Friday, November 12, 2010

Learning from others.

"Boys, hold your horses, there are plenty of them down there for all of us."*
George A. Custer. June 25th,1876

I am sure we are all familiar with the story of George Custer and the 7th's last stand. He set out on a punitive campaign against the Souix nation and, instead of waiting for his superior officer and the rest of the army, he divided his forces and rode to glory on the hills near the Little Big Horn River in Montana.

Custer's concern seemed to be, primarily, that the Lakota would escape his grasp before he was able to ride his troops through their village and send them reeling. Custer was relying on his experiences, which told him that no Indian village could stand against the well disciplined and well armed forces of the U.S. Army. In the past, his superior tactics and weaponry had always carried the day as he stormed into villages or drove off marauding bands of braves.

Perhaps if, instead of relying merely on his experiences, he remembered what had happened to Capt. William Fetterman and his men ten years earlier, he may have been a bit more cautious. Fetterman (who may be a relative of mine), was convinced that, due to the superiority of the U.S. cavalry, he could ride through the whole Sioux nation with just 80 troopers.

Things didn't quite go as planned as he faced a bunch of Lakota warriors (including Crazy Horse, instrumental in organizing the battle at the Little Big Horn). Using the oldest trick in the book, Crazy Horse and a few others led Fetterman's command over a hill into a horde of marauding killers. These marauding killers killed every one of them. All 80 of them.

Maybe if Custer had remembered the lessons of the Fetterman Massacre that the angry nomads of the plains really could organize themselves into an effective fighting force and that it is not good to be woefully outnumbered and outmanuevered by people who want to kill you and mutilate your lifeless body, he would have been less eager to divide his forces and ride to his doom. Instead, he relied on his experiences, that told him he could charge a village, get the inhabitants panicked and kill most of them.

This reinforces my belief that it is always better to learn from the mistakes of others when you can.

* The Last Stand
Nathaniel Philbrick
pg. 164

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