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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: Battle of Little Bighorn still fascinates today

  • An author with a doctorate and several books to his credit, whom I would call a “reliable and knowledgeable source,” said the Battle of Gettysburg is the most written about battle in U.S. military history. That one lasted three days and resulted in tens of thousands of casualties.
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  • An author with a doctorate and several books to his credit, whom I would call a "reliable and knowledgeable source," said the Battle of Gettysburg is the most written about battle in U.S. military history. That one lasted three days and resulted in tens of thousands of casualties.
    The second most written about battle occurred 13 years after Gettysburg, had some 200 casualties on one side and unknown casualties on the other, and lasted less than an hour.
    That one goes by several names, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer's Last Stand, Custer's Folly, and probably a couple of more. And it is today's column as it occurred 137 years ago yesterday.
    There has long been a fallacy that Lt. Col. George Custer, second in command of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, departed on his ill-fated march into the Little Bighorn Valley from Fort Leavenworth. That is false as he led his men westward from Fort Abraham Lincoln, far north near Bismarck, N.D.
    Another fallacy that some tour guides at Fort Leavenworth tell visitors is that when he departed Fort Leavenworth, Custer gave the command "Don't change a thing until I get back." That always brings a laugh, but some working on the fort see more truth than humor in it.
    Many years ago the history department at CGSC developed staff rides to famous battle sites, and the Little Bighorn was one of the first. In my years as an Army civilian I had the pleasure of going on three staff rides to the Little Bighorn, and each was more enjoyable and filled with facts the more times I went.
    Alas, with the military budget in limbo staff rides are on hold, and since I'm but a scruffy civilian now, my "ride" days are over. But while they lasted, it was great for an avowed history buff to ride over the same ground Custer's cavalrymen rode over, seeing the same terrain they saw. And when you walk up the Crow's Nest, you can almost see way off in the distance the faint outline of a camp of 20,000 Sioux Indians. Almost. Too bad Custer didn't believe his Indian scouts when they told him they saw a large village.
    There is a small museum at the visitors' center with some items the battle and some things picked up from the battlefield. Scattered around the small hills are tombstones with the names of cavalry troopers where their bodies were found.
    There is a small national cemetery where the bodies of the fallen were moved soon after the brief battle ended.
    On the cavalry side there was only one survivor of the battle, and it has a Fort Leavenworth connection. Capt. Miles Keogh, a KIA at the battle, had bought his horse Comanche at a sale at Fort Leavenworth. Comanche is still around, sort of. He died at Fort Riley in the 1890s and was stuffed by a professor at the University of Kansas, where he can be seen today in the Dyche Museum.
    Page 2 of 2 - A bit closer, in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, are buried four officers killed in the battle, including Custer's younger brother Tom, first recipient of two Medals of Honor in military history.
    Dr. Doug Scott, an archaeologist with the National Park Service until he retired a few years ago, used to come to the fort annually to present a superb slide presentation for the Fort Leavenworth Historical Society. For the several years he came, it was the second highest attended program in the society's history, second only to the 21-year run of the "Haunted Houses of Fort Leavenworth."
    For anyone looking for a historic getaway this summer, the Little Big Horn is a couple of days drive away. Some CGSC staff groups make it there and back in a four-day weekend, and it's worth even a hurried trip.
    John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.

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