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Battle of Wolf Mountain - History

Battle of Wolf Mountain - History

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The Battle of Wold Mountain

On January 8, 1877 US troops under the command of Captain Edumund Butler, 5th US infantry defeated a a force of 500 Sioux and Cheyenne. The battle took place at Wolf Mountain in Montana, and the Indians were led by Chief Crazy Horse.

After Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the army sent large number troops into the Montana territory to bring the territory under control. Many native Americans began to return to the reservations. General Nelson Miles led a force of soldiers to defeat Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull was ready to surrender but when his delegation was killed by US army Crow scouts, his men demanded revenge. Crazy Horse drew attempted to draw Miles forces up the Tongue River called. Miles camped out just south of today Birney Montana. Over night heavy snow fell, and the temperatures dropped. Crazy Horse and his men began an assault the next morning on Miles forces but failed to dislodge Miles. Miles troops counterattacked and while they did not defeat the Indians, they dislodged them. While tactically this was not a complete victory for the army strategically the fact that in the middle of the winter in deep snow the army could successfully pursue the Indians convinced Crazy Horse that his plight was hopeless and he soon surrendered

Battle of Wolf Mountain 8 January 1877

After the disaster of the Battle of Little Bighorn where George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was nearly wiped out and Custer was killed, the U.S. Army tried desperately to get the Indians back onto the reservations and secure concessions. The Army Indian fighters of the upper American plains went hell for leather in harrying American Indian leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. However, the harsh winter of 1876-1877 made it hard for the US Army to conduct the pursuit. General George Crook called an end to the campaigning season until the weather eased. However, the aggressive, but vain General Nelson “Bear Coat” Miles wanted none of Crook’s waiting and launched new offensives over Christmas 1876 and into early 1877 in search of Crazy Horse’s Oglala Sioux. The Indians had felt they were secure for the winter, because the Army did not normally pursue them in the think of the northern plains’ winter.

Sioux and Cheyenne Join Forces

The Sioux were in decent shape, but some of their Cheyenne allies who joined them were ragged from lack of provisions and the weather. Most of the Cheyenne wanted to re-enter the reservation to secure provisions. However, others, including most of the Sioux, did not want to concede the Black Hills in return for the provisions. These fractures in the coalition caused many discussions amongst the Indians in search of consensus throughout December 1876. In the mean time, Miles was wading through the deep snow in search of Crazy Horse’s trail. The situation for the Sioux was growing tense with Miles stalking them. On 7 January 1877, Crazy Horse found and attacked Miles’ column on the Tongue River, but the Indians were rebuffed and Miles took a Cheyenne contingent prisoner. Thereafter, Miles encountered repeated raids to free the prisoners, so he decided to set up a defensive position near Wolf Mountain. Simultaneously, the Sioux and Cheyenne moved their villages further north along the Tongue River to get away from Miles.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain

On the morning of 8 January 1877 the battle commenced in a blizzard with Crazy Horse attacking from various angles, but he did not find a crease to exploit. As the weather cleared a bit, Miles was able to get range with his artillery which prompted an advance on Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse had no choice, but to retreat to save his force. The numbers lost by both sides were small and the battle may have gone down as a draw. However, the larger point was made on the Indians by the Battle of Wolf Mountain, also known as the Battle of the Butte. They were not safe from US forces in their own areas, even in the dead of winter. Total capitulation was to follow shortly. Miles was not liked by much of anyone, but his successes were rewarded and he eventually became the Commanding General of the US Army in 1895.

Battle of Wolf Mountain Motorcycle Ride

For a good long run all around the area of Miles’ and Crazy Horse’s actions in the Tongue River area, try this ride from Sheridan, WY to Decker, MT to Birney, MT to Ashland, MT to Busby, MT, and finishing at the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield, which I highly recommend. This is a long run for bikes with smaller gas tanks with few fuel points. Make sure you top up in Sheridan, WY before making this run. Some of it is gravel road too, so be careful out there. The Battle of Wolf Mountain Battlefield is approximately 4 miles southwest of Birney, MT. It is under the private ownership of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. The Battlefield Biker’s fellow riders are a polite and respectful bunch, so please ask for permission before entering private lands.

Legends of America

Battle of the Little Bighorn, by Charles M. Russell, 1903

Battle of Alkali Creek – September 1, 1865, Powder River War, Sioux

Battle of Dry Creek – September 8, 1865, Powder River War, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho

Hayfield Fight – August 1, 1867, Red Cloud’s War, Cheyenne and Sioux

Battle of Sixteenmile Creek – April 7, 1869, Blackfoot

Battle of Bighorn River – August 11, 1873, Sioux

Battle of the Rosebud – June 17, 1876, Great Sioux War of 1876, Cheyenne and Sioux

Battle of the Little Bighorn – June 25–26, 1876, Great Sioux War of 1876, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho

Battle of the Cedar Creek – October 21, 1876, Great Sioux War of 1876, Sioux, Shoshone, Crow

Battle of Wolf Mountain, Montana

Battle of Wolf Mountain – January 8, 1877, Great Sioux War of 1876, Cheyenne and Sioux

Battle of Little Muddy Creek – May 7, 1877, Great Sioux War of 1876, Cheyenne and Sioux

Battle of the Big Hole – August 9–10, 1877, Nez Perce War, Nez Perce, and Palouse

Battle of Canyon Creek – September 13, 1877, Nez Perce War, Nez Perce, and Crow

Battle of Bear Paw – September 30 – October 5, 1877, Nez Perce War, Nez Perce

Battle of Pumpkin Creek – February 7, 1880, Sioux

Battle of Milk River – July 17, 1879, Sioux

Battle of Poplar River – January 2, 1881, Sioux

Battle of Crow Agency – November 5, 1887, Crow

Before the state of Montana was carved into vast ranches, it was the last great hunting ground of the Northern Plains and called home to numerous Indian Tribes. With Westward Expansion, the territory was threatened by new settlers and the Native Americans fought back.

Montana’s Indian Wars can mostly be condensed into three groups: The Blackfeet Wars of northwestern Montana, the Nez Perce’s 1,170-mile march from eastern Oregon to Canada, and the well-chronicled Great Sioux War of 1862, the battles of which were led by Chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Dull Knife, Two Moons and others against the likes of Generals George Custer, Nelson Miles, George Crook, Alfred Terry, and other cavalry leaders. These bands of Sioux and Cheyenne were the last holdouts in the northern plains against white incursion.


The Borg cube is destroyed

Following the battle, the cube resumed course towards Earth, completely undamaged. The Enterprise, having finally completed repairs, raced to catch up to the Borg. ( TNG : " The Best of Both Worlds, Part II ") In preparation for a Borg invasion of Earth, a state of emergency was declared on the planet. ( DS9 : " Homefront ") Brushing aside the last line of defense by easily destroying a flotilla of Mars Defense Perimeter sentry pods, the Borg cube took up position in Earth orbit. However, using the recaptured Locutus and his link to the collective mind of the Borg, the Enterprise crew managed to plant subversive commands to deactivate and destroy the Borg ship. ( TNG : " The Best of Both Worlds, Part II ")

Although the outcome of the invasion could have been much worse, the result of the battle was nothing short of disaster. The loss of such a large number of starships left the Federation unprepared for any new sustained conflict. ( TNG : " The Wounded ") Commander Shelby took command of a special task force to rebuild Starfleet, but returning the fleet to previous deployment levels was expected to take up to a year. ( TNG : " The Best of Both Worlds, Part II ")

Battle of Wolf Mountain - History

The largest intertribal battle on the southern plains was fought in mid-June 1838 in northwestern Oklahoma when allied Cheyenne and Arapaho attacked camps of confederated Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache on Wolf Creek, about twenty miles above (southwest of) present Fort Supply (in present Ellis County). The Cheyenne and Arapaho had traveled from southeastern Colorado in search of their traditional enemies, the Kiowa, to avenge the deaths of Cheyenne Bowstring Society warriors slain in 1836 while raiding along the Washita River.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho fell upon the camps in the morning, killing many people who were either berry picking along Wolf Creek or hunting buffalo in the nearby hills. Some defenders went out and challenged the attackers, and others protected the camps. On both sides, the fighting was done by individuals or by small groups, armed with traditional weapons such as bows and lances a few Cheyenne had guns. Repeated attacks during the day failed to overwhelm the Kiowa and their allies, and the attackers, their need for revenge satisfied, ceased fighting in the afternoon. An unknown number lay dead. The scene of carnage was witnessed three days later by a U.S. Army dragoon detachment escorting friendly Osage chiefs to a council with the Kiowa.

