Tag: Second Cavalry Regiment

The Fetterman Massacre of 1866

On 21 December 1866, the US Army suffered its worst defeat in the western Indian Wars up to that time (Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn ten years later would surpass it). Captain  William Fetterman (often referred to by his highest Civil War rank of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel), an officer at Fort Phil Kearney, was given the mission to relieve a wood cutting party who had been attacked by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud.


Even during the USA Civil War, American settlers continued to pour into the American west. The settlers went wherever the latest information told them was a “boom” area. In 1864-65, the boom area was in present day western Montana where gold had been found, mainly around Virginia City. The Bozeman Trail was a widened American Indian hunting trail that cut through the heart of Sioux hunting grounds. The area had been confirmed as Sioux tribal land by the Laramie Treaty of 1848. However, immigrants to the west were not known for putting much stock in Indian treaties when gold was in their eyes. A large train of 2,000 settlers had made the trek along the Bozemen in 1864 which electrified the immigrant news network. Soon many more would follow. Unsurprisingly, the Sioux began to attack the parties. News of the dangerousness of the trail spread, settler numbers dropped, which led to calls for protection by USA forces. Construction on Fort Phil Kearny began the summer of 1866, but without enough numbers to truly protect the settlers on the trail. In fact, there were barely enough troops to protect the fort and its activities itself.

The Fetterman Massacre of 1866

Sioux leaders, most prominently Red Cloud and Crazy Horse (also involved in Custer’s Defeat), began attacking hay and wood cutting parties out of the fort almost from its inception. The fort had established a communications procedure for reporting an attack, so that these provisioning parties could call for help. The Sioux learned that they could attack these parties and create havoc at will. As the frustration built with the soldiers of the fort, the command began to talk of taking the initiative to teach the Sioux a lesson. Enter William J. Fetterman. Traditional history states that Fetterman was out to make a name for himself and had bragged, “With 80 men, I could ride through the entire Sioux nation.” This seems a little suspect given that his upcoming impromptu command had exactly 80 men. However, the general demeanor would not have been unheard of with an officer that had attained senior rank in the Civil War and wanted to improve his chances of regaining that rank in a much smaller Regular Army. George Armstrong Custer and Nelson Miles were two other examples of this phenomena.

December 1866 in northern Wyoming was bitterly cold and wood cutting parties had had a hard time keeping up with the demand for firewood

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, so Sioux raiding parties had ample opportunities. The Sioux had attacked several of these parties and began to learn that the frustration was building and that enlarged parties were eager to give chase. On 21 December, Crazy Horse used this tactic to lure Fetterman’s relief party of 80 men (53 infantry and civilian on foot and 27 mounted cavalry) out of the fort with an attack on a wood cutting detail.  In fact, the attack on the wood-cutters was a diversion. As Fetterman maneuvered his 80 man unit with the cavalry in the vanguard to attack the Sioux from the flank, the Indians were seemingly fleeing the area into a valley. Contrary to orders from his commander, Colonel Henry B. Carrington, Fetterman gave chase. What happened exactly is not known to the white man’s history, but what was clear from the battle scene was that Fetterman’s unit was led into an ambush. All 81 were killed. The Fetterman Massacre of 1866 entered into lore.


Or at least, that is the traditional story. A more recent analysis has developed a competing theory that it was not Fetterman who was impetuous, but a junior leader of the party, Lieutenant George W. Drummond. Drummond led a party of 27 cavalrymen from the U.S. 2d Cavalry Regiment (Battlefield Biker’s old regiment). It is quite possible that Drummond’s unit, being on horseback, got too far in front of Fetterman and was ambushed. As Fetterman eclipsed the ridge and found the cavalry decisively engaged, he had little choice, but to ignore Carrington’s orders and try to relieve Drummond’s force. The Sioux had set the perfect trap and destroyed both detachments in order which would explain the battlefield scene found by another relief force that resisted the temptation to enter the valley immediately. The stories are complicated by Drummond’s widow, who later married Carrington, who wrote about the disaster to absolve her husband and Carrington of blame. Captain William J. Fetterman might have been the fall guy for Drummond.


Whatever, the facts of the actual battle, the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, also known as the Fetterman Fight, would prove to put the nail in the coffin of the Army’s attempt to protect the Bozeman Trail. A new Laramie Treaty of 1868 would re-affirm the Sioux ownership of the area and Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned two years after being estblished. The Fetterman Fight was part of what was called Red Cloud’s War and ended up being one of the Plains Indians few unmitigated wins, although the area would become engulfed in war again a decade later.

