You know who you are and yes, I know for a fact that some cat lovers follow this blog from time to time.
Men of Harlech
The definitive work on the battle was written by Col. Mike Snook, RA (24th/41st Regiment). Like Wolves on the Fold The book is available at Amazon.com. If you have an interest in the Anglo-Zulu war, I also highly recommend How Can Men Die Better.
* June 1876, The American Army suffered a similar defeat to that suffered by the defeat of the British at Islandlwana. In the American scenario, merchants had been illegally selling advanced firearms – better than those issued by the Army – to the Souix and their allies. Thus when they met the Seventh Cavalry Regiment at the Little Bighorn, the Indians enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in numbers and in some cases, in firepower.
The same thing happened in Zululand, though it’s not portrayed that way in films or art. Thus, even though the Zulus armed themselves with Martini Henry rifles that they took from the 1st. Btn, elements of the 2nd Btn, 24th Foot Rgmt and from the Natal Native Contingent, etc., and used them with limited effect at Rorque’s Drift (the next two days), they also had modern rifles that had been purchased. The Zulu lacked marksmanship and training but they didn’t lack courage. Even though the line-up was 20,000 Zulus to 1,700 regular British troops and auxiliaries, it took great courage to confront and defeat the British line.
We can armchair quarterback the battles of Islandlwana and the subsequent battle of Rorque’s Drift in the same way that we can re-fight the Battle of the Little Bighorn. If Custer had waited for Terry’s or Crook’s infantry, if he’d brought his gatling guns (in a pack train many miles to the rear), if he hadn’t split the regiment (as Chelmsford did at Islandlwana), the outcome MIGHT have changed.
Donald Morris, researched the battle while he worked for CIA in Africa, retired to Arizona, and whom I knew, wrote “Washing of the Spears” and came to a number of wrong conclusions, among which was his hypothesis that the British ran out of ammunition. That was simply not the case.
The problem with Custer’s scenario as well as with that of Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine 1/24th Foot, was that they failed to concentrate their forces when they did not know the enemy’s disposition. The Zulus did not make that mistake. Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead at Rorque’s Drift concentrated their 150 men behind sacks of meal and lagered wagons and held off forty times their numbers.
Though the counterattack by the Souix Confederation developed over time, numbers, the inability of Custer’s cavalry to concentrate in sufficient numbers, etc. told the tale. (a review of the battle field showing where each trooper died graphically illustrates that) Major Reno’s and Captain Benteen’s combined commands dug in at a defensible location, concentrated their numbers and their ammunition and lived to tell the story.
Lord Chelmsford did not make the same mistake when he re-invaded Zululand with 4,200 regular British soldiers, supported by 1,000 African troops, ten cannon (fired canister at the battle of Ulundi), gatling guns, etc. He concentrated his forces, tactically used a hollow (Wellington) square, supported by cannon and gatling gun fire and broke the back of the Zulu army, ending the war.
++ I don’t claim to be an expert on either of these battles. I simply read books and look at archeological facts. There’s always inference and I might be wrong. I’ve learned over time that there are blog readers out there who are far better referenced than I am. Feel free to take me to school if I’ve missed the mark.
Roark's Drift was a fortunate accident, being a fortifiable position with water and cover and supplies. Being in the bottom of the valley allowing snipers to range sucked, but then again, so did the Zulu marksmanship. She-it, in a good fort, with supplies, ammo, water, would have been hard not to have at least fought to a standstill.
In comparison, the Alamo, about same number of effective fighters in the fort, but lacking supplies, especially ammo and extra guns. If the Alamo had been supplied to the level of Roark's and with water, heck, they probably could have held out for quite a few more days, maybe long enough for reinforcements. Maybe the superior marksmanship of the Americanos would have picked off enough senior nco's and officers that a victory could have been wrested out of it (if reinforcements had made it.)
Now Custer? It is bad enough to thin out your forces in penny-packet groups against an equivalent strength in forces. To do so against 10x the number you expect? Not good. Not good at all. Custer definitely was a victim of his own hubris, bad intel and illegal arms sales.
