Little Bighorn: Winchester vs Springfield

Little Bighorn: Winchester vs Springfield
Little Bighorn: Winchester vs Springfield

In the history of each country there are battles that, let's say, did not bring glory to its weapons, and even more than that, they showed the military art of its armed forces from the most unattractive side. So in the history of the United States there is also such a battle, albeit not very large-scale, but very indicative. Moreover, for many years people wondered - how did this happen ?! But the secret always sooner or later becomes apparent, so today everything fell into place. We are talking about the battle of the US Army with the Indians at the Little Bighorn River - or at the Little-Big Ram …

In the middle of the 19th century, exploring the territories of the Wild West, white adventurers, settlers and gold prospectors flooded there, “to the West,” and this flow, of course, could not be stopped. But there all these people met the aborigines - Indians, the collision with which led to a series of "Indian wars" - exactly 13, from 1861 to 1891. And this is not counting the innumerable number of small clashes between the Indians and the army and the immigrants themselves. True, it is worth saying that the territory in which lived about 200,000 Indians was controlled by only 18,000 soldiers. We have a good idea of ​​“how the Wild West was conquered” from movies and books, but even today there are enough gaps in it. But perhaps the most impressive (and somewhat mysterious even now!) Is the defeat of General Caster's detachment in the clash at Little Bighorn.

Surprisingly, the Indians owe it to the whites that they have mastered the Great Plains. Before their arrival, they did not have horses, and they roamed only on their outskirts, and transported goods on … dogs! Having learned to ride and tamed the wild mustangs, the Indians created a whole nomadic empire, and … what civilized state in the middle of the 19th century would agree to partner with some dangerous savages? Hunting for bison gave the Indians so much meat and skins for their tee-pee that their nomadic life became completely different than before, and the number of many tribes increased so much that they, of necessity, began to fight with other tribes for hunting grounds. And then pale-faced people came from the east. “White man, vodka, smallpox and bullets - that's death!” - said the Indians who had tasted the fruits of civilization.

During the internecine war of 1861-1865. North and South, the onslaught on the West weakened. But in 1863 the Homestead Act was passed, after the victory of the northerners, the construction of railways began and new crowds of immigrants and workers poured into the prairie. The situation became especially catastrophic after in 1874, in Montana, in the Black Hills region (Black Hills, in Indian - He Zapa), gold deposits were found …

German writer Lizellotta Welskopf-Heinrich in her wonderful trilogy "The Sons of the Big Dipper", on which a feature film was later filmed, very clearly showed how the Indians were deprived of their own land for the love of the pale-faced to the "yellow stones" - gold. The situation was complicated by the fact that the whites killed the buffalo, reasoning as follows: "No buffalo, no Indians!"

Something had to be done with the Indians, and in February 1876, Major General George Crook, known for his experience in pacifying the Apache Indians, moved with his troops into the territory of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians, in order to force them to move to the reservation.The American army in the Wild West relied on a network of forts built there, which were small "strong points" (fortified points) enclosed by a palisade. There were barracks for soldiers, shops for barter trade with Indians, stables. Cannons were rare, as more than two dozen Indians rarely participated in attacks on forts ?! Of course, in the films about Winneta it looks a little different, but that's what the movie is for!

To force the Indians to withdraw to the reservations, the government allocated dragoon and infantry regiments, albeit incomplete, for the war with the "savages". It was believed that this was enough, especially since the Indians themselves were at enmity with each other all the time. The Dakota Sioux hated the Crow ("ravens") and the Shoshone, and they willingly went to the whites and served them as scouts just to take revenge on their "red brothers".

The policy of "divide and conquer" was approved by the US Congress back in 1866, when the American army was reinforced by a thousand Indian warriors, who were given the same salary as the white cavalry, that is, $ 30 a month! The Indians thought this amount was simply fantastic, and their admiration for their financial success did not diminish even when they were paid half as much. However, dollars at that time were not like the current ones. Think of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain! For a dollar a week, a boy his age could have a table and an apartment, and even wash and get a haircut for the same money! However, detachments of scouts from the Pawnee Indians were organized back in 1861, and it was with their help that many other Indians, their enemies, fell into the traps of the pale-faced and were ruthlessly destroyed. Hoping to settle scores with other Indians, Comanches and Kiowa, Crow and Shoshone, Blackfoot (Blackfoot), Arikara and even the Sioux went to the scouts-scouts. For example, it was the Sioux named Bloody Tomahawk who later killed Sitting Boul, the great leader of the Sioux Dakota. Moreover, the Indians did not understand that by acting in this way they were playing into the hands of their enemies! And there were only a few who understood, and no one listened to them.

