Recruits for a regiment of cavalry were concentrated at Fort Riley, Kansas, in August, 1866. The work of organization was inaugurated by Major John W. Davidson, 2d Cavalry, on the 10th September, and completed by Colonel Smith, on the 22d December. The new regiment was first designated in orders as the "Eighth Cavalry," but the figure eight subsequently gave place to the cabalistic number—seven.
Andrew J. Smith, a veteran of the Mexican War, who had been a distinguished cavalry leader in the Army of the West during the Civil War, was promoted colonel of the new regiment.
The first lieutenant colonel was that picturesque cavalryman, George A. Custer, who had been one of Sheridan's most trusted division commanders.
The senior major was a soldier of the old school—Alfred Gibbs; the other majors were Wickliffe Cooper and Joel H. Elliott, both young officers of great promise, and with distinguished war records.
Among the captains were, William Thompson, Frederick W. Benteen, Myles W. Keogh, Robert M. West, "Mike" Sheridan, Louis McLane Hamilton and Albert Barnitz.
The roster of lieutenants also showed many well-known names, among them: "Tom" Custer, brother of the general; W. W. Cooke, H. J. Nowlan, A. E. Smith, "Tom" Weir, Owen Hale, "Sam" Robbins, Myles Moylan, James M. Bell and Henry Jackson.
The regiment remained in Kansas four years and six months, and during that period performed every kind of duty that could fall to the lot of a trooper, and went through an experience scarcely realizeable to a young soldier of the present day.
Its scouts, marches and expeditions, extended from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains; from the Staked Plains of Texas to the Platte River. The summer's sun found it plodding over the arid, dusty plains as escort to commissioners, surveyors and what not, or dashing along in eager pursuit on a fresh Indian trail, and dealing vigorous strokes upon this savage enemy; the winter's snow served as a winding sheet to many of its gallant dead. The theatre of its operations was the scene of many well contested conflicts with its treacherous foe. Two seasons it fought the unseen but virulent enemy—Asiatic cholera. It subsisted for months on food unfit for human consumption, and as a consequence scurvy frequently prevailed among the men, weakening them to such a degree as to invite the more deadly disease—cholera.
This varied and trying service developed officers of determination and
endurance, of daring and skill; and at the same time eliminated the "deadwood" which it discovered. The regiment, or fractions of it, demonstrated its esprit on over forty occasions in contest with the Sioux, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Arapahoes and Dog Soldiers. These began with a skirmish near Fort Lyon, Colorado, on the 13th April, 1867, and practically ended with the battle on the Washita in the Indian Territory on the 27th November, 1868,—although there were several smaller affairs along the Saline and Solomon during the summer of 1869.
Exclusive of the battle of the Washita the losses sustained in action were: killed, 11; wounded, 13; mortally wounded, 4; captured, 1; lost, one; six men were drowned in the performance of duty and fifty-one died of cholera.
The fight on the Washita was perhaps the most vigorously contested, and the most decisive battle ever fought with Indians up to that period, or even since. Eight hundred troopers, and over double that number of Indians were engaged in that encounter.
In addition to Black Kettle's village, which was captured and totally destroyed, there were within five miles of the scene of the battle over six hundred tepees standing along the Washita River during the fight.
Custer, under the cover of night, succeeded in surrounding the village, and as the morning dawned, lighting up the snow-covered valley, a signal—a single shot—rang out clear and distinct in the cold crisp air; the band struck up a stirring regimental air—"Garry Owen"—and the fight was on. Into the village the gallant troopers, cheering lustily, charged from all sides, each vying with his comrade to be first at the death. The fight raged furiously until about three o'clock in the afternoon.
How the regiment acquitted itself is shown in the following order:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI. IN THE FIELD.
Depot on the North Canadian, at the junction of Beaver Creek,
General Field Orders No. 6:
Indian Territory, November 29, 1868.
The Major General Commanding announces to this Command the defeat, by the Seventh Regiment of Cavalry, of a large force of Cheyenne Indians, under the celebrated Chief. Black Kettle, reinforced by the Arapahoes under Little Raven, and the Kiowas under Satanta, on the morning of the 27th instant, on the Washita River, near the Antelope Hills, Indian Territory, resulting in a loss to the savages of one hundred and three warriors killed, including Black Kettle, the capture of fifty-three squaws and children, eight hundred and seventy-five ponies, eleven hundred and twenty-three buffalo robes and skins, five hundred and thirty-five pounds of powder, one thousand and fifty pounds of lead, four thousand arrows, seven hundred pounds of tobacco, besides rifles, pistols, saddles, bows, lariats and immense quantities of dried meat and other winter provisions, the complete destruction of their village, and almost total annihilation of this Indian band.
The loss of the Seventh Cavalry was two officers killed, Major Joel H. Elliott and Captain Louis McL. Hamilton, and nineteen enlisted men; three officers wounded, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel T. W. Custer, Brevet
Lieutenant Colonel Albert Barnitz (badly) and Second Lieutenant T. J. March (slightly) and eleven enlisted men.
The energy and rapidity shown during one of the heaviest snow storms that has visited this section of country, with the temperature below freezing, and the gallantry and bravery displayed resulting in such signal success, reflect the highest credit upon both the officers and men of the Seventh Cavalry; and the Major General Commanding, while regretting the loss of such gallant officers as Major Elliott and Captain Hamilton, who fell while gallantly leading their men, desires to express his thanks to the officers and men engaged in the battle of the Washita, and his special congratulations are extended to their distinguished commander, Brevet Major General George A. Custer, for the efficient and gallant service rendered, which have characterized the opening of the campaign against hostile Indians south of the Arkansas.