Fetterman Massacre of 1866 Motorcycle Ride

The Bozeman Trail avoided the mountains, but that is no fun on a motorcycle. My ride recommendation is to go see Fort Phil Kearny, the Fettman Fight site, and the Wagon Box Fight site, then take the Cloud Peak Skyway from Buffalo to Ten Sleep through the Bighorn National Forest and onwards through the Bighorn and Greybull River valleys to Cody, Wyoming. Wonderful country.

The plaque on the Fetterman Massacre Monument

The plaque on the Fetterman Massacre Monument

Marias River Massacre 23 January 1870


At the confluence of the Two Medicine and Cut Bank Rivers is where the Marias River begins and flows east for approximately 60 miles to Lake Elwell, then on for another 80 miles where it meets the Missouri River near Loma, Montana. Somewhere along this stretch of river (possibly here), there lies an ancient American Indian site where Major Eugene Baker of the U.S. Army took his mixed detachment from the 2nd US Cavalry and the 13th Infantry to surround an encampment of Piegan Indians on 22 January 1870. What happened next is clear, but why is not so clear.

A Tragic, Familiar Story

The area had seen an altercation between two hotheads, one white, Malcolm Clarke, and one Indian, Owl Child. Clarke beat Owl Child, who he claimed had stolen his horses. Owl Child retaliated by killing Clarke. As so happened in those days, this caused cries for the army to make sure another white was not killed by another Indian, so Major Baker was sent to teach the Indians a lesson. Baker’s detachment left Fort Shaw on 15 January 1870 and rode north to find a group of Indians known as the Piegans. Baker found an encampment at a big bend on the Marias River and surrounded it in the winter’s night of 22/23 January 1870. There is some debate as to whether Baker knew it was the camp he was looking for or another one.

The Marias River Massacre

On the morning of the incident, also known as the Baker Massacre and the Piegan Massacre, Chief Heavy Runner tried to stop the attack by showing papers that he claimed gave him and his people clear passage in the area. Regardless, Baker issued the order to fire on the camp and many women, children and elderly were killed, the camp was burned and the survivors set afoot in the Montana winter without provisions.

Some said Baker knew that it as the wrong encampment. Some said he didn’t care. Some said he was a drunken commander and didn’t know what was happening. None of the PR options were good and the Army made it worse by ignoring, at the least, but probably covering up the massacre. As so often happened in these cases in the U.S. Army, a young soldier steps up where his superiors have fallen down and tells the truth. Lieutenant William Pease, acting as a Blackfoot agent, reported the massacre to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely Samuel Parker. Parker, a Civil War veteran, confidante to U.S. Grant and an Iroquois Indian whose Indian name was Donehogawa, demanded a investigation, but the outcome was prevarication as the U.S. Army closed ranks with General William Tecumseh Sherman saying he would prefer to believe his soldiers.

In the end, no official recognition of the Marias River Massacre was forthcoming and only time has brought a gradual acceptance of the fact of this massacre. Author Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, puts the casualties at 33 men, 90 women and 50 children. Stan Gibson has investigated the topic deeply. He and Jack Hayne are working on a book on the topic.

If you are teaching this topic to 7-12th grade students, there is a good looking lesson plan that uses the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook by Holmes, Krys, Susan C. Dailey, and David Walter. Helena, Mont: Montana Historical Society Press, 2008. You can find the relevant chapter 7 online.

Marias River Massacre Motorcycle Ride

This is a long ride starting and ending at Browning, Montana at the Museum of the Plains Indians. The ride passes through the origin of the Marias River and also runs about 5 miles north and parallel to the Marias for a good while on the beautiful U.S. Highway 2. This is a good description of the things to see along this route

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, including a Cold War missile Silo. As always, good Battlefield Biking requires the courtesy to ask for permission to travel on private roads. Be polite and ensure the rest of us can enjoy the ride too.

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Seminoles Attack Camp Monroe Florida 8 February 1837

Photo by John Stanton via Creative Commons License.

By Spring of 1835 trouble between the Florida indigenous population was brewing again. The U.S. government was trying to force the Seminoles to leave Florida for the Indian Territory of present day Oklahoma. The enticement to move was flimsy (a blanket per man and a pittance paid to the tribe), so the Seminoles ignored the Treaty of Payne’s Landing which spelled out the conditions of removal. The Seminoles found their voice in a firebrand, Osceola, who had fought with the Creeks against Andrew Jackson. What followed was the Second Seminole / Florida War.

