Major Samuel Marmaduke Whitside, Commander of 7th Cavalry’s 1st Battalion

The mounted troops then pursued the renegades, who fought viciously and did severe execution in a most determined fight in which many were killed and wounded.
Major Samuel M. Whitside, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill's photograph,

(Click to enlarge) Major Samuel M. Whitside, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 Jan. 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers,” colorized by Amy Gigliotti in June 2015.

Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles’s court of inquiry into Colonel James W. Forsyth’s conduct during the affair on Wounded Knee Creek began on 7 January 1891, nine days after the battle.  Testimony that first day focused on the officers of the 1st Battalion, which had been engaged in the thickest of the fighting.  As the commander of the 1st Battalion, Major Samuel M. Whitside found himself at the center of the first day of the inquiry.

At fifty-one, Whitside had served with the regiment since his promotion to major almost six years earlier.  He had been in the regular army for over thirty-two years having enlisted in the General Mounted Service in 1858.  Commissioned early in the Civil War, Whitside spent twenty-four years with the 6th Cavalry, rising through the company grade ranks and commanding B Troop for almost eighteen years.  His duty with the 6th took him to frontier posts across Texas, Kansas, Arizona and Colorado. He had served as a defacto government agent for the Alabama-Coushatta Indian tribe and participated in  expeditions against Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, Apache and Ute Indians.  His experience with Sioux Indians was more limited, having spent less than two years in the latter half of the 1880s in the Dakota Territory upon joining the 7th Cavalry before the regiment was ordered to Fort Riley, Kansas.

By date of rank, Whitside was number two of the three majors assigned to the 7th Cavalry.  As such, he normally commanded the 2nd Battalion.  However, the senior major in the regiment, John M. Bacon, had been on detached service since August 1890 serving as the Inspector General for the Department of the Platte on Brigadier General John R. Brooke’s staff.  Whitside arrived at Pine Ridge Agency in early December as commander of the 1st Battalion.  Bacon requested to be relieved of his Inspector General duties and allowed to return to the 7th Cavalry, and Colonel Forsyth endorsed his request. Whitside anticipated Bacon’s return and was prepared to assume command of the 2nd Battalion, but General Brooke denied releasing Bacon from his staff.  Thus, Whitside remained in command of 1st Battalion when Brooke ordered it out in late December to capture Big Foot’s band of hostile Indians.  Whitside’s battalion consisted of Captain Moylan’s A Troop, Captain Varnum’s B Troop, Captain Nowlan’s I Troop, and Captain Wallace’s K Troop.

Four days after the battle at Wounded Knee, Major General Miles directed Whitside to return to the battleground with the Division’s engineer and make a map of the entire battlefield.  Upon his return to Pine Ridge, Whitside wrote a letter to his wife and detailed the number of Lakota warriors killed and missing, and provided his thoughts on the pending investigation.

At midnight Friday, I received instructions to proceed at day light Saturday A.M. with a burial party to the battle ground of Wounded Knee for the purpose of assisting in making a complete map of the ground locating thereon the exact position the Troops occupied from the commencement to the end of the battle. I obeyed the order literally and only returned to my camp here last evening at 8 o’clock pretty badly used up, but a good night’s rest was most refreshing and I am feeling very much improved this morning. Eighty four Buck Indians were buried yesterday, ten are wounded in the hospital and nine were taken away and buried by friendly Indians. 8 are at the Catholic Mission wounded. So out of 120 present at the beginning of the fight we know of 111 that were either killed or wounded, leaving nine unaccounted for. On my arrival here I find General F. has been relieved from Command of his regiment and a Board of Officers ordered to investigate what brought on the fight, whether it could not have been avoided and whether a proper disposition of the troops was made for disarming and fighting. The settlement of the Indian trouble has been a failure according to the plans arranged by Gen. Miles, and now some one must shoulder the responsibility and be sacrificed and from appearances Gen. F. is the man selected, for other people to unload on. I regard the management of the Council with the Indians, the disarmament of them as far as it went, and the placing of troops before and during the battle as judicious. Every thing was done to avert an outbreak, considering the circumstances and our position that mortal man can do.
The General is terribly worried and distressed over his position as he says, although he may be fully exonerated from all blame, the great harm has been done his record which can never be erased. I am willing to shoulder all the responsibility of the affair, as I really managed the whole business. The Inspector General was with me on the battle field yesterday and he was perfectly satisfied with every thing done and will so report to General Miles. I have just been sent for by General Miles to report to him in person.[1]

