As the nation expanded westward following the close of the Civil War the Army Department determined that more units were needed to protect settlers and fortune seekers heading west. On 28 July 1866, Congress authorized the creation of four additional cavalry regiments. Due to the racial segregation of the day, two white regiments and two black regiments would be organized. By General Order 92, the 7th and 8th Cavalry Regiments activated at Fort Riley, Kansas on 21 September 1866.
Lest one forget, "Garryowen" has never been two words! The regiment submitted three versions of the regimental distinctive insignia (RDI) to the War Department Office in 1924.The first design placed the tip of the saber at the base of the W. The second design placed the tip between the W and the E. The third design, which the War Department approved, placed the saber tip between the Y and the O. However it is to be noted that official Army and Regimental records reflect both versions of the "1" and "2" word name
Inception of the Regiment
Brevet Major General ( Major) John W. Davidson, of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, was the man responsible for getting 7th Cavalry its start. He was directed to select "from the subalterns of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry a suitable number of officers to assist in the organization." Although Davidson was never actually assigned to the regiment, he was effectively the commander until 26 November 1866, when Brevet Major General (Colonel) Andrew J. Smith took over as the first actual commander of the regiment. Smith, with little time in the regiment, commanded for a mere five months until Brevet Major General (Lieutenant Colonel) George Armstrong Custer assumed command on 26 February 1867.
Custer, the 1861 class "goat" (34th out of 34 graduates) of the United States Military Academy, served initially with the 2d Cavalry Regiment (Dragoons), then commanded the Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Brigade (Wolverines) from 1863 to the end of the war. He participated in every major battle of the war, and became the youngest officer ever to hold the rank of brevet Major General on 29 June 1863, two days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. In spite of his distinguished wartime record and rank, he never received the Medal of Honor.
Almost immediately following its activation the Seventh Cavalry Regiment patrolled the Kansas plains for raiding native Americans and to protect the westward movement of pioneers. From 1866 to 1881, the regiment marched a total of 181,692 miles across Kansas, Montana, and the Dakota Territories. Coupled with low pay, alcoholism, poor subsistence, and generally poor conditions, the regiment suffered ten suicides and 160 desertions. To exacerbate the bad living conditions, a private's monthly pay was $16.00. One dollar automatically came out of his pay for savings, and there was an automatic twelve and a half cent deduction for the Soldiers Home. This left the basic private soldier with a grand total of $14.87 and a half cents per month.
In 1876, Congress failed to pass a payroll bill for the United States Army. The result was that no soldiers received pay during the entire calendar year! Every Garryowen trooper who died at Little Big Horn died unpaid.
In 1867, Custer was relieved of his command and court-martialed on charges that during a pursuit of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, he had set such a killing pace that men deserted and he had issued the order to shoot on sight, wounding three and killing one. In addition, he was charged with an unauthorized absence from his command, to visit his wife Elizabeth at Fort Riley, Kansas. Custer was found guilty of these charges and was suspended from rank and command for one year with no pay during that time. General Ulysses S. Grant personally signed the court-martial order, and Custer's comparatively light sentence was most likely due to his distinguished service in the Civil War.
After reinstatement in the fall of 1868 Custer started preparing the regiment for a winter campaign. In the meantime, the bulk of the regiment's activities involved escorting duty, both for settlers and Indian Agents.
The Seventh was sent to deal with a group of Cheyenne who were encamped in the area of the Washita River. Custer's column marched south from their forward base, Camp Supply, towards the Washita. The regiment went to painstaking effort to clear the ridgelines lest the Cheyenne see them crossing the snow-covered hills. Osage scouts led the troopers. Upon detecting Chief Black Kettle's plan on the evening of 26 November 1868 Custer formulated his plan. The regiment would assault the camp in three separate columns. This division of forces, designed to surround their faster-moving enemies and bring the troopers' superior firepower to bear, became standard operating procedure with LTC Custer. As dawn broke on the extremely cold morning of 27 November 1868, the regimental band started playing "Garryowen." Many of the musicians' lips froze to their instruments in the cold. The regiment routed the Black Kettle and his men in a resounding victory for the troopers.
