"A Terrible Glory" by Jim Donovan Jan 20, 2008 13:42:21 GMT -5
Post by Diane Merkel on Jan 20, 2008 13:42:21 GMT -5
The excerpt below is from the first review I've seen of Jim's forthcoming book:
Donovan's research points out to the discerning that Custer's share of the blame, besides the well-known historical charges of rashness and impulsiveness, included not knowing the sorry readiness state of his command. He was on poor terms with most of his officers, and wasn't aware of their personal capabilities and deficiencies. In addition, most of the regiment's regular officers -- who should have known the condition and readiness of the Seventh -- were on detached duty elsewhere, so company command devolved in their absence onto the lower and less experienced officers. So many officers were unavailable for command that, in one case, an officer was borrowed from an infantry unit for temporary cavalry duty.
From Donovan's research, Custer didn't seem to understand that his regiment was asking for the fate it got by going into the field so ill-trained, and he did nothing to improve its prospects. He and many other officers in the Army at that time were more interested in reclaiming their brevet (temporary) Civil War ranks rather than attending to their assigned duties, and the top command of the Army displayed serious incompetence in allowing such self-serving activities to occur at the expense of the Army's readiness. Such blindness, honed with superiority and arrogance, was a major factor in the defeat.
These observations of Custer can also apply to the other commands ordered to conquer the Lakota and their allies that summer. For instance, Gen. George Crook's command expended about 25,000 rounds (roughly ten per soldier present) at the Battle of the Rosebud -- only causing between 31 and 84 Lakota and Cheyenne casualties -- a sorry result which indicates the command neglect of not improving the Army's marksmanship. Donovan reports that this expenditure of almost all of the rounds carried by Crook's command was one major reason why Crook was not in position to support Custer's later assault.
Overall command was limply exercised by Gen. Alfred Terry, who allowed his three subordinates -- Custer, Crook, and Col. John Gibbon — far too much leeway for independent action in what needed to be a tightly coordinated plan. His successor, Nelson Miles, appears to have learned from Terry's mistakes, as he became the most-successful commander in the effort to pacify the Native Americans after Terry was reassigned to department command.
Donovan relates all of this, and also the willingness of intense rivals to band together against outside investigation of the sorry state of the Army in the 1870s. In reporting about the hearings concerning charges of Major Reno's drunken cowardice at the Little Bighorn, Donovan reports -- often from obscure newspaper articles -- how the officers were quite open with trusted reporters concerning their strategy of protecting the Army and all of the involved officers — with the notable exception of the late Col. Custer -- from any potential loss of control to civilians of Army operations or loss of "honor" over their mis- and malfeasance as field commanders. It was all an attempt to buy time until someone — Gen. Miles, as it turned out — could become victorious enough to divert attention away from the Custer disaster.