A positive consequence of the battle was a peace agreement made among the five tribes. Warriors who had tested each other in battle now faced a new menace in the form of Euroamericans who were entering the southern plains. Intertribal cooperation was desperately needed, and in the summer of 1840 at Bent's Fort, in southeastern Colorado, representatives of the tribes came together to make peace. The resulting alliance lasted throughout the struggle with the United States during the Indian wars of the last half of the nineteenth century.


George B. Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955).

Stan Hoig, Tribal Wars on the Southern Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).

James Mooney, "Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians," in Bureau of American Ethnology, Seventeenth Annual Report, Part I (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1898).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Bob Rea, &ldquoWolf Creek, Battle of,&rdquo The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WO001.

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Native Americans score victory at the Battle of the Rosebud

Sioux and Cheyenne Native Americans score a tactical victory over General Crook’s forces at the Battle of the Rosebud, foreshadowing the disaster of the Battle of the Little Big Horn eight days later.

General George Crook was in command of one of three columns of soldiers converging on the Big Horn country of southern Montana that June. A large band of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians under the direction of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and several other chiefs had congregated in the area in defiance of U.S. demands that the Native Americans confine themselves to reservations. The army viewed the tribes’ refusal as an opportunity to dispatch a massive three-pronged attack.

Crook’s column, marching north from Fort Fetterman in Wyoming Territory, was to join with two others: General Gibbon’s column coming east from Fort Ellis in Montana Territory, and General Terry’s force coming west from Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory. Terry’s force included the soon-to-be-famous 7th Cavalry under the command of George Custer. The vast distances and lack of reliable communications made it difficult to coordinate, but the three armies planned to converge on the valley of the Big Horn River and stage an assault on an enemy whose location and size was only vaguely known.

The plan quickly ran into trouble. As Crook approached the Big Horn, his scouts informed him they had found signs of a major Sioux force that must still be nearby. Crook was convinced that the Sioux were encamped in a large village somewhere along the Rosebud Creek just east of the Big Horn. Like most of his fellow officers, Crook believed that Indians were more likely to flee than stand and fight, and he was determined to find the village and attack before the Sioux could escape into the wilderness. Crook’s allies� Crow and Shoshone warriors—were less certain. They suspected the Sioux force was under the command of Crazy Horse, thee brilliant war chief. Crazy Horse, they warned, was too shrewd to give Crook an opportunity to attack a stationary village.

Crook soon learned that his allies were right. Around 8 a.m. on June 17, 1876, Crook halted his force of about 1,300 men in the bowl of a small valley along the Rosebud Creek in order to allow the rear of the column to catch up. Crook’s soldiers unsaddled and let their horses graze while they relaxed in the grass and enjoyed the cool morning air. The American soldiers were out in the open, divided, and unprepared. Suddenly, several Indian scouts rode into the camp at a full gallop. “Sioux! Sioux!” they shouted. “Many Sioux!” Within minutes, a mass of Sioux warriors began to converge on the army.

A force of at least 1,500 mounted Sioux warriors caught Crook’s soldiers by surprise. Crazy Horse had kept an additional 2,500 warriors in reserve to finish the attack. Fortunately for Crook, one segment of his army was not caught unprepared. His 262 Crow and Shoshone allies had taken up advanced positions about 500 yards from the main body of soldiers. With astonishing courage, the Indian warriors boldly countercharged the much larger invading force. They managed to blunt the initial attack long enough for Crook to regroup his men and send soldiers forward to support his Indian allies. The fighting continued until noon, when the Sioux-perhaps hoping to draw Crook’s army into an ambush—retreated from the field.

The combined force of 4,000 Sioux warriors had outnumbered Crook’s divided and unprepared army by more than three to one. Had it not been for the wisdom and courage of Crook’s allies, Americans today might well remember the Battle of the Rosebud as they do the subsequent Battle of the Little Big Horn. As it was, Crook’s team was badly bloodied� men were killed and 56 were seriously wounded.

Crook had no choice but to withdraw and regroup. Crazy Horse had lost only 13 men and his warriors were emboldened by their successful attack on the American soldiers. Eight days later, they would join with their tribesmen in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, which would wipe out George Custer and his 7th Cavalry.

Order of Battle

US Army
Lieutenant Colonel Anderson B. Nelson, commanding post

Tenth US Cavalry
Company A, Captain Nicholas Nolan, commanding
1st Lieutenant George Raulston
Company F, 2nd Lieutenant Mason Maxon, commanding
Company I, 1st Lieutenant Myron Amick, commanding
Company K, 1st Lieutenant Robert Smithers, commanding
2nd Lieutenant William Davis

Third US Infantry
Company B, Captain Verling Hart, commanding
1st Lieutenant John Thompson
Company F, 2nd Lieutenant William Mackay, commanding

Soldiers on extra duty at the post were probably involved in the fighting and defense of the garrison. They would have been from the companies cited above. Company E, 3rd Infantry of the garrison was on detached service at the Darlington Agency Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation.

Approximate total strength of the garrison was 250.
Casualties: None, two cavalry horses wounded.

American Indians
Approximate strength at 200. Kiowa probably led by Little Heart. Comanches and Plains Apaches.
Casualties: Army estimated six killed and more wounded.


Carricker, Robert C. Fort Supply, Indian Territory: Frontier Outpost on the Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970. 46-55

Leckie, William. The Buffalo Soldiers. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

National Archives and Record Administration.
Office of the Adjutant General, Record Group 94, Letters Sent, Department of the Missouri
Fort Supply Post Returns
Medical History Fort Supply
United States Army Commands, Record Group 98
Organization Returns, Tenth Cavalry
Organization Returns, Third Infantry

Anderson Nelson to Assistant Adjutant General Department of the Missouri, June 12th, 1870. Letters Sent, Department of Missouri
Smither to Mackay, June 12, 1870

Nye, W.S. Plains Indian Raiders: The Final Phases of Warfare from the Arkansas to the Red River. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968. 161

Rea, Bob. “Battle of Camp Supply.” American Battlefield Protection Program 1994 Battlefield Survey Form. July 1997.

US Army, Military Division of the Missouri. Record of Engagements with Hostile Indians within the Military Division of the Missouri, from 1868 to 1882. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1882.

War Department, Circular No. 4, Surgeon General’s Office. A Report on Barracks and Hospitals, with Descriptions of Military Posts. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1870.

Warde, Mary Jane. “Attack on Camp (Fort) Supply” Oklahoma Historical Society, 1994.

National Archives and Records Administration
Captain E.B. Kirk, “Ground Plan of Camp Supply, Indian Territory dated December 13, 1870.”

1873 US Government Survey map, Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

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Azog and his orcs took over the mines of Moria, having possibly been sent there by Sauron, and he became one of the most influential orcs in the northern lands. When the dwarf lord, Thror, visited Moria in the hopes of possibly rebuilding it, he was captured and brought to Azog. Declaring Thror a thief, the goblin had him tortured for two days, killing and beheading him upon hearing of more dwarves outside Moria.

The orc proceeded to call out to the dwarf, Nar, from over the gates, that those who tried to steal from him would meet the same fate and that he was the king of Moria. Azog even refused to let Nar take Thror’s head back, throwing a sack of coins at him to scorn him, and ordered his goblins to hack up Thror’s body and feed it to ravens. This action would generate incredible hatred for Azog amongst the dwarves and Thrain, Thror's son, would mass an army of dwarves in war against the goblins. After nine years, Azog’s forces in Moria met the dwarves in battle, and he was finally killed in the fight by Dain Ironfoot, after killing his father, Nain.

In Sir Peter Jackson's films

Azog being defeated by Thorin during the Battle of Moria.

