The Falsehoods of Fetterman's Fight | HistoryNet

The Falsehoods of Fetterman’s Fight

By John H. Monnett
10/1/2010 • Wild West

This illustration originally appeared in the March 23, 1867, Harper's Weekly and was captioned "The Indian battle and massacre near Fort Philip Kearney [sic], Dacotah [sic] Territory." The clash is now known as the Fetterman Fight.
This illustration originally appeared in the March 23, 1867, Harper's Weekly and was captioned "The Indian battle and massacre near Fort Philip Kearney [sic], Dacotah [sic] Territory." The clash is now known as the Fetterman Fight.

‘Generations of Americans have dismissed Fetterman as not just a fool but a maniac—a victim of his own dysfunctional degree of boastful chauvinism’

The Fetterman Fight, sometimes called the Fetterman Massacre, is among the best-known events of the Indian wars. According to the version of the story accepted for well over a century, Captain William Judd Fetterman, 18th U.S. Infantry Regiment, was an arrogant fire-eater of an officer, contemptuous of the fighting abilities of the Plains Indians. As a Civil War combat veteran, he had no respect for Colonel Henry Beebee Carrington, the commanding officer at Fort Phil Kearny, Dakota Territory (in present-day northern Wyoming). Carrington headed the 18th Infantry, but he had spent the Civil War years sitting behind a desk.

Fetterman’s arrogance, according to the accepted story, led to grand recklessness on December 21, 1866, when he disobeyed Carrington’s direct orders to relieve a woodcutting detail under attack west of the fort, bring it in safely to the pinery blockhouses and, above all else, refrain from crossing Lodge Trail Ridge in pursuit of the Indian attackers. Ignorantly and defiantly, Fetterman led his command from Fort Phil Kearny in pursuit of a decoy party of 10 Lakotas and Cheyennes over the forbidden ridge into an ambush of 1,500–2,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. The Indians annihilated the captain and his command in a short, brutal action. The battle has lived in memory because of Fetterman’s alleged earlier boast that “with 80 men, I could ride through the whole Sioux Nation.” He died with exactly 80 men.

By leading his men into an ambush, Fetterman earned a high degree of notoriety in Western history, although 10 years later Lt. Col. George A. Custer’s greater disaster at the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory overshadowed Fetterman’s failure for the ages. Practically everyone has heard of Custer’s Last Stand, and historians have endlessly criticized and defended Custer the military man. By contrast, the Fetterman story, though remembered by those who study the Indian wars, has seldom been analyzed, let alone challenged. Two basic tenets of that story merit scrutiny: Did Fetterman actually utter the famous “80-man boast,” and did he disobey orders by crossing Lodge Trail Ridge?

According to many modern accounts of the Fort Phil Kearny saga, Fetterman made his infamous boast shortly after arriving at the post in November 1866. In fact, this statement does not appear anywhere prior to 1904—38 years after it was allegedly uttered. Since then it has colored the impression of Fetterman’s character and served as an ironic synopsis of his fate. Indeed, the fact he died with exactly 80 men at the hands of a substantial portion of the Sioux Nation has turned the captain’s alleged boast into a memorable irony—and historical ironies endure even longer than many historical facts. Such ironies are powerful literary forms.

So why, then, if it is factual, did this ubiquitous and powerful phrase not appear prior to the 20th century, given that the captain and his 80 men died in 1866? The earliest Fetterman rhetoric regarding the fighting abilities of Plains Indians came to public attention in 1868 via Margaret Irvin Carrington, wife of the Fort Phil Kearny commander. In her book Ab-Sa-Ra-Ka: Home of the Crows, Mrs. Carrington wrote that Captain Fetterman arrived at the fort imbued with the opinion that “a company of regulars could whip a thousand, and a regiment could whip the whole array of hostile tribes.” More than four decades later, Frances Carrington, Henry’s second wife, repeated the boast attributed to Fetterman almost verbatim in her 1910 book My Army Life: A Soldier’s Wife at Fort Phil Kearny. While at Fort Laramie en route to Fort Phil Kearny, she wrote, Fetterman declared he would demonstrate to the Army within six months that the new garrison would not be “afraid to meet Indians or anyone else,” and that all the officers and men would share that sentiment.