Major Whitside’s official report of the capture of Big Foot’s Band was admitted to the court as evidence, and he was the first officer called. After being sworn in by the court and identifying his name and position, Major Whitside provided the most lengthy testimony of the inquiry.

I had been scouting with four Troops, A, B, I and K, 7th Cavalry, with a view to the capture of Big Foot’s or Spotted Eagle’s band of Sioux Indians.  On the 28th of December, 1890, they were located by scouts of the above command on Porcupine Creek, about 10 miles distant from my camp.

Boots and Saddles was at once sounded, the command was mounted and moved at a trot for 8 miles, till they discovered the Indians, who quickly formed line of battle.  I sent word that Big Foot should report to me.  Three Indians moved forward, one stating that he was the representative of his Chief.  I had also formed line, and met the three Indians, but declined to converse with a representative, and directed them to tell Big Foot, who was pronounced to be sick and in a wagon, to come forward.  He did so, and on my demand of surrender he said that he would do so; that he had nothing to eat, and wanted to come in.

They, the Indians, were then marched to the Wounded Knee guarded by the command of cavalry, two troops in advance and two, with two Hotchkiss guns, under Lieut. Hawthorne, 2d Artillery, following the Indians.  They were encamped on the Wounded Knee, rations were issued, a chain of sentinels, at a proper distance, surrounded the Indian camp.  Two troops guarded, while the remaining troops, under my directions, remained fully armed and clothed, sleeping for that night in their tents.  The section of the battery was posted on a hill overlooking the camp.  To guard against any mishap a courier had been dispatched, when the capture was first effected, to General Brooke, at the Pine Ridge Agency, to send the second battalion of the 7th Cavalry.  The object I had in view was that, by their presence, we could overawe the Indians, and so they would submit quietly to be disarmed.  I was convinced, from a hostile demonstration of the Indians at the time of surrender, that otherwise trouble might ensue.

Colonel Forsyth, with the 2d Battalion, consisting of C, D, E and G Troops, and one section of Hotchkiss guns, under Captain Capron, 1st Artillery, arrived about 8:45 that night, and the Colonel assumed command and went into camp, marching by a circuitous route to the rear of my Battalion, and he accomplished the same apparently without proclaiming their arrival to the Indians.  On the morning of the 29th the following disposition of Troops was made at about 8 A.M. (The positions are noted on map hereunto appended marked “A” which map was pronounced by Major Whitside correct.)

Lieutenant Sydney A. Cloman's original map of the Wounded Knee Battlefield

(Click to enlarge) Lieutenant Sydney A. Cloman’s original map of the Wounded Knee Battlefield, likely was the version referred to during the court of inquiry.

All the bucks were called out of their tepees, except Big Foot, who was sick in a tent, and were formed in a semi-circle.  Then Colonel Forsyth, through an interpreter, stated that inasmuch as the Indians had surrendered, they must give up their arms.  They, the Indians, held a consultation, when twenty bucks were told off in the semi-circle and directed to go to their tepees and bring out their arms.  After being absent for a few minutes, they returned, proclaiming two broken carbines, and stated that that was all they had.

