Testimony of Officers and Men as to the Courage and Fierceness of the Nez Percé

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Veterans of the civil war, and men who have been years on the frontier, who have participated in many of the most sanguine Indian campaigns ever fought, say this was the most hotly-contested field they were ever on. They tell us that never have they seen such cool and determined fighting, at such short range, kept up for so long a time, by Indians; that never have they known so many bullets placed with such deadly accuracy, and so few to fly wild as in this fight. Nearly every man engaged in the action, white or red, officer, private soldier, or citizen, seemed a cool, deliberate sharp shooter; and the fact that after the first assault both parties kept closely covered all day, alone accounts for the fact that so many survived the fiery ordeal. The Indians did splendid work and elicited from the beleaguered soldiers expressions of admiration for their marksmanship, as well as for their bravery and prowess in fierce, close work.

An old sergeant, who was with the Seventh at Gettysburg, when it aided so nobly in holding Little Round Top, says there was no hotter place on that historic hill than he found in the Big Hole on the 9th of August, 1877.

After the battle General Gibbon issued the following congratulatory order to his men:

[Regimental Orders, No. 27.]Headquarters Seventh Infantry, Battle-Field Of The Big Hole,

Montana Territory, Any. 11, 1877. The regimental commander congratulates the regiment upon the result of the conflict here with the hostile Nez Percé on the 9th and 10th inst. While mourning for the dead, Capt. William Logan and First Lieut. James H. Bradley and the twenty-one enlisted men, who fell gallantly doing a soldier’s duty, we can not but congratulate ourselves that after a stern chase of over 250 miles, during which we twice crossed the rugged divide of the Rocky Mountains, we inflicted upon a more numerous enemy a heavier loss than our own, and held our ground until it gave up the field.

In respect to the memory of the gallant dead, the officers of the regiment will wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.

John Gibbon, Colonel Seventh Infantry, Commanding. Official :
Levi F. Bennett, First Lieutenant and Adjutant Seventh Infantry.

In this connection it is deemed proper to give the following facts in regard to General Gibbon’s record as a soldier:

He was born in Pennsylvania and appointed to the Military Academy at West Point from North Carolina. Graduated July 1. 1847, brevet second lieutenant. He was commissioned a second lieutenant September 18, 1847. Served in the Mexican war and in the Seminole war in Florida. Promoted to first lieutenant September 12, 1850. Served as instructor of artillery at West Point 1854 to 1859. Promoted to captain November 2, 1859. Served in Utah 1800-61. Was chief of artillery on General McDowell’s staff, October, 1861, to May, 1862. Brigadier-general of volunteers May, 1862.

Was in the battles of Grangeville, Manasas, South Mountain, and Antietam. Brevetted major-general of volunteers for gallant and meritorious conduct at Antietam. He held an important command at the battle of Fredericksburg, where he was severely wounded. Was brevetted lieutenant-colonel U. S. A. for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Fredericksburg. Was severely wounded at the battle of Gettysburg while commanding the Second Corps, and brevetted colonel U. S. A. for gallant and meritorious service in that action.

He also held an important and responsible command in the Richmond campaign, and was brevetted brigadier-general U. S. A. for gallant and meritorious services at Spotsylvania. Was commissioned major-general of volunteers June 7, 1864. Brevetted major-general U. S. A. for gallant and meritorious conduct in the capture of Petersburg. Mustered out of the volunteer service June 15, 1806, and commissioned a colonel U. S. A. July 28, 1866. Promoted to brigadier-general U. S. A. July 10, 1885, and appointed to the command of the district of the Rocky Mountains. He commanded the column that rescued Reno from the Sioux Indians in June, 1876.

An officer who has served with him several years, and knows him intimately, says:

He is an able writer and deep thinker, a thorough soldier, and no politician; honest, strict on duty, and genial and kind off duty. He is brave as a man can be in battle. A true and loving husband, a kind father, and the truest kind of a friend. A thorough sportsman, temperate, modest, and as careful of the welfare of the humblest enlisted man as of his chief of staff.” Capt. Constant Williams, in a private letter to the author, under date of December 23, 1888, says: ” I wish to bear testimony of the noble bearing of General Gibbon during the whole time the fight was in progress, under the most trying circumstances. His coolness and utter indifference to danger were so marked, and so admirable, that I have ever since that day taken him as my model for a commander.