But what is unusual about such boasts? Are they in any way different from the high-spirited sentiments common among junior officers of the era who had yet to encounter Indians in combat and held preconceived chauvinistic notions of the tactical superiority of the U.S. Army? Margaret Carrington wrote that Captain Frederick Brown and Lieutenant George Grummond strongly seconded Fetterman’s boast. Brown, who by November 1866 had some experience fighting Indians, even boasted he could not proceed to his transfer assignment at Fort Laramie until he had personally taken Chief Red Cloud’s scalp. Obviously, Fetterman never would have told soldiers at Fort Laramie in early November that the garrison at Fort Phil Kearny would be afraid to meet Indians.

Such parlor bluster was simple patriotic pedantry, as it had been in references to Confederates during the Civil War. Certainly Brown, Grummond, Lieutenant Horatio Bingham and other junior officers at the fort were equal to Fetterman in their boastfulness. Was Custer any less arrogant at Fort Riley, Kan., the following year? And in May 1876, was it not a general officer, Alfred Terry, who wrote to Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan as his 600-man Dakota Column (including Custer and the 7th Cavalry) prepared to leave Fort Abraham Lincoln, “I have no doubt of the ability of my column to whip all the Sioux whom we can find”?

Grandiosity was a common personality trait in the 19th-century officer corps. Although officers on the frontier had their social vices, as historian Kevin Adams recently wrote, they “had no doubts about their station in life; they viewed themselves as elite members of American society…an aristocracy of merit.” Fetterman fit this stereotype. Born to a middle-class Connecticut family in 1835, he was the son of a West Point graduate. After his father’s untimely death, the boy went to live with an uncle who had also graduated from West Point. Fetterman received an officer’s commission immediately upon enlisting in the 18th Infantry in 1861.

A version of Fetterman’s 80-man boast first appeared in print in 1904 in Cyrus Townsend Brady’s book Indian Fights and Fighters and in serial version by Brady that same year in Pearson’s Magazine. Brady had interviewed Henry Carrington extensively in 1903 for the story. Never before had Carrington or his wives broached Fetterman’s offer “with 80 men to ride through the whole Sioux Nation.” Thus, the statement is surely a literary contrivance of Brady’s with Carrington’s approval. Carrington read over the manuscript prior to publication. But it was Brady who penned the legacy, setting up a historical irony that has been profusely repeated since 1904. If either Margaret Irvin or Frances Grummond Carrington had heard this startlingly ironic boast back in 1866, they certainly would have quoted it in their books.

In his speech at the 1908 dedication of the Fetterman Battlefield Monument, Henry Carrington said Fetterman had told him, “I can take 80 men and go to Tongue River.” This was the first time Carrington himself made reference to the 80-man boast, and it came four years after he had proofed Brady’s book.

In 1933 aged former Army scout Philip Faribault Wells wrote a letter to the South Dakota Historical Society, claiming to have overheard Jim Bridger remark in a Denver saloon a half century prior that he (Bridger) had heard Fetterman make the 80-man boast verbatim. But in the intervening three decades, Indian Fights and Fighters had become somewhat of a classic for its generation of readers. Furthermore, Jim Bridger was almost blind in 1872, living in New Santa Fe, Mo., and engaged in a court fight with the Army to regain title to old Fort Bridger.

The boast Fetterman likely did make in 1866, as recorded by both Margaret and Frances Carrington, carries no ironic power. And after the captain actually did engage Indians, in a fight on December 6, he came to Carrington and timidly informed his commander he had “learned a lesson, and that this Indian war has become a hand-to-hand fight, requiring the utmost caution.” Fetterman told Carrington he wanted no more such risks.

Yet where the bogus boast appears in print alongside Fetterman’s reported disobedience in crossing Lodge Trail Ridge, the captain comes out looking like either an outrageously ignorant and vainglorious individual or a fire-eater, as he is often depicted. But did Captain Fetterman actually disobey Colonel Carrington’s orders?