After a brief consultation between Colonel Forsyth and myself, I stating that it was useless to proceed in this way to accomplish the purpose of disarming, Colonel Forsyth called out Big Foot, and through an interpreter directed him to demand of his band their arms.  Big Foot consulted with his bucks and reported to Colonel Forsyth that they had no arms, that they, the arms, had all been destroyed on the Cheyenne.  This notwithstanding the fact that the Indians had met me the day before fully armed.

To prevent the intercourse between the bucks and the squaws, the latter in their tepees (the bucks had been passing to and fro against orders that had been given and seemed to be exciting the squaws), two Troops B and K, who had been in line between the camp of the troops and the Indians, were thrown in, dismounted, into the position between the bucks and their tepees as indicated on the map, and it was decided to make a search in the tepees for missing arms.  For this purpose Captain Wallace and a small detail of six or eight men were ordered to make the search, beginning on the right.  Captain Varnum, with about the same number of men, to begin on the left, and the search was superintended by me.  As a result of this search about 40 arms were found and taken out of the way, the squaws making every effort to conceal the same, by hiding and sitting on them and in various other ways, evincing a most sullen mien.

After completing the search of the tepees it was decided to search the bucks in the semi-circle, who sat or stood with their blankets about them.  While the search was carried on in the village, a ghost dancer was haranguing the bucks in a loud and excited tone, dancing the while.  The search of the bucks was commenced by Captains Wallace and Varnum and a small detail, some six men, superintended by me.  When a few Indians had been searched and but two arms discovered, a medicine man suddenly rose, spoke in a loud tone of voice, threw some dirt in the air, one shot was fired by an Indian and was instantly followed by a volley from the rest of the Indians, who had all jumped to their feet for the purpose, and thrown their blankets on the ground, and commenced firing at the two Troops, B and K, formed at right angles, as described, firing through these troops and their own tepees.  At least 50 shots were fired by the Indians before the troops returned fire.  Some 25 or 30 Indians were seen to fall.  The survivors then broke through the troops and their village and followed by their squaws and little ponies, which had been turned loose, many having been previously packed by the squaws, and all left camp in a rush in three directions, majority up the ravine, some across the same and through the chain of sentinels to the south, some up and past the mounted troop facing east.  The mounted troops then pursued the renegades, who fought viciously and did severe execution in a most determined fight in which many were killed and wounded.  The troops were cool, and in one instance at least that came under my observation directed a party of squaws, who showed themselves to a place of safety, guarding them through the fight.

In answer to subsequent questions, Major Whitside provided the following additional information.

“General Forsyth,” ordered the disposition made of the troops.

“The peaceful disarmament of the Indians” was the object in view that necessitated such disposition of the troops.

“General Forsyth ordered” the change of position of Troops B and K “at my suggestion.”

When asked if the re-positioning of Troops B and K placed them in such a position that if forced to fire on the Indians, they endangered the lives of the men and animals of Troop G and parts of Troops A and I, Major Whitside replied:

It was not thought of by me at the time that it would endanger the lives of any one.  No one was injured in G Troop and as the positions of the detachments of A and I Troops had been changed before the firing began, by Captain Moylan, none were injured by the fire of the troops at that or any other time, to my knowledge or belief.  I heard after the fight that three or four horses were injured at the picket line, but the Indians also fired toward the picket line, their fire being directed at me and other officers who were between the Indians and the camp.  The duty of the officers called them into their position.

Major Whitside replied when questioned if any men of the command went among the Indians or into their tepees except by proper authority:

I understood that the Sergeant-major, the hospital Steward and the Quartermaster Sergeant, were in the village, they did not have my authority to be there, and Colonel Forsyth stated that he had [given] no such authority.  Two of these non-commissioned officers were killed and one was wounded in or about the tepees.  No one had authority to be there except the searching party.

The court next asked Major Whitside if he could account for the great destruction of non-combatants, as it was found after a careful count of dead Indians made on January 3rd and 4th that of the 146 bodies buried on the field of battle, 62 were women and children.