As to Islandlwana, we can only estimate that the British loss is just due to command failure. Islandlwana was more Big Horn, well, if Custer had kept all his forces together. Sucks to underestimate the enemy, no matter who they are.
Illinois: while a significant number of refugees from the Land of Lincoln are fleeing liberal policies that punish their households, I have to point out that as a current resident of Illinois I continue to monitor the weather in Kerrville TX (our future home), and see that the livable climate there would allow 75% more life outside than here in the frozen wastelands of the midwest. Note that while many northern folk from New Jersey, New York, Connecticutt are not moving to North Dakota (a state that is business friendly, low taxes, 2nd Ammendment loving); no. They are heading to warm weather states.
You don't have to shovel sunshine. It's not all a blue state/red state thing. Not entirely.
I've walked the battlefields at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift on more than one occasion. The sense of presence there is overwhelming, and I think many military veterans will agree with that assessment. There's a brooding quality to both places, as if the spirits of those who died there, on both sides, have never left.
Rorke's Drift was, in many ways, a fortunate accident for the British. Their small force there should have been overwhelmed by the Zulu regiment sent against them; but the two Lieutenants in command demonstrated unexpected qualities of resourcefulness and courage, unmatched in their previous and/or later careers. It was, in a sense, a "one-off" for both of them – but it reaped rich rewards in terms of survival and status for them, their men, and the Empire. Forever afterwards, if a British soldier could say "I served at Rorke's Drift", he was the instant center of attention, and got real respect.
I don't know as much about Custer and the 7th Cavalry. I've read several books about the engagement, and I've read the Indian accounts of the battle. I have to agree with Larry that dispersion of force had a lot to do with it, but I think even more of a factor was Custer's bone-headed stupidity in pushing ahead regardless. I have to wonder whether he contemptuously dismissed "savages" as simply incapable of matching the power of the regular Army (or his genius as a commander). Given that this is the man who almost blew up the Appomattox peace negotiations by his reckless, impetuous demands on the battlefield, one wonders whether he'd learned anything in the interim. One suspects not . . .
"Name a battle honour of the Royal Regiment of Wales, LSP."
"Rorke's Drift, Sir," I answered, quick as a Martini Henry reload.
Saved myself about a million pushups. History's important.
The initial announcement of the Victoria Cross had generated a torrent of recommendations both from the Crimea and the Mutiny with just under 300 Crosses awarded in the 1850s. That torrent dropped to a trickle in the 1860s, with only 39 awards gazetted in that decade. A slight rise in the number conferred, 47, occurred in the 1870s, due to the scale of the Zulu and Afghan Wars. This statistical aberration raised some concerns at Horse Guards that the award might be in danger of losing its distinction if too many were granted.
The incident that provoked the reaction was the number of recommendations generated by the famous defense of Rorke’s Drift, 22-23 January 1879. Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, 24th Regiment of Foot, made the initial recommendations for Private John Williams, Private Henry Hook, Private William Jones, Private Robert Jones, Corporal William Allan, and Private Fred Hitch to his regimental commanding officer. Lieutenants Bromhead and John Rouse Merriott Chard, R. E., were recommended by their respective commanding officers. The Duke of Cambridge did not hesitate in confirming their recommendations and forwarding them along with his own endorsement to the War Office.
The problem arose with the continuing trickle of recommendations from the defense of the mission station. Each originated from a different chain of command: Surgeon James Henry Reynolds was nominated by the Army Medical Department; Corporal Ferdnand Christian Scheiss by the Natal Native Contingent; Commissary James Langley Dalton and a soldier named Dunne by Lord Chelmsford and Lieutenant Chard. Dalton in particular was lauded by Chard as the originator of the plan to defend the station rather than try to outrun the impis. Nor was he the passive ammunition bearer portrayed in the movie Zulu: ‘…the deadliness of his fire did great service and the mad rush of the Zulus met its first check.’ Likewise, the film portrayal of Henry Hook was distorted; by all accounts Hook was a model soldier in South Africa. At length the Duke felt that the event was being milked for valor: ‘We are giving the V.C. very freely I think, but probably Mr. Dalton has as good a claim as the others who have got the Cross for Rourke’s Drift defense. I don’t think there is a case for Mr Dunne.’ Dalton did get the medal. A total of eleven VCs were won at Rorke’s Drift. In addition to the three won at Isandhlwana on 22 January, this made a rather high two-day total.