At some point, Azog and his orcs took over the mines of Moria. When Thror led his people to try and take over Moria, the Pale Orc engaged them and slaughtered many of them. Azog himself engaged Thror, having become determined to wipe out Durin’s descendants. He succeeded in killing Thror, driving his son, Thrain, mad with grief and causing the dwarves to retreat. Azog then engaged Thorin Oakenshield, who struggled against the Pale Orc and was soon forced to replace his shield with an oak branch to defend himself against the orc's attacks. However, Thorin refused to fall, and eventually managed to slice off Azog’s left arm. Badly wounded and enraged, Azog was dragged back into Moria by his orcs, while the dwarves rallied and defeating what was left of his forces, though they were almost utterly wiped out. Thorin believed Azog dead, but he lived on and swore revenge on the dwarf, though was unable to track him down for 60 years. When Azog and his forces came down from the North, they began fighting with the skin-changers. Eventually Azog turned this into a sport, capturing skin-changers to torture for his amusement, and managed to drive them into near extinction, leaving only Beorn.

An Unexpected Journey

Azog making his return after being presumed dead.

Eventually, Azog’s forces learned of Thorin’s expedition to reclaim Erebor and a group of them managed to corner the company, only to be driven off by the elves. The survivors, Yazneg and Fimbul, returned to Azog, who was angered by their failure and threw Yazneg to some of his Wargs to be devoured. He then ordered his forces to find the dwarves, offering a bounty to anyone who brought Thorin to him. Azog managed to track Thorin's Company to the Misty Mountains after being informed that the Great Goblin had captured them. He came across them after they had just escaped from the mountains and managed to corner the group on a cliff, forcing them to climb into some trees. Azog ordered his Wargs to kill them all except Thorin, and they eventually forced the company into one tree, hanging precariously over the cliff. Thorin came out to fight Azog, but he was unable to match the Pale Orc, who struck him repeatedly, sending him to the ground. He ordered one of his minions to take Thorin’s head for him, but Bilbo and the other dwarves suddenly leapt to his defense. Before Azog’s forces could overwhelm them, the Great Eagles suddenly came to the company’s aid, carrying them to safety and killing the orcs and Wargs, but Azog survived, though he was enraged that his prey had escaped them.

The Desolation of Smaug

Azog's master, the Necromancer, ordering him to lead his army to war.

Azog continued to pursue the dwarves with his pack of orcs coming close to catching them. However the dwarves managed to take shelter in the home of Beorn and Azog found himself unable to attack, due to Beorn taking form of a giant bear guarding the house. Azog planned to attack them on the road again, but Bolg arrived, informing him he had been summoned to Dol Guldur at the behest of the Necromancer. Azog went to the fortress, where an army of orcs was being assembled and spoke to his master. The Necromancer told him their time would soon come and Azog would lead his armies forth. The Pale Orc asked about Thorin, reminding his master that he'd been promised the dwarve's head. The Necromancer simply replied that soon all would be slain, before withdrawing. Unwilling to give up the hunt, Azog sent Bolg to hunt Thorin and his company instead. Much later, when Gandalf arrived at Dol Guldur to investigate, removing the concealment spells the Necromancer had placed, Azog waited with his troops, before ambushing Gandalf and managing to disarm him. However Gandalf used his magic to escape Azog, fleeing into the fortress, and the orc sent his forces after him. But the Necromancer managed to subdue Gandalf personally. Afterwards, Azog led his master's army out of Dol Guldur, heading towards the Lonely Mountain.

The Battle of the Five Armies

Azog approached Erebor with his vast orc army while learning from Bolg that an Elf army under Thranduil was also approaching. Azog told Bolg to head to Gundabad and ready their other army. When the battle occurred, Azog commanded the army from the north, using flags from atop Raven Hill. He sent part of his army to attack Dain's dwarves and the other half of his force to take Dale, splitting the allied armies and resulting in the death of several women and children.

Azog kidnapping and executing Fili in front of Thorin, Dwalin and Bilbo.

Thorin, who was at first suffering with dragon-sickness inside Erebor, charged out into the battle and joined up with Dain. He decided to kill Azog and send the army into chaos without a leader. He took Fili, Kili, and Dwalin, and they rode up to Ravenhill on mountain goats. Kili and Fili scouted the ruins of the fortress there, but Fili was captured by Azog, who impaled him through the chest before being attacked by Thorin, Kili, Dwalin and Bilbo, the latter having just arrived to warn of the army led by Bolg. Kili attempted to avenge his brother, but was killed by Bolg who was slain by Legolas Greenleaf. Thorin then engaged in an epic duel with Azog to avenge Fili's death. He managed to throw Azog down the hill but Azog struck a fearsome blow with his mace, knocking Thorin onto the frozen lake.

Azog engaging Thorin in their final fight.

Azog held back, sending several orcs to kill Thorin, who was assisted by Legolas firing arrows from a stone tower. Thorin was almost slain on the edge of a frozen waterfall, but Legolas aided him by throwing the sworc Orcrist to him. Azog then engaged Thorin in a climactic fight to the death, this time using a massive flail instead of his mace. His blows cracked and shattered the ice, allowing Thorin to dodge around him. He then picked up the heavy stone on the flail and tossed it back at Azog, causing him to sink into the water beneath the ice. As Thorin followed his apparently lifeless body floating beneath the ice, the orc's eyes closed, and he appeared to have died.

Azog finally meeting his demise.

However, Azog used this as a deception, stabbing Thorin in the foot through the ice with the blade on his left arm. He then burst through the ice and attempted to impale the dwarf with the same blade, but Thorin used Orcrist to hold back Azog's weapon. Eventually his strength gave out and Thorin was mortally wounded by the orc - but this also allowed him to fatally stab Azog through his armor and right through his heart. As Azog collapsed onto the ice, Thorin drove the sword through his body and right through the ice, leaving Azog pinned to the frozen surface of the river. Azog met Thorin's gaze a final time before finally dying.

Cheyenne Fall: The Battle of Red Fork

Just before dawn on Saturday, November 25, 1876, Cheyenne warrior Brave Wolf finally re- turned to his lodge. His village, along the Red Fork of the Pow- der River in Wyoming Territory, had been celebrating a recent victory in a skirmish with the Shoshones, and the revels had lasted all night. The tepees hugged the south bank, half-hidden by gaunt stands of willows and cottonwoods along the valley floor. Bluffs to the north and south provided shelter from the biting cold winds of a fast-approaching winter. The snowcapped granite sentinels of the Bighorn Mountains rose in the distance. Brave Wolf set down his thunder bow, also known as a contrary lance, and lay down to sleep fully clothed.

Brave Wolf had become a contrary— one who fears thunder—after his wife left him. He now followed such rituals as speaking and behaving in opposites, living a solitary life and carrying his 5- foot-long lance everywhere for protection against the thunder. He remained an excellent fighting man, as he had demonstrated that June at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. On this chilly November night he could not sleep. He remembered the words of Box Elder, an 80-year-old medicine man whom many claimed had the gift of prophecy. Although blind, the old man sometimes saw the future with crystal clarity. Recently, Box Elder had had a disturbing vision—blue-clad soldiers and enemy Indian scouts attacking the village. It was hard for Brave Wolf to dismiss that vision, as his people’s own scouts had reported a large force of soldiers in the area. Although Brave Wolf was not alone in his belief the reports were accurate, Last Bull, leader of the Kit Fox warrior society, had insisted everyone stay and dance. “No one shall leave the camp tonight,” Last Bull had commanded. He and the other tribal leaders had done little or nothing to prepare for a possible attack. Brave Wolf was not taking any chances—his moccasins remained on his feet, his weapons within easy reach.

The Cheyenne people, who referred to themselves as Tsistsistas (“the people”), had participated in the Plains Indians’ greatest victory over the bluecoats just five months earlier. On June 25 at the Montana Territory river known as the Little Bighorn, or Greasy Grass to the Indians, Cheyennes and their Lakota allies had slaughtered 7th Cavalry Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the five companies of his immediate command. The surviving cavalrymen under Major Marcus A. Reno and Captain Frederick W. Benteen would never forget that shocking defeat—and on November 25, 1876, it was very much on the mind of the entire U.S. Army and the American public, as well.

The sun had appeared over the bluffs, heralding a new day, by the time Brave Wolf finally drifted off to sleep. Within minutes he woke to the sound of gunfire. True to old Box Elder’s prediction, white soldiers were descending on the village in a torrent, eager to erase the stain of Custer’s defeat.