Yes.  From the facts that when the Indians broke through the circle and ran through the village [they] mixed up with the women and children, the soldiers firing in the direction in which the Indians were going; as a natural consequence women and children were shot.  The first volleys fired by the Indians were aimed in the direction of their own people.  The bucks were firing from among the women and children at the tepees.  The women and children were never away from the immediate company of the bucks, after the break of bucks from the circle before alluded to.  This is confirmed by the fact that wherever dead bucks were found there were also bodies of women and children, and wherever our troops were seen the bucks fired at the soldiers, and there was no place where dead women and children were found but what bucks were found as well.

When asked what orders were given to prevent loss of life among the non-combatants, Major Whitside replied, “None that I know of.”  A follow up question asked what efforts the officers made to prevent the loss of life previously alluded to and drew the following reply from the Major.

Every effort was made by the officers and men to protect the women and children when they were separated from the bucks or when they were recognized.  From the fact that during the firing, when I went to the front of the line, where C and D Troops were stationed, to give them instructions, I found a bevy of women and children in a ravine being guarded by a detachment of men.  Later on a soldier came riding in toward me with a small child in his arms; he had found this child in a ravine, his mother having been killed, and I directed him to turn it over to some Indian women that were being cared for safely.  Such instances as these showed that care was taken not to hurt them.  Moreover, the first fire of the Indians themselves could not, but by a miracle, have resulted in anything else than a loss of life to women and children.  After the first break of the Indians many of them, men and women, got on their ponies, and it is impossible to tell buck from squaw, at a little distance, when mounted.

The court next asked if Major Whitside believed that the Indians had any preconceived idea of treachery after their surrender.

I have every such reason.  Before the surrender they marched up toward me in a line of battle, fully armed and with footmen between the mounted Indians, and made an effort to encircle my line, until I stopped it.  Then when they saw me prepared, they professed friendship.  I have now further reason to believe the premeditated trouble from the facts that the bucks came from the tepees into the circle with concealed arms.  All of which we did not know at that time.  It is my opinion that no people, except fanatics that were crazed by a religious excitement, would have made the attempt to escape when surrounded by such a large force of armed men and who would have made battle under such circumstances.[2]

Following the first day of the investigation, Whitside wrote to his wife and provided her his thoughts of that day’s testimony

I have been before the Board of Officers investigating our Wounded Knee Battle all the morning and it is within a few minutes of mail time so I can only say that everything remains quiet at Pine Ridge….
All evidence offered so far has been based on facts as they occurred on the battle field, that every precaution was taken to guard against an accident and the whole affair reflects great credit on each and every man connected with the capture and management of those Indians.
Tell Miss Bessie [daughter of Colonel Forsyth] to cheer up as the daughter of a soldier who did his whole duty and did it well and he will come out of it without a stain on his fair name and the report of the Board will be that the 7th Cavalry should have commendation of the War Dept. and no praise is too great to bestow on us.[3]

The court recalled Major Whitside on January 11th to provide additional testimony regarding whether Troops B and K were offensively placed in their original positions, and “in such a manner as not to do injury, had they been called upon to fire against the Indians, to other of the troops in the positions they occupied as located on the map.”

