Courage- The Battle of Greasy Grass

Voödoo 6 von Inyanga Profile picture

Voödoo 6 von Inyanga

@6Voodoo Mar 23

Everyone hopes they will answer the test of fear and violence well, but you never know for certain. No one wants to be the coward but the line between hero and coward under fire is razor thin. Who takes what path often surprises you. Like K Troop at the Battle of the Greasy Grass

1/ As the sun approached its zenith on the 25th of June, 1876 First Lieutenant Edward Settle Godfrey, Commander K Troop (Company), 7th United States Cavalry, sat on his horse and watched his commander ride away from him down the Little Big Horn River.

2/ Godfrey had been left with Captain Frederick Benteen and two other Troops of the 7th to guard the supply train. Custer had left K and Godfrey back for a reason. The 7th Cavalry officers were a deeply divided group: Those belonging to the cult of Custer, and those who did not.

3/ Godfrey did not. Despite both having seen brief combat in the Civil War in the 21st Ohio (the same regiment a teenage Tom Custer served in) and being a West Pointer, he was viewed as “lazy” and “unmilitary” by some of the officers in the 7th.

4/ Custer’s battle plan was simple: he would approach the camp comprising the largest gathering of Indians ever on the plains, ride up and attack like a hammer and anvil. He wanted to catch them before they got away and scattered… this goal at least he accomplished.

5/ He detached three of his remaining eight Troops of cavalry under Major Marcus Reno to act as an anvil and personally led the remaining five to act as the hammer. Reno was to flush the pheasant for Custer to hunt down and win himself more glory.

6/ His plan was to close the jaws of the cavalry around the combined nations of Lakota, Dakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho and squeeze them to death. He might as well have been a mouse wrapping its jaws around an elephant.

Reno’s men made contact first. 

7/ Charging the village of thousands with around 175 men, Reno stopped tried to hold the now attacking Indians back, but the Indians, some of whom were armed with Winchester repeating rifles quickly started to overwhelm the dismounted cavalry with their single shot Springfields.

8/ Reno ordered a series of confused and hasty retreats back across the river and up a defensible hill. Around the same time, Lt Col Custer’s hammer, some 264 men, approached what they thought was the end of the Indian village. It was just the middle. 

9/ Indian warriors swarmed out of the camp and routed his five Troops of the best cavalry in the United States Army. 

10/ As the men under Custer fled, fighting in vain for their lives, Captain Weir, one of Custer’s most loyal supporters, took his D Troop out of Reno’s defensive position against orders to try to give his friend Custer the support he had requested.

11/ He made it about a mile, to a small hill overlooking the battlefield. Major Reno had lost control by this point, with additional officers, including Benteen and eventually Reno himself joining Weir about a mile from their dug in defense position to watch the battle unfolding. 

12/ They sat there, milling around aimlessly, leaderless. Unable to get to Custer through the Indians, they also did not fall back to their defensive position. Until someone noticed a swarm of Indians charging towards them. The Indians had finished Custer and were coming for them

13/ The cavalrymen were caught in the open, and forced to flee in panic back to the hill. In the panic, wounded men were left behind. One, Swiss born (almost half of the 7th were immigrants) Private Vincent Charley, was swarmed by Indians after being shot through the hips.

14/ He was found after the battle, killed by a stick jammed down his throat. A similar fate awaited the rest of the men if they could not get to their defensive positions in time, which seemed unlikely with the Indians quickly closing the gap behind the fleeing troopers.

15/ It looked for a moment that they would share Custer’s fate. Into this cauldron of chaos stepped Lt Godfrey. Seeing the situation develop, he wheeled his 30 odd troopers of K Troop into line between his retreating regiment and the hundreds of swarming Indians.

16/ Without orders, he dismounted his troopers, got them into line and poured covering fire into the shocked Indians. After breaking their momentum, he executed the most complex battle drill possible: retreat under fire. 

17/ The Troop’s other officer, 25 Year old Second Lieutenant Luther Hare, 2 years out of West Point, deserted his post as Reno’s adjutant to stay with his troopers, saying “Adjutant or no Adjutant, I’m a fighting son of a bitch from Texas” (allegedly).

18/ The two young officers had their men bound and fire, together, like a unit, one man firing with the next retreated to a new firing position. Standing in the open between death and their brothers, they kept their men firing and moving.

19/ Playing a deadly game of leapfrog, the men of K Troop knelt in the open plain, bullets and arrows flying past them, keeping their iron discipline in the face of what can only be described as overwhelming terror.

20/ Grabbing their belts and moving them into line, Godfrey kept his men fighting, and his men kept the Indians at bay long enough for their comrades to get into their foxholes. Godfrey the “unsoldierly” and “lazy” commander of K Troop had saved what was left of the 7th Cavalry.

21/ You absolutely never know how someone will act under the pressure. You can train, develop, and prepare yourself mentally, but until the moment mortality stares you in the face, you will never truly know. You may think, but you never KNOW until you first see the elephant.

22/ Brave men may turn coward, and those who seem the least likely may step into the role of hero by merely doing their duty. That is why it is so important to leave no one behind. To help everyone be the best versions of themselves that they can be. Maybe Godfrey was lazy.

23/ Maybe it was just Custer’s mean girl clique and bad leadership, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I do know that a guy given one of the least important jobs on the day of the battle ended up playing maybe the most important role in it.

24/ It is natural for the strong among us, those that have seen their own mortality, those that know how they will react to danger and stress to look down at those who haven’t. They are an unknown quantity until they pass their own test, and unknown things can get you killed.

25/ But that doesn’t mean they are less than, or not worthy of assistance. Everyone brings something to the table. Everyone helps somehow, from the SF dude talking about doing a nitrogen purge of your nvg’s to the nerd yammering on about his “slaps”.

Poetry FoundationPoems, readings, poetry news and the entire 110-year archive of POETRY magazine.https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46783/gunga-din

26/ Everyone has a role to play, history is filled with examples, from Molly Pitcher manning a cannon, Desmond Doss saving his men, to a fisherman general and his men rowing Washington across the frozen Delaware.

27/ Everyone who shares our beliefs, everyone who believes that America can be saved brings value to the work of reaching that goal. We are preciously short of allies both here and in the real world. We need every one that we can muster. Dig your well before you are thirsty.

28/ Build your allies before you need them. Do some honest reflection on who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and if you are building a culture where those who want to help are given the opportunity. 

29/ You never know, it might be that fat dude who you helped develop a PT plan, or rucked with, or the one who asked if he should buy a Hi-Point, that taps you on the shoulder and tells you he’s got you, it’s your turn to bound back.

Post Script: The Springfield Model 1873 rifle is a great example of the military saying “fuck ’em, it is cheap and good enough”. The copper casing was prone to jam in the chamber, and had to be pulled out with a knife… under fire. Not optimal. 

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