According to Henry Carrington’s own testimony in 1867—at both an inconclusive Army court of inquiry and the more significant investigative hearings of a special committee known as the Sanborn Commission—he told Fetterman to relieve the wood train under attack about four miles west of the fort but under no circumstances to pursue the attacking Indians over Lodge Trail Ridge. Although no officers claimed to have heard Carrington’s orders, several enlisted men were ready to testify they had personally heard the colonel issue those orders to Fetterman. The Sanborn Commission never called those reported witnesses to formally testify, but the men later shared their stories with the Army and Navy Journal and other magazines in the early 20th century.

Several soldiers also heard Carrington issue the same orders to Lieutenant Grummond, who led 27 troopers of the 2nd Cavalry out of the fort to join Fetterman’s infantry minutes after their departure. In addition to testimony by Carrington and his enlisted staff, Lieutenant A.H. Wands stated in detail before the Sanborn Commission that Carrington had ordered Grummond, both in person and through Wands, to take out the cavalry, join Fetterman, obey his orders and relieve the wood train, and that “under no circumstances were they to cross the bluff [Lodge Tail Ridge] in pursuit of Indians.”

But as Grummond joined him, Fetterman turned east, away from the wood train, picked up the Bozeman Trail and then turned north up Lodge Trail Ridge. By 11:30 a.m. or thereabouts, the garrison watched Fetterman’s command, with Grummond’s cavalry out in front on the flanks, cross out of sight over the ridge in pursuit of 10 Indians, who were in fact acting as decoys. The main Indian force then sprang its trap, quickly wiping out the entire command, in part because the impetuous Grummond had ridden out ahead of Fetterman’s infantry.

Given the weight of evidence, Fetterman clearly disobeyed orders. It is illogical to suppose Carrington would grant him leeway to pursue the Indians at his discretion and then minutes later order Grummond to join Fetterman, obey his orders and under no circumstances pursue the Indians over Lodge Trail Ridge. Fetterman’s disobedience is not in question. No historian has ever said he did not disobey Carrington’s orders. The suggestion Carrington might have permitted Fetterman some kind of discretionary latitude originated in print with J.W. Vaughn’s 1966 book Indian Fights: New Facts on Seven Encounters. Vaughn is mistaken.

What, then, prompted the captain to disobey orders and cross Lodge Trail Ridge? After all, in just a few short weeks the Army Reorganization Act would take effect, and Fetterman would become a member of the 27th Infantry, thus ridding himself of Carrington. Why risk a stain on his record? Did he flout the odds for the remote possibility of glory or simply to gain some small and fleeting gratification by antagonizing a commanding officer for whom he had little respect?

During the Civil War, certain officers sparked lasting controversy by disobeying orders when it became obvious, at least to them, that it was necessary in order to save a larger command or to seize upon a rapidly changing battle scenario. The classic case is cavalryman J.E.B. Stuart’s delayed arrival at Gettysburg. And, of course, there remains the crowning controversy: Did Custer disobey Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry’s orders by attacking the Indian Village on the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, without waiting for reinforcements, or did he seize what he considered the proper initiative Terry had given him? It is the latter scenario that likely sent Fetterman zigzagging away from Fort Phil Kearny over Lodge Trail Ridge. The Army’s unwritten rule was that if you won, fine, but if you didn’t, you were charged with disobedience.

What often goes unnoticed in a perusal of the official records and legal hearings regarding the Fetterman Fight is how the Indians’ activities radically changed after Fetterman had received his orders, mustered his soldiers and exited the sally port of Fort Phil Kearny (probably marching around the west end of the fort to avoid crossing two frozen creek beds). Two factors came into play that are not immediately obvious in official records and that have been largely ignored over the years by historians convinced that Fetterman’s disobedience stemmed from his vainglorious disrespect of his superior officer, Carrington.

First, within minutes of Fetter-man’s egress from the fort (about 11:15), the tactical situation abruptly changed. Lookouts on Pilot Hill, who had a clear view of the woodcutters west of the fort, signaled the wood train was no longer under attack and was proceeding unimpeded toward the pineries. The lookouts also signaled the Indians were retreating eastward behind Sullivant Hills and Lodge Trail Ridge. Thus, the train was no longer in danger and did not need to be “brought in” to the safety of the pinery blockhouses.

