Fort Philip Kearney - Fetterman Massacre

Fetterman Massacre
Battle of the Hundred Slain
   William Judd Fetterman (1833? - December 21, 1866) was probably born in New London, Connecticut, although there is some uncertainty. His father was a career Army officer of Pennsylvania German ancestry. During the Civil War, Fetterman enlisted in the Union Army in May 1861 in Delaware, and was promptly commissioned a first lieutenant. He served with the First Battalion of the US 18th Infantry Regiment throughout the war and was twice brevetted for gallant conduct, finishing the war as a lieutenant colonel of Volunteers. After the war, he chose to remain in the Regular Army and was assigned as a captain in the Second Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment. In November 1866, the regiment was stationed at Fort Phil Kearny, tasked with protecting immigrants traveling to the gold fields of Montana Territory along the Bozeman Trail.
   Acting under orders from Colonel Carrington, Brevet-Colonel Fetterman led eighty men, 49 enlisted infantry, 27 cavalry under Lieutenant George Grummond, the comapny armourer, Private madden and two civilian volunteers, James Wheatley and Isaac Fisher, out of Fort Kearney on December 21, 1866, at 11:15 A. M. to protect a wood cutting party under attack. Captain Fred H. Brown was second in command. Captain Powell was originally picked to led the relief force but Fetterman interceded and because he outranked Powell took over the force. Colonel Carrington ordered the party, ". . . support the wood train. Relieve it and report to me. Do not engage or pursue Indians at its expense. Under no circumstances pursue over the ridge, viz., Lodge Trail Ridge, as per map in your possession."
   Within a few minutes of their departure, a Lakota decoy party including Oglala warrior Crazy Horse appeared on Lodge Trail Ridge. Fetterman took the bait, especially since several of the warriors stood on their ponies and insultingly waggled their bare buttocks at the troopers. Fetterman and his company were joined by Grummond at the crossing of the creek.At 11:45 Fetterman's command halted on the crest of the ridge with skirmishers out. A few minutes later Fetterman's rear guard dissappeared over the the ridge. They raced down into the Peno Valley, where an estimated 1,000-3,000 Indians were concealed. They had fought the soldiers there on December 6.
   Just when the bugler was ready to blow mess call at noon, men at the fort heard gunfire, beginning with a few shots followed immediately by sustained firing. The ambush was not observed, but evidence indicated the cavalry probably had charged the Indians. The cavalry's most advanced group was nearly a mile down the ridge beyond the infantry. When the Cheyenne and Oglala sprang their trap, the soldiers had no escape.
   Carrington heard the gunfire and immediately sent out a 40-man support force on foot under Captain Tenedor Ten Eyck. Shortly after, the 30 remaining cavalrymen of Company C were sent dismounted to reinforce Ten Eyck, followed by two wagons, the first loaded with hastily loaded ammunition and escorted by another 40 men. Carrington called for an immediate muster of troops to defend the post. Including the wood train detail, the detachments had left only 119 troops remaining inside the fort.
   Ten Eyck took a roundabout route and reached the ridgetop just as the firing ceased about 12:45 p.m. He sent back a message reporting that he could not see Fetterman's force, but the valley was filled with groups of Indians taunting him to come down. Ten Eyck suffered severe criticism for not marching straight to the sound of the battle, though doing so would have resulted only in the destruction of his force, too. Ten Eyck reached and recovered the bodies of Fetterman's men. Because of continuing Indian threat, they could not recover those of the cavalry for two days.
   Reports from the burial party sent to collect the remains said the soldiers had died in three groups. The most advanced and probably most effective were the two civilians, armed with 16-shot Henry repeating rifles, and a small number of cavalrymen who had dismounted and taken cover in the rocks. Up the slope behind them were the bodies of most of the retreating cavalrymen, armed with new 7-shot Spencer carbines, but encumbered by their horses and without cover. Further up the slope were Fetterman, Brown and the infantrymen, armed with nearly obsolete Civil War muzzle-loading rifled-muskets. These foot soldiers fought from cover for a short while, until their ammunition ran out and they were overrun.
   Carrington's official report claimed that Fetterman and Brown shot each other to avoid capture, though Army autopsies recorded Fetterman's death wound as a knife slash. It remains a subject of debate. The warriors mutilated most of the bodies of the soldiers; facts widely publicized by the newspapers. The only body left untouched was that of a young bugler, Adolph Metzler. He was believed to have fought several Indians with just his bugle. His body was left untouched and covered in a buffalo robe by the Indians. The reason for this remains unknown, although it may have been a tribute to his bravery. The battle was called the "Battle of the Hundred Slain" by the Indians and the "Fetterman Massacre" by the soldiers. It was the Army's worst defeat on the Great Plains until the disaster on the Little Big Horn ten years later.


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