I recognize this is a map based upon representations made by me in a visit to the battle ground on the 3d and 4th of January, 1891.  The original positions of B and K Troops are as now indicated, and they were placed there with that object in view.  As the Indians were in close proximity to the troops, their fire, if directed against the bucks, would have been at short range, and it would have been carelessness of the men in aiming high that any shots could have reached the troops on the top of the ravine, who were from 2 to 400 yards from B and K Troops. I am positive that the change of these two troops, brought about by the conditions of affairs in disarming the Indians, did not endanger the lives of other troops, from the fact furthermore that none of the troops opposite B Troop were either killed or wounded; and there were no troops in front of K Troop except a few men whose duties called them in the Indian circle to assist in the search.  If there were men in the apex of the angle between B and K Troops, I was not aware of it, as my duties called me elsewhere.  About six yards separated the promulgations of these troops, and they were at right angles.  It is certainly my opinion that the positions of all the troops were judicious, and I would place them there myself under similar circumstances.  Since then I have had time for study and reflection, and I believe the positions were proper.  At no time previous to actual firing did it enter into my mind that a fight would ensue.  I thought the Indians were ugly and would not give up their arms, and that we would have to take their arms forcibly by search, and I did not anticipate any armed resistance, because of the overwhelming display of force.  The change of position was made entirely with a view of keeping the bucks away from the tepees to facilitate the search.  The troops opened fire by instinct, but I will qualify this statement.  I believe that K Troop opened fire by order of Lieut. Mann, after the Indians had fired a volley.[4]

In February after resuming command of the regiment, Colonel Forsyth recommended a number of officers for brevet promotions, the first of which was Major Whitside.

Forsyth recommendation of brevet 14 Feb 1891 page 1 - Whitside, Van R. Hoff, Capron, Varnum, Nowlan

(Click to enlarge) Colonel Forsyth recommended Major Whitside for two brevet promotions.

Referring to the recent Indian troubles in South Dakota, I have the honor to make the following recommendations: That Major S. M. Whitside, 7th Cavalry, be given a brevet of Lieut. Colonel for the admirable and efficient manner in which he accomplished the capture of Big Foot’s Band of hostile Indians near the Porcupine Butte, South Dakota, December 28, 1890, and his dispositions for the secure retention of the band while returning to his camp on Wounded Knee Creek and until joined by the 2d Battalion of this regiment at about 8:30 P. M. on the same day; and that he be given a brevet of Colonel, for conspicuous gallantry displayed in the battle of Wounded Knee December 29, 1890.[5]

This recommendation specifically, and others generally, created a controversy the following October when the Adjutant General’s Office referred them to Major General Miles for remark and endorsement.  Miles, likely doubtful of any recommendation from Colonel Forsyth, determined to conduct an investigation into acts of gallantry, heroism, and fortitude to obtain an objective opinion on which officers and men at Wounded Knee were truly deserving of honorable mention. Miles’s inspector general, Colonel E. M. Heyl, traveled to Fort Riley and on 20 October interviewed fifteen officers regarding Forsyth’s recommendations.  Whitside provided details concerning the officers that he noticed as conspicuous or gallant at Wounded Knee and White Clay Creek.

