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What About George Armstrong Custer led to his defeat?

What about George Armstrong Custer led him to his destiny at the Battle of the Little Big Horn? More accurately named the Battle of the Greasy Grass by the victors? From his time at West Point, through the Civil War, his character, or lack thereof, was apparent but not paid attention to.

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What About George Armstrong Custer led to his defeat?

  1. 1. How and Why Did Custer Lead the 7th Cavalry Into a Massacre?
  2. 2. The Rule of Seven: Every catastrophe has 7 events. Six Cascade Events leading to the final event, the Catastrophe. At least one of the Cascade Events involves human error. Thus most catastrophes can be avoided. Anatomy of Catastrophe
  3. 3. “There are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the Seventh Cavalry.” George Armstrong Custer Little Bighorn: Leadership Failure
  4. 4. On 25 June 1876, 5 of the 12 companies of the US 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer’s command were annihilated by a combined force of Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe Native Americans under the leadership of Crazy Horse and Gall. THE FACTS
  5. 5. 1861: Custer graduates West Point. Last in his class. 27 November 1868: The Battle of Washita River. 2 August 1874: Custer reports finding gold ‘right from the grass roots’ in the Black Hills. THE TIMELINE
  6. 6. 25 June 1876; 10:50 am: Custer decides to attack the Native American encampment on the Little Big Horn River. 12:12 pm: First divide of Custer’s command as Benteen’s column splits off. 2:15 pm: Second divide of Custer’s command as Reno’s column splits off. Reno quickly becomes engaged in battle. THE TIMELINE
  7. 7. 25 June 1876; 3:33 pm: Reno’s command retreats into the trees along the Little Big Horn River, hard pressed by the Native Americans. 3:56 pm: Custer’s companies advance down Medicine Tail Coulee. 5:00 pm: Last of heavy firing heard from Custer’s position. THE TIMELINE
  8. 8. West Point, Civil War, and Indian War records of George Armstrong Custer foretold a leader big on ego, bravery, and foolishness. -Last in his class at West Point. -Court-martialed at West Point right after graduation. -Became a general at 23; 7th Cavalry was the smallest unit he ever commanded. -His unit in the Civil War had one of the highest % of casualties. -He went AWOL in 1867 yet he summarily executed soldiers who went AWOL. -Split his command in 1868 attacking Black Kettle’s village & abandoned a lost element of his command to be massacred. Cascade 1
  9. 9. Lesson: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and ‘good’ luck can have disastrous consequences down the line. In combat, such luck can make one believe in their own invulnerability and engender a delusional mindset. Custer was more lucky than talented.
  10. 10. Custer’s ego and ambition. -Custer not only believed himself greater than any situation he was in, he was always seeking greater glory and position. -Custer took actions filtered through the narcissistic lens of: “How will this benefit me?” -1876 was the Centennial, with the 4th of July just weeks away and the Democratic Convention looming; Custer desired to achieve a significant victory in time for it. Cascade 2
  11. 11. LESSON: The human ego can believe it is stronger than any situation it finds itself in, but nature, other people, and technology often don’t agree. Ambition blinds people. Looking past an immediate crisis to larger, and more distant, goals can be fatal.
  12. 12. Custer’s troops were poorly trained and reacted badly under stress. The US Army in the 1870s was a refuge for immigrants (many of whom did not speak English), criminals, and the outcasts of society. While many of the officers were veterans of the Civil War, few of the troops were. Cascade 3
  13. 13. LESSON: Reaction during a catastrophe is impossible to predict, but training and preparation can mitigate the effect and get people to go against their natural instincts.
  14. 14. Custer turned down Gatling guns; disdain for new technology can have disastrous effect. General Terry offered Custer several Gatling guns (early machineguns) to take along, but Custer said no. Custer wasn’t so much against the guns. He felt they would slow him down. The military has always been leery of new technology. While Custer can be faulted for not taking the Gatlings, the reality is that fifty years later, generals were still clueless about the power of the machinegun, leading to archaic tactics slaughtering millions of soldiers in World War I. Cascade 4
  15. 15. LESSON: Technology is a double-edged sword. In our haste to adopt new technology, we can invite disaster, but we can also do the same by not embracing the advantages technology can bring. In both directions, the key is to study the new technology without prejudice from the past and look to how it might apply in an evolving future. It’s an axiom that the military is always prepared to fight the last war, not the next.
