Major Garlington’s History of the Seventh Regiment of Cavalry

Major Ernest A. Garlington wrote a history of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment that was published in 1896 along with historical sketches of other regiments across the Army.  Following is an extract from Garlington’s regimental history describing of the events surrounding the Battle of Wounded Knee.

On the 26th December, Forsyth, under orders from Brooke, sent Whitside‘s squadron, and two Hotchkiss guns under Lieutenant H. L. Hawthorne, 2d Artillery, to the Wounded Knee Post Office, the purpose being to capture Big Foot’s band if he should come that way. Brooke informed Whitside on the 27th that Big Foot must be in his front, and directed him to “find him, to move on him at once and with rapidity, to capture him, and if he fought to destroy him.”

Whitside did capture him on the 28th, without a fight, about six miles from Wounded Knee Post Office. The Indians were conducted to the camp which had been left standing on the Wounded Knee. They were assembled, counted, and rations issued to three hundred and fifty persons; one hundred and twenty bucks, the rest women and children.
Whitside reported his successful capture and requested reinforcements, that the disarmament, which was to be consummated on the morrow, be accomplished without bloodshed.

In response to his request Forsyth arrived during the night of the 28th with Regimental Headquarters and the second squadron; two Hotchkiss guns under Captain A. Capron, 1st Artillery; and Lieutenant Taylor, 9th Cavalry, with his troop of scouts, to which was attached Lieutenant Preston, 9th Cavalry. Forsyth’s instructions were to “disarm the Indians where they were camped, to, under no circumstances allow any of them to escape, and to destroy them if they resisted;” and as soon as the disarmament was completed to leave Whitside in charge and return at once to the agency.

Early the next morning Monday, the 29th of December, Forsyth made his dispositions to disarm the Indians, peaceably if possible, by force if necessary.

The bucks were invited into council between their own village and the camp; nearly all of them, one hundred and six, came wrapped in blankets. Big Foot remained in his tent.

General Forsyth, kindly and pleasantly, yet firmly, demanded the surrender of their arms. While the negotiations were progressing, a young buck fired into the soldiers. The others threw aside their blankets which concealed their weapons, and poured a murderous fire into the troops, which had been posted between them and their village, following it up as rapidly as their repeating rifles could belch forth the lead. The fight raged on the flat about one hour before it was cleared entirely of Indians. Here Captain George D. Wallace, commanding Troop K, and twenty-one enlisted men, including one hospital steward, were killed; Lieutenant Ernest A. Garlington was shot through the right elbow; Lieutenant John C. Gresham received an abrasion on the nose from a passing bullet; Captain Charles A. Varnum had his pipe knocked from his mouth by a bullet; Captain John Van R. Hoff, Assistant Surgeon, received several bullets through his clothing, and twenty-one enlisted men were wounded. Father Craft, Catholic priest, who was present using his good offices to persuade the Indians to submit to the demands made of them by General Forsyth, received a vicious stab in the back which penetrated his lung. Scout Wells had his nose nearly cut off. Lieutenant John Kinzie, 2d Infantry, who was present as a spectator, was shot through the foot.

Some of the Indians, many of them wounded, escaped to a ridge of hills lying just west of camp, and secreted themselves in stump holes and inaccessible ravines. It was while attempting to dislodge a party which was doing considerable execution that Lieutenant. H. L. Hawthorne, 2d Artillery, received a very severe wound. The fighting in the hills was done by Troops C, D, E and G, which were mounted at the beginning of the engagement. They lost four men killed and four wounded; Lieutenant Donaldson was struck by a bullet with sufficient force to penetrate his leather belt and his clothing. There were many acts of individual bravery and gallantry, but every man showed himself a soldier—with the nerve born of disciplined courage.

Although a very small percentage of the enlisted men had ever been under fire before—sixty recruits having joined at Pine Ridge—and the attack was sudden, there was no undue excitement. Each man obeyed orders, stood his ground, and shot to hit, and proved himself worthy of the number he wore upon his cap. One hundred and forty-six Indians were subsequently buried on the field; and there was undoubted evidence that many bodies had been removed; thirty-three Indians, nearly all wounded, were captured. The “hostiles” reported seven Indians as having escaped to their camp—all wounded except one.
The fight was over about three o’clock in the afternoon.

In view of the possible effect, of this fight upon the other Indians, and for the better care and protection of his wounded, Forsyth moved his command to the agency, arriving there about eleven o’clock at night.

At six o’clock on the morning of the 30th he was called to go to the assistance of Major Henry’s wagon train which had been attacked near the agency. One hour after his return to camp he was ordered to go the Drexel Mission, four miles from the agency which was reported attacked by the hostiles. It proved to be a false alarm.

When about to return, Little Bat, a scout, reported that he had heard the “firing of big guns” down the White Clay. Knowing that troops were located in that direction on the other side of the supposed position of the hostile camp, Forsyth determined to make a reconnaissance in force down the stream, to either confirm or demonstrate the error of the report. To guard against emergencies he sent couriers to General Brooke and Colonel Henry, asking that the latter join him at once.

The scouts, under Lieutenant Preston, 9th Cavalry, developed a small force which was pushed back by the advance guard. The number of Indians rapidly increased until the hills were full of them—at least three or four hundred opposed the advance of the troops. Forsyth’s instructions did not contemplate a general engagement which he knew would be precipitated if he pushed matters, and as soon as he became convinced that there was no heavy firing down the White Clay he decided to withdraw.

He was in the act of withdrawing his troops when Henry’s squadron of the 9th Cavalry arrived, having promptly responded to Forsyth’s request. These troops were placed in position, under Forsyth’s direction, and assisted in the completion of the movement.

The loss in this engagement was one enlisted man killed; Lieutenant James D. Mann, and six enlisted men wounded. Lieutenant Mann died of his wound, at Fort Riley, Kansas, on the 15th January, 1891. The loss among the Indians is unknown.

On the 30th December, 1890, the Major General commanding the army telegraphed to the Major General commanding the forces at Pine Ridge, asking him to thank the “Brave Seventh Cavalry for their splendid conduct.”

In the latter part of January the Indian problem at Pine Ridge was settled to the satisfaction of the Major General commanding. The prompt and drastic punishment awarded treachery at Wounded Knee contributed in no small measure towards bringing the hostile Indians to a realizing sense of their obligation to comply with the demands of the Government. The troops were relieved and sent to their stations.

The train carrying the second squadron of the Seventh Cavalry, and Capron’s battery of the 1st Artillery, collided with a passenger train, running at full speed, when within a short distance of Fort Riley. The wreck was complete; the escapes from death and injury miraculous. A sergeant of artillery and a private of cavalry were killed, and Captain E. S. Godfrey, 7th Cavalry, sustained a painful and permanent injury.

Source: Major E. A. Garlington, “Seventh Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States: Historical Sketches of Staff and Line with Portraits of Generals-in-Chief, Theodore F. Rodenbough and William L. Haskin, eds., (New York: Maynard, Merrill & Co., 1896), 265-267.

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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