I Fought with Custer - Windolph

Baltis

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Dec 2011
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[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Fought-Custer-Sergeant-Windolph-Survivor/dp/0803297203/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415589035&sr=8-1&keywords=I+Fought+with+Custer"]I Fought With Custer: The Story of Sergeant Windolph, Last Survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn: Charles Windolph, Neil Mangum, Frazier Hunt, Robert Hunt: 9780803297203: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/413EE5SQEXL.@@AMEPARAM@@413EE5SQEXL[/ame]

I Fought with Custer – Sergeant Windolph:

Well, its been a few months and I am back in Kansas vacationing and visiting family. Apparently, it is fast becoming tradition for me to use these opportunities to read and study yet another book on Custer and the Little Big Horn. This time we have Sgt. Windolph. He lived until 1950 and was the last living survivor of the battle. His book came out in 1947 although much of it had been put together in the 30s. World War II got in the way of publication and Windolph (along with his scribes, Frazier and Robert Hunt) was delayed for an additional decade. Luckily enough, not only did the old man still live but he retained a clear memory until the day of his death. It’s a very interesting book with lots of added primary source material. A delight to read on the flight yesterday.

Private Charles Windolph joined the 7th Cavalry (company H) in 1872 just In time to participate in the first Yellowstone Expedition and also the Black Hills Expedition prior to Little Big Horn. Born in Germany in 1851, Private Windolph immigrated to America in 1870 in order to avoid being drafted into the Franco-Prussian War. Windolph said, “Always struck me as being funny; here we’d run away from Germany to escape military service, and now, because most of us couldn’t get a job anywhere else, we were forced to go into the army here. There were hundreds of us German boys in that same fix. I asked for the cavalry and was assigned to the Seventh.”

“It was wonderful to be young, and to be riding into Indian country as part of the finest regiment of cavalry in the world.”

Windolph served in the 7th for 12 years. He eventually made First Sergeant of ‘H’ company where he remained during his entire 12 year career. However, at that point, “my old sweetheart from Germany came to this country with my father and mother. I asked her to marry me, and I remember as if it was yesterday how she pointed to my First Sergeant’s chevrons and said, ‘Charlie, you must choose between the army and me.’ I chose her and I never regretted my choice.” Windolph then worked in the Homestake Mines in the Black Hills for 48 years before retiring on a pension.
 

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Windolph on Unit Pride in the 7th Cavalry

On Unit Pride:

“We were all mighty proud of the Seventh. It just didn’t seem like anything could ever happen to it.”

“You felt like you were somebody when you were on a good horse, with a carbine dangling from its small leather ring socket on your McClelland saddle, and a Colt army revolver strapped on your hip; and a hundred rounds of ammunition in your web belt and in your saddle pockets. You were a cavalryman of the Seventh Regiment. You were a part of a proud outfit that had a fighting reputation, and you were ready for a fight or a frolic.”

“Oh, it was a fine regiment, right enough. And there wasn’t a man in it who didn’t believe it was the greatest cavalry outfit in the entire United States Army.”
 

Baltis

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Windolph on Benteen

On Benteen:

Windolph was with a group of 3 or 4 recruits sent to Nashville, TN where Company ‘H’ was stationed under Captain Benteen. “Captain Benteen swore us in. I couldn’t understand what he said, but I thought he was about the finest-looking soldier I had ever seen. He had bright eyes and a ruddy face, and he had a great thatch of iron-gray hair. It made him look might handsome. I found out later that he had been born in VA, but had stuck to the Union and had become the Colonel of the Ninth Missouri cavalry during the Civil War, and that he was known as one of the bravest officers in the Union army.”

“He was a wonderful officer. He let the First Sergeant pretty much run the company. He wasn’t always interfering and running the details. I served under Benteen for 12 full years, lacking only those three days.”

He “governed mainly by suggestion; in all the years I knew him, I never once heard him raise his voice to enforce his purpose. He would sit by the open fire at night, his bright pleasant face framed by his snow-white hair, beaming with kindness and humor, and often I watched his every movement to find out the secret of his quiet steady government, that I might go and govern likewise. For example, if he intended to stay a few days in one camp he would say to his adjutant, ‘Brewer, don’t you think we had better take up our regular guard mount while in camp?’ and Brewer always thought it ‘Better’ and so did everybody else. If he found this kindly manner misunderstood, then his iron hand would close down quickly, but that was seldom necessary, and then only with newcomers and never twice with the same person.”