The effect of the Duke of Cambridge’s disapproval was a drastic reduction in the number of VCs granted in the 1880s. The British Army was as busy in this decade as it had been in the last, conducting campaigns throughout the empire against both tribal and more settled enemies. Only twenty-one Crosses were granted. This trend continued into the 1890s, with only twenty-seven VCs won between 1890 and 1898. The scope and scale of the Second Boer War shattered this pattern, and once again raised concerns as to the frequency of bestowal.
If you want the particulars on the Boer War VCs, I have them; this is an excerpt from my book "Awarded for Valour."
George Custer was in the process of running for President against US Grant and he had backing. He just needed a big headline to push his popularity. And he got the headline…but things didn't work out otherwise.
General Terry stalled. General Crook did as well at the Battle of the Rosebud (River) and Custer's reconnaissance in force (without artillery) was ill advised. Had Custer consolidated is force, maybe he would have survived. Reno and Benteen did without those extra soldiers.
The Mexican Army had a good artillery train. And the Zulus didn't and neither did the Souix Confederation. They could have sat back and pounded the Alamo to dust by out-ranging them or by digging saps and when in range, lobbed in explosive mortar shells (traditional siege of the day). So I don't know that the Alamo is a fair comparison.
I live in cold weather (in Arizona) and don't plan to move… (haha)
Peter, Custer knew that many of his men were worthless, and weren't up to the task. Reno and Benteen hated him overtly. He rolled the dice that there'd be many fewer Indians and that they'd flee. The dice ended up snake eyes. Custer wanted to run for the US Presidency. BUT if he and if Chelmsford had kept their commands together until they knew what they were facing, I think that they would have survived. Rorque's Drift was sort of an accident, but those who stood their ground there deserved their bragging rights, as you point out.
Having served in Her Majesty's Army, you have a unique perspective to share, LSP.
Yes, people living in AZ consider 35 degrees 'cold.' On Jan 30, 2019 my thermometer on my back deck registered -31 F. Now THAT is cold. And I am tiring of it being pretty dagnab cold for 6 months out of the year.
(yes, you live at 8000 ft elevation, and it gets seriously cold at times up there, I'm not a completely unreasonable cold-weather snob).
Yes, Henry Hook was maligned by the film. I don't know how the Empire could have NOT given out as many VC's as they did at Rorque's Drift. When you look at the situation and at the reinforced battalion that had been wiped out to the last man (who didn't flee), and the only thing between the civilian settlements and the Zulu impis was the little mission station on the Buffalo River. All they had was a hospital filled with invalids, a company of the 24th, and a mixed bag of a couple dozen mounted police, and mounted militia (dismounted for the battle) – their survival was remarkable. If the Zulus could have figured out how to work the mountain guns that were captured at Islandlwana, they'd have made short work of the Mission Station, but they didn't.
35 degrees IS COLD. It's almost freezing. It hasn't been below 0 since I've lived here. No, we're nowhere as cold as you are. If I lived where you do, I'd move because of the cold. As you point out, politics and taxes are only part of the problem. And you don't live in inner city Chicago, you live in the less "inner city" countryside, far from there. But it's still cold as a witch's tit.
People do commend on the cold weather but I remind them, "It's still Arizona". Not that cold, even when it's cold.
My readings about Custer during The Recent Unpleasantness all said that the only battlefield tactic he employed was the charge.
I also read that he believed he had a heavenly mandate to be the next president of the US and therefore would not be killed in battle, so he sought glory for political reasons without concern for his safety. His men suffered for this behavior.