The attack on the Indians was carried out in full accordance with the rules of the then military science: "und colonel marshrer, zwai colonel marshrer …" The first column was commanded by General Crook himself, the commanders of others were Colonel John Gibbon and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Caster, commander of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Interestingly, being, as we said, a lieutenant colonel, George Custer was also a general at the same time and even had his own general's flag.

How could this be? It's very simple. He received the rank of general during the Civil War, and when he was only 23 years old. Then he left the army, and when he returned there, he managed to get only the rank of lieutenant colonel, although no one deprived him of his general rank! They resisted the "long knives", i.e. cavalrymen, who had sabers on their side, Indians of different tribes, united due to circumstances. In the bend of the Rosebud River, the Indians fought for the first time with General Crook's soldiers. They started it separately, but this led them to unite into one common camp, where Sioux-brulee, and blackfoot, and sunz ark, and minnekoji, and assiniboins, and arapaho and cheyenne came together. The well-known Indian chiefs were also there: Tatanka-Yotanka - Sitting Bull ("Sitting Bull"), and Tachunko Vitko - Crazy Horse ("Crazy Horse").

General Crook, in turn, was supported by the Crow and Shoshone, who went on the "warpath" with their fellow tribesmen - a total of 262 Indian warriors. There were Indian scouts in the detachment of General Custer.

On June 21, 1876, the soldiers of Gibbon and General Alfred X. Terry met in the Yellowstone River area for a joint performance. General Terry had no doubt that the Indians were somewhere near Little Bighorn. He ordered Caster with his cavalry regiment and scouts to march towards the Rosebud River.Contemporaries of events, and then American historians noted that if Colonel Gibbon's group, moving along the Yellowstone River, consisted of only 450 soldiers, then Caster had about 650 of them, and he also had reinforcements in the form of six infantry companies. Thus, a total of 925 people were under his command - a very impressive force at that time!

Caster had to bypass the Redskins and drive them into the "ticks" between the troops of the other two commanders. For an experienced commander, and Caster was just that, an operation of this level could not be particularly difficult. In fact, this was the ABC of mobile warfare in the Great Plains!

Yes, but who was he - General George Custer, who, under Little Bighorn, fought as lieutenant colonel and regiment commander? What was he like, as a person and as a commander? It is known that, even in the army of the northerners, he sported picturesque outfits, standing out among officers of his equal rank. So his dragoon uniform was, contrary to the rules, sewn not from blue cloth, but from black velor trimmed with braids "in the southern fashion", with which he also wore a navy shirt. In the campaign against the Indians, he also did not wear the uniform of the prescribed pattern, but put on a suede suit with fringes along the hem and sleeves. For his yellow, straw-colored hair, the Indians gave him the nickname "Yellow-haired", and he grew it so long that he let loose curls over his shoulders. However, on this expedition, he cut his hair quite short.

Little Bighorn: Winchester vs Springfield

Again, instead of the weapons required to have according to the charter, D. Caster took two relatively small but large-caliber Webley Bulldog revolvers, which were produced in the United States under an English license (caliber 11, 4-mm), a Remington-sporting carbine, and a hunting knife in an embroidered Indian scabbard. He wrote about his attitude to the "Indian question" in the book "My Life on the Great Plains" (that is, he was also a writer!), Where he wrote that, yes, civilization is Moloch, that the Indians are "children of the earth", but that they need to submit, otherwise they will simply be crushed. This is because now we have tolerance and the desire to understand everyone. And then everything was very simple: you don't smoke cigars, you don't play poker, you don't drink whiskey, and even the hair is long, the nose is not the same and the skin is dark - it means you are a "savage", and there was a short conversation with the savage. Either you are a servant and accept me, a white man, as I am, or … I shoot you!

