Sergeant William Grafton Austin, E Troop, 7th Cavalry – Conspicuous Gallantry

He displayed great bravery in crossing the ravine under a hot fire and maintained his position there until his troop was withdrawn at the time the Hotchkiss gun was put in position.
–Lieutenant Sedgwick Rice

Sergeant William G. Austin had been in the cavalry and E Troop a month shy of four years when shots rang out on the Wounded Knee and the melee ensued at the council circle. By army records, the native Texan from Savannah, Georgia, was twenty-eight; in fact he was only twenty-two at the time of the battle. Despite his youth, Austin proved to be a leader of men rising rapidly to the rank of sergeant. His leadership was evident on December 29 catching the attention of the three officers of E Troop.

In the middle of March 1891, Lieutenants Horatio G. Sickel and Sedgwick Rice recommended Sergeant Austin and several other soldiers be awarded the Medal of Honor. Those recommendations were endorsed by the regiment’s adjutant, Lieutenant L. S. McCormick, in consultation with Major S. M. Whitside, who was commanding the regiment and post at the time while Colonel J. W. Forsyth was on leave. The Adjutant General provided a summary of the actions of all of the cavalrymen of E Troop recommended by the two lieutenants and wrote of the two sergeants, “McMillan and Austin were conspicuously brave, frequently exposing themselves to close fire from the ravine in order to obtain an advantage over the concealed Indians, and rendered much assistance in placing the men in good positions and encouraging them by good example.” Noting that Colonel Forsyth had not endorsed the recommendations, Major General John M. Schofield suggested on April 6 that all of the E Troop recommendations be returned to the 7th Cavalry for “personal action of the regimental commander.”[1] Continue reading

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First Lieutenant John Kinzie, Adjutant, 2nd Infantry – An Officer’s Account of Wounded Knee

I was hit early in the fight.

First Lieut. John Kinzie at Pine Ride in the summer of 1891.

The first published account of the battle at Wounded Knee from an officer present on the field came from an infantryman that had no official role in the battle and in all likelihood should not have been there. First Lieutenant John Kinzie was the forty-year-old adjutant of Colonel Frank Wheaton’s 2nd Infantry Regiment. The regiment was camped at the Pine Ridge Agency adjacent to the 7th Cavalry. The only indication of Kinzie’s reason for being at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, mentioned in the volumes of documents surrounding the campaign and Major General Miles’ investigation of the battle, came from a list of casualties compiled by Miles on January 3. He states that Kinzie was “by permission with Major Whiteside [sic].” A logical explanation of Kinzie’s presence at Wounded Knee would be as a liaison from the regiment to which Major Whitside was ordered to turn the Indians over to at Gordon, Nebraska, after securing the arms and ponies from Big Foot’s band.[1]

Kinzie probably came out to Wounded Knee the evening before the battle with Colonel James W. Forsyth and the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. Regardless of the reason for being at Wounded Knee that day, Kinzie was shot at the onset of hostilities. His injury was such that he was returned to Fort Omaha, Nebraska, for recuperation in the following days. It was upon his arrival there that a reporter from the Omaha Bee caught up with the lieutenant on January 5 and recorded the first personal account of the battle from an Army officer. Continue reading

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Setting the Record Straight Regarding H. R. 3467 Remove the Stain Act

The Honorable Adam Smith, Chairman
The Honorable Mac Thornberry, Ranking Member
House Armed Services Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry:

I am writing you regarding H. R. 3467 “Remove the Stain Act,” to implore the House Armed Services Committee to take no action on this historically deficient bill. In doing so, I wish to set the record straight regarding the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee and the men who were awarded Medals of Honor for their gallantry, heroism, and fortitude on that battlefield.

I am a retired Army officer with three decades of active service in uniform, a military historian who has researched and written about the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee for two decades, and a descendant of a survivor of the Battle of Wounded Knee. Retired from active service, I now serve on the faculty and staff at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. However, I am writing to you as a private citizen, not in an official capacity.

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.”

My great great grandfather was Brig. Gen. Samuel M. Whitside, who, as a major in the 7th Cavalry in 1890, commanded that regiment’s First Battalion, captured Chief Spotted Elk’s band near Porcupine Butte, and escorted them to his camp at the Wounded Knee Creek crossing. Most of the soldiers who were killed the following day were from his battalion, and he was consulted on most of the medals awarded to 7th Cavalry troopers.

The House Armed Services Committee should allow the “Remove the Stain Act” to die in committee for three reasons, which I explain in detail on the following pages.

1) It all but ignores, and at times misrepresents, the well documented historical record that articulates the Army and the War Department’s official position on Wounded Knee and the honors conferred.

2) It presents only the perspective of the Lakota peoples, whose ancestors were the very forces that opposed U.S. Soldiers at Wounded Knee.

3) It does what has never been done in our Nation’s history, that is, consult the perspective of the opponent of our U.S. Soldiers in a particular conflict to determine if medals should be rescinded.

To pass such an Act now or any time in the future would set a precedent for all future generations of Americans to rescind any medal from any conflict to which such a generation may take umbrage, regardless of the facts and established record.

Continue reading

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