Benteen maintained a very cool demeanor during the LBH battle on Reno Hill. “Benteen had been walking up and down the line urging the men to hold fast, not to waste their fire, and to keep cool. I remember saying to him, ‘Colonel, you better get down, sir, or you’ll get killed.’ ‘Don’t worry about me, he answered grimly. ‘I’m all right.’ He sure had a charmed life that day.”



“I shall die believing Colonel Benteen was one of the noblest soldiers who ever lived. I worship his memory almost as much as I do the Stars and Stripes. He was a true friend!”
 

Baltis

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Windolph on his Medal of Honor

On the Water Detail from Reno’s Hill:

“* * * But we had to do something for those men who were wounded and crying for water.”

“Finally Captain Benteen called for volunteers. I think there were 17 of us altoghter who stepped forward. He detailed four of us from “H” who were extra good marksmen to take up an exposed position on the brow of the hill, facing the river. We were to stand up and not only draw the fire of the Indians below, but we were to pump as much lead as we could into the bushes where the Indians were hiding, while the water party hurried down to the draw, got their buckets and pots and canteens filled, and then made their way back. It just happened that the four of us who were posted on the hill were all German boys; Geiger, Meckling, Voit and myself. None of us four were wounded, although we stood exposed on that ridge for more than twenty minutes, and they threw plenty of lead at us. Several of the water party, however, were badly wounded, although we kept up a steady fire into the bushes where the Indians were hiding. Each of us was given a Congressional Medal of Honor. * * * After we’d got the water up for the wounded, Benteen told me he was making me a Sergeant-promoting me on the field of battle. I was always proud of that.”
 

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Was it a massacre?

On the question of massacre:

“People call it, ‘the Custer Massacre.’ It wasn’t any massacre; it was a straight, hard fight, and the five troops who were with Custer simply got cut to ribbons and every last white man destroyed.”
 

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On Custer and Benteen - Elliott Letter

On Benteen’s problem with Custer over Washita and Major Elliott:

“It got to be gossip among the troopers that some of the officers didn’t set so very well with the General. My Captain, “Colonel” Benteen, was one of those who didn’t belong to the General’s inner circle. I suppose you could say about half of the officers in the regiment were close to Custer, and the rest were not. I repeat, that Benteen was distinctly not an intimate of Custer. I heard all sorts of reasons why that was true. There was one report that Benteen had turned bitter because Custer had pulled out after the Battle of the Washita, in December, 1868, in Kansas, and had left Major Elliott and 17 men to their fate. A day or two later they were all found killed, scalped and mutilated. There was a story that Custer and Benteen had had some hard words over that. But of course I don’t know how true that old story is.”

An anonymous letter appeared in the St. Louis Democrat that described Major Elliott’s ordeal in great detail and with obvious sarcasm. “But does no one think of the welfare of Major Elliott and party? It seems not. But yes! A squadron of cavalry is in motion. They Trot; they gallop. Now they Charge! The cowardly redskins flee the coming shock, and scatter here and there among the hills on beyond. But is it the true line – will the cavalry keep it? No! No! They Turn! Ah, tis only to intercept the wily foe.” The letter went on to describe the soldiers as refusing to travel “One more short mile and they will be saved. * * * There is no hope for that brave little band, the death doom is theirs, for the cavalry halt and rest their panting steeds.”

When Custer finished the bitter letter “he demanded the officer reveal himself. The story goes that Benteen shifted his revolver to a convenient postion and announced that he was the author. What happened then has never been cleared up. But there is no question that from then on there was no love lost between the two strong personalities.”
 

Baltis

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Nightlife in camp with Custer

On Life during the Black Hills Expedition:

“It was fun in the long evenings, when we’d taken care of our horses, and the guards were posted, and everything was shipshape. It was getting higher country all the time as we went west, and that meant cool nights, even in the middle of July. We’d make great campfires and almost every evening there’d be a band concert. General Custer was might proud of our Seventh Regiment band. They were mounted on white horses and he had them along on all his expeditions and campaigns. They’d never fail to play the regiment’s own song “Garry Owen.” That was an old Irish battle song that Custer had adopted for Seventh’s own. I faintly remember some of the other tunes they used to play on that trip. One of them was “The Mocking Bird.” And then there was “The Blue Danube.” We had a mighty fine band, and on the nights when the ood was out and the stars cracking in the sky, and the air was crisp and cool, it was something to stretch out before a big open log fire and listen to the music. Soldiering wasn’t half bad those times.”
 
Nov 2010
7,648
Cornwall
#10
I'm sure he was a fine man and a good soldier. But the mind plays tricks on events up to 60 years before. Especially it's the old-timers 'everything was wonderful in those days', when in fact it was probably hell - my parents' upbringings in the mill towns of Lancashire and soldiering in the US army in 1876!