About 80 kilometers from the site of the Battle of Rosebud, Caster sent out reconnaissance from his Indian scouts. His infantry was far behind at that time, and he himself moved rapidly forward with his 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army.

The scouts of Custer climbed Mount Wulf, dominant over the area, from where, in the early morning of June 25, 1876, they noticed an Indian village. His scouts also noticed, they retreated and reported to Caster about what they saw. Caster immediately divided the regiment: he took five companies for himself: "C", "E", "F", "I", and "L", and gave Major Marcus Renault and Captain Frederick Bentin three companies each. As a result, Renault received 140 people, Bentin - 125, and Caster - 125 (companies were of different sizes), and Renault also had a detachment of Crow scouts of 35 people.

The Indians in the camp did not expect their pale-faced enemies to attack them so soon, and Caster, in turn, did not expect that their camp would accumulate so much. There were about four thousand soldiers alone …

Meanwhile, Reno's squad attacked the Indians along the Little Bighorn River and had some initial success. The Indians did not expect such a rapid attack! But very soon they came to their senses, and he had to deal with a large number of warriors, led by Sitting Bull himself, the high priest of all Dakotas, on horseback, rushed to the battlefield. Renault was forced to retreat to the river, tried to take up defenses in the thickets on its banks, but from there he was knocked out.Renault lost more than 40 soldiers, but managed to get across the river, where there was a small hill, and where his soldiers put their horses and hastily dug in.

Then Captain Bentin and his men arrived in time, and so together they defended this hill until the next day, suffering from thirst and firing back from the Indians, until they were taken out of the encirclement by the reinforcements of General Terry. However, the enemy at the top of the hill was not too interested in the Indians. They believed that only cowards fight like this, and victory over them is inexpensive. That is why only a small group of Indians remained around this hill, and their main forces returned and moved from the camp to where just at that time the soldiers of George Custer appeared at the ford across the river.

There is a point of view that if he did not hesitate, but acted simultaneously with Reno's detachment, he would have every chance of breaking into the Indian camp and causing panic in it. According to others, he nevertheless reached the camp, but he was driven out of there by the Cheyenne and Sioux, whose number reached two thousand people. Now it is not possible to establish what actually happened there. The last person from Caster's squad to be seen alive was the Italian Giovanni Martini, a trumpeter who spoke almost no English. He delivered a note from Lieutenant William W. Cook that said, “Bentin, here. Big camp. Hurry up. Bring the bullets. W.W. Cook."

Apparently, Caster wanted to build on the incipient success, for which he needed ammunition. However, he still would not have succeeded in taking the Indians in pincers. Then there was no mobile communication, and he did not know, nor could he know that Reno's detachment had already been driven back by this time and thereby allowed the Indians to concentrate all their forces against him, Caster. Well, Bentin, to whom Lieutenant Cook sent a messenger, was deep in the rear, and was in no hurry to the place of the battle.

That's how Caster ended up all alone, but still did not know about it. Meanwhile, the Indians joined forces: the Sioux-ogala, led by the "Crazy Horse" and the Cheyenne, then the Sioux-hunkpapa with Gall ("Bile"), and with him other Sioux. Therefore, many historians believe that "by stopping and accepting the battle in open space, Caster signed a death warrant for himself and his squad."

In fact, he signed it earlier, when he ordered his detachment to split into two parts for some reason: the three companies that he entrusted to Captain McKeough - "C", "I" and "L", he sent against the Indians advancing from the north, and he himself with the remaining two, "E" and "F", together with Captain George White, decided to hold the crossing over the river. Meanwhile, the Indians, in spite of the open fire on them, all arrived, and Caster hastened to give a new order - both detachments to reconnect and concentrate on the top of the nearest hill. The soldiers laid the horses on the ground, dug up the rifle cells, and began to shoot back. This hill was named "Colhoun Hill" - in honor of George Custer's half-brother James Colehoun, the commander of "L" Company. Heavy fire fell on the Indians from Springfield and Sharps carbines.

Now, let's do a little archeology and dig into American soil, both at the top of this hill and at its foot. For a long time, none of the Americans somehow could think of this, but then the excavations were nevertheless carried out and they gave downright amazing results.

