ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
The plan adopted for the summer campaign was an advance in three columns to a common center in southeastern Montana where the hostiles were believed to be. General Crook was to march north from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, with Companies A, B, D, E, and I, Second Cavalry, ten companies of the Third Cavalry, and three companies of the Ninth and two of the Fourth Infantry, besides scouts, packers and teamsters, in all a force of about 1,250 men. General Terry was to march west from Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, with the Seventh Cavalry and six companies of infantry, about 1,000 men. Colonel Gibbon was to come east from Fort Ellis, Montana, with Companies F, G, H, and L, Second cavalry, and six companies of infantry, about 400 men. This latter column was to join Terry and be part of his command.
General Crook moved out from Fort Fetterman May 29, 1876, along the old Bozeman Trail, the same route taken by him in March. Occasional signs of the enemy broke the routine of the march, but on June 9 the Indians made a desultory attack upon the camp without much result. About 6:30 p.m. the pickets of the camp, made up of Company D, Second Cavalry, were fired upon. The guards were soon driven toward camp and the hostiles took position in the rocks, delivering uncomfortable but ineffective fire upon the troops. A battalion of the Third Cavalry was sent to drive away the Indians. Company B, Second Cavalry, under Captain Rawolle, garrisoned the bluff to prevent the return of the savages. General Crook made this location on Goose Creek near the head of the Tongue River his supply base. The Crow and Shoshone scouts arrived June 14, about 200 in number, and informed General Crook that the Sioux were encamped on the Rosebud River to the north.
General Crook parked his wagons at this camp, mounted his infantry on mules from the trains, and started for the Rosebud March 16. Each soldier carried four days’ rations of hard bread, coffee, and bacon, with 100 rounds of ammunition and one blanket per person. On the morning of June 17, at about 8:00 o’clock, the command halted in a deep valley at the head of the Rosebud, unsaddled, and let the horses graze. The Crow and Shoshone scouts had gone on ahead to look for the Sioux. Before the troops had long halted, the scouts came rushing into camp to give the alarm. The troops were given the order to saddle, and by that time the enemy appeared on the bluffs above them.
Crazy Horse had not waited for the troops to arrive at his village but decided to plan his own battlefield in the canon of the Rosebud. He hoped to draw the soldiers down the valley to a point where the front was closed by a natural dam and abatis of timber. His warriors would attack them from the rear and the whole command would be shut off from an exit. As the savages were estimated in numbers from 1,250 to 6,000, the result of such an attack might have been the same as happened to Custer’s regiment.
The fight opened when General Crook ordered Captain Mills with four companies of the Third Cavalry to charge the bluffs where the Indians first appeared. After a slow march over rough ground this line finally reached the summit, where the hostiles did not give ground until the troops were within fifty yards. Here the battalion formed a dismounted line along the rocky crest. Two more troops of the Third Cavalry were ordered to occupy the left rear of this force. The other four troops of the Third Cavalry charged the right of the savages and then went into dismounted action. The five troops of the Second Cavalry were kept in reserve along the river line. The scouts were ordered to attack from the two flanks.
The Sioux rallied from this attack and occupied a second crest, somewhat out of rifle shot. General Crook ordered his whole line to mount and charge. This was done and the troops occupied this new crest, the enemy moving farther to the rear. The friendly scouts had been rallied after a setback and now came charging through the line occupied by Captain Mills’ battalion. The men were forced to stop firing to prevent shooting them, and watched the fight. After a spirited encounter in front of the lines, these Indians withdrew, having given a good account of themselves.
In order to check the aggressiveness of the Sioux it was decided to drive them from the third ridge. This was accomplished in good order except on the left of the line, which was opposed by the best Cheyenne warriors. Troop L, Third Cavalry, was cut off and partially surrounded at this place, but was rescued through the efforts of Colonel Royal, who commanded the left.
General Crook had received information that the village of the Sioux was located seven miles down the valley of the Rosebud. He ordered Captain Mills’ battalion of the Third Cavalry and the five companies of the Second, under Captain Noyes, which had been in reserve, to move down the valley and destroy the village. Emboldened by what they thought was a withdrawal when they saw this force leaving, the savages attacked with much vigor, especially on the left of the line. After a short march down the valley, Mills’ force was overtaken with an order from General Crook to return and attack the enemy rear opposite the left of the friendly troops. The savages had been attacking this part of the line so aggressively that the General felt there was some doubt whether Colonel Royal’s troops could hold out. The Sioux scouts saw this force coming and notified their comrades. Soon the Indians were picking up their dead and wounded preparatory to withdrawing. Before Mills’ command reached the line, the savages had withdrawn permanently and the battle was over.
It was now the middle of the afternoon and camp was made on the battlefield. A check-up showed that thirteen dead Indians were left on the field. The casualties of the troops were nine killed and fifteen wounded. Travois were made on which to transport the wounded. The troops were formed in a circle around the horses and pack train to prevent a stampede. General Crook decided to withdraw to his base of supplies the following day. His rations were nearly used up and his ammunition was running low. His chance of surprising the Sioux at their village was gone. If he attacked them at that place, there would be a larger number opposed to him than during the fight on June 17.