On this Day in history June 25, 1876.
A collection of Indian tribes led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated the U.S. Army troops of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer near Montana’s Little Bighorn River in what is more rightly called a bloody massacre.
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull and the leaders of the Sioux Tribes had been resisting the U.S. Governments efforts to confine their people to reservations. By June of 1876, more than ten thousand Indians had gathered along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in defiance of the U.S. War Department order to return to the reservations.But let’s back up a bit and put things in better perspective. In 1875, after Gold was discovered in the Black Hills region of South Dakota the U.S. Army ignored any previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribes to join Chief Crazy and Chief Sitting Bull in their defiance of the U.S. orders to return to their reservations.
In 1861, Doctor Richard Gatling invented and patented what became known as the Gatling Gun. It was the first true machine gun capable of a sustained firing rate of bullets. When it came out in 1861 it used caps and paper powder packages and could fire a whopping 200 rounds per minute. By 1867 it had been modified to use metallic cartridges and increased its effectiveness and rate of fire to 1,200 rounds per minute. This version was purchased by the United States Army. The gun was designed and built by Mr. Gatling with the idea in mind that such awesome firepower would end the U.S. Civil War which ended by itself in 1865 before the gun was modified to the point the Army actually purchased it.
Gatling did manage to sell quite of few of these weapons to other industrializing counties who used them against countries with under developed militaries with devastating effects.
At the point that part of the 7th Cavalry attacked the Indian encampment without waiting for reinforcements, and not the entire force present at once, only 210 men including Custer they were severely outnumbered. The irony of the situation was that with more prudence for waiting for the rest of the entire group to show up, using better intelligence, heeding the warning signs that they may have been up against a highly superior number of combatants, and the fact that this particular group had at its disposal four Gatling Guns!
Custer was reportedly ordered to take the new weapons with them on this mission but he refused because he felt if would slow his troop down. The guns had to be pulled by horse and the weapons ammo had to be loaded into special loading apparatus to load the weapon while the other was being replaced or reloaded in order to provide sustained firing. With enough rounds loaded in the proper “clips” the gun had proved to have a sustained firing rate of over 700 rounds per minute by this date.
Even though Custer may have still been defeated on this date opposing such a large force of determined combatants, if all four guns could have been effectively set-up on suitable firing positions and the enemy drawn into their effective field of fire the shock effect of such a devastating weapon may have caused the Indians to retreat. Once the rest of the troops had arrived and word of the new gun spread the results could have been drastically different.
As a student of warfare from the dawn of time to modern military state of the art weapons I have read about many instances where a new tactic, weapon or both have made victory possible for a very small group over a vastly superior number of troops. As a writer of military science fiction I like to play what if this happened in history and how might that have changed the outcome. Examining the butterfly effect of small changes in history and how those might manifest themselves later down the road. That is partly why I didn’t want to just say today in history Custer got his butt kicked by a hell of a lot of Indians. Had a few changes occurred or he had done what he was ordered to do, the outcome may have been completely different.