Fetterman, judging from his next actions, saw this signal, and so did Carrington, who wrote in his report that he “entertained no further thought of danger.” At this point, Fetterman apparently decided to seize the initiative, march his command eastward, ascend Lodge Trail and try to cut off the 40 retreating warriors that had attacked the wood train. This tactical shift certainly seemed proper to the colonel in the heat of the moment, for he later wrote in his initial report that Fetterman was “moving wisely [italics added] up the creek and along the southern slope of Lodge Trail Ridge with good promise of cutting off the Indians as they should withdraw.” In 1868 Margaret Carrington also wrote that Fetterman had maneuvered to cut off the Indian retreat.

Lieutenant W.F. Arnold, observing from the fort, later testified that after the command had crossed Lodge Trail Ridge and the sound of firing broke out, “It did not alarm anybody, as it was the largest force that had ever been sent out from the garrison.” Arnold’s testimony is key, as it suggests officers at the fort were fully aware the tactical situation had changed, thus rendering Carrington’s original orders inexpedient. It also demonstrates the belief Fetterman was taking the proper initiative. From the moment Fetterman’s command turned eastward and then north up the Bozeman Trail to the summit of Lodge Trail Ridge, Carrington had plenty of time to dispatch a courier and recall Fetterman. But he didn’t, thus tacitly sanctioning Fetterman’s initiative. Arnold’s testimony and Carrington’s inaction at this juncture also suggests the officers believed a force of 81 men was large enough to handle the situation.

Second, the soldiers were unaware of the Plains Indians’ vastly superior numbers. Fetterman wouldn’t have taken his 80 men out of sight of the fort had he known 1,500–2,000 warriors awaited him on the other side of Lodge Trail Ridge. Once again Arnold’s testimony and Carrington’s initial inaction reveal much. No one at Fort Phil Kearny on December 21, 1866, realized so many warriors lay in ambush along the ridges above Peno Creek. Although Jim Bridger and other Army scouts had earlier reported 500 lodges along the Tongue River, the majority of the Minneconjou Sioux and Northern Cheyennes had not arrived at the camps until a day or so before the fight. Moreover, 500 lodges would not account for some 2,000 warriors, even if all of them had been waiting in ambush. Never previously had the garrison at Fort Phil Kearny encountered more than 100 or so Indians, a number that fewer than 80 soldiers had clashed with just 15 days earlier.

Certainly Fetterman and Brown were familiar with Indian decoy maneuvers. Fetterman had demonstrated caution and discretion when twice tempted by decoy parties around the pineries in November. But the impetuous Grummond, who could seemingly never resist the temptation to chase decoys, had very nearly forfeited his life doing so in the fight of December 6. That said, none of the officers present on the 21st expected to meet Indians in the hundreds when they pursued the decoys. Perhaps 50 or so would cover the retreat, in turn luring the soldiers farther over the ridge, where they expected to encounter the 100-strong main force—similar to the December 6 clash and certainly a manageable number for 81 men. Given such expected enemy numbers, Fetterman’s decision to cut off the Indian retreat over Lodge Trail Ridge was not at all irrational. The massive ambush that ensued was simply unprecedented in conflict with Plains Indians to date.

Only in retrospect, when the actual number of Indians became known, did Carrington make Fetterman out to be a hotheaded fool. Coming under fire for the massacre, the colonel hid behind the technicality of the captain’s disobedience to clear his own reputation. Disobedience warped into suicidal negligence when rumor suggested it stemmed from Fetterman’s uncontrollable arrogance in the face of enormous odds—odds in truth unknown at the time.

Such recklessness doesn’t fit Fetterman’s combat record at Fort Phil Kearny or during the Civil War. Nor did Fetterman and Brown, as has been alleged, commit joint suicide. (Brown may have shot himself, but Fetterman most likely fell to the war club and knife of the Oglala Sioux American Horse.) But Carrington, forever sensitive about his own legacy, continued to present this archetypal image of the arrogant captain throughout his own long life, largely without challenge. Thus generations of Americans have dismissed Fetterman as not just a fool but a maniac—a victim of his own dysfunctional degree of boastful chauvinism. But his “bluster” was no more or less extreme than that of any other junior officer on the frontier of the 1860s and 1870s. Fate just caught up to William Fetterman.

John H. Monnett teaches Western and native American history at Metropolitan State College in Denver and writes often about the Indian wars. Recommended for further reading is his book Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth (2008).

