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The Fights on The Little Horn

The Fights on The Little Horn

Gordon Harper
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
I would imagine that most of us are aware of the great battle that was fought at the Little Big Horn, when General ( Brevet) George Armstrong Custer was killed, along with all those with him by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The celebrated 7th Cavalry and what is regarded as one of their finest moments, albeit a very fatal moment.
There has been much written about this, a lot of it mythical, and several films have been made about this action, again most of them not just mythical but some were excrecable, such as 'They Died with their boots on' and 'Little Big Man'.
This new book seeks to right some of the misconceptions and draw out the truth - as best it can - about that battle.

The author - Gordon Harper, sadly deceased - made a detailed study of this campaign over 50 years, the research is incredible. He has studied written and oral accounts from both sides of the conflict and his research runs to over 2 million words! Fortunately, this book is a bit shorter.

I'm sure that we are all familiar- or most of us anyway - with the classic depiction; Custer alone by a cavalry pennant, pistol in one hand, saber in the other, fighting off the hordes until finally he is cut down, the last of the troop. Well, it was not quite like that, although it is fact that every one of the soldiers at that battle were killed, yet Custer's body was not mutilated. There have been suggestions in the past that Custer was too impatient, that he had a troop of Gatling guns that he considered too slow to keep up with his hard-charging advance. No evidence of that at all, and the advance was careful and not a foolhardy charge. As with all battles, the keys to success lie in intelligence and logistics, and there were failures in both of these on this occasion.

Harper has collected every piece of written ephemera that he could find relating to this action; letters from survivors of the other squadrons and regiments involved, statements given to the board of enquiry and hand-written orders relating to the campaign. He has spoken to members of the tribes involved in the battle, whose oral history is as compelling as written evience, and walked the battlefield many times, in company with specialist archeologists, recovering many items from the site.

There are deatiled maps, both campaign and topographical and a number of fascinating photographs of the main players.

Included in the book are lists of the dead, rolls of other battalions and copies of a petition submitted to the War Department from enlisted men proposing promotions from within the battalion to replace those who were killed.

This is not a book for beachside reading, not a 'western' to be read as a pot boiler, rather this is - or should become - a text book on the warfare of the American frontier in those days in the 1870s and beyond, it is a detailed and comprehensive study of a particular action which may seem anachronistic in this, the 21st Century, but there are many lessons to be learned from the campaign, for fighting against the tribes of North America is not that dissimilar to fighting the tribes of Afghanistan. Our weapons may have advanced but otherwise the paralells are there.

An excellent book, as said previously, not an easy flowing narrative but rather a military text book. Brilliantly detailed research and most informative.

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