Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields

Bear Paw Battle Official Report To Col. Samuel D. Sturgis

In compliance with letter of the Colonel, commanding the Regiment of the 14th inst., directing me as senior surviving officer of that portion of the Seventh Cavalry which took part in the action at Bear Paw Mountain, M.T., September 30th, 1877, to submit a report of the operations of the companies of the Seventh Cavalry during that engagement, I have the honor to submit the following:

On the morning of September 30th, 1877, the battalion of the Seventh Cavalry, Company "A", Captain Moylan; Company "D", Captain Godfrey, and the 1 st Lieutenant E.P. Eckerson; Company "K" Captain Hale, and 2nd Lieutenant J.W. Biddle, all under command of Captain Owen Hale, Seventh Cavalry, and constituting a part of the force under command Colonel Nelson A. Miles, Fifth Infantry, moved from its camp near the north-east end of Bear Paw Mountain, M.T. at 2:30 o'clock, a.m. The column moved as follows: battalion of the Second Cavalry in advance, Seventh Cavalry center, Fifth Infantry rear. The march was continued until about 8 o'clock a.m., as near as I can recollect, when the trail of the Nez Perce Indians was discovered pointing in a northerly direction, it was pronounced by the Cheyenne Indian scouts who accompanied the command, to be two days old.

After a short halt on the trail the march was resumed in the same order as above mentioned. The command had marched about five or six miles from the point where the halt was made on the trail when information was received from the Cheyenne scouts that the Nez Perce village was located on a creek about seven miles in front.

The command was immediately given for the column to take the trot, and subsequently the gallop was taken up. About this time an order was brought to me from Captain Hale, commanding battalion, that the Seventh Cavalry would, by order of Colonel Miles, charge the village, mounted, with pistols. After passing over the divide which separated us from the Indian village, the battalion was formed in line about 1-1/2 miles from the village, Company "K" on the right, Company "D" in the center, Company "A" on the left.

The line being formed, the battalion moved forward at the trot, then the gallop and the charge. During the movement to the front in line, Company "K" under Captain Hale, diverged to the right and struck at the Indians almost at right angles to the direction the companies "A" and "D" charged. Company "K" struck the Indians first and was repulsed with some loss. The Company retired to a distance of about 250 or 300 yards, dismounted and deployed as skirmishers. After repulsing Company "K" the Indians turned their attention to the other two Companies, ("A" and "D"), which charged them in front.

These two Companies charged a high bank which overlooked their village (the village being situated in a deep ravine through which Snake Creek ran), and owing to the fact that this bank was at the point charged by the Companies almost perpendicular, they could not dislodge the Indians, neither could they charge through them owing to the nature of the ground.

Taking in the situation, at once and seeing the hopelessness of being to do anything at this point mounted, I gave the order for the Companies to fall back, the movement was executed by "fours left about." In the execution of this movement confusion occurred for the very good reason that the men were under a heavy fire from the Indians and that the large majority of them had never been under fire before, being mostly all recruits.

The loss of the companies in the action thus far was not as great as might have been expected for the reason that a heavy depression in the ground between them and the Indians protected them somewhat, the Indians overshooting them. The movement was executed, however, and the companies reformed on the right of the line occupied by the Infantry, some 200 or 300 yards to the rear.

The loss thus far in Companies "A" and "D" was three men killed and four wounded. During the movement to the rear, Captain Godfrey, who was riding in rear of his company and watching the Indians, had his horse killed under him. The fall of the horse was so sudden that Godfrey was thrown heavily to the ground, falling upon his shoulder and partially stunned for the moment. Captain Godfrey would certainly have lost his life at this time, as the Indians were advancing in his direction, but for the gallant conduct of Trumpeter Thomas Herwood, Company "D", Seventh Cavalry, who seeing Captain Godfrey's danger, separated himself from his Company and between where Captain Godfrey was lying and the Indians, thereby drawing the attention of the Indians to himself till Captain Godfrey was sufficiently recovered from the effects of his fall to get him upon his feet and join his company. In his gallant attempt to save his officer, Trumpeter Herwood was wounded through the body, and, I believe, since discharged the service on Surgeon's certificate of Disability.

An order was at this time received from Colonel Miles to dismount the Companies and that they be deployed to the right and make connections with Company "K", that Company being at this time severely handled by the Indians. The Indians, not being particularly engaged at any other point, concentrated most of their force upon it and succeeded in driving back its skirmish, also in driving the horse-holders who were dismounted, from their lead-horses.

Having thus far been unsuccessful in driving the men away from their horses the Indians attempted to lead into their village several horses of Company "K", and were only prevented from accomplishing their purpose by the rapid advance of Companies "A" and "D" on foot at the double-time. It was during this movement that Companies "A" and "D" suffered their heaviest losses. The Indians poured a heavy cross-fire into them as they advanced, killing and wounding a great many of the men. It was in this advance that Captain Godfrey was wounded, he, having mounted another horse, was gallantly cheering on his men to the assistance of their comrades in Company "K". Being mounted, he was a conspicuous mark for the Indians to shoot at.

It is proper that I should here mention the gallantry and coolness of Captain Godfrey throughout the action up to the time of his being wounded and taken from the field. His conduct was brave, cool and soldierly throughout and added very materially to the success of the movement of the Companies to the assistance of Captain Hale's Company. The connection with Company "K" was made with considerable loss. Having established my line, I reported to Captain Hale for further instructions and was in the act of receiving orders from him when I was shot through the upper part of my right thigh and had to be taken from the field. Farther than this I have no personal knowledge of the part taken by the Companies of the Seventh Cavalry in action.

The conduct of the officer's and men up to the time of my being taken from the field was superb. I am unable to mention any particular men for individual acts of gallantry when all did so well, except in the case of 1st Sergeant Charles R. Miller, Company "A", Seventh Cavalry, who has already been recommended for Certificate of Merit, and Trumpeter Thomas Herwood, Company "D", Seventh Cavalry, who I believe is now out of the service.

I am unable to give the loss the battalion sustained at the time I was wounded. From what I was able to observe of Captain Hale in the action, his conduct was such as might be expected of him-cool and gallant. When I reported to him after connecting my line with his, I found him in the skirmish line encouraging his men by words and acts. The line of all three Companies of the Seventh Cavalry was at this time no more than 100 yards from the enemy. I would further state that, to the best of my recollection, the whole time I was engaged in the action, from its opening to the time I was wounded, was not more than forty-five minutes. I maybe somewhat in error as to time and distance, but what I have stated on these points is my best recollection of them.

Below is the loss sustained by the battalion in the action:

Company "A", 5 men killed; 1 officer (Captain Moylan), 8 men wounded.

Company D", 4 men killed; (Captain Godfrey) 11 men wounded

Company K", 3 officers (Captain Hale, Lt. Biddle) and 9 men killed, 12 men wounded.

Making a total of 53 officers and men killed and wounded out of 115 officers and men engaged. All of which occurred during the first day's fight.

(Signed) M. Moylan,

            Captain, Seventh Cavalry

 

(Back to Top)