The impending clash (west of present-day Kaycee, Wyo.) would become known as the Battle of Red Fork, or the Dull Knife Fight, after one of the principal Cheyenne chiefs. Obscured by the sheer magnitude of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the November engagement was one of the decisive Army victories of the Great Sioux War of 1876–77. The Northern Cheyennes would suffer more than just a temporary reversal at Red Fork the battle would break their power forever.

The Plains Indians had largely been on the run since their triumph at the Little Bighorn. In August 1876 Brig. Gen. George Crook had pursued the hostiles with grim determination, resulting in the nearly disastrous Horsemeat March, so called as soldiers were reduced to shooting and eating their horses. Finally, on September 9 Crook achieved a small victory when his command stumbled on a Lakota village at Slim Buttes (near present-day Reva, S.D.), destroyed its 37 lodges and found enough food to stave off imminent starvation. The victory was like a few drops of water to a parched man—it revived the Army but could not quench its terrible thirst for revenge.

Lieutenant General Phil Sheridan was determined to break the power of the Plains Indians once and for all. He ordered Colonel Ranald Mackenzie of the 4th Cavalry to Camp (later Fort) Robinson in Nebraska Territory, to disarm the Sioux under famed leader Red Cloud. Although not involved in the fighting in the mid-’70s, Red Cloud had won a war named for him some 10 years earlier and remained a potent symbol of Indian resistance. Mackenzie had already made a name for himself during the Civil War and in the Texas Panhandle during the 1874 Red River War. However, a head injury sustained during a fall from a wagon in 1875 had come close to ending his promising career and his life, and he had begun to show sings of mental instability—bouts of foul temper, suicidal despondency and arrogance to superior officers. Sheridan and others tolerated these outbursts, as Mackenzie remained indispensable to their overall plans.

After Mackenzie completed his Fort Robinson assignment, Sheridan sent him to Fort Laramie in Wyoming Territory, where Crook was organizing the Powder River Expedition against Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse. Crook’s principal subordinates were Mackenzie, commander of the cavalry, and 23rd Infantry Lt. Col. Richard Irving Dodge, head of the infantry and artillery. The cavalry comprised two companies from the 3rd Cavalry (H and K), six from the 4th (B, D, E, F, I, M) and two from the 5th (H and L). Company K, 2nd Cavalry, was also on hand, assigned as Crook’s bodyguard. Dodge’s command included six companies of the 9th Infantry, two companies of the 14th Infantry, and three companies of the 23rd Infantry. Batteries C, F, H and K of the 4th Artillery were also present, but serving as foot soldiers. The officers had deemed it too difficult to haul artillery through the rugged terrain of the Powder River country.

In early November the expedition gathered at Wyoming Territory’s Fort Fetterman, jumping-off point for the coming campaign. The troops passed the time drilling in the snow, no doubt welcoming the repetitive exercises as a means to keep warm. Crook, meanwhile, busied himself in conference with Indian scouts. The Powder River Expedition was notable for the diversity of Indian tribes represented in its ranks. There were Arapahos, Bannocks and Major Frank North’s Pawnees, and Crook hoped Crows would join them later in the campaign. Latecomers also included the Shoshones, led by veteran scout Thomas Cosgrove and organized along military lines. But the most striking aspect of the expedition was the presence of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors on the government’s side. There were 57 Sioux auxiliaries, men from the Oglala, Brulé and Sans Arc bands of the Lakota Nation. At least one of them, a young warrior named Charging Bear, had been taken prisoner at Slim Buttes two months earlier. Also accompanying Crook were 10 Cheyennes, who did not say why they joined him.

The expedition left Fort Fetterman on November 14, heading north for Cantonment Reno, a forward supply base on the west bank of the Powder River. The powerful force consisted of 61 officers, 1,436 enlisted men and 367 Indian scouts. Lieutenant John Bourke noted that “the present expedition impresses me as the best equipped and best officered of any which I have ever served.” Not wanting to repeat the terrible privation his soldiers experienced during the Horsemeat March, Crook made sure they were issued the latest winter gear, including warm overcoats. Supplies and ammunition were plentiful, carried with the help of 187 six-mule teams and 308 pack mules.

The expedition marched through a snowstorm on November 17, arriving the next day at Cantonment Reno. Soldiers quickly erected tents beside the log buildings to accommodate the large expedition. Crook decided to rest at Reno until he could obtain reliable information on Crazy Horse and the hostiles. As a first step he dispatched six Arapaho and eight Sioux scouts to the eastern flanks of the Bighorn Mountains. While he waited for their return, Crook met with representatives of his Indian auxiliaries to ensure they followed his rules. Many of the men bought whiskey and got roaring drunk. One soldier from the 5th Cavalry was in such an inebriated haze he lost his footing and fell into a creek. The trooper dragged himself out but wasn’t found till the next day. Frozen in his wet clothes, he died of exposure, one of the first casualties of the campaign.

In the meantime, the Sioux and Arapaho scouts moved into the Bighorns, setting up camp at Clear Creek, about 50 miles west of Reno. Having shed all trappings of the white man, they appeared an ordinary band of warriors. A young Cheyenne named Many Beaver Dams (also referred to as Beaver Dam) happened along and asked to share their campfire. He let slip that Crazy Horse and his people were encamped on the Rosebud, not far from where they had battled Crook to a stalemate back in June. The scouts then captured Many Beaver Dams and brought him back to Cantonment Reno. Convinced the young Cheyenne was telling the truth, Crook telegraphed Sheridan, telling him of his intention to pursue the elusive Crazy Horse. “We start out after his band tomorrow,” Crook added with his customary terseness. The command left Cantonment Reno at dawn and arrived at Crazy Woman Fork late in the afternoon of November 22. Crook then ordered the troops to prepare for a 10-day march to the Rosebud.

But the unexpected arrival of the friendly Cheyenne Sitting Bear the next morning gave Crook pause. Sitting Bear reported that Many Beaver Dams’ fellow villagers had noted his absence and taken flight. They had headed to Crazy Horse’s encampment, both to join the Oglala leader and warn him of the soldiers’ presence. Having lost the element of surprise, Crook reconsidered his plans to attack Crazy Horse. However, Sitting Bear also told of a large Cheyenne village in a remote mountain valley along the Red Fork of the Powder, roughly 35 miles from Crook’s present position at Crazy Woman Fork.

Crook decided to change his plans and go against the Cheyenne village instead. He understood the cavalry had the best chance of reaching the village in a timely fashion and delivering a crippling blow. Mackenzie was to take all the cavalry save one company and head south and west to the encampment. Crook would remain behind with the supply wagons and infantry.

Mackenzie left Crazy Woman Fork on the morning of November 23. The going was rough in spots, particularly when mountain streams barred the way. But Crook’s scouts soon brought back word the Cheyenne camp was relatively near, perhaps 15 miles away. Mackenzie decided on an all-night march to reach his objective, so the men ate heartily and then pushed off at about 4 p.m. Though they remained in the foothills, even these lower-elevation peaks were formidable obstacles. Riding with his Pawnee scouts and familiar with the rigors of the trail, Luther North (Frank’s brother) admitted they experienced “the hardest march we ever had.” At times the troopers had to dismount and guide their horses on foot by the light of the rising moon. It was said the cavalrymen dismounted and mounted no less than 20 times that night.

About 2 a.m. the column entered a lush valley the troopers called Sioux Pass. When scouts brought back word they were almost upon the Cheyenne camp, the Indian auxiliaries daubed their faces in war paint and, despite the cold, stripped to breechclouts. Suddenly, as the command prepared for its final approach, the sharp crack of a carbine echoed through the canyons —a trooper dispatching his worn-out mount. When Mackenzie heard the shot, he let loose a string of four-letter oaths, assuming the report had alerted the Northern Cheyenne village.

Truth was, the Cheyennes had known for days the soldiers were coming, having heard back from their own scouts less than a week earlier. Still, the elders hadn’t moved the camp or hustled their women and children to safety. Why the Cheyennes chose to stay is a convoluted tale of tribal politics, pride and overconfidence on the part of at least some leaders. Aspects of the decision remain a mystery.