Over the next eight years the regiment performed several key missions, one of which was the Black Hills Expedition of 1874. The regiment escorted several prospectors into the Black Hills (considered a sacred Native American burial ground) country of South Dakota as the prospectors searched for gold. In the past, the land had been reserved for the Native Americans, but the prospectors were unconcerned with ceremonial rights. They found gold, and the resultant influx of gold-seekers were a contributing factor to the 1876 escalation of hostilities.
In 1875, the regiment also escorted a railroad survey of the Yellowstone River valley. This expedition brought the regiment into constant conflict with Native American raiding parties. Custer, contrary to popular belief, was a peace-loving man. He did everything possible to prevent war during his frontier campaigns. Custer repeatedly requested authorization to share surplus food and grain with the Native Americans under the jurisdiction of the Standing Rock Indian Agency, but was denied permission by the Department of the Interior, which controlled the Indian agencies. The cavalry, on the other hand, was under the War Department, and thus, had no recourse. Typically, the federal government had broken every treaty it had made with the Indians. Food, supplies, and weapons that had been promised to Native Americans were instead sold for gold to the settlers. The government promised these goods to the Native Americans if the latter would peacefully remain on reserved lands. What few supplies that actually were sold to the Native Americans were at unreasonable prices. Flour and grain sent to the agencies were often mixed with sand; meat was often unfit for human consumption. Given the Native Americans' traditionally nomadic lifestyle and the poor living conditions, it was no surprise that they migrated.
In his conduct of the "Cleaning House Campaign" against the Indian agents, Custer found one of the worst culprits in President Ulysses S. Grant's brother Orville. Abuse, cheating, and dishonesty ran rampant amongst the Indian agents who were supposed to uphold treaties and act as liaisons between the Native Americans and the federal government. Indian agents, who were appointed, often paid bribes to secure their position.
President Grant relieved Custer of his command in April 1876 for the latter's sin of speaking the uncomfortable truth about Orville Grant and the Indian agents. In the meantime, the regiment had been in combat and had made its name as the finest horse cavalrymen on the frontier.
General Philip H. Sheridan intervened and Custer returned to the regiment in late winter 1876 in time to join the campaign that was supposed to begin that spring. General Alfred H. Terry would have overall command, but Custer would command the Seventh Cavalry. The party departed Fort Abraham Lincoln (now Bismarck, North Dakota) on 17 May 1876. The Sioux Expedition of 1876 was a complicated plan that involved the coordination of three separate commands departing from three separate locations and intended to converge at approximately the same time. Major General George Crook's column in the south came into contact on 16 June with a large force on the Rosebud. Since he remained in possession of the battlefield after the fight, he would always claim a victory. In fact, enemy forces had stopped him, forcing him to remain at the Rosebud for more than two weeks reconstituting his command. Now there were only two columns left.
Terry's intent was to trap the Indians between Custer and Major General John Gibbon in the Little Big Horn Valley. Custer would pass all the way down the Rosebud and cross over to the Big Horn Valley and move north, thereby preventing their enemy from escaping south. In the past, the Sioux could use their superior mobility to avoid decisive engagement, and Terry's plan was to force a fight on 26 June in the valley of the Little Bighorn River.
Custer marched with approximately 700 soldiers on 22 June. They moved south for several days identifying Indian camp signs along the way. After making visual contact with Indians on 23 June, Custer ordered the column to turn west towards the Little Big Horn. On 24 June, Custer's Arikara and Osage scouts identified a party of Sioux shadowing them. The Sioux fled when approached-they had been discovered and Custer didn't want the Sioux encampment to escape. That night he gave the attack plans for 25 June. One battalion (D, H, and K Companies), led by CPT Frederick W. Benteen, was to circle wide to the south to follow General Terry's directions. A second battalion (A, G, and M Companies), led by MAJ Marcus A. Reno, would cross the Little Big Horn due west, make a turn, and sweep north. CPT Thomas M. MacDougall, with B Company, would guard the regimental trains. Custer led a reinforced third battalion (C, E, F, I, and L Companies) to make a frontal attack on the Sioux encampment, by staying on the east side of the river, moving north, then attacking from the north.
>Benteen found nothing in his sweep. Reno had limited intelligence information, and attacked into a hornet's nest of warriors. Reno was forced to withdraw in disarray and establish a strongpoint defense in a depression on a ridgeline. Benteen's column later joined them and Benteen took over command over the defense. They were able to hold out until relief arrived on the 27th. Custer, however, was not so lucky. Functioning under the same vague intelligence, that there was a "heap big injuns" in the valley, Custer assaulted the largest single encampment in North American Plains Indian history, estimated between 1500 and 6000 warriors. Never before, and never again, would the Sioux amass such a large force. Custer's command was annihilated in the attack.
