Participants in the Battle of the Little Big Horn

  • Participants in the Battle of the Little Big Horn (Second Edition): A Biographical Dictionary of Sioux, Cheyenne and United States Military Personnel by Frederic C. Wagner III, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina and London (2016). Soft cover. 342 pages.
  • The Introduction is devoted to a concise account of the battle from the division of the regiment around noon on 25 June 1876 through to the Indians withdrawing from the field sometime in the afternoon of the following day.
  • The Preface and Acknowledgements gives high praise, indeed, to this reviewer for sharing the findings of his extensive and meticulous study of the lives of those members of the Seventh Cavalry who hailed from the post-1922 United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and continental Europe, which in the words of the author has “… helped the second edition of  Participants to be the best, the most accurate, and the most interesting of its kind ever written.”
  • Section I – The Seventh Cavalry – gives a brief history of the origin and organisation of the regiment which leads directly to many updated individual sketches, arranged alphabetically by surname, of “Soldiers at the Little Big Horn.” This chapter, which runs to 94 pages and not only includes the 607 officers and enlisted men who actually took part in the battle but the officer and 130 men left at the Powder River Depot or elsewhere in the field.  These figures are taken from Appendix A, page 211. The sketches are both interesting and informative.
  • Section II – Civilians, Quartermaster Employees, and Scouts – takes the same format as the previous chapter. The sub-heading ‘Scouts’ is expanded to ‘Enlisted Scouts’ and further divided into Crow, Arikara, and Dakota Scouts, and Other Campaign Indians.
  • Section III – Indians Present and Estimates of Their Strength. Wagner introduces this chapter with a brief insight into the background of the different groups – Dakota or Santee Sioux; Nakota or Yankton, Upper and Yanktonnais; Lakota or Teton Sioux; Cheyenne and Arapaho. A list of some 1,488 Indians “known or believed” to have been at the Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876 is arranged alphabetically under their most commonly recognised name in English. The author quotes widely from the Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger (1877); the Sitting Bull Surrender Census (1881); Stephen Myers’ article, “Roster of Known Hostile Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn,” LBHA Research Review, Vol. 5, No. 2 (June 1991); and, not least, the research of Ephriam Dickson III.
  • Under the sub-heading ‘Estimates of Indian Strength,’ around 50 different figures are quoted with the lowest number being fewer than a thousand warriors and the highest – attributed to Captain Frederick Benteen – from eight to nine thousand ‘hostiles.’ The true number being somewhere in between.
  • Nine Appendices cover a wide range of related topics.
  • Appendix A – Unit Rosters and Strength Summaries – lists by rank and name all those who actually participated in the battle, with a breakdown by company of casualties, both killed and wounded in action, assignment for the whole regiment on 25 June 1876, length of service, country of origin and how many were ‘non-English speaking’.
  • Appendix B compares Lists of Scouts compiled by Roger L. Williams, W. A. Graham and Walter Camp, while Appendix C deals with the demographics and length of service of the enlisted men.
  • Appendix D contains descriptions of Fort Abraham Lincoln and Fort Rice and gives the posting of each of the 12 companies between February and May 1876. I found Appendix E – Horses, Uniforms, Weapons, and Tactics – to be well written and enlightening; in particular the uniforms worn by the officers on the day of the battle.
  • Appendix F – Indian Encampments Leading to the Little Big Horn – traces the line of march from the Powder River, dating from around May 22, until an ever-increasing number arrived at the lower reaches of the Little Big Horn River on 24 June, or possibly a day earlier.
  • Appendix G deals with Indian Dispositions and Weapons, 25 June 1876, with a list of several hundred names, and attempts to place each warrior, including a small number of women, where they are “believed, known or thought” to have participated in the battle. The Indians had a veritable arsenal of firearms, both ancient and modern, including Colts; Remingtons; Sharps; Smith & Wesson; Spencers; Springfields and Winchesters – an amazing total of 34 different models.
  • Appendix H – Indian Population at the Little Big Horn – adds a further  5,060 names of Indians, their age in 1876 and valuable genealogical  information, who the author claims were or could have been in the battle.
  • Appendix I – Maps – A very useful addition to the second edition is the inclusion of three maps that all help the reader to a clearer understanding of the battle.
  • A Bibliography and an Index complete the book.
  • This reviewer is delighted to have been so closely associated with the second edition of such an innovative and inspired work which, while not intended to replace either Military Register of Custer’s Last Command (2009) or Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry (2010), nonetheless will serve as a most useful and informative corrigendum to both of these volumes.
  • Peter Russell

Frederic C. Wagner III, also author ofThe Strategy of Defeat at the Little Big Horn: A Military and Timing Analysis of the Battle (2014), served as an officer both in the U.S. Army and the New York Army National Guard. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran and worked for 22 years on Wall Street, mostly as a commodities broker.

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