South African Military History Society

NEWSLETTER No.258 Cape Town Branch JULY 1999

At the start of our meeting on 10th June, fellow member Woody Nel spoke in memory of the late KEN GUNN, who was one of the founders of our Society 23 years ago, a kind man and friend to many. All present honoured him with a minute silence.

GENERAL GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER, the subject of fellow member Stan Lambrick's talk, has probably suffered the worst press of all US generals, except perhaps General Patton in WW 2. Born in 1839, he entered Westpoint at 17, graduated four years later and became ADC on the staff of General McClellan. He was just 22 years old when he was promoted to captain, and from then on fought in almost every major battle of the US civil war.

Having lost his position in 1862 when this staff was dissolved, he was reassigned one year later to the 5th Cavalry Division under General Pleasonton. Custer was a soldiers' officer who had the flair of not only welding his motley bunch of cavalrists to a formidable fighting unit but to inspire loyalty, perhaps even love. As a fighting man he became larger than life, sported long locks and whiskers, and as Brigadier-General designed his own colourful uniform, introducing a red cravatte with a golden unit badge for his officers and men to wear. Creating esprit de corps, leading from the front, he also played a major role in the battle of Gettysburg. In 1865 the war with the Confederates was over and he was demobilised. He then accepted a position as Lt.Colonel in the newly created 7th Cavalry to fight the Indians out on the western plains, where he soldiered for the next ten years.

In 1876 the Indian Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse met at the river Little Big Horn, to discuss how they should respond to the dangers facing them from settlers and miners. They only had two options: submit and live in reservations, or fight. They choose the latter, and their 2 000/3 000 warriors prepared for battle.

Custer had only 600 cavalrists, but he believed in himself and his men and also wanted a presidential nomination, so he badly needed to win a battle. Resolving to attack the Indians at Little Big Horn, he advanced in three columns. One was led by him and the other two by Major Reno and Captain Benteen. Relying on these two officers to follow, Custer went into battle only 225 strong against a determined enemy, was surrounded and slaughtered to the last man. Reno and Benteen, who both disliked, even hated their superior officer, dallied and procrastinated in their rear posi- tions until it was too late. General Custer died on 25 June 1876.

Although posterity did not deal kindly with him and blamed him for his rashness, his original plan of attack had been sound and could have succeeded if it had not been for the cowardice of Reno and Benteen. He lies buried at Westpoint where he started his military career twenty years before.

Bob Buser thanked the speaker for another excellent and informa- tive talk in his series of the US civil war.


Thursday, 8th July 1999
JOHAN v.d.BERG - Dockside Disasters
TONY GORDON - A letter after the Battle of Blouwberg 1806 + Bloemfontein Station Officers' register 1900
JOHN MAHNCKE - A POW in Egypt 1945/8 OR How to enjoy Egypt as an accidental Tourist free of charge
WOODY NEL - Stories of People in the Anglo/Boer War
P.W. SEARL - Boer Prisoners of St. Helena
Thursday, 12th August 1999
Illustrated Talk by FRANK BULLEN from Johannesburg about the Foot Guards of the Household Division
Thursday, 9th September 1999
1) The blockade of Lourenco Marques
2) The naval battles of the Boer War
3) The loss of HMS Sybil
Thursday, 14 October 1999
Thursday, 11th November 1999
PLUS: Operations by South African Aircraft in German South-West Africa in 1915 Illustrated Talk by JOHN MAHNCKE
December 1999: In recess

WELCOME TO NEW MEMBERS: Messrs. K.B. Boggan, E.D.D. Cochrane, P. Crow and I. Goetz.
BOOKS: RAVAN PRESS, Randburg, offer their 7 books on Boer War Battles, plus A Guide to the Battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War in Kwazulu/Natal.

TOURS: A leaflet from DESIGNER TOURS offering Centenary Commemo- ration Tours is enclosed. A very detailed brochure is available.

FIELD CRAFT MINIATURES of Boer-War soldiers can be purchased by collectors from the sculptor. Any member wishing to know more about the above three items can contact John Mahncke at (021) 797 5167.

Meetings of the Cape Town Branch are normally held on the second Thursday of each month (barring December) at 20h00 (8.00 pm sharp), in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite the Rosebank railway station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Donation R 3.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /