Tag: George Armstrong Custer

Battle of Wolf Mountain 8 January 1877

Background

After the disaster of the Battle of Little Bighorn where George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was nearly wiped out and Custer was killed, the U.S. Army tried desperately to get the Indians back onto the reservations and secure concessions. The Army Indian fighters of the upper American plains went hell for leather in harrying American Indian leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. However, the harsh winter of 1876-1877 made it hard for the US Army to conduct the pursuit. General George Crook called an end to the campaigning season until the weather eased. However, the aggressive, but vain General Nelson “Bear Coat” Miles wanted none of Crook’s waiting and launched new offensives over Christmas 1876 and into early 1877 in search of Crazy Horse’s Oglala Sioux. The Indians had felt they were secure for the winter, because the Army did not normally pursue them in the think of the northern plains’ winter.

Sioux and Cheyenne Join Forces

The Sioux were in decent shape, but some of their Cheyenne allies who joined them were ragged from lack of provisions and the weather. Most of the Cheyenne wanted to re-enter the reservation to secure provisions. However, others, including most of the Sioux, did not want to concede the Black Hills in return for the provisions. These fractures in the coalition caused many discussions  amongst the Indians in search of consensus throughout December 1876. In the mean time, Miles was wading through the deep snow in search of Crazy Horse’s trail. The situation for the Sioux was growing tense with Miles stalking them. On 7 January 1877, Crazy Horse found and attacked Miles’ column on the Tongue River, but the Indians were rebuffed and Miles took a Cheyenne contingent prisoner.  Thereafter, Miles encountered repeated raids to free the prisoners, so he decided to set up a defensive position near Wolf Mountain. Simultaneously, the Sioux and Cheyenne moved their villages further north along the Tongue River to get away from Miles.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain

On the morning of 8 January 1877 the battle commenced in a blizzard with Crazy Horse attacking from various angles, but he did not find a crease to exploit. As the weather cleared a bit, Miles was able to get range with his artillery which prompted an advance on Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse had no choice, but to retreat to save his force. The numbers lost by both sides were small and the battle may have gone down as a draw. However, the larger point was made on the Indians by the Battle of Wolf Mountain, also known as the Battle of the Butte. They were not safe from US forces in their own areas, even in the dead of winter. Total capitulation was to follow shortly. Miles was not liked by much of anyone, but his successes were rewarded and he eventually became the Commanding General of the US Army in 1895.

Battle of Wolf Mountain Motorcycle Ride

For a good long run all around the area of Miles’ and Crazy Horse’s actions in the Tongue River area, try this ride from Sheridan, WY to Decker, MT to Birney, MT to Ashland, MT to Busby, MT, and finishing at the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield, which I highly recommend. This is a long run for bikes with smaller gas tanks with few fuel points. Make sure you top up in Sheridan, WY before making this run. Some of it is gravel road too, so be careful out there. The Battle of Wolf Mountain Battlefield is approximately 4 miles southwest of Birney, MT. It is under the private ownership of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. The Battlefield Biker’s fellow riders are a polite and respectful bunch, so please ask for permission before entering private lands.

British and Kentucky Riflemen Battle of Frenchtown 22 Jan 1813

Since its shameful fall in August 1812 with scarcely a shot fired in defense, the Americans wanted Detroit back. So embarrassed by it, a winter campaign was conceived to win it back. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, was selected to take back the area and further the American goals in the War of 1812. Harrison’s second in command was General James Winchester. The two split their forces to move on Detroit.

On 18 January 1813, Winchester’s lead elements entered Frenchtown (near modern day Monroe, Michigan) and took it in a short battle with a handful of British Regulars and a couple of hundred of local Indians. The American soldiers were militia that had recently been recruited in Kentucky and marched north with severe privation. The Kentuckians found great stores of food and gorged themselves for several days. Unfortunately, their officers had not ordered them to fortify the area for a counter-attack.

Battle of Frenchtown

A mixed force of British, under Colonel Henry Procter, and Shawnee, under Chief Tecumseh, counter-attacked on 22 January 1813. There followed a fierce battle that would go down as one of the biggest ground battles in the War of 1812. The British and Indians attacked across the American front. The American right flank was enveloped and surrendered, including Winchester. The left flank, however was holding well along a fence in the west of the area. The Kentuckians there were not surprised to see a British truce party arrive, but they were surprised to hear that it was the Kentuckian’s surrender they were after. Winchester had sent word that they should give up. The Kentuckians did surrender, but only with the assurance that the captured would be protected from the Indians.

The British then quickly unoccupied the area of operations for they feared that Harrison’s column would soon descend on Frenchtown. They left the prisoners with Tecumseh’s force. Some, but not all, of the Kentucky prisoners left with the Indians were massacred. The remainder were taken to Detroit for ransom. The Raisin River Massacre became a rallying point for remainder of the war in the old northwest. The event had a solidifying effect on the frontiersman for the war that was not there previously. Future Kentucky units rushed north yelling, “Remember the Raisin!” The area was re-captured by Kentucky cavalry units in September 1813.

Trivia; Although born in Ohio, George Armstrong Custer lived in Monroe as a boy and married a local girl. No doubt, young Custer would have heard the story of the massacre in his local school.

Battle of Frenchtown Motorcycle Ride

Check out the Raisin River Battlefield National Park. Then go from the Raisin River Battlefield Visitor’s Center and follow the Raisin River out to Raisinville, Dundee and back to Monroe to the Sterling State Park.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid 28 February to 1 March 1864

By early 1864, Lincoln was despairing that he could find no General to prosecute the Union’s war against the South in the eastern theatre. All of his leaders around the Potomac seemed to be frozen with indecision and a fear of failure. Much to his delight, a plan from a junior Cavalry General, H. Judson Kilpatrick, came into his view through Secretary of War Stanton. Kilpatrick knew that his immediate superiors would either poo-poo the idea or steal it as their own, so he approached Lincoln’s administration directly through back channels. Such was the state of the Union military leadership in the east. Kilpatrick was proposing a daring raid into the mouth of the lion to snatch Federal prisoners held in deplorable conditions in Confederate held Richmond. Kilpatrick’s plan suggested more as well. Stanton and Lincoln were attracted by the idea that a raid into Richmond, apart from freeing prisoners, would also serve as a huge propaganda victory. Kilpatrick was summoned to Washington for a private meeting with Stanton and given the go ahead. Kilpatrick’s superior’s were not amused, although they had no choice but to support him as he had the direct support of Lincoln.

Kilpatrick, like many Cavalry officers from the North and South, had dreams of great daring-do, but was known to some peers and subordinates as “KillCavalry” for his reckless behavior. However, many, including Lincoln, believed that more of this type of risk taking was necessary to dislodge a stubborn foe in Virginia. Kilpatrick had no problem attracting another officer of similar ideals, named Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. Dahlgren, the son of a Union Admiral, had made his name in previous engagements, including chasing Lee’s forces out of Maryland after Gettysburg, and lost a leg for his work. Having recovered and sporting a prosthetic leg, Dahlgren was ready for more grandiose riding.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid

The operation started just before midnight on the night of the 28th of February 1864. They were aided by a diversionary attack further west by General Sedgewick and a Cavalry Brigade commander who probably would have longed to have been involved in the raid. His name was George Armstrong Custer. The diversion drew the Rebels west and cleared a path for Kilpatrick and Dahlgren. Custer was especially effective in drawing the Confederates on a wild goose chase as far away as Charlottesville. Leaving Elys Ford at the Rapidan River, north of Chancellorsville, the The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid set out at a good cavalry pace and reached Spotsylvania courthouse by leap day, 1864. Here, they split forces with Kilpatrick heading straight into Richmond from the north with 7/8ths of the force. Dahlgren took a wide, westerly path to enter Richmond from the southwest with a force of approximately 500. The idea was to give the impression that the city was being attacked from multiple sides and cause panic long enough to get the prisoners out. If they could destroy a few things in Richmond, all the better.

Kilpatrick continued well through appalling weather of sleet and high winds. Dahlgren met a slave boy to guide him over a ford-able point on the James River and was on time, so was feeling pretty high at this point. Kilpatrick fired flares to see if Dahlgen would respond, but the weather was so bad that the flares could only be seen locally. Both drove on, but Dahlgren soon came to grief as the guide led him to a point at the rain swollen James that they could not ford. Dahlgren was thrown off track and was furious. The boy probably just did not know that the river was that high, but this did not appease Dahlgren. In a fit of rage, Dahlgren hung the boy for treachery. Unable to find a fording point, Dahlgren was stuck and could not complete his mission. Kilpatrick had entered north Richmond by now and encountered a force of old men and clerks, but misread the situation as regular troops. In an uncharacteristic delay, Kilpatrick hesitated whilst he waited for the signal from Dahlgren that the southwest attack was on. The “Dad’s Army” force held on well and long enough for re-enforcements to arrive and drive Kilpatrick off. Kilpatrick now decided to avoid the fate of the prisoners he had come to save, but left Dahlgren in a bind by pulling back. Kilpatrick was harried all the way back to Union lines, but Dahlgren and many of his 500 were to die trying to elude the Confederates.

The The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid was a failure on the tactical as well as strategic front, but it was to get worse. The Rebels searched Dahlgren’s body and allegedly found orders to destroy Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. The Union denied the existence of such orders, but the outrage in the South had the opposite effect of the propaganda coup Lincoln had hoped for.

Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I call this ride the “Rapidan Return.” It covers the path Kilpatrick took to Richmond and then passes over the James River near Goochland where Dalgren had hoped to cross. It continues on the beautiful VA state routes 6 and 20 to Charlottesville where Custer worked the area. the ride finishes near the battlefield parks of WildernessChancellorsville and Spotsylvania.

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