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8th April 2003Similarities? – Little Bighorn and Isandlawana
By David Bell
I was just thinking about Isandlawana and Little Bighorn and noted some similarities. Please correct me if I get anything wrong (including dates and spellings) and pose your own ideas.

Firstly from reading about both battles I have come under the impression that the U.S. and British Forces who fought under estimated their opponents. They viewed them as savages and greatly underestimated their numbers. Not only were the numbers underestimated but also was the ‘professionalism’ and firepower of the enemy. Both circumstances involve whites and coloreds. The white nations show imperialism – the British Empire’s growth in Africa and perceived threats from the natives. The U.S. taking more land in the West and their perceived threat from the natives. It seems both the Brits and the yanks were expanding as nations by taking land off Natives or exploiting them and their land in some way.

They occurred around the same time (Little Bighorn 1876, Isandlawana 1879)

Isandlawana was a humiliating defeat for the British and dented the pride of the nation. The same is true with Little Bighorn. Especially damaging since news got out on July 4th 1876 the 100th anniversary of Independence Day.
After the battle U.S. forces promptly wiped out the majority of the Native American population (particularly the Sioux). This is the same case with the British forces and the Zulus is it not? The Brits wiped out the majority of the Zulu nation.

The native Zulus purchased rifles off white traders, as did the Native Americans (The Native Americans bought superior rifles to those Issued to the 7th Cavalry)
The rifles used by the British have been shown to have easily jammed in the conditions of rapid firing and high temperature (the conditions under which the battle was fought) I believe it was powder or residue of some kind which built up and stopped the bullet from being released. The same has also been found for Little Bighorn where marks on the chambers of the Soldier’s Winchesters caused by hunting knives have been found implying that the guns jammed and they tried to hack out the bullets. The fact the dates of the battles are so close could connote that rifles made around that time had a common problem with they way they jammed.

In conclusion maybe we can learn that possibly a big mistake through out military history is under estimation of the enemy’s capabilities and numbers. Which can lead to the more powerful side taking risks, becoming complacent and arrogant. If anyone can think of any other similarities with past battles or with this one I’d be interested to hear.

The actual battles and context were obviously a whole lot different, as people who are familiar with both battles will know.
9th April 2003Joseph
Well one stark difference is the fact that our troops today are not getting massacred and wiped out. I believe the Regime of Iraq has seen its last day.
9th April 2003Derek Scoins
I haven't read it and don't know how technical it is, but the following article may of some interest:

Comparison of the battles at the Little Bighorn and at Isandhlwana : medicolegal and forensic aspects / W.G. Eckert.
p. 56-68.
American journal of forensic medicine and pathology. Vol. 13, No. 1 (Mar. 1992).

9th April 2003John Young

Just to pull you up on the weapons of the 7th U.S. Cavalry - they were not not armed with Winchester repeating rifles, but with the single-shot Springfield carbine. I believe Captain Tom Custer, was armed with a Henry repeater, but I can't find my source on that at present.

As to your suggestion - 'After the battle U.S. forces promptly wiped out the majority of the Native American population (particularly the Sioux). This is the same case with the British forces and the Zulus is it not? The Brits wiped out the majority of the Zulu nation.' I think you are somewhat wide of the mark, as was William Gladstone when he stated the British had killed 10,000 Zulu in the course of the campaign.

Personally, I feel there are incidents in both battles, indeed in both campaigns, that are somewhat alike, but the actions of Lt.-Col. G.A. Custer are a microcosm of those of Lt.-Gen. Lord Chelmsford.

For those on this forum who enjoy their trivia; but in both actions a Trumpeter Martin survived the day. Trumpeter John Martin, a.k.a Giovanni Martini, of the 7th Cavalry, was the lucky person who was sent off with Custer's message to Benteen. Trumpeter Nicholas Martin, N/5 R.A. survived the action at Isandlwana.

John Y.
9th April 2003Peter Ewart
Among the differences, rather than the similarities, was the fact that several keen practitioners of the noble game ascended the steps of that great pavilion in the sky on 22nd Jan 1879.

I'm thinking of Coghill, Pope, Bradstreet etc., whereas those such as Bromhead (who was no mean performer in flannels, both at school & during his time with the 24th) and Penn Symons were both fortunate in avoiding the dreaded raised finger on that fatal day, the former by the merest whisker no doubt. The latter had the awful bad luck to return (almost to the very scene of his original escape) and succumb 20 years later in what might be considered his 2nd innings.

Somehow, I can't see the braves of the Oglala Sioux (or was it the Hunkpapa, I never can remember which) sifting methodically through the debris of the 7th Cavalry in order to locate the missing gear - whereas, at Isandlwana, I cannot rid my mind of the thought of an excited Zulu warrior rushing through the tents in an attempt to find a batting pad which matched the one already strapped to his front leg. We know he never found it as it turned up in the half light of dawn, when he was far away, and I sometimes wonder if he wondered, for the rest of his days, why the English only ever bothered with the front leg?

