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Editors Letter: Rosebud

Battle of the Rosebud

It’s been almost ten years since we published Neil Mangum’s feature article on Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn. It was very well received and successfully crossed the line into the realm of Indian Wars buffs. The Blue & Gray logo was prominently displayed in the Little Bighorn bookstore until there were no copies left.

A week before the Custer battle, on June 17, 1876, a fight took place about 25 miles from the Little Bighorn battle site with some of the same Indians under Crazy Horse that would wipe out Custer’s battalion. It involved his Civil War rival George Crook, who was seeking the hostile Indians from the south, while Custer searched for them from the northeast. The two men not only had the same first name and the same first and last name initials, but both were from Ohio. Both had also attended West Point with similar academic records, Crook graduating in 1852 toward the bottom of his class, while Custer was dead-last in the Class of 1861.

With the Civil War Sesquicentennial now behind us, I thought the time was right to follow some of the prominent figures of the Civil War as they rode into the Indian Wars, better yet, featuring the two rivals. Our final issue of the Civil War 150th commemorations covered the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, April 6, 1865. Maps of that important engagement showed Crook and Custer, both leading cavalry divisions, each with the rank of major general, fighting within a half-mile of each other.

For all of the similarities of circumstances the two men shared, they were just as dissimilar in personality. I’ll leave it to feature article author Bob O’Neill to describe those differences, which he defines and contrasts in admirable fashion.

Someone might argue that because of Custer’s accolades won during the final days of the Civil War while serving under his mentor Phil Sheridan, that Custer might view the relationship with Crook as less of a rivalry than did the latter. But now, in 1876, Custer was a lieutenant colonel, not even the fullrank commander of the 7th Cavalry (that was the absent Col. Sam Sturgis), while Crook, who had been a prisoner of the Confederates until a month before Appomattox (after an embarrassing late-night capture from his bedroom), held the rank of brigadier general.

Ponder this: The entries for the two men in the West Point Registry of Graduates says, for one, that he was killed at the Little Bighorn; for the other: “Ablest of all men in dealing with the Indians.”

David E. Roth

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