By command of Major General P. H. SHERIDAN,
(Signed) J. SCHUYLER CROSBY,
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, A. D. C.
Acting Assistant Adjutant General.
The Secretary of War also sent the following telegram which was transmitted to the Regimental Commander:
WASHINGTON CITY, DECEMBER 2, 1868.
Lieutenant General SHERMAN, St. Louis, Mo.:
I congratulate you, Sheridan and Custer, on the splendid success with which your campaign is begun. Ask Sheridan to send forward the names of officers and men deserving of special mention.
(Signed) JOHN M. SCHOFIELD,
Secretary of War.
General Custer reported that it was impracticable to comply with the request contained in the closing sentence "for the gratifying reason that every officer and man belonging to the expedition has performed his full part in rendering the movement against the hostile tribes a complete success."
General Sheridan's order, issued upon the receipt of Custer's despatch written immediately after the battle, understates the loss; two officers and twenty-five men were killed, and three officers and twelve men wounded. Two white boys were rescued from the savages. During the engagement a bloodthirsty squaw was seen to murder a bright lad of about ten years by disemboweling him with a knife. In Satanta's abandoned village the bodies of a young white woman and a child were found cruelly mutilated.
A subsequent visit to the battle-field, and investigation among the prisoners and other Indians who were in the fight, disclosed a much greater Indian loss than was first reported. They acknowledged that one hundred and forty warriors were killed, and the number wounded must have swelled the aggregate loss to nearly four hundred.
General Sheridan, who was at Camp Supply, with his characteristic disposition to drive home a preliminary success, ordered Custer, now rein-
forced by the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, making a total force of about fourteen hundred men, to resume his operations against the hostiles, hoping by the aid of the biting frost of an unusually cold winter to force them to sue for peace and to return to their reservation.
The limit of this sketch makes it impossible to follow the operations of Custer's column; they are full of interest, and of incidents which go to prove his own wonderful energy, daring, pluck and resourcefulness, as well as the esprit, courage, and staying qualities of his officers and men. There was no more fighting Indians; but fighting cold, hunger and obstacles with which nature barred the routes of travel, was even more wearing and destructive to the efficiency of the command. On the march from Supply to Fort Cobb the regiment lost one hundred and twenty-eight horses; the "19th Kansas" one hundred and forty-eight.
Through the capture of Satanta and Lone Wolf, head chiefs of the Kiowas, and a threat to hang them at sunset on a certain day, that tribe was forced to come in and camp on the reservation near Fort Cobb.
By the extraordinary efforts of Custer with a detachment of two officers and fifty five men, and a march of three hundred and fifty miles, the Arapahoes were located and brought back to their reservation, where they have remained at peace with the whites. The Cheyennes now alone remained obdurate to the peaceful efforts of the Government. They were finally located in Northern Texas. By a well conceived and successfully executed stratagem Custer captured three o the principal chiefs of the tribe, and by the exercise of great patience and forbearance, Mrs. Morgan and Miss White, two white captives held by them, were delivered to Custer; and an agreement entered into on the part of the Indians to return to their reservation, and on the part of Custer to restore to their people the three chiefs and the women and children captured at the Washita. The Indians complied with their part of the contract; and the Government,as far as it was able, fulfilled its stipulation.
With the return of the Cheyennes to their reservation the work of the expedition south of the Arkansas was done. The regiment was withdrawn and the "19th Kansas" mustered out of the service.
The extreme severity of this winter's campaign will be appreciated when it is remembered that Custer left Camp Supply on the 7th December 1868, with fourteen hundred cavalry, and now, on the 5th March, 1869, his mounted effective strength was reduced to six hundred and fifty men.
General Sheridan in a letter to Custer said: "I am very much rejoiced at the success of your expedition, and feel proud of our winter's operations and of the officers and men who have borne its privations and hardships so manfully. * * * Give my kind regards to the officers and say how happy I should be to see them should any of them come this way on leave."
Colonel Smith resigned in the spring of 1869, and was succeeded by Brevet Major General S. D. Sturgis, promoted from Lieutenant Colonel 6th Cavalry.
In March, 1871, the regiment was relieved from duty in the Department of the Missouri.
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI.
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS, MARCH 8, 1871.
General Orders NO. 4.
Orders transferring the 7th Cavalry from this Department having been received from Headquarters of the Army, the Commanding General deems it his duty to express to the officers and soldiers of the regiment his high appreciation of their soldierly qualities and of the conspicuous services performed by them in this department.
The regiment carries with it a noble record of faithful services and gallant deeds. During the four years which it has been in this Department it has experienced all of the hardships, dangers and vicissitudes attendant upon military operations on our wild frontier. It has made many long and toilsome marches exposed to the severest storms of winter, and has gone for days in that inclement season without shelter and almost without food for man or animal.
It has been engaged in many bloody combats with the Indians in which its valor has been thoroughly tried and proved. It has met all dangers and privations with firmness and intrepidity and has been distinguished throughout for steady discipline and efficient performance of duty.
The present soldierly condition and high state of discipline of the regiment give assurance that in the new field to which it is ordered it will be distinguished for the same high qualities which have so justly earned for it its brilliant reputation in this command.
