It is the most studied battle in American history. A source of controversy more than 100 years after the last guns fell silent over the Little BigHorn river. And for students of the gun, the last stand of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer offers some intriguing questions.
Did the guns shape the battle?
The choice by the military of the single-shot Springfield 1873 trap door rifle and carbine over a repeating rifle, reflected the military doctrine of long range accuracy and ammo conservation over rapid fire capability. Of course, neither of those factors made much difference at the Little BigHorn.
In addition to the trap door Springfield, troops of the 7th cavalry also carried a sidearm; the famous Colt 1873 single action revolver. And while handguns aren’t considered a weapon that would win or lose a battle, the ’73 revolver may have played a unique role during Custer’s last stand. One of the last, and perhaps most controversial, criticisms of Custer’s tactics was his decision to leave behind the powerful Gatling gun. Many believe this piece of 19th century artillery would’ve changed the course of the battle, making Custer victorious in the end.
Despite historical reports, it’s unlikely Custer carried a British Bull Dog revolver, as technically a gun bearing that name didn’t appear until after the battle. Custer could’ve been carrying one of the Webley Royal Irish Constabulary revolvers the Bull Dog was based on. There is at least one photo of Custer with what appears to be the Webley, an eyewitness testimony from the beginning of expedition. In all likelihood, Custer’s last gun will remain one of the last secrets of Little BigHorn.