28 Responses to The Falsehoods of Fetterman’s Fight

  1. William Hale says:

    Typically ignorant trash pretending to be scholarly work. You clearly are putting your own spin on history to sell your book. How about this, attempting to cut off the indians before they disappeared beyond the bluff is perfectly fine as initiative, but going beyond your orders and going over the hill you were specifically told not to go past is not. Once you could not cut off the decoys before they left the area you were to remain within, Fetterman or ANY officer, should have returned to the woodcutters and escorted them back.

    You do NOT recklessly endanger your troops is Officer 101.

    • DON FISK says:

      Regarding the assertion that “Although no officers claimed to have heard Carrington’s orders, …”, didn’t Capt. Ten Eyck’s official report state that he heard Col. Carrington issue the order to Fetterman to not cross the ridge?

  2. Ray says:

    “Second, the soldiers were unaware of the Plains Indians’ vastly superior numbers. Fetterman wouldn’t have taken his 80 men out of sight of the fort had he known 1,500–2,000 warriors awaited him on the other side of Lodge Trail Ridge”

    That is why it is called an ambush.

    But childish sarcasm aside, I think this is a great article. It sets out to argue that perhaps Fetterman is not the arrogant fool of history who led his men to their doom. It makes a good case for Fetterman attempting to seize the initiative.

    Yet he still led his men into an ambush. At the last, he was out smarted and out fought by the enemy he publicly ridiculed. Irony is rarely so fatal. And yet it was to happen again!

    Perhaps Fetterman’s bluster indicates a general contempt and arrogance in the army of that place and time.

  3. Alan says:

    And after the captain actually did engage Indians, in a fight on December 6, he came to Carrington and timidly informed his commander he had “learned a lesson, and that this Indian war has become a hand-to-hand fight, requiring the utmost caution.” Fetterman told Carrington he wanted no more such risks.

    Kindly provide origin of this statement as it appears to contridict all other information from that time. It would also mean Fetterman had a short memory or was a moron who did not listen to his own advise.

    • John Monnett says:

      Margaret Irvin Carrington, “Absaraka Home of the Crows (1868), page 195.

      • Heinz Gosepath says:

        Herr Monnett sollte bevor er ein Buch schreibt sich besser Informieren.

        Wenn er Schreibt: Er kann nicht sehen Crazy Horse in der Fetterman -Schlacht.Hierzu hätte er sich mal die Arbeiten und Bücher von Dee Brown,Joseph M. Marshall,George E. Hyde, Mari Sandoz und Eleanore Hinman, Eli S. Ricker oder Charles A.Eastman lesen oder beschäfigen sollen. Hierzu wurden
        Augenzeugen,wie Two Moons Red Reather, Horn Chips oder auch He Dog befragt, die genau die Beteiligung Crazy Horse als Anführer in der Fetterman -Schlacht bestätigen.Wenn er weiterhin schreibt, dass American Horse der Jüngere und Georg Schwert Crazy Horse bei dem Interview zu der Fetterman-Schlacht nicht erwähnten, heißt das noch lange nicht,dass er nicht doch dabei war.Beide waren auf die Taten von Crazy Horse eifersüchtig und haben mit Ihren intrigen zusammen mit Red Cloud zu der Ermordung von Crazy Horse in Fort Robinson beigetragen.Ich beschäfige mich schon seit Jahren mit dem Leben und Sterben des Crazy Horse.Das Crazy Horse als Hemdträger und Kriegshäuptling an so einer wichtigen Schlacht nicht beteiligt gewesen sein soll, halte ich für ausgeschlossen.Ich habe ja verständnis, wenn Herr Monnett sein Buch verkaufen will,dann aber bitte nicht mit unwahrheiten.

        – See more at:

        Mr Monnett should be before he writes a book better inform.

        When he writes: he can’t see he would have Crazy Horse in the Fetterman Schlacht.Hierzu time reading papers and books by Dee Brown, Joseph M. Marshall, George E. Hyde, Mari Sandoz and Eleanore Hinman, Eli S. Ricker or Charles A.Eastman or be sheep-you want to. To do this, were
        Eye-witnesses, such as two moons reather, red Horn chips or even Hey dog interviewed confirm exactly the participation of Crazy Horse as a leader in the Fetterman battle.If he continues to write that American Horse the younger and George not mentioned sword crazy horse during the interview at the Fetterman battle, does not mean, that he was not involved.Both were jealous of the exploits of Crazy Horse and having your intrigue together with red cloud to the killing of Crazy Horse in Fort Robinson contributed.I be sheepy for years with the life and death of Crazy Horse.Das Crazy Horse shirt makers and war chief at me so was not involved in a major battle, I consider to be excluded.I so understand, if Mr Monnett wants does not sell his book then but please with falsehoods.

      • DON FISK says:

        The reference in Absaraka is not entirely clear. When Margaret writes that “Captain Fetterman has been in, and says ‘ “he has learned a lesson, and this Indian war has become a hand-to-hand fight, requiring the utmost caution,” and he wants no more such risks.’, [I hope that I did the quotation marks correctly!] she does not state that she heard him say this, so it begs the question, was she present when he “came in” and made the statement, or was this repeated to her by her husband or someone else? If the latter is the case, it is hearsay and not as credible as if she actually heard Fetterman himself say it.

    • DON FISK says:

      It would be useful if Margaret Carrington’s narrative [p. 195], specifically stated whether she heard Capt. Fetterman make the statement. As written, she could have been present and heard it herself, which seems unlikely, or her husband could have told her what Fetterman said. If the latter scenario is true, her statement is merely hearsay, and thus of lesser evidentiary value.

  4. Frank says:

    I think Fetterman was suffering from blood lust and wanted to buck Carrington. Carrington seemed to be exercising caution and get an out post established before launching any large campain. I think goals where to protect the woodcutters and livestock, get the garrison built.

    Officers Brown and Grummond where being insubordinate and wanted to take the fight to the natives rather than engage in the guard details. When Fetterman arrived you had another Alpha type arrive and he was going to fight one way or another. Sending Fetterman out with Grummond provided the opportunity they both wanted. I think its clear they where under orders to not cross Log Trail Ridge. By following the decoys beyond the ridge was in violation of the rules of engagement as directed by Carrington.

    Had Grummond halted Fetterman would not have had to follow and they both any respect for Carrington as Commander this page of history may have been written much different.

  5. Jack says:

    Good article. I’m glad to see the facts come out. I would add that Margaret Carrington and Frances Grummond were both married to Col. Carrington and wrote their books after being review by Col. Carrington. Most likely to clear his reputation and put him in the best light. Grummond, in charge of the cav., was known as a hot head (as well as a bigamist) and would have been in the lead of the infantry. Fetterman proved his valor and composure in the Dec. 6th fight. It is my opinion, that Fetterman felt compelled to help Grummond out when he went out after the decoys. Nuts to those who want to continue putting the blame all on Fetterman. They should try reading the testimony of the officers at the military inquiry following the battle.

  6. Brian says:

    Very interesting arguement. Based on a lot of supposition, but none are too far-fetched. However, as someone has already pointed out, it seems odd that only 15 days after the December 6 fight, he forgot his own lesson.

    In addition, while the numbers encountered were unprecedented, Fetterman at the very least, committed a military faux-pas of rushing into a situation without adequate scout coverage or reconaisance; essentially the same mistake Custer would make at Greasy Grass. This mistake is compounded by the fact that as he had a detachment of cavalry at his disposal, sending out a screen of scouts would have been easily done.

    So while the arguements presented in the article are convincing it still seems to me at least, that Fetterman was negligent in his actions; a negligence possibly bourne out of the arrogant beleif that with 80 men he could ride through the whole Sioux nation…?

    • Marlena Heidenreich says:

      I happen to agree with this assessment, Custer, Fetterman and others a bit luckier were not of the same smarts and caliber as a General Crook, their own desire to do a specific action, resulted with that action pounded upon them, hard wishing which blinded the context of common sense.

      Though an opinion, emotions add to stupidity, has Custer been commanding the Rosebud contingent he would have lost even more men, these are the type of commanders who made fragging, in 1972, in Vietnam, a daily occurrence.