The only living thing found at the last stand was Comanche, the I Company Commander's horse. Five members of the Custer family died at the last stand (George Armstrong Custer, CPT Thomas W. Custer, Brice C. W. Custer, Arthur Reed (a nephew), and LT James Calhoun (Custer's brother-in-law). Sioux warriors had stripped bodies of clothing and mutilated them to prevent fallen warriors from going to the Happy Hunting Grounds in the afterlife. Many troopers were so mutilated that no positive identification could be made.
Custer's body, however, was left intact, out of respect to his position and reputation. Custer had two bullet wounds in his body, one in his left side, the other to the temple of his head. It was common practice for soldiers to keep one round (q.v. the last verse of the traditional cavalry poem "Fiddler's Green") for themselves if they risked capture by the Indians. Could Custer have committed suicide? According to Native American reports passed down from generation to generation, the soldiers presumably began shooting themselves to avoid being captured. This may never be known.
"Little Big Horn Monument"
Despite the tremendous defeat at Little Big Horn the Sioux Campaign of 1876 was successful. By the beginning of 1877 nearly all of the Sioux tribes who had participated in the battle had returned to their reservations and they never again banded together in such numbers or even with such unity.
Between the Indian Wars and World War II
In 1883, cavalry companies were redesignated as troops. In the meantime, the regiment had been serving on the frontier. As the Indian Wars died down, the regiment moved to Fort Bayard and the Arizona Territories to interdict Native American raids in the area. After the beginning of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the governor of Arizona requested more security, primarily against Hispanics sympathetic to the Emperor Maximillian. In 1899, however, elements of 1st Squadron would deploy to Cuba to support forces there. They remained there until 1902, when they redeployed to Chickamauga National Park, Georgia.
On 24 November 1890, troops of the 7th Regiment left Fort Riley and traveled by rail to join key regiments in the history and development of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 8th Cavalry the 9th Cavalry Regiments and the 6th Cavalry Regiment at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. On 29 December 1890, the last major campaign to put down the last great Indian uprising; The Ghost Dance War, was initiated. As the Indian campaigns was concluded, the Cavalry continued to patrol the far western frontiers.
On 22 December 1892, a significant agreement which allowed troops to cross the international border in pursuit of savage Indians was made with the Mexican Government. In support of the southwest missions, in 1895, the majority of the 7th Cavalry changed their stations to Fort Bayard, New Mexico and the Arizona Territories. Scouting missions were directed at bands of Indians who continued to terrorize the areas.
During the time periods 1904-1907, and 1910-1915 the regiment served in the Philippines, but the next time the Seventh Cavalry would see combat was on the Mexican border as part of General John J. Pershing's Punitive Expedition against the Villistas of Pancho Villa. It was during the Punitive Expedition that the Seventh made the last true cavalry charge by a United States Army unit at the Battle of Guerrero.
After the Punitive Expedition, the regiment stayed at Fort Bliss with the 15th Cavalry Division. George S. Patton, Jr. served as A Troop Commander during this time. During World War I, COL Selah R. H. "Tommy" Tompkins would lead a force of cavalry, artillery, and engineers after Pancho Villa's Mexican bandits in 1919. Tompkins entered service in 1884 with the 7th Infantry Regiment, then transferred to the 7th Cavalry in 1886. He fought at Wounded Knee and White Clay Creeks-the last two major engagements in the Indian Wars. COL Tompkins, at his completion of command of the regiment in 1920, had spent 34 years in the regiment, from his years as a second lieutenant all the way to his completion of regimental command.
In 1921, the Seventh Cavalry Regiment would be assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division and remained at Fort Bliss. During the interwar period, the regiment held the line as one of the last bastions of the horse cavalry in spite of the increasing need for mechanization. It was in the last days of the horse cavalry that 2LT Creighton A. Abrams got his start, distinguishing himself as F Troop's finest lieutenant before heading to his future armor assignments.This is a progressive revision of prior histories, written by:
MAJ Randall R. Stevens
CPT Brian L. Steed.
1LT Francis J. H. Park
James W. Savage, SGT "D" Troop 3-7 (1968-69)