The Cheyenne village comprised 200 lodges—about 1,600 people. Among its principal chiefs was 65-yearold Morning Star, also widely known as Dull Knife, after once having had difficulty stabbing an enemy through a buffalo hide shield. An advocate of retaliatory raids after the November 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, he had later signed the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Although some of his followers allied themselves with the non-treaty Sioux in the fights on the Rosebud and Little Bighorn, Dull Knife was apparently not involved.

Dull Knife’s village might have been relatively small, but its lodges contained sacred objects central to the tribe’s spiritual power and the very essence of its identity as a people. Among the villagers was Black Hairy Dog, a holy man and keeper of the sacred arrows—objects of great veneration the Cheyenne believed gave them dominion over animals and human enemies. Dull Knife was one of the Four Old Man Chiefs, leaders who symbolically represented the Four Sacred Beings and were the guardians of creation. The other three were Little Wolf, Old Bear and Black Moccasin (the last would not actually be in the village when the soldiers attacked). Kit Fox leader Last Bull had been most adamant about remaining in the village and fighting the soldiers if they came. By November 24 the blind seer Box Elder had had his vision about soldiers attacking the camp and Cheyenne scouts had brought word the soldiers were almost certainly on their way. Last Bull, though, was adamant about celebrating the recent Cheyenne victory over the Shoshones, in which 30 enemy scalps were taken. “We will stay here,” he had declared, “and dance all night.”

Advancing soldiers heard the throbbing of the ceremonial drums as the Cheyennes danced and sang around four great fires. By dawn on the 25th Brave Wolf and most of the other Indians had drifted off to their lodges. Spearheading Mackenzie’s attack were the soldiers’ Indian allies—Shoshones and Bannocks under Lieutenant Walter Schuyler on the right, Major North and his Pawnees to the left and the Sioux, Arapaho and government Cheyennes in the center with Lieutenants William Philo Clark and Hayden DeLany.

The soldiers were right behind the scouts, charging headlong into the valley in column of fours. A Cheyenne sentry fired the first shot, its barking report soon answered by the sharp crack of government Springfields. North and the Pawnees were on the wrong side of the Red Fork, so Mackenzie ordered them to ford the river. They did, but the marshy ground slowed them down, giving the Cheyenne villagers more precious moments to get away. Still, bullets thudding into Cheyenne lodges took their toll. Young Two Moons, who had donned a war bonnet for the occasion, saw his friend Crown Necklace fall with a mortal wound.

Mackenzie sent Companies H and L of the 5th Calvary, Company K of the 3rd, Company F of Mackenzie’s own 4th and some Pawnee scouts to secure the village. Noticing warriors off to the right attempting to round up their ponies, Mackenzie dispatched aide Lieutenant Charles Hammond to order Lieutenant John McKinney of Company M, 4th Cavalry, to cut off the Indians. McKinney tried as best he could to comply, but several warriors were able to conceal themselves in nearby deep ravines. A line of Cheyenne warriors suddenly popped up on the lip of one such ravine and poured heavy fire into the unsuspecting troopers. McKinney was first to fall, his body riddled with six slugs. The same fusillade also wounded First Sergeant Thomas Forsyth, Corporal William Linn and four others. The other troopers, many of them raw recruits, fell back in near panic.

At that point some of the Cheyenne warriors left the ravine and ran forward. Yellow Eagle counted coup on McKinney and retrieved his gun. Bull Hump shot an Army horse and retrieved a saddlebag full of welcome ammunition. Both sorties were successful, and the Indians returned to the ravine. Sergeant Frank Murray and the two wounded noncoms, Linn and Forsyth, managed to reach the badly wounded McKinney and shield him until they could get him to the surgeon. (Forsyth would later receive the Medal of Honor for his efforts.)

Captain Henry W. Wessels Jr. saw what was happening and led his Company H, 3rd Cavalry, forward. “Dismount and fight on foot!” Wessels bellowed, a move designed to reduce casualties. Lieutenant Harrison G. Otis took command of his badly shaken Company M and managed to restore a semblance of order. Company M went back into the fight, helped by two relief units—Company H of the 5th Cavalry and Company F of the 4th. Shoshone scouts atop a 50-foot-high bluff provided covering fire for the soldiers and finally forced the Cheyennes from the ravine. They left behind some half a dozen dead warriors. The soldiers claimed to have killed 10 others nearby, and at least two warriors died later of wounds.

Once the cavalry had control of the village, some soldiers engaged in looting and souvenir hunting. Among the Cheyenne belongings were trophies from the Little Bighorn fight—a Company G, 7th Cavalry, guard roster a pillow made from a guidon and various pieces of uniform and equipment. They also found the scalps of both a white girl and a Shoshone girl, each about 10. Perhaps more grisly was a necklace of human finger bones.

Orderlies took the bleeding McKinney to surgeon Louis LaGarde. The lieutenant reportedly mumbled, “My poor mother! Tell her!” and then died. The loss of such a promising officer was a bitter pill for Mackenzie to swallow. Also upsetting was the relatively high number of casualties—a reported seven killed and 26 wounded. Estimates of Northern Cheyenne losses vary. Indian agents later reported 38 killed, 65 wounded Gerald Roche, a civilian reporter on the scene, estimated as many as 60 noncombatants died. Chief Little Wolf, according to some accounts, was wounded while defending the women and children.

To avoid more casualties, Mackenzie decided against assaulting those Cheyennes entrenched in the rocky crags above the Red Fork. The hostile Indians had long-range rifles and were deadly marksmen. Instead, the colonel sent for his infantry, whose “Long Tom” Springfields were more than a match for Indian firepower.

Mackenzie’s men had captured some 600 ponies, and he ordered the village put to the torch. Flaming brands soon lit up the Cheyenne lodges, the conflagration punctuated by the staccato explosions of ammunition stored in the tepees. Dull Knife asked for a parley, which Mackenzie granted an interpreter translated his remarks. The chief had lost two sons in the fight, and he was prepared to surrender. Not so the other chiefs.

As events unfolded, the Cheyennes withdrew before Crook could send up the infantry. The pack train had already arrived, bringing welcome rations and ammunition. Mackenzie and his men camped near the burning village that night. A detail buried one soldier on the battlefield, while soldiers packed the rest of the dead—now frozen stiff—on mules for interment elsewhere. They placed the wounded on mule-drawn travois, making them as comfortable as possible. A few Cheyennes reportedly slipped down from the hills during the cold night to mourn their losses. Mackenzie’s command left the Red Fork valley about noon on Sunday, November 26.

Brave Wolf and the other surviving Cheyennes were left in dire straits. They had lost literally everything— food, buffalo robes, clothing and personal keepsakes. The fire had destroyed Brave Wolf’s thunder bow, and he ceased to be a contrary. With snow falling and temperatures dropping, he and the others headed for their only refuge —Crazy Horse’s camp. That first night they camped four miles from the battle site, and 11 Cheyenne babies froze to death in their mothers’ arms. It took the displaced villagers about 12 days to reach Crazy Horse’s camp in Montana Territory (about 20 miles northeast of present-day Ashland, Mont.). The Oglalas could hardly believe the spectacle before them—ragged and starving men, women and children stumbling into camp, many more dead than alive, with the horrors of battle and ensuing march etched in their faces. The Sioux gave what they could in the way of clothing, food and shelter, but there would be no lasting recovery from the devastating ordeal. A few weeks later the Cheyennes accepted the inevitable and surrendered. Brave Wolf became a scout for Colonel Nelson Miles and saw duty during the Army’s battle with Chief Lame Deer’s Minneconjous on May 7, 1877. Mackenzie’s victory at the Battle of Red Fork had indeed been decisive things would never be the same for Brave Wolf or the other Northern Cheyennes.

Eric Niderost, a longtime contributor to Wild West, writes from Union City, Calif. Suggested for further reading: Morning Star Dawn: The Powder River Expedition and the Northern Cheyennes, 1876, by Jerome A. Greene A Good Year to Die: The Story of the Great Sioux War, by Charles M. Robinson III The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways, by George Bird Grinnell and Sagebrush Soldier: Private William Earl Smith’s View of the Sioux War of 1876, by Sherry L. Smith.

Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.

Battle of Wingen-sur-Moder

Outwardly, Wingen-sur-Moder (Wingen on the Moder River) was just a typical French village nestled in the Hardt Mountains. But it was here that GIs of the 70th ‘Trailblazers’ Infantry Division engaged in some of the most intense combat of the Alsatian campaign.

One of the key features of the small hamlet was a railroad line that sat on an embankment above the town and just below a ridge that dominated it to the north. In the town proper were the Wenk Hotel, the St. Flix Catholic Church and the train station. There were also two railroad underpasses going beneath the tracks at both ends of the town. The one most of the GIs would become familiar with was at the western end.

The terrain was difficult, with steep slopes surrounding the town. In January 1945 the weather was particularly cruel. The snow was waist deep, with drifts even deeper, and temperatures hovering around zero, as strong winds drove them even lower. For days the overcast sky brought early darkness to already short days.

At daybreak on January 3, the 361st Volksgrenadier Division (VGD), as part of the German Nordwind offensive, launched an attack on Reipertswiller, 10 miles northeast of Wingen. To complement this attack, the 1st and 3rd battalions of the 12th SS Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Infantry) Regiment, 6th SS Mountain Division, commanded by Colonel Franz Schreiber, were directed to push toward Wingen. This was the first appearance of the division on the Western Front. The two battalions (I/12 and III/12) were well trained for fighting in woods and mountains, veterans who had fought against the Russians in Finland between 1941 and 1944.

Schreiber’s troops were to attack south toward Wingen. The I/12 was to take Heideneck, a small village just northwest of Wingen, while the III/12 would capture Wingen itself. After both towns had been secured and a bridgehead established south of the Moder, the SS troops were to be reinforced by an assault gun battalion before advancing to the Saverne Gap to cut the American supply lines across the Vosges Mountains.

Defending Wingen at the time of the attack was the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry (1/179) command post, Headquarters and Service companies, the battalion aid station and service troops — about 300 officers and men. With the front lines a mile and a half to the north, the Americans felt reasonably secure. The 276th Infantry, 1st Battalion’s Charlie Company (C/276) was on line north of Wingen, A/276 in prepared positions on the high ground south of the village and B/276 to the northeast. The American units were untested, their leaders inexperienced.

On the night of January 3, the German Alpine troops bypassed the 179th Infantry’s positions and advanced through a gap in the American lines. At 0700 hours both battalions attacked the 276th’s positions. The III/12 advanced into Wingen on a 300-meter front, moving down the slope above the town in the predawn darkness, crossing the railroad tracks and striking toward the railroad station and the Catholic church. After two hours of house-to-house fighting, the SS troops secured Wingen. Attempts to advance farther were halted by American tanks to the south. The Germans did manage to move two companies across the Moder, which dug in while others prepared defensive positions in the buildings on the southern edge of the town. The I/12 had similar success in Heideneck and in the northwest part of Wingen.

The Germans, however, were unable to communicate with their headquarters, since their radio batteries had failed, so they could not report their success. The commander of the 361st VGD, Maj. Gen. Alfred Philippi, only learned of Wingen’s capture from an intercepted American message.

The German attack had caught the men of the 179th and 276th by surprise. The entire 179th 1st Battalion headquarters and its support troops were either killed, wounded or captured. Eight officers and 256 enlisted men were taken prisoner and quartered in the Catholic church. Another 30 to 40 were placed in a nearby house.

Schreiber’s III/12 established its command post in the Wenk Hotel. The I/12 set up its CP in the basement of a house about 400 meters west of the railroad station, and south of the railway embankment. Because of setbacks elsewhere along the front, Wingen became the focus of attention from the German high command, which was determined to exploit this deepest penetration of its offensive. A reinforced regiment of grenadiers and two more SS battalions were ordered to make their way to the area.

For their part, American commanders were stunned by the swiftness and strength of the German attack. It was essential to drive them out quickly — if the Germans could bring more troops into Wingen they might cut off a large part of the U.S. Seventh Army. The Americans ordered an immediate counterattack, but the 276th was stretched very thin. The 1/276 was in a state of disarray, and its commander had been evacuated. C/276 and the survivors of B/276 were cut off from the rest of the battalion on the north side of the town. The only intact unit immediately available was the 3rd Battalion, 276th Infantry, strengthened by a company of medium tanks from the 781st Tank Battalion.

A counterattack was planned for 1330 hours on January 4. One platoon of tanks was to move from La Petite-Pierre through Puberg, west of Wingen, and then to the western railroad underpass. There the tanks were to be met by infantry.

In Puberg 1st Lt. Fred ‘Casey’ Cassidy, G Company, 274th Infantry, was ordered to take the ridge and secure the woods up to the edge of Wingen. Pushing back a line of German outposts during the night, Company G took up positions looking down into the deep pocket where the village lay. The German perimeter formed a rough oval oriented northeast to southwest. Meanwhile, companies of the 276th faced the Germans to the north, west and south.

The next day, January 5, the 3rd Battalion plus C/276, supported by tanks, was to move along the railroad southeast for a few hundred yards, then due east along the north side of the tracks. Preceding the attack, M Company, 276th Infantry, would lay down a mortar barrage. Company C was to hit the German positions above the town from the north and east. A/276 would attack along the Zittersheim road. From high ground there, a tank platoon would provide covering fire for the advance. Simultaneously, B/276 and I/276, accompanied by four tanks, would attempt to enter the town through the western underpass.

The drive by B and I companies was disastrous. The first tank got through the underpass and another 200 yards toward the town before a German Panzerfaust team opened fire, killing or wounding the crew and disabling the tank. Another Sherman slid off the icy road and had a difficult time getting underway again. Two more tanks managed to reach the underpass, with one at each end and the foot soldiers bottled up in between. In a desperate action, one of the tanks advanced out of the tunnel, only to be knocked out. The last tank, conveyed by five soldiers, attempted a rescue of the first. It too was hit. Sometime later a GI was handing out rations to the handful of survivors, and as tears streamed down his face, he lamented: ‘My God! There are only 38 of you left!’ Well over 100 men had started the attack.

South of Wingen the platoons from A/276, supported by a single tank, began their attack at 0800, moving north. The going was slow, hard and ultimately unsuccessful.

The 160 men of C/276 engaged the Germans along the top of the ridge, but the enemy dominated with their dug-in machine guns. When it became clear that the GIs were not accomplishing anything, word came to pull back.

The commanders of the 3/276 and 2/274 next decided that the 276th troops would continue efforts with the assistance of the 274th. At daybreak G/274 had moved toward the nose of the ridge west of Wingen. The company’s 2nd Platoon advanced along the base of the hill with scouts out. Reaching the tip of the ridge, the Americans headed for a patch of evergreens. The Germans waited until the GIs were almost on top of them before opening up with a pair of machine guns. The Americans continued to move forward until they were pinned down by intense fire from 50 yards away. The GIs were in a tough spot. The Germans were blazing away and were too close for mortar fire. Cassidy moved calmly through the woods despite the danger, reassuring his men and surveying the situation. He decided to pull his men back, shell the woods with mortars and then advance behind a rolling barrage.

As soon as the barrage lifted, the Americans started forward, firing their weapons and driving the Germans from the woods. There was no stopping the GIs. In short order they had cleaned out the woods and pushed to its eastern edge.

The battle in and around the town increased its tempo. Tracer bullets arced through the sky, while mortar shells were falling all around. About this time Lt. Col. Wallace R. Cheves arrived on the scene and ordered Cassidy to maintain his positions in the woods. Later, in the afternoon, E/274 and F/274 moved into the area in preparation for an attack. Cheves told his company commanders to get into the town any way they could.

The battle surged to a new level of fury. Fire was coming from all directions. No one knew which way was friend or foe. An American tank coming up from the south stopped about 300 yards from the men of the 274th and blasted away at their positions.

One squad of G/274 moved to the right to enter some houses along the Zittersheim-Wingen road. It was early afternoon, and the fighting in the town had died down to sniping. The squad dashed across 100 yards of open ground and entered the first houses. They found several GIs there, all wounded 276th infantrymen.