Dr. Hoff, Assistant Surgeon, came under my observation at Wounded Knee December 29th, 1890, only when he was caring for the wounded, which kept him busy from 15 minutes after the firing commenced until we left the ground.  I did not see Dr. Hoff under fire, but the Hospital was within range of the Indians’ fire.  No act of conspicuous bravery came under my observations during that time.  When the firing first commenced Dr. Hoff was shot through the overcoat, and he told me at that time he had emptied his revolver.
I saw Dr. Hoff at the Mission fight frequently, attending to the wounded, and before there was any wounded he was on the firing line in a position of danger.
Captain Capron, 1st Artillery, commanded a battery on the side of the hill at Wounded Knee fight, and after the hottest of the firing was over, and the Indians had broken from the square, I observed Captain Capron giving directions to his men to fire on the Indians.  He continued giving the necessary orders to his men how to fire their guns, and frequently would sight the guns himself.  While engaged in this duty he was shot through the overcoat.  His manner was that of a brave and courageous officer.
Captain Varnum, 7th Cavalry, at the time of the opening of the fire from the Indians at Wounded Knee, was within six feet of me, searching the Indians for arms.  After the firing commenced, it was a sort of hand to hand fight.  I consider Captain Varnum’s conduct at that time, both gallant and conspicuous.
I noticed Captain Nowlan, 7th Cavalry, at a certain stage of the fight.  It was reported to me that a number of Indians had passed into a ravine close by.  Captain Nowlan had his troop standing on the right of it waiting for orders, dismounted.  I directed him to proceed, double time, to the ravine where the Indians were reported to be, and make a thorough search for any Indians that might be there.  Although under a fire from another ravine, he moved with the greatest coolness, and gave his orders intelligently and deliberately.  He acted as if on parade.  His coolness was conspicuous, so much so that he attracted my attention by his conspicuous conduct.
Lieut. Nicholson, 7th Cavalry, was in a position of danger all the time.  He armed himself with a carbine, and while the Indians were firing on a party of men where he was standing, knelt down and fired at an Indian; the Indian was seen to drop, and his body was afterwards found.  Lieut. Nicholson was constantly encouraging the men and directing them how to fire.  He was as cool as if at company drill.
I observed Lieut. J. C. Gresham, 7th Cavalry.  He was under a heavy fire giving orders to his men, and acted in the coolest manner.  I regarded his conduct as superb.
Lieut. S. Rice, 7th Cavalry, while in command of a number of skirmishers, was attempting to dislodge a party of Indians who had taken refuge in a ravine.  He walked from one skirmisher to another instructing them how to fire.  The Indians were constantly firing at Lieut. Rice and party.  Lieut. Rice never attempted to cover himself, but constantly moved to and fro, encouraging his men, exposing himself to the fire, which act in itself I regarded as conspicuous.  The same remarks will apply to Lieutenants Sickel and Tompkins, 7th Cavalry, who had charge of a certain amount of skirmishers endeavoring to dislodge the same party of Indians.
I regarded Colonel Forsyth’s conduct conspicuous; he was giving his orders in a very cool and deliberate manner.
Lieut. Mann, 7th Cavalry, was in command of “K” Troop before the search of the Indians began.  I gave him instructions to be on the alert, watch the Indians in front of him, and to have the carbines loaded and in readiness to fire.  After the firing began, I heard Lieut. Mann’s voice distinctly give the command aim and fire.  Other than that I cannot say.  The Indians when they broke rushed through his troop and Captain Varnum’s.  Lieut. Mann’s conduct at that time was cool and deliberate.  It was a position of great danger.
I did not observe any conspicuous acts of gallantry at the Mission fight, of any one officer more than another, as I did not regard the position of the 7th Cavalry, as in any great danger from the fire.  The firing was all at long range.[6]

Regarding Whitside’s own conduct during the surrender on 28 December and the battles on 29 and 30 December, the comments of the other officers present were mixed. Captain Nowlan, Whitside’s I Troop commander, stated, “I saw Major Whitside several times [at Wounded Knee].  He was on foot directing the movements of part of the command.  I cannot specify any special acts of conspicuous gallantry on the part of Major Whitside, but I noticed, particularly, the manner in which he exposed himself to the Indians’ fire.”  Nowlan concluded with, “I noticed Major Whitside at the Mission fight, his conduct was conspicuous throughout.  I noticed him particularly as he was in command of my battalion at that time.”[7]

Captain Varnum, Whitside’s B Troop commander,  indicated, “I belonged to Major Whitside’s battalion at Wounded Knee.  At the time the break was made by the Indians I was close to Major Whitside.  I was taking the arms from the Indians at the time the break was made.  I was separated from Major Whitside the moment the break took place.  I had no occasion to, nor did I see him during the fight.”[8]

Whitside’s adjutant, Lieutenant Nicholson, said, “I was battalion adjutant for first battalion (Major Whitside’s) at Wounded Knee, and my duties required me to be at all parts of the line during the fight.  All the officers I saw behaved wonderfully well.  I saw no particular acts of conspicuous gallantry that I could single out at all.  I saw Major Whitside exposing himself as a commanding officer should on the line.”[9]

Captain Moylan, Whitside’s A Troop commander, merely mentioned, “I had no means of seeing Major Whitside.”  Similarly, Captain Edgerly, the 2nd Battalion’s G Troop commander stated, “I did not observe Major Whitside.”[10]

