Monday, June 25, 2007

Custer's Last Stand: The Battle of Little Big Horn

On June 25, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and some 265 men under his command died in the Battle of Little Big Horn, often referred to as Custer's Last Stand.

We've all heard of Little Big Horn and Custer's Last Stand...but can we remember the story?

In 1874 Gold Was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Naturally, many white farmers fled their homes into the Black Hills territory, which had been ceded to the Sioux Indian in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. This treaty was a result of an odd congressional committee who set out to make peace with the natives of the western lands.

The Indian Peace Commission was established to end the wars and skirmishes and prevent future Indian conflicts. The United States government set out to establish a series of Indian treaties that would force the Indians to give up their lands and move further west onto reservations. One of the defining moments of Manifest Destiny... makes you proud to be an American, huh?

The Treaty clearly described that these lands belonged to the Sioux tribe. But, in the winter of 1875 the U.S. ordered the Sioux to return to their reservation. Communication was not a strong point of the primitive Sioux, so there were many Indians who did not get the message who were considered "hostile". So the U.S. Army prepared for battle to force the Sioux back to the reservation.

Custer headed a division charged with locating and routing tribes organized for resistance under Chief Sitting Bull. Custer's original plan was to team with General Alfred H. Terry and entrap the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne tribe at the mouth of the Little Big Horn and force them back to their reservations.

However, Custer found Sitting Bull encamped on the Little Big Horn River in Montana. Against orders, Custer waged an immediate attack. Bad idea. In less than an hour, the five companies under Custer's immediate command were slaughtered. For several days the few U.S. soldiers who remained continued to fight for their lives in hopes that relief would come. Smooth move by Custer. Disobeying orders and making an executive decision really worked out for him here.

When reinforcements came, on June 27, the Indians retreated. General Terry, arrived at Little Big Horn to find the bodies of nearly one third of Custer's 7th Cavalry, including Custer and his brother.

This, however was a short lived victory for the Native Americans. The Battle of Little Big Horn alerted the public to the savagery of Native Americans and federal troops were ordered to the Black Hills area to show the Sioux and the Cheyenne what manifest destiny was really about.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Turning Point of the Revolutionary War

What's interesting about the Civil War is that there is so much information written about the men, the battles they fought and the decision making of their leaders. Through primary source documents like letters and journals and maps, we will never be at a loss for information about the Civil War.

The Revolutionary War is different. Why is it that there isn't a lot of information written about the specific battles and the executive decisions of the leaders of the Revolutionary War? Is it because we are pre-occupied by the passion and fervor of our founding fathers that there isn't a desire to know about the nuances of the war?

John Ferling, author of Almost a Miracle: The America Victory in the War of Independence, discussed a specific turning point of the Revolutionary War on his blog several weeks ago. The story was one that I was not familiar with but I'm glad it was brought to light. You can read the entire article at

The Southern Strategy

After a devastating loss at Saratoga in 1777, Great Britain was certain they could not win the war in the North.

Incidentally, Saratoga is considered by many historians to be the turning point of the war. The battle proved to the entire world that the United States was a force to be reckoned with. As a result of this victory, the French took an interest in the American's cause and began to support them, particularly because they now thought they might win.

This caused Great Britain to shift strategy and switched to what became known as the Southern Strategy.

Great Britain realized that the retention of the Southern colonies, as crucial to winning the war. Britain thought they could capitalize on the cash crops of tobacco and rice and believed the southern region was teeming with loyalists. That said, Britain turned their focus to the reconquest of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. This would surely lead to a large profitable empire that would stretch from Canada, through the trans-Appalachian west (west of the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania) into the aforementioned southern colonies and into Florida, which was already a British Colony as a result of the Seven Years War. This on top of some sugar islands in the Caribbean, some of which by the way are still under British rule.

If the British were to be victorious in this strategy, it would leave the United States with only 9 states, all of which would be surrounded by the British Empire, meaning the United States' chance for survival in the near or distant future would be slim.

By the summer of 1780, it appeared that the British strategy would be successful. Britain retook Savannah, GA. The British crushed Charleston, South Carolina, killing or capturing nearly 7,000 Americans in the process. And then finally, Camden, South Carolina became the 3rd city to fall in less than 2 years. Things did not look good for America...

But then, something happened that will ignite American pride in every patriot in this great land... something that is made for the big screen of Hollywood... something that is the perfect subject of a book.... see John Ferling above.... something unexpected that changed the course of history...

Citizens of South Carolina came out of the woodwork... well, actually, they came out of the "dark swamps" and the "thick woods" of the back country and ambushed the British troops guerrilla style.

John Ferling says it best:

"The Southern rebels who reached for their arms in 1780 were driven by myriad hopes and fears. Some fought to save the American Revolution, which they believed offered the promise of liberating political, social, and economic change. Others were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who long had loathed Great Britain and its state church. Some were adventurers or opportunists. Many sought revenge against the heavy handed actions of the British, who had jailed suspected rebels, liberated their slaves, and even burned churches. But nothing had stirred the South Carolinians as much as the bloody attack led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton against a force of Continentals in the Waxhaws north of Charleston late in May. Tarleton’s American Legion, a loyalist force, had overwhelmed the Continentals, and then massacred up to 75 percent of them as they tried to surrender.

Some South Carolina rebels joined with guerrilla bands led by the likes of Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, and Andrew Pickens. These guerrilla warriors emerged from dark swamps and thick forests to strike enemy supply lines and ambush British forage parties. Others, in small vigilante packs, terrorized Loyalists, hoping to keep them from aiding the British."

The result of the South Carolina attacks put a huge damper on the Southern Strategy. For the next 6 months, Cornwallis and his troops suffered many defeats and had no choice but to turn their strategy back to the north, to try and meet up with some British troops in Virginia. From their, he would head to Yorktown where he eventually surrendered.

PS - Thanks to Kate Klenfner of Oxford University Press, for bringing this great article to my attention.

Click here to bye John Ferling's Book

American Revolution Lesson Plans
Revolutionary War Lesson Plans


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

D-Day: A Veteran's Thoughts on Omaha Beach

"As I write this it is 4:27AM DST. It is already 10:27 on the beaches of Normandy. 63 years ago some of the greatest people ever to pull on a helmet paid the ultimate sacrifice. Thousands of other lay in hospitals. Thank GOD many made the hill. I was not one of them.

When I fell out for detail at *:00 AM in Kingston Bagby, England. Our First Sergeant announced this fact and I said a silent prayer. Why I didn't get the call, only GOD and the US Army know.

But I am asking you to join me for all of those 11 million that served and especially those 10,000 plus that lay in peace under white crosses at the top of OMAHA BEACH."

Joe Vetter, World War II Army Veteran