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What is in a Chief’s Report

Published July 18, 2018

  A Chief’s Report is provided to the President of the United States and both houses of Congress at the end of each Fiscal Year. The Chief’s Report of 1875 covered river and harbor improvements, geographical explorations and surveys west of the one hundredth meridian, in California, Nevada, Nebraska, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana. Reports on Transportation-routes to the seaboard, by freight or rail, zoological reports, botanical reports, reports on the Pueblo languages of New Mexico, reports of certain ruins of New Mexico and an annotated list of the birds of Arizona.

   After the Civil War, the Corps of Engineers placed officers on the staffs of the Division and Department Commanders in the West. As staff officers they had dual missions: support field operations and collect topographical data for the Engineer Department in Washington. Engineers were assigned to survey vast tracks of land and provide detailed reports.

The reports, as follow, are fascinating to read:

Headquarters Department of Dakota,

Office of Chief Engineer,

Saint Paul Minn., April 28, 1875

   In pursuance of instruction from the headquarters of the Military Division of the Missouri, an expedition will be organized at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, for the purpose of reconnoitering the route from that post to Bear Butte, in the Black Hills, and exploring the country, south, southeast, and southwest of that point.

   The expedition will consist of the six companies of the Seventh Cavalry now stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln: the four companies of the same regiment now at Fort Rice; Company I, Twentieth Infantry; and Company G, Seventeenth Infantry, and such Indian scouts from Forts Abraham Lincoln and Rice as the Commander of the expedition shall select.

Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, of the Seventh Cavalry, is assigned to command.

Capt. William Ludlow, chief engineer of the department will report to Lt. Col. Custer as engineer officer of the expedition.  He will be accompanied by his civil assistant and three enlisted men of the Engineer Battalion.

The personnel of this expedition consisted of ten companies of the Seventh Cavalry, one each of the twentieth and seventeenth infantry, a detachment of scouts, together with the necessary guides, interpreters, and teamsters, in all about 1000 men. The wagon train consisted of about one hundred and ten wagon and ambulances, while the artillery was represented by three Gatlings and a 3-inch rifle.

Lt. Col. Custer will return to Fort Abraham Lincoln within sixty days from the time of his departure from it. 

 By Command of Brigadier-General Terry O.D. Greene, Assistant Adjutant General.


   Several professors were also present during the expedition to record reports on the paleontology, zoology and geological findings. A photographer also accompanied the expedition as well.

   The report of this expedition outlined the gold in the Black Hills, hostile Indians, and future challenges for the United States Government.

   As history will dictate, Lt. Col. Custer would lose his life and his men’s life at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, was an armed engagement between combined forces of Lakota, northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian tribes, against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States.

   The battle occurred on June 25 and 26, 1876 near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory.

   It was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, led by several major war leaders, including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall.  The U.S. Seventh Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by Lt. Col. Custer suffered a severe defeat. Five of the Seventh Cavalry's companies were annihilated; Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law.

  Capt. Ludlow was not present at the Battle of Little Bighorn.  He was transferred out earlier in the year to Carroll, Mont., to determine the latitudes and longitudes of several posts in the District of Montana.  

   Capt. Ludlow had a distinguished career as an Engineering Army Officer.  He obtained the rank of Brigadier General and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Lt. Edward Maguire, Chief Engineer, Department of the Dakota would replace Capt. Ludlow.  Lt. Maguire reached the battlefield on 27 June, and while the relief force tended to the wounded and buried the dead, he mapped the field and the burial site.  

   All Engineer reports on the Rosebud and Little Bighorn fights are recorded in the Annual Reports of the Chief of Engineers in 1876. Lt. Maguire’s maps became the basis for all maps of that historical battlefield.

   Lt. Maguire stated in the Report of 1876:


   Of Custer’s fight we at present know nothing, and can only surmise. We must be content with the knowledge gleaned from the appearance of the field, that they died as only brave men can die, and that this battle, slaughter as it was, was fought with a gallantry and desperation of which the “Charge of the Light Brigade” cannot boast. The bodies, with but few exceptions, were frightfully mutilated, and horrors stared us in the face at every step.

   We remained two days on the field to bury the dead and burn the material left behind by the Indians, and then returned by boat with the wounded, whom have all been sent to Fort Lincoln. We are waiting in camp for instructions.

 There are some conclusions which force themselves upon the mind as indubitable. They are as follows:

 1st The number of Indians was underestimated from the outset of the campaign.

2nd The courage, skill, and, in short, the general fighting ability of the Indians has heretofore been underestimated and scoffed at.  It has been forgotten that the Indian traders, by furnishing the Indians with the best breech loading arms, and all the ammunition they desire, have totally changed the problem of Indian warfare.  Sitting Bull had displayed the best generalship in this campaign. He has kept his troops well in hand, and, moving on interior lines, he has beaten us in detail.

3rd The Indians are the best irregular cavalry in the world, and are superior in horsemanship and marksmanship to our soldiers, besides being better armed. Our regiments of cavalry are composed of men about three-fourths of whom are recruits, who have never fought with Indians.  They have never drilled at firing on horseback, and the consequence is that the horses are unused to fighting as the men themselves, and become unruly in action.

4th The carbine has no sufficiently long effective range, and, considering it simply as a weapon for close encounters, it has not the advantages of a magazine gun.

   The Trail has been kept, and observations with the sextant have been made whenever practicable.

Very respectfully,

 your obedient servant


First Lieutenant Corps of Engineers,

Chief Engineer, Department of Dakota.



Chief of Engineers, U.S.A.