride away from the attack. He ordered a charge by Major Reno’s companies straight into the village but failed utterly to support him. Custer’s strange, wandering move north cannot be excused You claim it was part of Custer’s "attack" plan. Riding away from Reno hardly qualifies as part of an attack.

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When he finally tumbled that he was in over his head, he sent his famous message to Benteen to "Come quick..Bring pacs". Although Benteen’s follow-up action is debatable, he (Benteen) was obviously right in claiming that he could not both "come quick" AND bring the slow ammunition pacs. The truth is Custer unleashed Reno’s attack without even knowing where Benteen was or when he might be able to join up.

Custer’s arrogance, his fatal lack of a coherent plan and his refusal to listen to the advice of his trusted scouts led to his destruction To argue that he behaved in accordance with normal military tactics and only did what any other commander would have done is both simplistic and wrong.

Adam Lynch

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