Attack Camp Monroe

On 8 February 1837, two Seminole leaders, Emaltha (King Philip) and his son, Coacoochee (Wildcat), led 200 Seminoles on a strike on the fledgling Camp Monroe, near present day Sanford, Florida, on the south lip of Lake Monroe. The camp was caught off guard, but was able to fight off the assault with the help from a steamboat on the lake that was equipped with a canon. The toll was an undetermined number of Seminole killed

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, one U.S. soldier killed and eleven wounded. The U.S. soldier was Captain Charles Mellon of the 2nd U.S. Artillery. The camp was later named Fort Mellon in his honor. The area was later renamed Sanford. More can be found at The History of the Second Cavalry (Dragoons at that time).

The Seminoles delivered many of these blows to the U.S. Army during this classic guerilla war. The war often seemed unwinnable and the costs became a real problem for the new republic. Congress debated the war ad nauseum. If this seems familiar, you might want to read an analysis of the military strategy of the Second Seminole War by a modern day warrior. Major White’s conclusion sounds pretty familiar,

Eventually the Army did remove over 3OOO Seminoles to the West. Even though only a relative few managed to evade capture, the government fell short of accomplishing the political end state. The real lessons from the war concern how the Army preferred to view itself as a conventional power and was totally unprepared to fight an unconventional war. Even as they gained valuable lessons on Indian fighting, they lacked the institutions to pass these lessons along to the officers and men. Therefor[e], throughout the 19th century, the Army offered not one shred of training in preparation for an enemy it would ultimately end up fighting throughout the period of western expansion.”

Attack Camp Monroe Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

When you are next in the Orlando area, leave the kids and the wife at Disney World, rent a bike and check out this ride around Lake Monroe, through some of central Florida’s wilder areas and over to Ponce de Leon inlet where the European began his conquest of Florida.

The Burial at St Augustine – Second Seminole War Memorial

Cross-posted at Dragoon History.

Photo Credit – By Ebyabe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Reading From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry, I slowed to read this poem again. It is about the lost troopers of the First Seminole War, 1835-1842, but it is timeless and could have been written in Iraq or Afghanistan. The only difference is that we bring them home these days. Toujours Prêt, Fellas.

The Burial.

Hollow ye the lonely grave.
Make its caverns deep and wide ;
In the soil they died to save
Lay the brave men side by side.
Side by side they fought and fell,
Hand to hand they met the foe ;
Who was heard his grandsire tell
Braver strife or deadlier blow ?

Wake no mournful harmonies,
Shed no earthly tear for them ;
Summer dew and sighing breeze
Shall be wail and requiem.
Pile the grave-mound broad and high
Where the martyred brethren sleep ;
It shall point the pilgrim eye
Here to bend, but not to weep.

Not to weep ! Oh ! no ; the grief
Springing from a blow like this
May not seek a fond relief
In the drops that mother’s kiss ;
But the kindling heart shall bear
Hence the lesson, stern and high,
With as proud a flame to dare,
With a proud a throb to die.

“… On the 15th of August, 1842, the monument having been completed, the gallant dead were interred in the ground selected near Ft. Marion at San Augustine.”

“A mound of pyramidal form had been erected over each of the three vaults in which the remains were placed; each mound was five feet high, and rested on a bank of turf nicely terraced; on the marble surface of the tombs had been inscribed the names of those resting beneath.”

From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry, pages 75-76 and Appendix XXXII

Second Seminole War Memorial Inscriptions

The NATO Frontier Border with the Warsaw Pact from 1948 to 1990


I haven’t often written about my own military experience on this site, but I thought I might update this old post to explain a little of what we used to do in the Cold War.

I got posted to Germany in June of 1988 with the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment (2ACR) and the border was the reason I had requested the posting. It was one of only a few places in the Army at that time that had a real readiness rating to keep things fixed and running as if the balloon might go up at any time (Korea being the other main one). 2ACR had a long lineage of distinguished service going back to the Seminole Indian Wars in 1836 and they had retained that strong history after World War II by assuming the front line against the Russians and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. A lot more of 2ACR’s history can be found here.

When discussing my border service, it is important to point out that I am speaking of the frontier border of West Germany and not the border in Berlin. Everyone assumes you mean Berlin when you speak of the Cold War border, but the frontier border was the long border between NATO member, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG or West Germany), and the Warsaw Pact members of Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic (DDR or East Germany). Even more specifically, the 2ACR was responsible for the Bavarian (FRG state) border from Austria to a point near Bad Konigshofen, west of Coburg, FRG. In Germany (east and west), the border followed the historical borders of Bavaria with Saxony and Thuringia. The border with the then Czechoslovakia (modern day Czech Republic), Bavaria bordered the Karlovy Vary, Plzen and South Bohemia regions. The 11th ACR had the next, northern, stretch of the Thuringia border with Bavaria and Hesse until it met the British sector in the far North.

