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Comanche Campaign - 1867-1875

Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, commander of the Department of the Missouri, instituted winter campaigning in 1868 as a means of locating the elusive Indian bands of the region. Notable incidents in the campaigns from then until 1875 against the Indians in the border regions of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas were the nine-day defense of Beecher's Island against Roman Nose's band in September 1868 by Maj. George A. Forsyth's detachment; the defeat of Black Kettle on the Washita (Oklahoma) on 27 November 1868 by Lt. Col. Custer and the 7th Cavalry; the crushing of the Cheyennes under Tall Bull at Summit Spring (Colorado) on 13 May 1869; the assault on the Kiowa-Comanche camp in Palo Duro Canyon on 27 September 1875 by Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie; and the attack and rout of Greybeard's big Cheyenne encampment in the Texas Panhandle on 8 November 1875 by 1st Lt. Frank Baldwin's detachment, spearheaded by infantry loaded in mule wagons.

LTG Sheridan had great success from 1867 to 1883, conducting four major campaigns against the Plains Indians. First, the Cheyenne War, which lasted from 1868 to 1869, culminated with LTC Custers defeat of the Cheyenne at the Battle of Washita. The second campaign, the Red River War, fought from 1874 to 1875, ended with the defeat of the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa Indians. The third campaign, the Centennial Campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne, from March to September 1876, included several significant failures that did not occur in the first two campaigns. Major failures included the operational culmination of General Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud and the annihilation of LTC Custer and five companies of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Both of these defeats led to LTG Sheridans operational failure. LTG Sheridans fourth major campaign began in September 1876, and lasted until May 1877, when Crazy Horse and his band of Sioux warriors surrendered. The 1876 - 1877 Sioux Campaign was a follow-up operation with a new operational approach to defeat the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians.

On 27 November 1868, Custer and the 7th Cavalry attacked the sleeping village of Black Kettle on the Washita River in Indian territory (northwest of present-day Elk City, Oklahoma). This successful attack, where Custers troops surrounded the sleeping village and attacked at sunrise, became the model for attacking an unsuspecting village. Since Custer had moved his forces in after nightfall without conducting a proper reconnaissance, he was unaware that at least seven other villages were encamped in close proximity to Black Kettles village. When they heard the attack, Indian warriors massed on the high ground overlooking the battlefield. Only through a brash demonstration of marching toward the subsequent camps did Custer extract the 7th Cavalry from this predicament.

In the three most significant engagements the Washita (November 1868), Soldier Spring (December 1868), and Summit Springs (July 1869) the field commanders managed to surprise and overrun Indian villages. The destruction of these villages was a significant psychological blow to the Southern Plains tribes; they could no longer count on the vastness of the territory nor challenging winter conditions to protect them from the soldiers. At the tactical level, the Army established a formula for battlefield success: offensive action to maintain the initiative, relentless pursuit, attack from multiple directions to confuse and panic the enemy, and disciplined firepower to hold the undisciplined Indian warriors at bay.

Since warfare was a central part of the Plains Indian culture, it is easy to understand their violent resistance. It took massive force of arms to seize and occupy their lands. As warfare was deeply imprinted in the American settlers culture as well, the stage was set for long periods of violence, broken only by intermittent lapses of peace, until one side finally achieved permanent dominance.

Sheridan initiated operations on the Southern Plains in 1868 to protect the emigrant trails, ensure the safety of the Kansas Pacific Railroad work crews and protect the Kansas settlements. The 1868 Winter Campaign fell short of the goal with many of the Cheyenne bands remaining defiant against the US Government. However, Carrs victory at Summit Springs attained the Armys desired objective. The Dog Soldiers were no longer a threat to the Southern Plains, and their defeat broke the other Cheyenne bands will to continue resistance. The Cheyenne and other Southern Plains tribes reluctantly accepted an Executive Order that confined them to a small reservation in western Oklahoma.



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