Archaeologists found many Henry and Winchester rifle cases 300 feet from the top of said hill, which … Caster did not have! Consequently, the Indians in this battle widely used firearms, and not just any, but the most modern, which even the US Army did not have.

Now it is impossible to say why Caster left this hill and took up defenses to the north. Maybe the attack of the Indians divided his forces in two, and he just wanted to save the soldiers who had preserved their combat capability? Who knows?! In any case, the whereabouts of Winchester cartridges and the testimony of Indian witnesses suggest that he did not stop on the northern slope of Battle Ridge, where his monument now stands, but moved to the Hill of the Last Camp, and there his people again came under heavy fire. Of those who did not leave with Caster, 28 people somehow managed to descend the hill, and found their last refuge in a deep ravine, but then they still surrendered and were killed by the Indians.

As a result, Caster's detachment, including himself, was completely destroyed by the Indians, who had previously decided not to take prisoners. All of Caster's relatives, whom he took with him, were also killed in the battle: the brothers Thomas and Boston Caster and his nephew Otier Reed. The Indians stripped the corpses of the white soldiers, scalped and mutilated so that some of the soldiers were impossible to identify. Moreover, this was evidenced not only by their bodies at the battle site, but also by drawings made by a Sioux Indian named Red Horse. It should be noted that they clearly show the bullet wounds received by the soldiers of Caster. That is, they were killed with guns, and not at all with arrows, as some researchers still claim.


In total, 13 officers were killed, 3 Indian scouts - a total of 252 people. For the wars with the Indians, this was a huge figure. The losses among the Indians looked much more modest - about 50 killed and 160 wounded. An Indian scout named Bloody Knife, the best scout of Caster, half Sioux, half arikara, Dakota beheaded, and his head planted on a pole.


By some miracle, Captain McKeof's horse Comanche escaped in this slaughter: the Indians could not catch him, and he returned to his white masters. Later, with a saddle on his back, he took part in all the parades of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, and after his death at the age of 28, his stuffed animal was stuffed with straw and exhibited at the Museum of Natural History in Kansas.

Can we say that Caster was abandoned by everyone, and no one even tried to find out what happened to him? That in his detachment all the other officers were cowards, and there was no mutual assistance? No. When a message came from Lieutenant Cook, Captain Thomas Weir, without waiting for an order, set off in search of a squad in distress. With his men, he walked a mile towards the mountains, but he never met Custer, although, as Lieutenant Winfield Edgerly later reported, "they saw a lot of Indians driving up and down the river valley and shooting at objects on the ground." … Then Captain Bentin and the three companies at his disposal joined Weir's detachment, but it was decided not to search further, due to the presence of clearly superior enemy forces.

Well, now it makes sense to travel back to 1860, when the American Christopher Spencer, who was only 20 years old, created the first ever rifle with a magazine in the buttstock. US President Abraham Lincoln ordered them to be bought for the army, but after the Civil War, the number of orders began to decline, and Spencer's company was bought by Oliver Winchester, who at once got rid of the only dangerous competitor.


Winchester at this time was developing his rapid-fire weapon system - the Tyler Henry carbine. The store was located under the long barrel. To load it with a weapon, it was necessary to rest the butt against the ground, pull the pusher of cartridges with a spring to the very top of the tube (for this there was a special protrusion on it) and take the magazine tube to the side. Then cartridges were inserted into it one by one, the tube was placed under the feeder, which was released along with the spring. With 15 rounds in the magazine and 16 in the barrel, this weapon developed an astonishing rate of fire - 30 rounds per minute! Besides, it was very easy to handle him. Under the neck of the butt he had a lever that was a continuation of the trigger guard. When the lever was lowered down, the bolt went back and automatically cocked the hammer, while the cartridge was fed from the magazine under the barrel to the feeder. The lever went up, and the feeder raised the cartridge to the level of the barrel, and the bolt sent the cartridge to the breech of the barrel, and ensured its locking.

