Indian Wars, post-Civil War to WWI
The Indian Wars, though occupying a time frame mirroring colonization, from the Pequot War in 1637 to the Posey War in 1923 between the Ute and Paiute against Mormon settlers, the conflicts romanticized in western films cover a time between the American Civil War and the crushing of the Sioux after Little Big Horn in 1876. It can be said that the uprisings, localized conflicts between settlers and marauders, punitive expeditions, and conflicts like the French and Indian War, War of 1812, and Civil War there were incidents that pit Indians against whites or hispanics throughout our nation’s history.
In 1862, a column of infantry, cavalry, and artillery raised in California to help repel Confederate General Sibley’s New Mexico invasion never faced a confederate save for a brief skirmish in Arizona when a patrol of the 1st California Cavalry ran into a confederate held outpost at Pichacho Pass, rounding up three prisoners and scattering the rest. The numbers involved were small and the outcome already established as the confederates had little choice but to withdraw before the superior union force. Having arrived too late to affect the outcome, the remaining Union forces in New Mexico: the 1st Colorado, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Mexico Volunteer Infantry and the 1st California Infantry, 1st California Cavalry, 1st California Artillery spent the rest of the war fighting Apache and Navajo Indians. A visit to the Santa Fe National Cemetery will reveal remnants of Californian service in New Mexico, men who died of disease and wounds from Indian campaigning.
As before the Civil War, these frontier units were scattered about in forts established along critical trade and communication routes throughout the western states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and later Texas and Oklahoma.
The ubiquitous cavalryman from our western films wasn’t the only federal army presence in the west even after the war. The army still had several regular army regiments of infantry that were again located in the various forts. Cavalry makes for better westerns, but not for a complete view of our military at this time.
The campaign undertaken in 1876 to corral the Sioux and Cheyenne who were following Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse into the Black Hills of Montana was made up of both infantry and cavalry elements, Custer’s 7th being famous among them. A column under the command of General Crook, ten companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I, L, and M) of the 3rd Cavalry, five (A, B, D, E, and I) of the 2nd Cavalry, two companies (D and F) of the 4th Infantry, and three companies (C, G, and H) of the 9th Infantry was attacked at the headwaters of the Rosebud River, Montana and soundly defeated just days before General Terry’s column of including twelve companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, and M) of the 7th Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s immediate command, Companies C and G of the 17th U.S. Infantry, and the Gatling gun detachment of the 20th Infantry arrived at the mouth of the Rosebud. Custer’s 7th was to make its way up the Rosebud while Terry’s other units were to converge on the Little Big Horn River and catch the Indian encampment between two forces and disperse it. The rest is history as the 7th stumbles on the encampment first.
Infantry regiments as well as artillery units played key roles in defending frontier outposts. Know your area of interest’s history for the forts and who manned them lest you stray into more myth about the cavalry’s sole role in this time period.
Organizationally, there is little difference from before with the regiment still the primary unit that held ones allegiance. As before the Civil War, with a reduced regular army, units would be spread out on garrison duty so that a single company or two of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a troop or two of cavalry might be the only units present. The duties and the organization would be adapted to the need. The Indian Wars were punctuated affairs with several months of active campaigning where an entire regiment might be united for the hunt and then dispersed once again for garrison.
Patrolling would be done in one to two troops of cavalry or company sized infantry detachments. Because the enemy (from the army’s point of view) was wily and evasive, preferring hit and run to a stand up fight, the use of large numbers of men (aside from a large campaign) would be minimal. The expansive, hostile desert made operating and supplying large numbers of armed men difficult. Little patrolling was done as the fort was a presence and a response to possible Indian depredations on communication trails or settlements. The soldiers spent more hours in drill and upkeep activities than they did in actually fighting Indians.