      Emotion outweighs intelligence. With Grummond, you could only call it idiocy given his previous encounter, he may even have tipped the momentum, yet Fetterman may have been stupider than his Civil war record indicated, as was also the case in Vietnam when the tactics of the enemy are unconventional to years of developed experience, the Indians shocked the hell out of Custer as he too may have been dumber than he looked, seeing as he thought every Indian war was gainst woen, as at Washita, and he found out every now and again, men show up and payback squarely.

      All these commands we must remember, were women and children killers, so we can’t really glorify banker murderers, even if they did carry bibles on their bloodfests, LOL.

      The worst is yet to come, it’s called the curse of blood-money, and America won’t be blessed by God, it must be blasted by God as these judgments do arrive on all these nations who attempt to profit for their own bellies on women and children, and then drag God’s name into the slaughter for self gain.

      Cursed as Custer, Rumsfeld, Johnson, etc

      Now were talking idiots, LOL…

  7. Marlena Heidenreich says:

    What the commanders and War Department did know was the potential, that being why a fort was even being built in the first place.

    Anyone gamey enough to know large forces are possible, and rounding up 3 or 400 warriors was not an incomprehensible possibility, this was not really a shock surprise, it was a gamble with very bad consequences, that did turn out as an exceedingly unlucky encounter, but even a 200 indian group could have wiped out half or even all of them depending on the circumstances.

    They took a gamble, they were not totally senseless to the possibilities, and the bad moon was in the Indians favor to the extreme.

    I personally think there was less than 1000 Indians, I think the arrow count was bs.

  8. Frank Bodden says:

    Marlena, your lack of knowledge on the subject and assumptions you make are amazing. At Washita, Custer and Benteen actually stopped and prevented their men from attacking women and children. Were some killed? Sure. Especially after Black Kettle’s warriors murdered the white captives there.
    New books on the Fetterman battle aren’t simply revisionists out to sell books, but the findings or opinions are based on diary entries made by the women at the fort as to Fetterman’s conduct at the fort and the kind of soldier he was. Less blame is being placed on Fetterman and more on Grummond and Brown.
    As for Custer, his plan at the Little Big Horn was one he had used before and worked, but at the LBJ, he was failed by Reno and possible Benteen, as well as just a whole bunch of Indians who weren’t in a running mood, as was their usual plan. You really need to read more and talk less on a subject you have proven yourself to know very little about.

  9. Brad Jacobsen says:

    Hope to see your book in digital soon. As read elsewhere, perhaps the provenly brash Grummond was the one decoyed over the ridge into Peno Creek ahead of the infantry? And Fetterman of course felt obligated to pursue in support? Thus perhaps explaining the gap between the positions of slain calvary and infantry after the ambush was sprung?

    Oh what a surprise. An unseasoned pencil-neck desk jockey (Carrington) scapegoats combat troops when things go bad instead of pointing the finger where it belonged. At higher headquarters which failed from the start to consider, staff and supply such an endeavor (Bozeman Trail). See Commission Witness testimony JB Weston

    • James Foley says:

      I too have often wondered if Grummond and the faster cavalry should have more blame here. If Grummond had ridden ahead, Fetterman, as ranking commander of the mission, would have felt obligated to support the smaller force in front. Grummond was lucky to survive the fight on December 6 which killed Bingham. Custer scout Ben Clark at the Washita was sent to tell one company commander whose name presently escapes me, although he was a South Carolinian, specifically not to kill women and children. Grummond’s tombstone at the Franklin, Tenn. cemetery was missing the last time I went there. It showed an incorrect date of death. I read somewhere that his remains may have been recently removed by his family to Michigan but do not know.

  10. Clarence Putnam says:

    I believe you are 100% correct. I visited Fort Phil Kearny and the sight of the Fetterman Fight. Captain Fetterman has received a bum rap all these years. He obviously went in support of Grummond who behaved rashly because he couldn’t stand by and watch Grummond be massacered. I suspect that Fetterman was a brave and honorable man who knew he was buying a one way ticket.

    • DON FISK says:

      It appears to me that Capt. Fetterman had three choices if he saw that the cavalry was engaged by the time he and the infantry crossed the ridge: 1. Sit on the ridge, notify the fort of the situation and request reinforcements and artillery while watching the cavalry be destroyed, or,
      2. Return to the fort, or,
      3. Go to its aid, knowing full well that it meant the probable death of him and his 80 man force.
      I still find it very hard to believe coincidence his statement about 80 men and that it was exactly the number with him.

