Originally Posted by Urban hermit
This has been a great thread, thanks to all who have contributed, I have a question about what qualifies as a last stand.
There are many actions that one or even both sides went into with the understanding that they were making a last stand, but the outcome was different than the expectations.
Following on from that thought, it seems to me the term ‘last stand’ is being interpreted very widely. In the situation where a force is beleaguered and has to make ‘a stand’ against superior odds, it either succeeds in holding off the enemy, needs to be rescued, or is overwhelmed. Those three are distinct from say a simple siege or a force that is cut off and wiped out.
The phrase ‘last stand’ implies an action or operation that has gone wrong and in the process of being defeated, the survivors make a stand, which may lead to final defeat (Custer) or succeed in holding the enemy off, enabling retreat or rescue.(Reno-Benteen)
Just taking some examples from the Plains Indian Wars:
1862 Fort Ridgel
y a week long siege in which massive Sioux attacks are successfully held off until relief column arrives. A near run thing after one range of the post buildings had to be set on fire.
1864 Adobe Walls
Carson’s New Mexico column attack a large Kiowa-Commanche (et al) winter encampment. The outnumbered force manage to withstand successive attacks from the Indians before withdrawing with minimal casualties.
1866 Fort Phil Kearny
established in hostile territory and the garrison effectively besieged, only able to operate within a small radius and communications with other U.S. forces severely limited.
- 1866 ‘Fetterman massacre
’, a force from Fort Phil Kearny is lured into an ambush and wiped out. There were indications that the last to be killed, men of the cavalry element and scouts, armed with repeating carbines, may have made a brief ‘final stand.’
- 1867 Hayfield Fight
; Waggon Box fight
. Fatigue parties from Ft Phil Kearny attacked by large Indian forces. Superior firepower enables the beleaguered troops to hold off the enemy attacks until relieved, with disaster narrowly averted.
1867 Kidder Massacre
A small patrol of 2nd Cavalry under Lt Lyman Kidder attacked by Cheyenne and Sioux and wiped out
1868 Republican River.
Forsyth’s fighting patrol attacked in camp and hold off successive Cheyenne-Sioux attacks from positions on “Beecher’s Island’ over several days until relieved, after messengers successfully escape to seek help.
1868 Washita River
. In a repeat of Adobe Walls, Custer’s column attacks a large winter encampment of Cheyenne Arapaho et al. Initially successful, Custer is forced to retreat when the Indians rally to drive him off. Major Joel Elliot having taken a troop to probe further downstream, is cut off and the detachment wiped out; some claim the party was abandoned by Custer to its fate.
1874 Buffalo Wallow
A small 6th Cavalry mail party is surrounded on the Staked Plains and sheltering in a shallow hollow, holds off Indian attackers for a day. A different outcome to the Kidder party.
1876 Rosebud Creek
. Crook’s column is caught off-guard by large Sioux-Cheyenne force. After intense 6-hour running fight, Indians withdraw. Crook retreats.
1876 Little Big Horn river
1. Reno’s battalion repulsed and forced to dig in on bluffs above the river, reinforced by Benteen’s battalion. They withstand several days siege until relieved
2. Custer’s column is repulsed and defeated in detail. From the positionof the bodies, the command group including Custer and members of his family is popularly thought to have made a last stand on a hilltop set back from the river. If it occurred at all, this 'stand' may have only lasted a short time.
- It’s a moot point whether any of these actions other than the last, which may turn out to be folklore, can be counted as a ‘last stand’ (as opposed to making a stand, being surrounded or besieged).