With Custer on the Little Bighorn: A Newly Discovered First-person Account
In 1872, seventeen-year-old William O. Taylor, barely five feet tall, enlisted in the army at Troy, New York. Almost immediately he was assigned to the Seventh Cavalry. At 12:30 p.m. on the fateful day, June 25, 1876, Taylor's contingent, under the command of Major Marcus Reno, was told to move forward "at as rapid a gait as prudent and charge afterwards." At the same time, General George A. Custer and his force left the trail and moved right. Suddenly, Taylor and his comrades were caught in a furious surprise attack by the Sioux. "The Death Angel," writes Private Taylor, "was very near."
For thirty-six hours, without water, Taylor's battalion was dug in until finally reinforced by other troops of the Seventh Cavalry. It was then they learned that only a short distance away, Custer's force had been annihilated.
Beginning at 5:00 a.m. on the morning of June 27, Private Taylor and the remnants of his regiment attended to the burial of Custer's dead.
"The most that could be done," writes Taylor in his extraordinary account of a military disaster that will never be erased from the American consciousness, "was to cover the remains with some branches of sagebrush and scatter a little earth on top, enough to cover their nakedness, a covering that would remain but a few hours at the most when the wind and rain would undo our work, and the wolves whose mournful and ominous howls we had already heard, would scatter their bones over the surrounding ground."
The memories of that singular event in American history obsessed William O. Taylor for the rest of his days. The result is this moving personal and revelatory memoir published here for the first time since its creation.
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With Custer on the Little Bighorn: a newly discovered first-person accountUser Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
In 1876, William Taylor was a corporal in the Seventh Cavalry, assigned to A Troop, which was part of the battalion at the Little Bighorn. From this vantage point he takes the reader along on a vivid ... Read full review
"With Custer" is very much a niche book for experienced Custerphiles.
William O. Taylor's account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn from his perspective as a soldier within Company A of the 7th Cavalry reveals much in the way of detail regarding movements and events leading up to the battle and its accompanying horrors once it began. But of course there's little light to be shed upon the death of Custer and those companies of the 7th who perished with him on Last Stand Hill, as Taylor's Co. A was one of three units assigned to Major Marcus Reno and split off from Custer's direct command, four miles distant from the site of their demise.
His words are nonetheless significant and insightful, as Reno's units were the ones who commenced the attack, survived an onslaught and siege by vastly superior numbers of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, and buried their fallen comrades once they learned of their fate upon the arrival of General Terry's command at the battlefield. Taylor devoted years after the life-altering battle to speaking with 7th Cavalry comrades, revisiting the battlefield, meeting with native participants in the battle and researching military and governmental archives.
His devotion to the subject shows within this fairly concise work. He avoids speculation, provides focused testimony as to the course of events and passes no judgement upon the cast of characters who made up the 7th's leadership on that fateful day. What happened happened, and likely would have happened in much the same way whether or not Custer divided his command, Crook warned of his very hot engagement with the very same Sioux and Cheyenne one week earlier, Capt. Benteen had arrived post-haste with the ammunition packs, or any number of other such decisions/actions had played out differently.
Taylor spends little time on that most favored American exercise of placing blame. The 7th Cavalry faced the largest gathering of native peoples in North American history on that scorching June day in 1876, and a vast chain of circumstances combined to create one of the greatest mismatches of might, culture and cause in world history. William O. Taylor has given his readers a heartfelt and earnest glimpse into the lives of those who lived and died during its course.
This work by Edward T. Custard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U.S. License