With sincere regret the Commanding General sees this regiment leave this Department. It is needless to say that it will carry with it his hearty good wishes and his confident hope that its future will be as successful as its past history.
It will be long remembered in the Department as a model of soldierly discipline and efficiency.
By command of Brigadier General Pope:
(Signed) W. G. MITCHELL,
Brevet Colonel, U. S. A.
Acting Assistant Adjutant General.
The scene now shifts to the Department of the South, where we find the regiment scattered through seven States, serving as a sort of adjunct to the Department of justice, acting as posse comitatus for United States Marshals. This constabulary duty continued for two years, when orders were issued transferring the regiment to Texas. The restless and threatening attitude of the Sioux in the Department of Dakota made it necessary to send cavalry there, and upon the application of General Sheridan the "Seventh's" destination was changed to the Northern Department.
April, 1873, found all the regiment, except the colonel, his staff and two troops, at Yankton, Dakota.
General Sturgis was assigned to station at St. Paul, Minnesota, and Major Reno, with one squadron, was detailed for escort duty with the international commission locating the boundary line between the United States and the British possessions; this squadron remained on this duty until the autumn of 1874.
While detained at Yankton, waiting for wagon transportation, and for the ice to run out of the river, the regiment was introduced to a genuine Dakota blizzard, the worst it experienced during its fourteen years service in the Territory. On the 10th June the regiment reached Fort Rice, and Custer reported to General D. S. Stanley for duty with the expedition then fitted out for the Yellowstone. This expedition was "designed for the protection of engineering surveyors of the Northern Pacific Railway," and consisted of about fifteen hundred men and two guns.
The column left Fort Rice on the 24th June. On the 4th August Custer, who had according to his usual custom gone ahead of the main column with one squadron (ninety men), was attacked at a point on the north bank of the Yellowstone River about four miles above the present site of Fort Keogh, Montana, by three hundred Indians.
The Indians, well armed with breech-loading rifles, fought with great stubbornness for three hours and a half. The ammunition of the troops was about exhausted when by a well directed mounted charge the Indians were driven from the field.
One trooper was wounded; the loss among the Indians was heavy, for the troops fought dismounted and under cover, while the Indians charged gallantly within very short range.
The same day the Regimental Sutler, the Veterinary Surgeon and one private were killed by a small party of Indians, while trying to join Custer from the main column. The trail of a large village was discovered on the 8th, and Custer was detached with his cavalry and a company of Scouts under Lieutenant D. H. Brush, 17th Infantry, to follow and strike the Indians. The pursuit was begun as soon as night fell and prosecuted with great vigor.
On the morning of the 11th the Indians attacked Custer while in camp on the Yellowstone, about opposite the mouth of the Big Horn River. A spirited engagement ensued. Lieutenant Braden, who held a prominent point on the left flank with a small detachment while Custer made his dispositions, was charged by one hundred warriers [sic], the Indians riding to within thirty yards of his dismounted line. He was shot through the thigh bone, but with the most wonderful exhibition of cool nerve maintained his position, and repulsed the daring savages.
On the bluffs south of the river, old men, squaws, and children were seen in large numbers, evidently waiting in fiendish anticipation the time for their brutal part in the drama; but their dusky braves could not face the vigorous charge of the "pony-soldiers." They broke in complete rout, the cavalry pursuing them for eight miles, when they escaped by crossing the Yellowstone.
The regiment lost in this engagement one officer, Lieutenant Charles Braden, and two enlisted men wounded; and one enlisted man killed. Several officers had horses shot under them.
The Indian loss was estimated by Custer to be forty killed and wounded on the north side, while several were known to have been knocked over on the south bank. There were nine hundred Indians engaged in the attack; this number was afterward verified by the Indians who were present.
General Custer in his official report of the fight says: "I desire to bear testimony to the good conduct of every man connected with my command, including officers, men and scouts. Where all did so well no special mention can be made."
No Indians were seen during the remainder of the season. The expedition continued the march as far as the Mussel Shell River, whence it returned to Fort A. Lincoln.
General Sheridan in his annual report for 1873 recommended the establishment of a large military post near the base of the Black Hills in order "to secure a strong foothold in the heart of the Sioux country, and thereby exercise a controlling influence over these warlike people." Pursuant to his directions an expedition was organized at Fort A. Lincoln in June, 1874, for the purpose of reconnoitring [sic] the route from that post to Bear Butte, in the Black Hills, and exploring the country south, southeast, and southwest of that point. Custer was detailed to command the expeditionary force, which consisted of ten troops of the 7th Cavalry, two companies of infantry and a detachment of scouts; and was directed to return to Fort A. Lincoln, within sixty days. Colonels G. A. Forsyth and Fred Grant of Sheridan's staff accompanied the command; also Captain William Ludlow, C. E., as Engineer Officer.
Leaving Fort A. Lincoln in July we find the expedition at Custer Park—near the present site of Custer City, S. D.,—on the last day of the month. There was a well equipped scientific party with the expedition, and much valuable information gathered as to the geology, zoblogy, paleontology of the region explored; but the presence of precious metals in large quantity appears to have been doubted.
In September, 1874, six troops and Major Lewis Merrill were ordered to the Department of the Gulf. The troops were assigned to stations at different points in Louisiana and Alabama, where they remained, performing constabulary duty until the spring of 1876.
During the summer of 1875 the troops in the Department of Dakota were in the field removing "prospectors" from the Black Hills.
