LTC George Armstrong Custer did not effectively apply the concept of mission command as a warfighting function during the Battle of Little Bighorn. While it is important to understand the context in which Custer made his decisions, those circumstances offer little in terms of excusing the fiasco that was Little Bighorn. Custer failed to follow orders, did not take pertinent intelligence into consideration, did not adequately plan or execute protection of his forces, and fought without essential fires equipment available to him. Custer did exercise good sustainment, but it was for naught, as the battle was brief.
One must understand the context in which Custer fought at Little Bighorn. The year was 1876, and the country was growing. The United States had, since the settlement of North America by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, been populated in an east-to-west manner. People generally moved west as the population increased, and resources as well as physical space became sparse in a particular area. People at the time viewed The American West as an area under-utilized by the Indians, and there was a land grab by settlers as the population continued to increase in the East and the South. Additionally, the idea of Manifest Destiny was perhaps at its most fevered point during and after the period following the Civil War. Manifest destiny is the concept of a kind of American Imperialism that holds the belief that Americans are simply destined to occupy the continent of North America, and that they should remake the West into an American agrarian region.
It had previously been the policy of the American government to remove and relocate Indians further and further west as the American population grew, but there was only so much of the West to be had. The Indian way of life at this time required a great deal of open prairie in order to pursue bison, which accounted for a great deal of the Indian sustainment. This conflicted with the idea of turning the West into an agrarian state, and the settlers and the Indians clashed over land and resources. The government’s response was to place Indians onto reservations, which were usually on less than desirable tracts of land.
Railroads were crossing the country at this time, and the people who serviced the railroads and were patrons of the railroads were sometimes under the attack of Indian raiders. The owners and developers of the railroads pressured the government to open land previously promised to Indians to allow the railroad to pass through. Cattle drives also began around this time. A typical cattle drive consisted of beeves being purchased in Texas or Mexico and being driven north over the course of the summer in order to fatten the cattle and to move them to where there was demand. The cowboys were at odds with the Indians over resources, and the two parties often came to blows. (9)
The area around which Little Bighorn was fought is called the Black Hills. Gold had been found in the area two...