Some great comments here as always. Hollywood's depiction of historical characters often seems to involve a great deal of literary license. Custer, for instance has been played as a nearly saintly man and as a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Frank Hamer in 1968's Bonnie and Clyde amounted to character assassination and resulted in a lawsuit. Henry Hook was another case in point, he being portrayed as a malingerer and a somewhat less than decent soldier though he did come through as the historical Hook did. Zulu is a very entertaining film in spite of its historical shortcomings. The Men of Harlech scene was one of those that should have happened.
The "Son of the Morning Star" title that Custer bore was earned. He surrounded Indian camps at night, and struck before dawn when the inhabitants were least likely to resist. It doesn't sound chivalrous, but it was effective. As you wrote, he liked the cavalry charge (shock troop) method of attack and in many circumstances, it was completely effective.
It's interesting that Custer kept sabers in an era when (as with Nathan Bedford Forrest) they were being replaced by cut-down shotguns for close work.
The interesting thing about the British at Islandlwana was that Custer was defeated three years before their battle and the officers would have read of it. They relied on redcoat (British regular) infantry and the Martini Henry, firing a 485 gr. soft lead bullet from a .577/.450 Boxer cartridge.
The British put aiming stakes out from the infantry as far as 900 yards, where they planned to volley fire against native unarticulated (massed) infantry. They had the open fields of fire to do just that at Islandlwana, but did not deploy the infantry in a square mainly because they wanted to save the camp and tents (valuable kit) from being looted. By comparison, Custer's troops were in no way comparable to Chelmsford's veterans, and their rifles, Springfield M1873 (a single-shot weapon) with an accurate maximum range of about 300 yards. Although repeating rifles such as the Spencer, Winchester and Henry had been available in the post-Civil War years, the Ordnance Department decided to use a single-shot system, which told the tale in the close-in combat at the Little Bighorn.
I'm sure that after the smoke and blood and exhaustion of the previous day's battle set in, the last thing that they'd want to do is sing. However, the portrayal is stirring, and the bravery of all concerned (including the Zulu) couldn't ever be doubted.
Custer's regiment suffered from a lot of the same character flaws as Chelmsford's command. A close study of both reveals peevishness, childishness and cunning by many of the staff officers. The British line officers were a better class of men. Custer promoted cliques and division among his officers, which made a difficult situation worse.
The British soldiers and NCO's of the 24th were a well blooded bunch of veterans. They were the best in the Empire and among the very best in the world. Nobody doubted their courage.
Custer's men were of mixed reliability, and some of them spoke very little English. They private troopers were NOT the Civil War combat veterans that their officers were. Even many of the NCO's were second tier. The US Army of that period suffered horribly from desertions and conditions under which the common soldiers served did not encourage re-enlistment.
Another superb post, LL; and the previous commenters are superlative in their observations. However…
I don't often disagree with you, but- "Cats don't listen to you (the way a dog would) if you speak to them. They are experts at ignoring you and showing disdain." The cats I have shared living quarters with have both listened to me and reacted as though they understood what I was saying. ( I can give examples, if you wish ) It is my belief that the main difference between cats and dogs is that dogs want to please the people they like and cats are more like people in that they ( generally ) put their wants and needs on an equal level with the humans they allow in their homes. Some people like that in cats and some prefer the ' servile ' behavior that dogs tend to exhibit.
As to the subject of your post today, I have not read anything in depth on any of those actions, so have no informed view. However ( I do seem to like, or use, that word ), many decades ago, a history professor under whom I studied, said that at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, evidence indicated that the Indians fired arrows upwards, in a manner like mortar rounds. Thus using plunging fire on soldiers laying behind their horses.
That's my running off at the fingers for today.
Thanks for the post.
Paul L. Quandt
Two things to consider in the above comments.
Consider the Ashanti Ring (centered around Sir Garnet Wolesly) and Roberts Clique (centered around Lord Roberts) in the British Army and the dirty tricks they played on each other in intraservice politics. There were some right bastards at work in red coats as well as blue in the latter half of the 1800s.