In the winter of 1875-76 Tom Custer captured at the Standing Rock Agency, Rain-in-the-Face, a noted Sioux chief, who was the principal actor in the murder of the sutler and the veterinary surgeon in August, 1873. He escaped from the guard house at Fort A. Lincoln and is reputed to have killed Tom Custer in the massacre on the Little Big Horn.
In the spring of 1876 the troops of the regiment in the South were recalled, and the entire regiment, Custer commanding, concentrated at Fort A. Lincoln for duty with Terry's column in the general movement about to be inaugurated against the Great Sioux Nation.
The column left Fort A. Lincoln on the 17th May, and the first signs of Indians, the trail of a large body, were discovered on the Rosebud River about the 15th June by Reno, while on a scout. On the 22d June, Custer with the entire regiment, was detached to follow this trail.
By rapid marches, day and night, half- past ten o'clock on the morning of the 25th June found the regiment about to begin the ascent of the divide between the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn rivers.
Early the same morning the hostile camp had been located by the scouts in the valley of the Little Big Horn. It was Custer's intention to remain concealed until night, and then make his dispositions to attack the Indian village at dawn on the 26th; but shortly after halting he received information which assured him that his presence was known to the hostiles.
To prevent their escape he determined to march at once to the attack.
Custer divided his regiment into three squadrons; one, of five troops, he commanded himself, the other two, of three troops each, were commanded by Reno and Benteen respectively.
Reno had the advance, and he was ordered "to move forward at as rapid a gait as he thought prudent, and charge the village afterwards, and the whole outfit would support him." He directed Benteen to move off to the left and south until he could see the valley of the Little Big Horn—to attack anything he found, and to send him word.
When about three-quarters of a mile from the Little Big Horn Custer swung off the trail to his right, evidently intending to support Reno's attack by striking the Indians in flank.
It was now about one o'clock in the afternoon. Reno moved forward and crossed the river without molestation, delaying twenty minutes to water. He continued his advance down the valley under a desultory fire for two miles, when he was brought to a stand by a large mounted force of Indians. Instead of charging as ordered, he dismounted his squadron to fight on foot. The left was held by the Ree scouts who fled at the first real attack; the line, thus uncovered, fell back to the timber. This position was fairly well protected. Up to this period one man had been wounded.
The second position was probably held twenty minutes, when Reno ordered the squadron to "mount and get to the hills." As soon as the retreat commenced the Indians swarmed around the right flank and forced the column towards the river; the ford over which Reno came could not be reached, but a pony trail was found crossing about a mile and a half below and leading up a narrow ravine to the bluffs on the right bank of the river. The banks were precipitous, and the outlet narrow, but under the impulse of showering lead the ascent was made and the high bluff gained. In this retreat two officers, twenty-eight enlisted men and one scout were killed, seven enlisted men wounded, and one officer (Lieutenant DeRudio) and eighteen enlisted men and scouts missing.*
As near as the time can be fixed, it was now about two o'clock. Benteen was unable to execute his orders by reason of the broken country, and was forced back to the trail of the main column. Soon after reaching the trail, a trumpeter from Custer's squadron delivered to him the following despatch: "Benteen, come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs. Sgd. Cooke. P. S.-Bring packs." He took the gallop and reached Reno on the bluffs about half-past two o'clock. Very soon after Benteen's arrival the Indians withdrew from the attack. A large number of mounted warriors were seen in the valley, and suddenly all of them moved down the stream. From the most authentic information received from Indians who
* Fourteen of these men reached the bluffs about three hours after Reno; DeRudio and three men came in during the night of the 26th.
were present at the memorable struggle, it appears that Custer after leaving Reno's trail followed down the general course of the river, but behind the bluffs, for about five miles, evidently looking for a favorable outlet in the hills through which he could strike the village.
By the time he reached his farthest point Reno had been driven to the bluffs, and his own presence was discovered. The Indians evidently thought Reno's squadron after reaching the high ground had left a detachment of observation there and had gone down the river under cover of the bluffs, and formed a junction with Custer's column, for all authorities seem to agree that no considerable force remained in front of Reno after about three o'clock. It was near this hour when Custer was discovered.
Three thousand warriors, armed with the best magazine rifles, gathered in the ravines and coolies and burst upon Custer's intrepid band.
Of course it was but a question of time; encumbered with the led horses ; provided with an inferior arm ; the Indians not only twelve to one, but each of these twelve firing at close quarters five shots to every soldier's one, the end was soon reached. At five o'clock Reno made an effort to join Custer but it was too late.
The warriors were free to drive Reno back to his former position, and to besiege him with vigor until darkness shrouded the bloody scene. But it brought short rest for the command. New dispositions were made; the wounded were made as comfortable as possible. Every available man with such instrument as he could find was put to digging holes, or rude, sort of intrenchments. In the direction of the Indian village the horizon was aglow with reflected light.
With the dawn of day came the whirr of bullets, and all day, the 26th, the Indians vainly sought to dislodge the troops; at seven o'clock that evening they gave up the attack and moved off toward the Big Horn mountains.
On the morning of the 27th General Terry, with Gibbon's column, arrived on the battle-field and discovered Custer's fate.
The scene of the fight was visited the next day, and it presented a most heartrending spectacle. The bodies of the dead were horribly mutilated, except that of General Custer.
The dead were found by troops, with little piles of empty cartridge shells beside each man-mute testimony of the cohesion and discipline which existed in the brave band until the end. Near Custer lay his two brothers, his nephew and his adjutant.