But it took a long time to charge it, so on the new carbine a window appeared on the side of the store with a spring-loaded cover, through which the cartridges were loaded into it, and not as it was before. The model received the name "Winchester Model 1866", and the model of 1873 soon followed.Although Winchesters were not developed as military weapons, they gained immense popularity on the battlefield. So, Turkey successfully used them against the Russian troops in the war of 1877-1878. In the battle on June 30, 1877, near Plevna, the Turkish cavalrymen gave their winchesters to the infantrymen, and each shooter had 600 rounds. As a result, the Russian infantry, despite all its heroism, did not manage to reach the Turkish trenches. A continuous curtain of fire and lead rose in front of her, and her total losses from two assaults exceeded 30 thousand people.


And it should be noted that something similar happened during the Battle of Little Bighorn. To fire a Springfield swing-bolt carbine, you had to cock the trigger with your finger, then swing the bolt forward, insert the cartridge into the chamber, and remove the cartridge from the cartridge belt. After the bolt was closed, and it was required to re-attach the carbine to the shoulder, aim and only then shoot. When firing from the Winchester, the butt could not be torn off the shoulder, and the target was not released from the field of view - accordingly, the speed and effectiveness of firing increased significantly.

A third of the American horsemen had Sharps carbines. Their bolt also had an underbarrel bracket, like a hard drive, but it did not have a magazine. Before shooting, it was necessary to cock the hammer, lower the bracket down, from which the bolt went down, and the empty cartridge case was pushed out of the chamber. It had to be removed by hand or shaken out, put the cartridge in the chamber, and raise the bracket to its previous position to lock the barrel. All this took as much time as loading the Springfield carbine. True, the Sharps had a larger caliber: 13.2 mm, which increased its striking qualities, but at the same time it had stronger recoil. In addition, you still need to hit the target, which is much more difficult for even an experienced shooter to do by lifting the stock from the shoulder every time than for those who use a hard drive.

That is why, although not very powerful revolving cartridges of 11, 18 or 11, 43 mm were used in the Winchesters, they were often used precisely as a military weapon, especially when a high density of fire and rate of fire were needed. Note that the American soldiers, in addition to the carbine, also had the Pismaker (Peacemaker) Kolt revolvers, model 1873, - a decent weapon, but not self-cocking, and requiring the cocking of the hammer after each shot. All six of its chambers were reloaded sequentially, like the "Nagan", and this in this situation turned it into almost a disposable weapon!

However, there is still no answer to the most important question: how did the Dakota Indians have Winchester and Henry carbines, and even in such numbers, although they were not in service with the American army and could not be seized as trophies? It turns out that a large batch of this was sold to the Indians in violation of all the rules prohibiting the sale of modern weapons to "savages". That is, the situation with the sale of weapons to the Indians, which was described in the novel by Lizellota Welskopf-Heinrich, could well have taken place in reality. Naturally, such a very important question arises: how did the Indians pay the white traders for it? After all, hard drives were very expensive! The Prairie Indians did not have valuable furs, and at that time hardly anyone needed the skins of bison, since their herds had not yet been massacred. And it was very dangerous to sell a large batch of weapons: one could go to jail.

However, one does not need to have deductive abilities to restore the entire chain of those dramatic events: the Indians, preparing for the battle with the "long knives", bought rapid-fire rifles for gold from Black Hills. How much they paid is known only to those who delivered and sold these weapons, but, apparently, the amount of profit was sufficient for greed to overcome any fear. But these traders failed to supply the Indians with ammunition on a regular basis.Or the Indians ran out of gold. And when the supply of cartridges for the Winchesters ran out, the Indians had to surrender.

This is how the Indians destroyed Caster's squad. What's next? And then they collected the weapons abandoned by the soldiers and, before nightfall, turned them against the soldiers of Reno and Bentin. But their enthusiasm gradually dried up, and they preferred to fold the camp, and in order to hide their departure from the enemy, they set fire to the grass. The soldiers looked at the smoke and rejoiced. They considered it a victory, and they reported to General Terry, who approached them with his troops the next day.

Well, the Indians moved to the area of ​​the Powder River. There, on August 15, they split up, and the "big camp" ceased to exist. This immediately brought great relief to the whites, allowing them to beat the Indians one by one. Some tribes managed to be driven into reservations, others were simply scattered. Some of the Indians went to Canada under the protection of the "Great Mother" - the British Queen Victoria. So the Indians won one battle, but in the end they lost the war.