Yet, notwithstanding this long record of brilliant services and well-merited rewards ; notwithstanding this great and good man has grown gray fighting his country’s battles; notwithstanding he has acquired, by study and experience, a military education and training second to none ever acquired by an American, a man who was suddenly elevated from private life to the high office of Secretary of War has recently seen fit to publicly reprimand him for what he was pleased to term a disobedience of orders. The alleged offense consisted in General Gibbon’s having pardoned a private soldier, who had been by court-martial convicted of a misdemeanor and imprisoned. He had served several months of his term, when General Gibbon, under whose orders the court-martial had been held, deeming him already sufficiently punished, issued a pardon and ordered him released. The One hundred and Twelfth Article of War expressly authorizes such action on the part of department commanders, but the Secretary of War, deeming his power greater than that which makes the laws, had previously issued an order forbidding commanding officers to issue pardons in such cases, and General Gibbon was accordingly severely reprimanded for a violation of this order. He appealed to the President, and that “Man of Destiny,” ignoring the organic law of the land, approved the action of his Secretary.

Thus, a man who has rendered such distinguished services to his country as to merit the gratitude and reverence of every loyal American; a man who has spent the best years of his life in fighting his country’s battles and in studying and obeying her laws, was insulted and degraded by men who, so far as true moral worth is concerned, are unworthy to sit at the same table with him.

Capt. William Logan entered the regular army before the beginning of the late war, and rose from the ranks through the successive grades of corporal, sergeant, second and first lieutenants. He was commissioned a captain October 4, 1878. He saw a great deal of active service during the civil war, and bore an excellent reputation as a brave soldier.

First Lieut. James H. Bradley had been in the army eleven years, during the greater portion of which time he had been in active service on the frontier; had participated in several Indian campaigns, and had repeatedly distinguished himself for coolness and bravery in the face of danger.

First Lieut. William L. English was commissioned a second lieutenant in the One-hundred and First Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, May 1, 1863. On March 5, 18C4, he was promoted to a first lieutenancy, and mustered out of the volunteer service June 7, 1865. He was appointed a second lieu tenant in the regular army June 18, 1867, and promoted to the rank of first lieutenant October 24, 1874. His record is also that of a brave and capable officer.

Of the other officers who participated in the fight and survived its dangers, the following facts will no doubt be of interest to the general public:

General Gibbon is now (February, 1888) in command of the Department of the Columbia, with headquarters at Vancouver Barracks, Washington.

Captain Comba is on recruiting service at Pittsburg, Pa. He is within two files of the rank of major, and in the usual course of events will be promoted to that grade within a year or two. Captain Sanno is stationed at Fort McKinney, Wyoming, and Captain Williams at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Captain Browning died in Paris, May 1, 1882, and Captain Eawn at Lancaster, Pa., October C, 1887.

Lieutenant Coolidge was promoted to a captaincy, vice Logan, August 9, 1877, and is now stationed at Camp Pilot Butte, Wyoming. Lieutenant Jacobs was promoted to a captaincy in the Quartermaster’s Department, 1882, and is now stationed at Atlanta, Ga.

Lieutenant Jackson was made a captain November 14, 1885, and is now stationed at Fort Washakie, Wyoming.

Lieutenant Woodruff was promoted to a captaincy in the Subsistence Department for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of the Big Hole, and is now on duty at General Gibbon’s headquarters, March, 1878.

Second Lieutenant VanOrsdale was promoted to first lieutenant August 20, 1877, and regimental quartermaster June 1, 1885, and is stationed at Fort Laramie, the present headquarters of the Seventh Regiment.

Lieutenant Harden is detailed at West Point as instructor in tactics.

Lieut. Francis Woodbridge is on indefinite leave of absence at Detroit, Mich., awaiting retirement on account of ill health.



MLA Source Citation:

Shields, G. O. "Coquina" The Battle of the Big Hole. A History of General Gibbon's Engagement with Nez Perce Indians in the Big Hole Valley, Montana, August 1877. Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Company, Publishers, 1889. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/testimony-of-officers-and-men-as-to-the-courage-and-fierceness-of-the-nez-perce.htm - Last updated on Apr 3rd, 2013


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