  11. James Ombrello says:

    While I agree with your comment about Fetterman disobeying orders by going over the ridge, I do not agree with your harsh and untrue comment about the book. It is a scholarly work, complete with helpful endnotes and full of insight and information which clarifies this history. I always recommended it in the bookstore while interpreting at Fort Phil Kearny in 2013. John Monnett’s work is essential reading for serious students of this history.

  12. Margaret Lynch says:

    soooo easy to be wise 150 years later.

  13. James Foley says:

    I agree. It is much easier to criticize from the couch than it is to enter the arena and perform every task perfectly.

  14. James Foley says:

    I agree. It is much easier to criticize from the couch than to enter the arena and perform perfectly every time.

  15. Ronald V Rockwell says:

    Mr. Monnett’s hypothesis is well thought out. I have always been suspicious of the conclusions drawn by Fetterman’s fellow officers, and, of course, countless armchair civilians. Whenever something like this happens, the immediate assumption is, \Well, this could not possibly happen.\ Therefore, they reach out and look for a culprit. First and foremost, they don’t want to believe that it could happen to them, therefore, the conclusion, \He or she screwed up and this is why it happened.\ Carrington could not cast doubt on Grummond’s performance for obvious reasons. Also, let’s not be so quick to trash Carrington. He had a tough job by any measure and did not lack war-fighting courage when it was needed.

  16. Rick Freeland says:

    Enlightening post on Fetterman. Love the in-depth analysis. I believe you’re correct in stating that officers back then “boasted” because of high-spirited sentiments and patriotism, and probably to encourage a sense of pride and elitism in the troops. I believe soldiers and commanders in the present day army aren’t much different.

    I enjoy reading up on happenings in the Indian Wars. Just read recently that they uncovered evidence close by the Deep Ravine at the Battle of the Little Big Horn that shows that part of Custer’s battle may not have been a rout as previously believed, but an attempt at a somewhat controlled attempt to escape an untenable situation. One thing is for certain. Engagements in the past as well as those of the present often deteriorated into melee affairs, due to bad intelligence, changing situations, unique or misunderstood terrain, and a host of other factors that couldn’t be anticipated. It’s a wonder we can determine anything from analysis of past battles. And it’s no wonder why we have so many wrong accounts (or flat-out lies) circulating throughout history.

  17. Erique Lamont says:

    The boasting isn’t relevant, what is relevant is that a battalion, with no real battle-plan, went out to engage an enemy of unknown size and disposition, out of sight of any support, and was massacred.

    A lesson the vainglorious G.A. Custer could have learned -indeed, I’d suggest that Major J. Elliott likewise could have learned this lesson and survived the Washita.

    It also makes me wonder if Crazy Horse and the Natives had learned from this, at LBH, keep your numbers hidden, infiltrate, get close, then overwhelm…

    It is sad that others have to pay the price of arrogant commanders, all the great military colleges in the world seemed to teach the history of the successful, but not the failings of their vanquished brothers in arms.

  18. Scalia says:

    Good overall narrative of the Fetterman affair. Thanks!

  19. Duane says:

    This author completely ignores the disgusting disrespect that Fetterman and Brown continually showed towards their commanding officer. There was no call for that, and undoubtedly had much to do with their mentality in disobeying orders and getting themselves and their entire command murdered.

    The disobeying of command was not just in following the retreating warriors – it was specifically in heading over the other side of Lodge Trail Pass.

    This analysis is not only faulty but is ill-willed revisionism at its worst. They didn’t kill off their entire command because they were “unlucky” and happened to choose wrong … they did indeed kill off their entire command because of their own massive egos and indiscipline.

  20. Alan_McIntire says:

    I think the best book on The Little Bighorn campaign was “The Custer Myth”, by W.A. Graham, giving numerous accounts by surviving parties involved, including Crow scouts, Captain Benteen, the results from Major Reno’s court martial, etc.

    As Graham pointed out, ALL accounts should be looked at skeptically. Survivors are in CYA mode- “It wasn’t MY fault-it was the dead guy’s fault”, and of course the deceased are in no position to defend their actions. I suspect that the same applies to the Fetterman fight.

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