Academic journal article Military Review

Deliverance from the Little Big Horn: Doctor Henry Porter and Custer's Seventh Cavalry

Academic journal article Military Review

Deliverance from the Little Big Horn: Doctor Henry Porter and Custer's Seventh Cavalry

Article excerpt



Doctor Henry Porter and

Custer's Seventh Cavalry

Joan Nabseth Stevenson, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 2013, 232 pages

How does a PhD, whose concentrations are Slavic languages and literature, take a fresh look at the Battle of the Little Big Horn through the eyes of a contract physician? The leap for Joan Nabseth Stevenson was not that great, as the daughter of a physician from Bismarck, North Dakota. Her father identified the start of the trail; she then explored and charted it masterfully.

Dr. Henry Rinaldo Porter was a contract physician assigned to the 7th Cavalry Regiment during the ill-fated "Expedition against the hostile Sioux," and the only surgeon who survived Gen. George Custer's foray into the valley of the Little Big Horn River. The only commissioned surgeon, Maj. George Lord, was in Custer's column when it was annihilated. Porter and his contracted counterpart, Dr. James DeWolf, were assigned to accompany Maj. Marcus Reno's battalion. DeWolf was killed in Reno's "charge" from poor terrain in the woods to a more-defensible hilltop. Porter, as the only surviving physician, was responsible for treating the wounded members of both Reno's and Capt. Frederick Benteen's battalions.

The conditions for operating a field hospital under fire were anything but benign. Reno's battalion fought two battles. The first battle was alone in the timber and the hilltop on 25 June. The second was after Benteen's battalion joined them on the hilltop the next day. Although the position was defensible, Porter's field hospital in a depression in the center of the hilltop was vulnerable to sniper fire from surrounding plateaus, and without water. The approach of Gen. Alfred Terry's "Dakota" column and Col. John Gibbon's "Montana" column caused the Sioux to break off their siege of Reno's and Benteen's battalions, but that hardly relieved Porter from his duty of caring for the 7th Cavalry's wounded. He continued as the only surgeon on site, treating over fifty wounded men, until joined by Gibbon's assistant surgeon, 1st Lt. Holmes Paulding. Porter accompanied and treated the wounded throughout the evacuation from the Little Big Horn Valley to a waiting riverboat on the Big Horn River, and subsequently down the Big Horn, Yellowstone, and Missouri rivers to Bismarck, Dakota Territory, and Fort Abraham Lincoln. …

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