While I find the trapdoor Springfield a bit more awkward to cycle than a Martini-Henry, both were single-shot weapons. I don't think the long arm itself was a primary cause of victory or defeat in either confrontation.
Regarding the "Indian Wars" I'm not any kind of expert and my interest is mainly the CO-WY-UT areas. As a very young lad I heard about some fights from men who were there.
What few commentators seem to recognize was various tribes fought in very different manners. The Lakota Sioux were Kamikazes in their tactics. The Shoshone and Arapahoes were much more deliberate in their attacks; more like infantry. The Utes were hit and run calvary in their tactics. That is not to say each tribe could, and did, use different tactics depending on who was their leadership at the time. An example would be the Cheyenne and Kiowas.
Finally, the Intermountain/Great Plains tribes were stone age societies.
The Martini Henry had the advantage of being able to lob lead at masses of targets 900 yards distant. So volley fire against Zulus at Islandlwana on open ground was effective at extreme range. In a set piece battle with aiming stakes in place, attrition was a foregone conclusion. The Zulus massed infantry. At Rorque's Drift the ranges were somewhat closer.
If Custer's men had been issued Winchesters, Henrys or even Sharps repeating rifles, and had been trained properly in their use, it MIGHT have made a difference. The Cavalry of the 1870's were dragoons. They rode horses but were trained to fight on foot. And being able to fire repeatedly would have made it much more difficult for the Souix Confederation who wanted to close and fight.
Yes, they were stone age people who mastered the horse, and while they fought with great bravery often, the tribal nature meant that a loss of fifty or a hundred warriors doomed the local tribe. The advantage of modern armies of the day was that the loss of 100 soldiers could be easily replace from conscripted or volunteer people from the Eastern cities. Which is what happened. The defensive value of lagered modern infantry with mountain guns or Gatling guns can't be over stated. Grape shot wasn't something that Indians grasped fully and if they went up against it, they were ended by it. They were more comfortable with fighting from ambush on ground of their choosing and that's how they fought mostly. The situation at the Little Big Horn was unique in many ways because of the numbers of Indians involved. And you'll note that they left after the battle. Even with those numerical advantages, the loss of hundreds of warriors was a horrible thing. They couldn't envision the sort of war that was fought between the US States only a decade earlier where tens of thousands fell in a single engagement.
The Apache, who lived where I do now, fought as raiders. The few times that they went up against the army, such as the battle of Big Dry Wash ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Big_Dry_Wash) near my home, they tried ambush on numbers of soldiers that they thought they could handle. When the numbers turned out to be greater than they anticipated, they disengaged.
After living through Illinois winters for 31 years, I moved to Kommiefornia.
After watching 35 years of "Progressive Government" destroy Kommiefornia, I headed back to the Midwest. Well, the far Western edge of the Midwest.
It gets cold here, and we have snow, but no where near the lousy, rotten Winters we had in Northern Illinois. The lowest I've seen it go here is around -15*F, and that's unusual. It's also MUCH drier here, which means we don't have the biting, stinging, humid winds that suck the heat out of everything.
Many of the enlisted in the frontier army were immigrants. Giovanni Martini, who was given a message to take to Benteen, was the only survivor from Custer's company and could barely speak English at the time. He stayed in the army until 1904.
Cochise + one 2nd Lt (insert map joke) = 60+ years of Apache Wars.
I like visiting Colorado in the summer months.
We've got plenty of room if you ever get up this way…..
It's 30 degrees here at a quarter to 5 AM, and I'm debating whether to wear shorts to work or not… usually 40 is my cutoff, but it's supposed to warm up later.
Meh, probably jeans.
If it was -35, there would be no debate.
One first hand account said the troopers at Rorkes Drift fired the Martinis at a rate that had the men cutting off their coat sleeves to make improvised insulation for the barrels. Weeks later they were freezing because of it- gets cold there too.
No doubt the Army charged them for destroying gov property.
I am interested in this too. I have been looking for this! I would like you to cover this topic a little more.
All the best,
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