Immediately after the burial of Caster's soldiers, an investigation was carried out into the tragic circumstances of their death. Deciding who is to blame and who to punish? Caster himself, who attacked the superior forces of the enemy? Or Renault and Benin, who sat on the hill in relative safety? Knowing the character of the lieutenant colonel-general, many blamed only himself. They said that he was distinguished by excessive arrogance, and took his relatives on a campaign, as he hoped for an easy victory and for their quick promotion in the service. That he had shown frivolity in believing his scout scouts. In relation to Reno and Bentin, it was recognized that they acted too carefully, which also could not but affect the sad outcome of the battle. On the other hand, everyone understood that Caster had extensive experience in waging war with the Indians and knew well that in the event of a clash with the "savages" on the plain, a dozen disciplined soldiers stood hundreds of their soldiers.

It should be noted here that contrary to the popular belief that the Indians were excellent warriors, in reality this was not entirely true. They lived in war, their girls danced the "dance of the scalps", but they did not really know how to fight. A young man who wanted to win the girl's sympathy could go on a military campaign. A girl who wanted to get married could invite young men on a campaign, and in a red dress, with a "feathery spear" in her hands, jump in front of them with a shout: "The bravest will take me as a wife!" opponents, how much to do "ku" - to touch them with a special stick or hand. They boasted of the killed, boasted of scalps, but wounds and ku were valued most of all. Yes, among the Indians there were unions of warriors "never fleeing" who, before the battle, tied each other for … penises, and the end of the rope was nailed to the ground! And they really did not run, but any leader could free them from this vow by pulling it out of the earth. Well, and so on. There were no better scouts, but there were no worse soldiers either. But it just so happened that in this case, quantity turned into quality, and his experience did not help Caster. There were too many of them and many had hard drives. By the way, his own armament - the Remington carbine - was also single-shot.

Caster's soldiers were helpless under heavy fire from the prairie warriors. So the main victory at Little Bighorn was won not by anyone, but by Mr. Oliver Winchester, whose carbines, through the efforts of unknown arms dealers, fell into the hands of the Indians.

Today, the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn is regularly visited by numerous tourists. A memorial monument was erected there in 1881, and in 1890, marble tombstones were erected over each soldier's grave. The Indians were also honored: in memory of the fallen soldiers of the union of the five tribes, 100 yards from the monument to the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army, there is a monument in their honor.

At the site of the battle, a 5, 3-mile long hiking trail has been laid, which runs from Custer Hill and the Reno and Benin monument, passes Weir Hill, Colehoun Hill straight to the ford across the Little Bighorn River, and other memorable sites. … 60 colored installations that stand along the path allow you to visualize the events of this battle. In 1999, three Native American red granite markers were added to the memorial composition. The land plots around the trail are privately owned, therefore, it is better not to neglect the prohibition signs that stand here and there. It is best to visit it in spring, or in autumn, when it is especially beautiful there. And yet, when you look at these hills, and try to hear the murmur of the Little Big Ram, you think first of all not about the beauties of the local nature, but about the tragedy that played out here, and what lesson this story taught the "pale-faced".

Well, now a little about the lessons … Two weeks later, one of the American newspapers published an article that if American soldiers were armed with Russian-style Smith and Wesson revolvers with automatic drum discharge, then this defeat most likely would not have happened. And this is correct, because then the soldiers of Caster had at least some chance of a breakthrough and could have escaped, albeit not all. Another conclusion is more general and applies to the present day. You have to be very careful when selling weapons, no, not to “savages”, now you can't say that, but to countries that are at a relatively low level of economic and social development. Because today they are "for you", and tomorrow they are against. And your weapon will be turned against you, and in terms of quality it will be very good, but there will be a lot of people with it - after all, they give birth there much more than in "developed countries". Well, and the last thing … if someone supplies weapons somewhere, and we do not want this, it makes sense (especially for economically unstable countries with poor populations) to offer money for it through intermediaries. Big money for greed to overcome fear. And then use it by local resistance forces against the suppliers themselves or their instructors. And then they will grab their heads: "To whom are we supplying?" - and more - "The second Little Bighorn is shining for us!"

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