Colonel Albert Carroll Morgan’s 276th Infantry troops were fighting desperately to secure a foothold in the town. When the colonel spied the 1st Platoon, F/274, waiting at the edge of the woods while his own men were in an intense fight, he ordered its troops to follow some tanks into the town. The Americans had not gone far across the open ground when the Germans opened fire and stopped them. They were ordered to pull back.

Captain L.A. Sisson, E/274, held up his company in the first few houses at the edge of town at about 2300 that night. From the windows they looked out on a ghastly sight — gutted and burning buildings.

Although the German Alpine battalions were seasoned and well led, they were also operating under several handicaps. They had been unable to bring up their heavy mortars radio communications had failed for more than 48 hours, preventing them from requesting artillery support and their supply lines were precarious, running through the narrow gap in the American lines northeast of Wingen. The bitter cold had also incapacitated an estimated 30 percent of the German troops.

Lieutenant Wolf T. Zoepf, the commander of III/12’s headquarters company, would recall years later: ‘We appreciated the comparatively fair fight of the American soldier, fair when compared with the vicious way of the Russian soldier we were used to. We also appreciated the fact that the American soldier was obviously not experienced in night action. This fact gave us at least some little rest at night. After all that heavy shelling and house-to-house combat during daylight we yearned for the dark hours to come, that would grant us a little respite and rest.’

Back in Puberg that night, the American commanders were frantically trying to straighten out the situation. Impatient with the delay in securing the town, Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Herren, the 70th’s assistant division commander, placed Colonel Cheves in charge of operations. Troops of the 276th’s 1st and 3rd battalions were placed under his command, along with a company of tanks from the 781st Tank Battalion, giving him the equivalent of a regiment. The next attack was planned for 0800 on January 6. Both battalions of the 276th had suffered severe casualties during the past two days and were understrength.

All of the suffering had not been on the American side. The two SS battalions were cut off, hoping that a relief force would break through to them and open a corridor to the north. Their last rations, a half a loaf of bread per man, had been issued three days previously, and after two days in Wingen all the captured Americans K rations had been consumed. But worse than the lack of food was the short supply of ammunition. The MG42 machine guns had used up much of it. Gunners were now instructed to shoot only at clearly identified targets.

The American company commanders were called in and issued assignments for the next attack. At the 274th’s CP in Puberg, plans were made by candlelight in the corner of a large, bare room. All around, the floor was covered with outstretched GIs trying to catch a few minutes’ sleep.

Cheves asked if any of the company commanders wished to spearhead the attack. When no one volunteered, the colonel designated Captain Robert J. Davenport’s F/274 to lead, with E/274 mopping up behind, and put G/274, which had seen most of the action so far, in reserve. There was to be a 15-minute artillery preparation prior to the jump-off. The 781st Tank Battalion would provide armored support.

During the night the signal officer of the SS regiment made his way to Wingen with orders from General Philippi. Since no reinforcements could reach them, the two SS battalions were to withdraw. As it was almost daylight, that was out of the question — the German Alpine troops would have to hold on for another day.

On the morning of January 6, General Herren arrived and accompanied Cheves to the battalion observation post at the edge of the woods. Before them lay the village and the formidable railroad embankment. The GIs were nearly exhausted after three sleepless nights. Remaining in the shelter of the woods for as long as possible, the men of F/274 prepared to move to the underpass. Because this was the first attack ever made by the unit, Captain Davenport accompanied the 1st Platoon. At 0745 the artillery opened up. At 0800 the GIs moved out, although the promised tank support had not yet arrived.

At first not a shot was fired by the Germans. Well disciplined, they waited. Then their machine guns opened with a jackhammer staccato. The American guns, an octave lower, responded. For 10 minutes there was a fierce machine gun duel, but with no decided outcome.

As the lead elements of the assault approached a fork in the road, someone yelled for the GIs to watch out for the ‘blue house.’ It was a lieutenant of the 276th, who had been lying in the snow for more than 18 hours. But the GIs had no chance to take advantage of his warning. At a range of about 20 yards, the Germans cut loose with deadly machine gun fire.The platoon sergeant shouted for the men to take cover and then fell dead. Captain Davenport, his radio operator and four other GIs were all wounded. Some GIs headed toward a small drainage ditch, while others lay in the snow as bullets passed a few inches above their heads.

One GI managed to crawl up to a point opposite the house and started chucking grenades into a window. The machine gun stopped firing. Davenport spotted a German with a bazooka lying on the far side of the house, but could not fire because he had been hit in the arm, so he pointed out the German to another GI who took the bazooka man out with an M-1. Though wounded, Davenport refused to go to the rear. ‘This isn’t anything,’ he said, looking at the bullet hole in his arm. ‘We have to go on.’ His wounded radioman refused to give up his radio, and stayed with the captain.

Davenport decided to continue the advance up the small ditch, since it offered the only covered approach. A Sergeant Hammerloff’s squad moved to the right to protect the flank. Heading for the bank of the Moder River, which was no more than a creek at that spot, the squad was caught in the open. Machine guns cut loose on the left and from the cemetery to their front. With bullets whining all around them, they dashed for the creek and dived for cover — only about half the squad made it. The Germans continued to rake the area unmercifully. Bullets churned the snow, and Hammerloff was killed.

In the meantime, the leading elements with Captain Davenport moved down the ditch. The Germans were waiting and watching, holding their fire until the GIs were within easy range. Davenport, wounded twice more and bleeding badly around the face, was finally persuaded to go back for aid. A Sergeant Petty took over and pushed on. The executive officer, a Lieutenant Mahon, started forward to take command of the company, but a slug hit him in the chest, killing him instantly however, the sniper died with him. Fighting was now house to house. A number of fires were started that blanketed the village with thick smoke. The assault force did not have supporting artillery on call and had to rely on the battalion’s heavy weapons: 57mm anti-tank guns, 81mm mortars and heavy machine guns. Even if the artillery had been available, it would have been difficult to use in the close-quarters fighting.

Radio contact with F/274 was out. All the men in the lead platoon had been hit. The 3rd Platoon, F/274, came forward in support. Lieutenant James Haines crawled up the ditch with his men until he reached the road junction.

While all this was going on, the 2nd Platoon, on the left, had its hands full. The 1st Squad moved rapidly toward the railroad embankment and held up in a shallow ditch. The Germans were in the upper floors of the houses along the railroad track, looking right down the GIs’ throats.

The Americans tried to move forward, but could not. Their scout was killed right away. The machine gun fire was so deadly it was suicide to raise one’s head. Three more men were hit. The Germans tossed a grenade into the ditch, killing two of the GIs. The squad’s BAR man started spraying the area, and although wounded in the arm, kept the Germans ducking until he slumped over dead — a bullet square in the forehead.

The American machine guns and mortars were now ripping up the town. When the bazookas joined in, there was a terrific din. The battle raged with an increasing tempo. Two GIs charged into one house, throwing hand grenades. The Germans came pouring from the building, only to be cut down merci-lessly by Americans waiting outside. One of the GIs later recalled, ‘We wanted to kill every bastard that got in our way.’

It was a furious and bloody fight at close range. The Germans refused to give up, firing from the cellar windows while the GIs continued to pour in grenades. Private First Class Gerald Soper was hit and fell by one of the windows. A medic, Bill Brush, came up to help him, moving calmly to where Soper lay, as four shots passed between his legs. Two white phosphorus grenades set Brush’s coat on fire, and he yanked it off. Soper used his good arm to take a grenade from under his shirt, pulled the pin with his teeth, and threw it through the window. A loud explosion followed. Then a rifle came out the window — the muzzle was placed against Soper’s chest and fired twice. Two enraged GIs rushed up and tossed in a couple more grenades. Another spotted Germans in the window above and let go with more grenades.

One of the GIs grabbed a German medic who came staggering out into the street and told him to go back into the house and tell the men inside to surrender, or they would blast the house with tank fire. The fact that they had no tanks did not matter — the ruse worked. After a few minutes the German came back with 11 prisoners.