Dreilandereck - FRG DDR CZ c. 1988

The Tri-zonal point of FRG / DDR / Czech borders (Dreilandereck) Winter 1988-1989

Border Sectors

For US Army forces, the border was split between the 2d ACR in the south and the 11th ACR in the north.

11ACR Sectors2ACR Sectors

Significance of the NATO Frontier Border

The reason this area was so important to NATO in the Cold war was that the Fulda Gap in 11ACR sector and, to a lesser degree, the Meiningen and Hof Gaps in the 2ACR sector provided the most likely avenues of approach for a Soviet thrust into West Germany. NATO believed it could win a drawn out conventional war, but feared a deep Soviet thrust into the FRG that would so rattle the NATO allies that it could not be overcome. Therefore, the thin line of hyper-alert cavalry regiments along the most likely avenues of approach seemed to provide the best chance of detecting potential Soviet movements and moving quickly enough to stem the tide. Those of us who manned this border often, only half-jokingly, referred to ourselves as the world’s most effective speed bumps.

The Physical Border and the Make-Up of the NATO Frontier Border

The border when I was there had quietened down from its worst times of the 1940s through the 1970s. Events such as the Berlin airlift, the 1st Russian nuclear weapon, the space race, the Berlin Wall and Vietnam kept NATO and the Warsaw Pact faced off at high alert. However, there were still sectors of heavily mined fence zones until the early 80s. Particularly gruesome were the automatically triggered “shotgun” mines that were placed at different heights on the fence and had a 25 meter blast radius. Even until the end of 1989, the fences and walls were formidable obstacles to civilians trying to escape. And, if there was any doubt what the border was designed for, one need only look at who built the fences and what they were designed to do.

DDR Fence Zone StructureCzechoslavakian Fence Zone Structure

US Cavalry Patrols

We had variable schedules and tiered configurations for patrolling the border in the 2ACR sector. At any given time, a Troop (company) from each of the 3 ground Squadrons (battalions) would occupy a border camp(s) in their assigned portion along the whole Regiment’s sector. Each camp had a camp duty officer (usually one of the Troops platoon leaders) who was responsible for all operations in that camp’s area of operations. Each camp would be on 3 levels of readiness. 1st, several patrols a day, usually led by Sergeants, would keep up a presence on the border. 2nd, a reaction force would be ready to roll extra patrols or the whole reaction platoon and its armored vehicles to a border section within 15 minutes. 3rd, the whole troop could muster and be ready to move within an hour.
During my time there, it was not common to have major issues on the border, but each patrol would normally spot our opposite number on the ground on the other side of the border. Of course, the towers were usually manned. We sometimes saw Russians, but normally we saw East German troops.
The patrols were conducted in HMMWVs (Hummers) or Mercedes 300 series SUVs normally, but also on foot inserted by trucks or helicopters. In the winter, it was not unheard of to patrol on nordic skis. Additionally, the 2ACR’s 4th Squadron of helicopters, kept up a routine of over-flights along the border.

High Tension Events

Very occasionally, we would have an event that would warrant a heightened state of alert. Some of these would be a Soviet aircraft tracking or pacing a Regimental aircraft which was considered aggressive. Other issues, would be observed alerts on the other side of the border or the most anticipated of all events, an International Border Crossing (IBC). About once a quarter, some east German would make it across the heavily fortified area and make it to freedom. These were normally co-ordinated through family members in West Germany and the FRG agencies (Zoll, Grenze Polizei or Bundesgrenzshutz (BGS)). The Regiment never caught an IBC whilst I was there, but there were always stories of some old Sergeant somewhere who had helped an IBC across the border back in the 1960s or 70s.


We won! Eventually. Which is the only good news. I was on the border, the day it fell. That afternoon, I went out to the road crossing to see the spectacle. There were miles of Trabants lining up to enter West Germany. In the years following the fall of the eastern bloc, I’ve had occasion to speak to East Germans, but mostly Czechs and Poles. They had a very hard life during the time I was enjoying all of the western treats a kid from Kentucky gets in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I wish we had won a lot earlier. I have now also traveled extensively through Poland, East Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states. They are still recovering a sense of self and creating lives that they can be happy with. If you are ever tempted to say they had it better in some areas than we in the West did, I suggest you go and talk to a few more of them…. you’re sample size may be limited.
I am very proud of my service on the border and I hope we continue to look back on it with pride for many generations.


Take a ride, hike and/or drive in the Frankenwald Park in northeastern Bavaria near Hof, Germany and go to Mödlareuth to get a good feel for what the area was like during the Cold War. 27 years on, the vestiges of the border are fading, but at Mödlareuth there is an open air museum to commemorate the time.

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