Custer took into the fight eleven officers and one hundred and ninety-one enlisted men; all were killed. The officers were: Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer; Captain Myles W. Keogh, commanding Troop I; Captain George W. Yates, commanding Troop F; Captain Thomas W. Custer, commanding Troop C ; First Lieutenant William W. Cooke, Regimental Adjutant; First Lieutenant Algernon E. Smith, commanding Troop E; First Lieutenant James E. Porter, with Troop I; Second Lieutenant Henry M. Harrington, with Troop C; Second Lieutenant James G. Sturgis, with Troop E; Second Lieutenant William Van W. Reilly, with Troop F.
The following accompanied the command and were killed with Custer:
Second Lieutenant John G. Crittenden, 20th Infantry, attached to Troop L; Acting Assistant Surgeon J. M. DeWolf; Mr. Boston Custer and Mr. Artie Read, civilians, brother and nephew of General Custer; Scout Charley Reynolds, and Curley—a negro.
With Reno two officers of the Seventh Cavalry were killed—First Lieutenant Donald McIntosh, commanding Troop G; Second Lieutenant Benjamin H. Hodgson, Squadron Adjutant—and forty-six enlisted men. Those attached to the command and killed were Acting Assistant Surgeon G. E. Lord, Scout Bloody Knife—a Ree Indian. Forty-four enlisted men were wounded.
The wounded were sent by steamboat to Fort A. Lincoln, and from that point, on the 7th July, 1876, news of the terrible disaster flashed across the wires to the East. More troops were at once ordered to the Yellowstone. Upon their arrival offensive operations were resumed. But appalled by their own acts of savage brutality, and fearing summary punishment by the Government, the Indians resorted to the old and effective trick of dispersion, and set the troops to fruitless marches and countermarches for the rest of the summer. The Seventh Cavalry was relieved from duty in the field in the latter part of September, and returned to Fort A. Lincoln. The enlisted strength of the regiment was increased to twelve hundred men.
On the 20th October General Sturgis with eight troops crossed the Missouri River and proceeded to the Cheyenne Agency to disarm the Indians at that Agency and to capture their pony herds; Reno with four troops, marched to the Standing Rock Agency to perform the same duty there.
A large number of broken, obsolete and worthless guns, a few serviceable arms, and about two thousand ponies were secured.
Upon the completion of these movements the troops were assigned to stations for the winter.
The regiment, except Troop C, was concentrated at Fort A. Lincoln on the 30th April, 1877, and the next day started again for the Yellowstone country, to report to General N. A. Miles, commanding the District. At this time Sitting Bull and his contingent were known to be north of the "line," and thought to be contemplating an expedition into the United States, in connection with a hostile movement of the Indians belonging to the agencies on the upper and lower Missouri.
The regiment was so placed as to scout the divide between the Yellowstone and Mussel Shell, and furnished one troop (B) to an infantry command performing a like duty south of the Yellowstone. A little later, another troop (E) was detached for duty under Lieutenant G. C. Doane, 2d Cavalry, with a large force of Crow Indians which he was endeavoring to utilize in scouting operations in the upper Yellowstone country. In August Miles was apprised of the escape of the Nez Percé Indians from Howard, and that the direction of their march indicated that they were making for his territory.
He ordered Sturgis to proceed with six troops, three hundred and seventy-eight men and one Napoleon gun, towards Judith Basin to endeavor to place his command where he could intercept Chief Joseph and crush him; at the same time directing him to hold his command in condition and
in position to concentrate at the mouth of the Rosebud by the 15th Sepoember for operations against Sitting Bull.
Now came a month of hard and continuous marching,* and during the afternoon of the 13th September Sturgis overtook the Nez Percés just as they were entering the cañon of Cañon Creek, Montana.
A brisk engagement followed in which the command lost three enlisted men killed, Captain Thomas H. French and ten enlisted men wounded. The Indians lost sixteen killed and a large number of ponies were captured.
The Indians stubbornly held all direct approaches to the Cañon, and it was necessary to flank it, which, owing to the extremely rough country, took time, and darkness set in before a "clean up" could be made. At dawn the following day the pursuit was resumed. During the day five Indians were killed and many ponies captured, but the Indians could not be brought to stand owing to the exhausted condition of the cavalry horses,—ninety-three were killed and abandoned on the march. The command had been on half rations for several days; the supplies now gave out completely. A courier had been sent to General Miles on the morning of the 13th informing him of the direction of Joseph's march. When Sturgis became convinced that he could not overtake the Indians before they reached the Missouri River he decided to delay his march. It was reasonably certain that Chief Joseph would at least diminish the rate of his march as soon as the troops ceased pushing him, and thus Miles would have a better opportunity to place his command in position. By a happy combination of skill and luck he was able to seize the opportunity, and on the 30th September, at a point a little northeast of the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana, his Cheyenne scouts discovered the Indian village.
The Indian camp had been most admirably selected for defense; it lay in the valley of Snake Creek and was traversed by deep coolies in such a manner as to afford concealment, and give protection from fire from what direction soever the position was approached. In the banks of these coolies and ravines a most skillful system of rifle-pits was constructed. South of the village, the direction from which the attack was made, ran a high perpendicular bank over which it was impossible to take cavalry, and which was lined with the Nez Percés warriors completely concealed from view.