Little by little the Germans were driven back. The Americans were picking them off as they ran out into the open. But the 3rd Platoon was still waiting in the ditch for the 1st Platoon to move on. From his vantage point, Cheves observed F/274’s attack. The enemy was in much greater strength than he had been told. The colonel’s radio operator recalled that General Herren was also there, constantly pestering the colonel. The attack was not going fast enough to suit the general, who kept telling Cheves to get things moving. The colonel remained calm and told Herren that he planned another attack for 1300. That was not soon enough for the general, but Cheves replied that he was losing too many men and wanted to be sure everything was coordinated before they jumped off again. The tank commander finally reported, and they huddled to work out plans for the attack.

What was left of F/274 was told to hold and that they would be relieved as Companies E and G passed through. While F/274 had succeeded in securing a foothold, it had paid a heavy toll. Half of the 120 men in its attack echelon were casualties: 19 killed and 40 wounded. Added to that were many victims of exposure who had to be evacuated.

The supporting Shermans moved into position near the Zittersheim road. Cheves wanted the tankers to move up to the underpass and support Fox Company, which had gained about 600 yards in its advance. But the tank platoon leader insisted that his vehicles be surrounded by a shield of foot soldiers. He did not believe that there were many GIs who would leave the shelter of the houses to give protection to the armor. Only when promised that Company G would come down the hill and meet them at the underpass did the tankers agree to advance.

The second wave of the attack was due to move out at 1300. Company G would advance to the left, alongside the railroad, while Company E paralleled it to the right. While preparations were underway, there was no lull in the fighting in the village. The cemetery in the south part of town was the source of withering German fire. A dozen men of Company G’s 1st Platoon, braving the fire, made their way to the safety of a nearby house. They found its basement filled with wounded Americans and Germans.

By the time the second assault started, the Americans had already captured at least 50 prisoners and inflicted considerable casualties, but German resistance had not diminished. The situation was made more complicated because the 3/276 had been unable to take the dominating heights to the north. Concealed by the thick woods there, the Germans poured a murderous fire into the left flank of the assaulting Americans.

At the same time the Shermans still had not moved. Their platoon leader reported that a minefield was blocking the road to their front. Engineers from the 274th went down to clear the road, and the tanks began to inch forward.

From the cemetery on the right and the towering hill to the left, enemy fire enfiladed G/274 and E/274 as they moved abreast. Company G continued to advance as E/274 was pinned down. Finally, as the tanks began to provide support, joined by mortar fire from H/274, E Company’s attack proceeded.

But a new danger developed to the north. The advance of the 3/276 — actually only a company and a half — was so slowed by stubborn German resistance on the ridge that its line lagged some 500 yards behind Company G, creating a dangerous gap. The Americans had not been able to use artillery for fear of hitting their own troops, but now all available heavy fire was directed on the high ground.

Company G had cleared the first four houses before being slowed by fire from the ground on the left, but continued to push forward. The GIs advanced mercilessly. Houses were burning all around. Dead Germans littered the ground. The GIs ignored them unless they moved, and, according to one source, put them out of their misery if they did.

Cassidy met with Lieutenant Wayne Meshier, Company E platoon leader, to make plans for continuing the assault. Meshier and Cassidy had attended the same university, entered the Army at the same time and had trained together. The two officers decided to split the town, with Meshier’s platoon taking the right and Cassidy’s men the left.

Easy Company had been following to the right rear of Fox Company when the order came to push through. The leader of the 1st Platoon’s 2nd Squad, Staff Sergeant William Donofrio, and his men were held up by what they thought were snipers on the wooded ridge to their left. As they huddled behind a building, they saw a number of GI bodies scattered about a field to their right — members of F/274 who had been cut down as they came across the field.

Lieutenant Meshier led his platoon forward. While searching for a route of advance, he was wounded. Diving for cover, he was hit again and killed. Sergeant Norman Phillips took over and tried to push forward, but got nowhere. The tanks arrived at last, and with their added firepower the GIs started moving again.

Private First Class James D. McCullough, a 19-year-old messenger with Company G’s Weapons Platoon, recalled that a machine gun section was located in a school at the top of a T intersection, its guns firing out the window. Just as it was getting dark, McCullough went to see if he and his Thompson submachine gun could lend some help. As he entered the rear doorway that faced the intersection, there was a flash from down the street. An explosion blew him back out the door and flipped him over. Shaken, he found the others there blinded by plaster dust, but also uninjured.

The tankers and the infantrymen were not getting along well. About an hour before dark, the tank platoon commander requested permission to withdraw to Zittersheim to service, refuel and reload his tanks. Cheves’ simmering anger finally exploded, and he told the tank commander what he thought of them. Undaunted, the armor officer went over his head to General Herren and received permission to withdraw. Cheves fumed as the tanks moved back.

The situation, which had seemed promising only moments before, suddenly took another turn. Herren was sure the Germans were attempting to reinforce their positions and wanted the village taken before fresh forces could arrive. As they tried to meet the general’s nightfall deadline, Companies E and G became overextended. Finally, the two companies were ordered to hold up and organize defenses for the night. Before the troops could respond, a wave of screaming Germans came rushing down the hill on the left, crossing the railroad and hurtling themselves down the steep embankment. They cut off elements of Company G. Even the battalion observation post came under fire.

The village was a scene of burning buildings, tracer bullets etching paths through the evening sky and explosions rocking the houses. Bazooka rockets and hand grenades crashed and exploded. Cheves ordered: ‘Goddamit, hold! We will not let them get through here!’ Right behind the advance elements of Company G was a group of five or six men with Cassidy. When they became cut off, Cassidy prepared his men for a last stand.

Two German companies had become isolated. Communications between the battalion in the town and the other on the ridge were cut. Lieutenant Zoepf and Lieutenant Hans Hermann Carlau rallied all the available men at the command post in the hotel, perhaps a dozen, and formed them into a ‘fire brigade.’ They moved out of the hotel, around the corner, and up the road to the railroad station, blazing away with Schmeisser machine pistols and Finnish Suomi submachine guns. The fighting was intense, but they managed to reestablish contact between the town and the ridge. Then the action quieted down as both sides caught their breath.

The Americans planned the final knockout punch for 0900 the next morning, an hour after daybreak. They figured that the Germans would be expecting an attack at dawn and might be surprised by a later move. There would also be no preceding artillery barrage. Cheves was up all night again, checking and coordinating every detail.

As daylight approached, it was deathly quiet. The morning sky brought snow, but that had stopped when word came to move out. Unknown to the Americans, during the night the main body of German troops had slipped away, leaving behind a few isolated pockets of resistance. Supporting tanks blasted their way through the town, house by house, the riflemen charging in, throwing hand grenades.

While the 274th was taking the town, the 276th cleared the high ground to the north. As Easy Company closed in on the Catholic church, two GIs dashed to the entrance and prepared to toss in a couple of grenades when the doors swung open and someone shouted: ‘Don’t shoot! We’re Americans.’ GIs came swarming out the doorway, shouting jubilantly. Most were from the 179th Infantry and had been held captive in the church without food or water for four days. About 250 men were freed.

Wingen, or what was left of it, had been won. Only one building was undamaged. The streets and buildings were littered with dead. It became apparent, as the SS Alpine battalions mustered their men later that day, that they had taken a beating. The III/12 was reduced to only 110 officers and men from a strength of 450 just four days before. All its officers except the battalion commander and his adjutant were casualties. One of the companies had only one NCO and seven enlisted men left, and the I/12 was in similar shape.

Losses in 2/274 were 25 killed and 84 wounded, plus uncounted GIs suffering from exposure. Soon after the fighting ceased, the battalion was pulled out and moved to a convent near Oberbronn to recover. Many of the men had not had a full night’s sleep since leaving Drusenheim on January 3.

The German strength at Wingen had been terribly underestimated by the American commanders. This may explain why the inexperienced and unsupported rifle companies were ordered to attack the town again and again. But Wingen had to be taken.The units of the 6th SS Mountain Division were arguably the best on the Western Front at the time, as good as the troops of the 274th and 276th were inexperienced. Zoepf would write some years later, ‘The men of the new 70th Division mustered courage and heroism to a degree that bordered on self-sacrifice.’ A Pfc Swain of Easy Company simply remembered, ‘We were green as hell and were up against the toughest soldiers we ever ran into.’

This article was written by Allyn Vannoy and originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of World War II.

Watch the video: Work in Progress: General Custer u0026 The Battle of Wolf Mountain (July 2022).


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