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Great Sioux War Orders of Battle

Great Sioux War Orders of Battle

By Paul Hedren

Book Review by Bob Reece, May 2011

While reading Paul Hedren’s, “Great Sioux War Orders of Battle”, we have to ask why no one has produced such a reference before. We find bits and pieces of Mr. Hedren’s material in a small number of other works, but never have we seen this data comprised into one volume. Besides data, the author provides a reasonable and innovative analysis for why the frontier army was ably led and equipped to win the Sioux/Cheyenne War of 1876.

No matter one’s opinion on the subject of the U.S. Army during the Centennial Campaign, Mr. Hedren’s arguments are well made and supported from primary research. His check list of primary material includes but is not limited to 185 monthly Regimental Returns, official reports, and diaries. The war was made up of a complex maze of many columns of infantry and cavalry moving across a wide landscape over a period of almost two years. Making sense of it all is a huge challenge, but Mr. Hedren accomplishes it through a novel approach.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one “explores the doctrine, training, culture, and materiel” of the army that entered the campaign. Part two is exemplary in that the author has divided the entire campaign into 28 separate deployments starting with the relief of Fort Pease in February 1876, and ending with the establishment of Fort Custer in July 1877. Part three encompasses a well thought-out analysis for why a well trained army could lose on some of the campaigns’ battlefields. It also affirms why the war was not won because of luck; the army went into the field confident and rightfully so.

The hub of this story is the details of the 28 deployments; it is a researcher’s treasure trove of material. This and the appendices add up to a book rich in substance that is important to the student of this period in U.S. History (more on the appendices later). Included in each deployment are a summary of its actions, officers and organization, and a list of companies and officers for each battalion. We will not find a tally for the number of soldiers within each deployment; however, Mr. Hedren explains in our interview why that wasn’t possible within the scope of this book. For me, the deployments serve two purposes: a breakdown of a complex war into chewable chunks, and an uncomplicated means to analyze the campaign for weaknesses and strengths. I thought I knew the Sioux/Cheyenne War fairly well, but Mr. Hedren has shown me a new way to look at it.

“Great Sioux War” could have easily been a great book if deployment number 28 was among its last pages. The icing on the cake is its appendices. Appendix A is a list of the regiments and their companies, followed by their experiences in Indian campaigns prior to 1876. Appendix B is a table listing staff and field-grade officers and whether they commanded troops in the war, whether they attended and/or graduated from West Point, and whether a veteran of the Civil War and/or Indian campaigns before the 1876 war. Appendix C is the same table but lists company-grade officers. Appendix D names the medical officers, and contract surgeons engaged in the war. Appendix E lists the battles, skirmishes, soldier and Indian casualties of the war. Appendix F lists the officers killed or wounded. Appendix G is a nice addition with a glossary of military terms adapted to 1876. To top all of this, Mr. Hedren has included a handsome fold-out map, “The Northern Plains During the Great Sioux War”.

Thankfully, the very reputable publisher, Arthur H. Clark Company, has designed and produced a book of fine quality at an affordable price. There is no doubt that “Great Sioux War Orders of Battle” will always remain a fundamental reference of this turbulent period in U.S. history.

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Interview with Paul Hedren

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