When the troops sighted the village it seemed accessible from all sides, except perhaps the east. Hale was ordered to charge the village with his squadron of the Seventh Cavalry (Troops A, D and K). The gallant troopers burying their spurs into their horses' flanks, rushed forward to the attack. The Indians held their fire until the squadron was within point blank range when they saluted it with a murderous volley; but on they charged to within twenty yards of the Indian line. In the charge Troop K (Hale) had wheeled to the right to attack a body of Indians which enfiladed the attacking line. Moylan, commanding A and D, when he discovered the perpendicular bank, saw that it was impossible to descend it, wheeled his troops about, withdrew, and formed on the right of the 5th Infantry, some two or
*Lieutenant E. B. Fuller, with a detachment of five men, marched without a change of horses three hundred and fifty miles in five days.
three hundred yards in the rear. During this movement the fire was very heavy, but the Indians were so close that they shot too high. Up to this time the loss in Troops A and D was three killed and four wounded.
While moving to the rear, Captain Godfrey, marching in rear of his troop, had his horse shot under him.
Hale also charged up to an impassable ravine, withdrew about two hundred yards and dismounted his troop to fight on foot in a somewhat isolated position on the right. For some time almost the entire Indian force was concentrated on him, inflicting severe loss. Troops A and D dismounted and advanced to his assistance at double time under a galling cross-fire, sustaining a heavy loss. In this advance, Godfrey, who had remained mounted, was wounded and taken from the field. After Moylan placed his line in position and was in the act of reporting to Hale, he was shot through the thigh. Soon after Hale himself was killed while encouraging the inexperienced young soldiers of his command.
Biddle had been killed in the first charge. There was now but one officer, Lieutenant Eckerson, for duty with the three troops. All the First Sergeants were killed, also several sergeants and corporals. The squadron of the Seventh Cavalry now occupied the high ground east of the village. Lieutenant Romeyn, 5th Infantry, in command of Troops A and D, 7th Cavalry and Company G, 5th Infantry, was ordered to charge simultaneously with Lieutenant Carter, and Company I, 5th Infantry, from the southwest end and endeavor to cut the Indians off from their water supply. The rifle pits were reached, but the Indians drove the force back. Romeyn was shot through the lungs. This practically ended the fighting for the day, and during the night the troops were posted around the Indian village and threw up such intrenchments as they could with the tools at hand.
The 12-pounder arrived on the evening of the 1st October and by burying the trail in the ground, and using very light charges of powder some shells were dropped in among the Indians, inflicting great loss.
Miles had several parleys with Joseph, and finally, on the 4th October, he surrendered his people—four hundred and eighteen in all—of which eighty-seven were men. One hundred and four escaped to Canada.
In this engagement Miles' losses were: two officers and twenty-two enlisted men killed; four officers and thirty-eight enlisted men wounded, of which the Seventh Cavalry lost two officers and nineteen enlisted men killed, and two officers and twenty-seven enlisted men wounded, a total loss of fifty-one out of one hundred and eight men engaged—very nearly fifty per cent. Miles' command numbered during the first two days, three hundred and twenty-three men and thirty Cheyennes, it was afterwards increased by forty men of Brotherton's Company of the 5th Infantry.
Sturgis reached the Missouri at Carroll on the 1st October, and the same day received orders from Miles to move forward rapidly and cautiously—that he had Joseph surrounded.
On the 4th, when within two hours' march of the battle-field, he received orders to halt—that the surrender was complete.
The uncertainty of Sitting Bull's intentions and movements kept the
forces in the field well into the winter, and the troops did not all arrive at their stations until January, 1878.
After a few months of rest and recuperation a permanent camp was established at Bear Butte, in the Black Hills, all the regiment, under Sturgis, being present except Troop F, which remained at Fort Totten.
In September the Cheyenne Indians left their reservation in the Indian Territory crossed the States of Kansas and Nebraska, committing depredations along their route of march. They evaded all pursuers and were apparently heading for the great agencies in Dakota. The possible introduction of an openly hostile element into any of these great camps was viewed with great apprehension by the military authorities, and stringent orders were issued to prevent it. The new agency for Red Cloud was at this time being established at White Clay Creek.
Under telegraphic orders the camp at Bear Butte was broken up, and the command, under Tilford, moved with as much dispatch as possible to a point near this Agency to observe it, and in conjunction with other troops, to keep out the Cheyennes, capturing them if possible. When the Cheyennes found that their scheme of joining the Sioux was frustrated, and that the gateways to the North was held by troops, they broke up into small parties so that they might sneak through the line. One band did escape around the western end of the Black Hills. Another was captured by a squadron of the 3d Cavalry under Captain J. B. Johnson. This band, when in the first camp after surrender, experienced a change of heart and positively refused to accompany Johnson any further.
They burrowed in the ground and otherwise constructed a most skillful system of defense. Two troops of the Seventh Cavalry and a piece of artillery went to the assistance of Johnson. When the Indians saw the resources and preparations of the troops for immediate action, they concluded to come out of their holes and to go with their captors.
In November the regiment was relieved from duty in the field, and after detaching two troops to establish a cantonment on the present site of Fort Meade, S.D., returned to its former station.
The next summer regimental headquarters and six troops garrisoned the new post of Fort Meade, Dakota.
Aside from maintaining camps of observation on the Little Missouri River during the summer, escort duty in the construction of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads, scouts and expeditions for special purposes, the service in the Department of Dakota after 1878 was confined to garrison work. Among the scouts may be mentioned the capture by Lieutenant Bell of a band of Canadian half-breeds in the autumn of 1883. Troop F was present and participated in the capture of the remnants of Sitting Bull's and Gaul's camps at Poplar River Agency, during the winter of 1880-81.