Captain Jackson, who commanded C Troop, stated, “I did not see any other officers during the fight [at Wounded Knee], except Major Whitside, who came over to give me an order, and I did not see any act of conspicuous gallantry on his part at that time.”  Jackson went on to say, “I did not see Major Whitside at Drexel Mission.”[11]

Captain Ilsley, commander of the 2nd Battalion, was more blunt saying, “I did not see any conspicuous acts of gallantry [at Wounded Knee] on the part of Major Whitside.”  Ilsley concluded with, “I saw Major Whitside most of the time [during the Drexel Mission fight] and did not observe any conspicuous acts of gallantry on his part.”[12]

Colonel Forsyth made no mention of Whitside by name in his statement but reiterated that what he wrote in his recommendation was accurate.  Colonel Heyl concluded that while Major Whitside and the other officers mentioned in Colonel Forsyth’s various recommendations “behaved well under the circumstances” they displayed no “special acts of conspicuous gallantry.”  Following the investigation, Major General Miles, who still believed that Forsyth should have faced a General Court Martial for Wounded Knee and White Clay Creek, took the opportunity of endorsing the brevet recommendations with a condemnation of Whiside’s actions.[13]

Instead of commendation, Major Whitside deserves serious condemnation: First: for camping a body of Indians close to a deep ravine, where they were able to escape, or in case they should take refuge in the ravine cause a useless loss of life in dislodging them. Second: By making so fatal a disposition of his command… that the line of fire of every troop and the artillery was directly towards its own camp or comrades.[14]

Miles conclusion

Major Whitside was not included in Major General John M. Schofield’s list of honorable mentions from the campaign.  Nor did he receive a brevet promotion, although the action resurfaced a decade later.

Brigadier General Samuel M. Whitside, circa 1901, Commander, District of Eastern Cuba.

(Click to enlarge) Brigadier General Samuel M. Whitside, circa 1901, Commander, District of Eastern Cuba.

Following the war with Spain, the Secretary of War established a board of senior officers to review the hundreds of recommendations for brevets and medals that commanders across the Army were submitting for actions in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Known as the brevet board, it was headed up by Major General Arthur MacArthur. Included in the pages of brevet recommendations, and favorably recommended by the board, was a brevet of Lieutenant Colonel for then Major S. M. Whitside, 7th Cavalry. Whitside by 1901 was colonel of the Tenth Cavalry and a brigadier general in the U.S. Volunteers, but the elusive brevet for gallantry was still a coveted distinction.  The recommendation read very much like Forsyth’s original recommendations, “Commended for the admirable manner in which he accomplished the capture of ‘Big Foot’s’ band, of hostile Sioux Indians, near Porcupine Butte, South Dakota, December 28, 1890, and for conspicuous gallantry in the action of Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota.  December 29, 1890.”[15]

Unfortunately for the cavalry colonel, Nelson A. Miles was now the Lieutenant General and Commanding General of the Army.  Again Miles sternly recommended disapproval of any commendation for Whitside.  Whether the Secretary of War and the President included Whitside’s name on the list of recommended brevets forwarded to the senate for confirmation mattered little, as the senate took no action on any brevets, effectively ending that form of recognition for officers.

Adjutant General Officer, 9 Jun 1902 - Retirement Order

(Click to enlarge) S. M. Whitside was retired effective June 9, 1902, upon promotion to Brigadier General, U.S. Army.[16]

Whitside was promoted to Brigadier General in the regular army in June 1902 under a Congressional provision authorized as a method of inducing senior officers to retire and in recognition of their service in the Civil War, Indian Wars, and Spanish-American War. The newly minted General was retired upon his acceptance of the promotion, and settled with his wife, Carrie, and youngest son, Victor, into their newly built home in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1904, General Whitside accompanied a Congressional delegation to Panama to observe construction of the canal linking the Pacific Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico. The delegation also traveled to Cuba, where Whitside was eagerly welcomed by the local islanders back to where he had served as the commanding general of the District of Eastern Cuba, three years earlier.[17]