It's probably not the only difference between Isandlwana & Little Big Horn, but surely it must be the main one?

10th April 2003John Young

Didn't Miles Keogh played for the Papal Guard Eleven?

Wasn't Bloody Knife discussing the finer points of W.G. Grace's last innings with Marcus Reno, at the moment of his demise?

Isn't it true that Rain in the Face stopped play?

Just some thoughts.


11th April 2003Peter Ewart

Now fancy you invoking the name of the good doctor in connection with that momentous summer of 1876.

It was certainly a historic year, wasn't it? First of all, heap big runs were scored that summer on this side of the pond. The 2/24th were stationed at Dover & so couldn't come to the rescue of the 7th Cavalry, but I have little doubt that some of their young officers decamped to C'bury for Cricket Week in August, where - would you believe? - the Doc made history with the first treble century in the history of the game, followed by a double up in Nottingham a couple of days later and another 300 in Glos at the end of the week! Your pal Gooch had a similar week a few years back, but I think WG topped it.

The officers, NCOs and Sgts of the 24th accepted some welcome invitations for fixtures around these parts that year & I still wonder if they packed a bag in the hope of finding a suitable 22 yds somewhere in Zululand. If not them, then who?

And lest it be thought that I stray from the subject, or that a well rolled strip was simply not to be found among the rolling hills of Zululand at that time, then answer me this:

How come the exact configuration of the very heart of the Zulu kingdom (i.e. the second ikhanda at Ondini) matched exactly the layout of the HQ of the British Empire (i.e., a certain place in St John's Wood) and that the juxtaposition of the respective vital structures in each place were found by the British in 1879 to be exactly aligned. In other words, the position of Cetshwayo's uhlangoti and isigodlo, together with his own favourite huts, equated precisely with the position of the Long Room, the Tavern and Old Father Time.

Far fetched? Not at all. Who will explain to me just how Cetshwayo's subjects arranged for the whole ikhanda to slope from one side to the other by EXACTLY the same measurement that Lord's famously drops from mid-wicket to cover point? I'll bet no-one had thought of that!

And what did he whisper to Oftebro when he invited him in? He asked for the result of the recent Test down under, in which Lord Harris (of C'bury!) had had to fight back the barracking hordes who had invaded the square, armed only with a stump.

This is only one of several clear proofs that Shaka's nephew was perfectly clued up. By whom? Samuelson? Who knows? But he was - and just where exactly does anyone think the King was on the day before his departure back to Zululand from London in 1882?

Answers on a postcard please.

11th April 2003Alan Critchley
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31st August 2003Adrian
Another big difference is the fact that the British went on to gain the respect of the vanquished Zulus
1st September 2003Peter Ewart
A fair point, Adrian - but did they? And if the British did receive respect, was it earned?

I rather fancy the Zulu were well aware who had provoked the war and precipitated their destruction, as well as knowing who had imposed the disastrous post-war administration, leading to civil war & their King's death. They also knew who had almost immediately confiscated their best agricultural and grazing land in the 1880s and who had consigned much of the population to the native reserves on poor soil, Wild West style, even if they didn't know why.

They knew to which country their kingdom had eventually been annexed and who had imposed the detested hut tax. They may have understood that the British were not responsible for the droughts or the rinderpest but were surely mystified by the way the victors of 1902, in their "magnaminity", handed almost everything to the Boers on a plate, which hardly helped the Zulu nation, who by then had been consigned to the status of a collective pool of labour for the new distant industries and whose social structure, hitherto based on strict family traditions, was destroyed in the space of a generation or two.

It is true that we read that many Zulu were hospitable and friendly to British travellers after the Anglo-Zulu War, sometimes apparently giving the impression that they'd been happy all along to have a good scrap & now bore no grudge. Even today we hear that the Zulu like & respect the British. There may be something in that but I wonder how much of it is for tourist consumption (and the very needs of tourism itself). Or how much it is simply due to their treatment by the British (or the non-Afrikaner segment of the Union) as compared with their fate at the hands of the Afrikaner from well before 1879 right up to the 1990s.

I suspect modern Anglo-Zulu (or should I say British-Zulu) relations benefit from this comparison, but I'd be rather worried if they didn't, because it would be difficult not to appear in a good light when compared with such a record, even if almost by default.

19th January 2004Jon Grena
A couple of notes. The Seventh Cavalry (indeed, the U.S. Army) was not equipped with Winchesters in 1876. The issue rifle was the "Trapdoor" Springfield, Model 1873. Second, the U.S. Army did not "promptly wipe out the majority of the Native Americans" in the wake of the Little Bighorn. There were a number of wars waged with a number of tribes. While massacres DID take place, the whole periodfcan scarcely be likened to wholesale genocide. You need to develop a taste for nuance, if I may say so.
19th January 2004John Young

I think I made both those points in my 9th April, 2003 comments. But I believe I'm correct in saying the 7th Cavalry were armed with carbines and not rifles as you appear to indicate.

John Y.