On the 11th June, 1886, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis, Brevet Major General, U. S. A., retired from the service, having reached the age of sixty-four years. General James W. Forsyth, Lieutenant Colonel 1st Cavalry, succeeded to the Colonelcy.
Troop A participated in the affair which terminated with the killing of
Sword Bearer" at the Crow Agency, Montana, on the 5th November, 1887.
Regimental headquarters and one squadron were transferred to the Department of the Missouri during the summer of 1887. 1
Upon General Forsyth devolved the duty of establishing the School of Practical Application for Cavalry and Light Artillery located at Fort Riley, Kansas. The next year the remaining squadrons followed the first, one taking station at Fort Riley, the other at Fort Sill, Indian Territory. In 1888, 1889, and 1890 that portion of the regiment at Fort Riley attended Grand Army reunions or Militia encampments at Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. The troops stationed at Fort Sill did their share of duty on the "cattle trail" leading through the Territory. In the autumn of 1889, the regiment, except Troop E, was united for the last time at the field manoeuvres of that year on Chilocco Creek, Indian Territory. In September, 1890, Troops L and M were skeletonized, and the officers and men merged into other organizations.
The year 1890 is memorable for the Sioux outbreak after a peace of more than ten years. The history of this disturbance of the friendly relations which had existed for so long a period is full of interest, but only a passing reference can be made to it. Religious fervor, including the belief in the advent of a Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, the return of the buffalo and the departure of the white man from the Indian country, seized the savage mind; and its manifestations in the ghost dance and other ceremonies gave rise to the belief on the part of agents and others that the entire Indian nation meditated war.
Whether this belief was correct or not has never been definitely decided. In November the agent at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, not equal to the emergency which presented itself, deserted his post of duty, reported his Indians on the eve of war and called for military protection.
Immediately orders were issued for the concentration of a large force at Pine Ridge, under Brigadier General John R. Brooke. The headquarters and eight troops of the regiment formed a part of this force. At the same time troops were placed at strategical points north of this agency, in the Department of Dakota. One of these commands was located on the Cheyenne River in observation of Big Foot's band, and of other Indians camped in that city.
Nothing of a hostile character occurred at Pine Ridge Agency for several weeks after the arrival of the troops. The time was spent in negotiating with a camp of Brulés and malcontents from Pine Ridge, which had been established upon the approach of troops in the Bad Lands north of White River. This was called the hostile camp. These negotiations, which looked to bringing these Indians into the agency, were progressing with a fair prospect of success until the news of the killing of Sitting Bull near Standing Rock was received, when they were to some extent interrupted. They were, however, resumed until broken off by an actual collision between the Indians and troops. Big Foot was a bad Indian, a disturbing element. In his camp the followers of Sitting Bull, who escaped when he was killed, found an asylum. There were also other renegades from the Missouri River agencies. On the night of the 22d December he escaped
with his village from the troops that were supposed to hold him. The Major General commanding the Division, then at Rapid City, South Dakota, informed General Brooke of the escape, of the desperate character of .he Indians, and impressed upon him the necessity of capturing, disarming and holding them under close guard.
On the 26th December, Forsyth, under orders from Brooke, sent Whitside's squadron, and two Hotchkiss guns under Lieutenant H. L. Hawthorne, 2d Artillery, to the Wounded Knee Post Office, the purpose being to capture Big Foot's band if he should come that way. Brooke informed Whitside on the 27th that Big Foot must be in his front, and directed him to "find him, to move on him at once and with rapidity, to capture him, and if he fought to destroy him."
Whitside did capture him on the 28th, without a fight, about six miles from Wounded Knee Post Office. The Indians were conducted to the camp which had been left standing on the Wounded Knee. They were assembled, counted, and rations issued to three hundred and fifty persons; one hundred and twenty bucks, the rest women and children.
Whitside reported his successful capture and requested reinforcements, that the disarmament, which was to be consummated on the morrow, be accomplished without bloodshed.
In response to his request Forsyth arrived during the night of the 28th with Regimental Headquarters and the second squadron; two Hotchkiss guns under Captain A. Capron, 1st Artillery; and Lieutenant Taylor, 9th Cavalry, with his troop of scouts, to which was attached Lieutenant Preston, 9th Cavalry. Forsyth's instructions were to "disarm the Indians where they were camped, to, under no circumstances allow any of them to escape, and to destroy them if they resisted;" and as soon as the disarmament was completed to leave Whitside in charge and return at once to the agency.
Early the next morning Monday, the 29th of December, Forsyth made his dispositions to disarm the Indians, peaceably if possible, by force if necessary.
The bucks were invited into council between their own village and the camp; nearly all of them, one hundred and six, came wrapped in blankets. Big Foot remained in his tent.