Omaha Bee, Omaha Neb., Dec 17, 1904 - Memory of Indian Fighter

(Click to enlarge) The Omaha Bee article announcing General Whitside’s death was replete with exaggeration and patently false information.[18]

Shortly after returning to the United States, General Whitside died three weeks shy of his sixty-fifth birthday while staying at the Ebbitt house in the Nation’s capital before returning to his home in Bethesda. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Among his pallbearers was his former commanding general from the Pine Ridge Campaign, Major General John R. Brooke, who had ordered then Major Whitside to the field in search of Big Foot and his band of Miniconjou Lakota in December 1890.[19]

The day before his funeral, the Omaha Daily Bee ran an article announcing the death of the late general. Typical of that newspaper, the article distorted the memory of General Whitside, misspelled his name, cited an incorrect date for the battle, and concluded with a highly unlikely quote, “The old Seventh has an old score to settle with that Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull gang and they only need the opportunity to settle it effectively.” No original sources from the time of the campaign, including a thorough search of all Omaha Bee articles, reveals such a quote. In late December 1890, Crazy Horse had been dead thirteen years and Sitting Bull for two weeks.  Further, Whitside’s letters from the period intimate no such feelings in the 7th Cavalry of settling a score. It seems incredible that anyone from that era and location would mistake the battle of the Little Big Horn with the battle of the Rosebud. Replete with exaggeration and patently false information, the article continued a pattern of distorting the actions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment at Wounded Knee.[20]


[1] Samuel L. Russell, “Selfless Service: The Cavalry Career of Brigadier General Samuel M. Whitside from 1858 to 1902,” Masters Thesis, (Fort Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2002), 144-145.
[2] Jacob F. Kent and Frank D. Baldwin, “Report of Investigation into the Battle at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, Fought December 29th 1890,” in Reports and Correspondence Related to the Army Investigations of the Battle at Wounded Knee and to the Sioux Campaign of 1890–1891, the National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington: The National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1975), Roll 1, Target 3, Jan. 1891, 656 – 662.
[3] Russell, Selfless Service, 145.
[4] Kent and Baldwin, RIBWKC.
[5] Adjutant General’s Office, Medal of Honor, Principal Record Division, file 3466, Record Group: 94, Stack area: 8W3, Row: 7, Compartment 30, Shelf: 2. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Adjutant General’s Office, Principal Record Division 1078.
[16] Ibid., 9 Jun 1902.
[17] “Tribute to Gen. Whitside,” The Washington Post (17 Dec 1904), 4.
[18] “Memory of an Indian Fighter,” Omaha Daily Bee, (17 Dec 1904), 7.
[19] “Death of Gen. Whitside,” The Washington Post (16 Dec 1904), 13.
[20] “Buried at Arlington,” The Washington Post (19 Dec 1904), 4; “Memory of an Indian Fighter,” Omaha Daily Bee.

Citation for article: Samuel L. Russell, “Testimony of Major Samuel Marmaduke Whitside, Commander of 7th Cavalry’s 1st Battalion,” Army at Wounded Knee (Sumter, SC: Russell Martial Research, 2013-2015,, updated 4 Sep 2016, accessed date __________.

About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation retired Army officer with twenty-nine years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over eighteen years and am interested in documenting the lives of the soldiers that participated in the battle of Wounded Knee using primarily official reports, diaries, letters, newspaper articles and other primary source documents. My interest in Wounded Knee stems from my kinship to one of the principal participants. I am the great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the battle. I welcome and encourage comments on posts and pages and am always interested in any new primary sources. If you have copies of letters, diaries, etc, from participants and are willing to share, please contact me. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and should in no way be construed as official Army or U.S. Government positons.
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