  16. 16. Lack of an Area Study and understanding of the environment, along with a lack of remembering recent history. The only glimpse Custer had of the Native Americans encamped next to the Greasy Grass River was from the Crows Nest. While his scouts told him the enemy was numerous, all Custer could make out was a milling mass: the Native American herd. One of his scouts, Mitch Bouyer warned Custer that this was the largest village he’d ever encountered. But Custer was more concerned that the village would disperse before he had a chance to attack. The fact his scouts immediately began their death chant should have been a warning. Cascade 5
  17. 17. Lack of an Area Study and understanding of the environment along with a lack of remembering recent history. 10 years before Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse was part of the Native American Force that massacred Captain Fetterman and 69 soldiers at Fort Kearney. They lured the soldiers out of the fort and then surrounded them and killed them all. Cascade 5
  18. 18. While this painting is dramatic, the reality was more gruesome. At the end, Fetterman and one of his officers, are reported to have committed mutual suicide, shooting each other.
  19. 19. Lesson: An Area Study is critical to any situation. It’s one of the key planning components for Special Forces and to avoid Catastrophes. I never really understood what happened in that battle until I went there and walked the terrain. When your scouts begin their death chant, you’ve got a problem.
  20. 20. While the area seems wide open with great visibility, the reality is that the terrain consists of many folds, draws and valleys where large forces can lie hidden. Also, as in the case of Fetterman, arrows are indirect fire weapons, while firearms are direct fire. Native Americans out of sight of the soldiers could safely use their bows to strike with plunging fire.
  21. 21. Custer divided his command: making tactical decisions for the wrong reasons. Custer divided his command into three parts, which greatly aided his defeat. Most people think the 7th Cavalry was wiped out at the Little Big Horn, but in reality, only 5 of the 12 companies were. The rest, under Reno and Benteen, ended up fighting off assaults until the Native Americans retired the following day. Custer’s priority was to entrap the Indians. He wanted the glory of victory for himself. He misjudged the tactical field of battle. Cascade 6
  22. 22. LESSON: One should make decisions based on the real problem, not in hopes of affecting future, unrelated events. Personal conflicts can affect organizational outcomes and produce catastrophe.
  23. 23. All five companies and every man that was under Custer’s direct command died Despite the warnings of his scouts, and the objections of some of his officers, Custer rode into the valley of the Little Big Horn convinced he was heading toward glory, part of a cascade of events that led to his doom and that of 267 other men. Final Event
  24. 24. LESSON: An organization needs Cascade Stoppers. People who can step up and put the brakes on when a leader’s ego is driving everyone into an abyss. One of the greatest safety devices in an airplane is a co-pilot who is willing to speak up to the pilot. Custer needed such a co-pilot. He had Benteen, who often disagreed with him, so that was the first command he split off. He took with him on his last ride several family members and those commanders who were his “supporters.” Final Event
  25. 25. Seven Ways to Prevent Catastrophes 1. Have a Special Ops preparation mindset 2. Focus by utilizing both big picture & detail thinkers 3. Conduct Special Forces Area Studies 4. Use the Special Forces CARVER formula 5. Have a “10th man” 6. Conduct After Action Reviews 7. Write and USE Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  26. 26. Are you interested in a presentation about various catastrophes and how the cascade events could have been prevented? Events covered range from human-machine interface, to leadership, to communication, cost-cutting, engineering, group think, perseverance, systematic failure, and more? Catastrophes are cascade events culminating in disastrous chaos. War is chaos. Special Forces is the most elite unit trained for a variety of combat situations. What makes Special Forces elite is our mindset and preparation. Are you interested in a presentation on how to use Special Forces tactics, techniques and mental attitude to help your organization anticipate and prevent potential catastrophes? Please email bob@bobmayer.com Summary
  27. 27. Print Book Free downloadable Powerpoint slideshows on survival, history writing, and interesting information are available HERE Also, Bob conducts Area Study workshops for those interested in properly preparing for their specific circumstances. THE GREEN BERET PREPARATION AND SURVIVAL GUIDE
  28. 28. The guide on the left is a complete preparation and survival guide. The one on the right is a pocket-size manual focusing on survival essentials. SURVIVAL GUIDES
  29. 29. New York Times bestselling author, graduate of West Point and former Green Beret. He’s had over 75 books published, including the #1 bestselling series Green Berets, Shadow Warriors, Time Patrol, Area 51, and Atlantis. Born in the Bronx and having traveled the world he now lives peacefully with his wife and dogs. For free eBooks, audio, slideshows and more go to: www.bobmayer.com

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