General Forsyth, kindly and pleasantly, yet firmly, demanded the surrender of their arms. While the negotiations were progressing, a young buck fired into the soldiers. The others threw aside their blankets which concealed their weapons, and poured a murderous fire into the troops, which had been posted between them and their village, following it up as rapidly as their repeating rifles could belch forth the lead. The fight raged on the flat about one hour before it was cleared entirely of Indians. Here Captain George D. Wallace, commanding Troop K, and twenty-one enlisted men, including one hospital steward, were killed; Lieutenant Ernest A. Garlington was shot through the right elbow; Lieutenant John C. Gresham received an abrasion on the nose from a passing bullet; Captain Charles A. Varnum had his pipe knocked from his mouth by a bullet; Captain John Van R. Hoff, Assistant Surgeon, received several bullets through his clothing, and twenty-one enlisted men were wounded. Father Craft, a
Catholic priest, who was present using his good offices to persuade the Indians to submit to the demands made of them by General Forsyth, received a vicious stab in the back which penetrated his lung. Scout Wells had his nose nearly cut off. Lieutenant John Kinzie, 2d Infantry, who was present as a spectator, was shot through the foot.
Some of the Indians, many of them wounded, escaped to a ridge of hills lying just west of camp, and secreted themselves in stump holes and inaccessible ravines. It was while attempting to dislodge a party which was doing considerable execution that Lieutenant. H. L. Hawthorne, 2d Artillery, received a very severe wound. The fighting in the hills was done by Troops C, D, E and G, which were mounted at the beginning of the engagement. They lost four men killed and four wounded; Lieutenant Donaldson was struck by a bullet with sufficient force to penetrate his leather belt and his clothing. There were many acts of individual bravery and gallantry, but every man showed himself a soldier—with the nerve born of disciplined courage.
Although a very small percentage of the enlisted men had ever been under fire before—sixty recruits having joined at Pine Ridge—and the attack was sudden, there was no undue excitement. Each man obeyed orders, stood his ground, and shot to hit, and proved himself worthy of the number he wore upon his cap. One hundred and forty-six Indians were subsequently buried on the field; and there was undoubted evidence that many bodies had been removed; thirty-three Indians, nearly all wounded, were captured. The "hostiles" reported seven Indians as having escaped to their camp—all wounded except one.
The fight was over about three o'clock in the afternoon.
In view of the possible effect, of this fight upon the other Indians, and for the better care and protection of his wounded, Forsyth moved his command to the agency, arriving there about eleven o'clock at night.
At six o'clock on the morning of the 30th he was called to go to the assistance of Major Henry's wagon train which had been attacked near the agency. One hour after his return to camp he was ordered to go the Drexel Mission, four miles from the agency which was reported attacked by the hostiles. It proved to be a false alarm.
When about to return, Little Bat, a scout, reported that he had heard the "firing of big guns" down the White Clay. Knowing that troops were located in that direction on the other side of the supposed position of the hostile camp, Forsyth determined to make a reconnaissance in force down the stream, to either confirm or demonstrate the error of the report. To guard against emergencies he sent couriers to General Brooke and Colonel Henry, asking that the latter join him at once.
The scouts, under Lieutenant Preston, 9th Cavalry, developed a small force which was pushed back by the advance guard. The number of Indians rapidly increased until the hills were full of them—at least three or four hundred opposed the advance of the troops. Forsyth's instructions did not contemplate a general engagement which he knew would be precipitated if he pushed matters, and as soon as he became convinced that there was no heavy firing down the White Clay he decided to withdraw.
He was in the act of withdrawing his troops when Henry's squadron of the 9th Cavalry arrived, having promptly responded to Forsyth's request. These troops were placed in position, under Forsyth's direction, and assisted in the completion of the movement.
The loss in this engagement was one enlisted man killed; Lieutenant James D. Mann, and six enlisted men wounded. Lieutenant Mann died of his wound, at Fort Riley, Kansas, on the 15th January, 1891. The loss among the Indians is unknown.
On the 30th December, 1890, the Major General commanding the army telegraphed to the Major General commanding the forces at Pine Ridge, asking him to thank the "Brave Seventh Cavalry for their splendid conduct."
In the latter part of January the Indian problem at Pine Ridge was settled to the satisfaction of the Major General commanding. The prompt and drastic punishment awarded treachery at Wounded Knee contributed in no small measure towards bringing the hostile Indians to a realizing sense of their obligation to comply with the demands of the Government. The troops were relieved and sent to their stations.
The train carrying the second squadron of the Seventh Cavalry, and Capron's battery of the 1st Artillery, collided with a passenger train, running at full speed, when within a short distance of Fort Riley. The wreck was complete; the escapes from death and injury miraculous. A sergeant of artillery and a private of cavalry were killed, and Captain E. S. Godfrey, 7th Cavalry, sustained a painful and permanent injury.
During the year 1891, Troop L was reorganized as an Indian troop by 1st Lieutenant H. L. Scott, and is now stationed at Fort Sill, Indian Territory. Lieutenant Scott is an expert in all that pertains to Indians, and through his familiarity with their character, and his ability to deal with them without the aid of an interpreter he has attained the most satisfactory results. Troop F was transferred to the Department of the East in the spring of 1892, and to the Department of Texas in 1894. Troops C, D and G, left Fort Riley on the 24th December, 1892, for Texas, to engage in the movement looking to the capture of the Mexican Revolutionist, Garza, and his followers in Texas. After a winter in the chapparral they took permanent station in that Department.
Three monuments have been erected to mark the great events in the regiment's history; one on the battle-field of the Washita, a homely pile of stone placed by Lieutenant H. L. Scott, 7th Cavalry; one on the Little Big Horn, built by the Government; and another at Fort Riley, Kansas, erected by the members of the Seventh Cavalry and of the Medical Department, stationed at Fort Riley.
Colonel Forsyth was promoted Brigadier General 9th November, 1894, and was succeeded by Colonel E. V. Sumner.
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