Military history is stacked full of examples of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’, and the results of these have reverberated through the ages. Of course not all of these are tales are of the righteous and brave altering things for the better, far from it in some cases. And it isn’t always insightful, strategic and meticulously considered manoeuvres that have defined the fate of many a soldier and thereafter battle or war. Here are 3 examples of military misjudgement that made history.
Leaving the Gatling Guns Behind, 1876
George A. Custer
Custer’s last stand was at the Battle of Little Bighorn. On the banks of the Bighorn River, Custer and his famous 7th Cavalry division, about 250 men, perished at the hands of Sioux warriors. The decision to ‘move on’ an Indian settlement which turned out to be his last was ill-fated due arguably to Custer’s own vanity.
Available to Custer was the newly developed and devastating technology of the Gatling gun. It is thought Custer might have had as many as four at his disposable. He opted not to take these on his raid as they would not only impede his speed and manoeuvrability, but also cause him to look bad in the eyes of the Indians… It’s probably a decision he regretted in his final moments.
Taking The Alamo, 1836
General Santa Anna
As about as famous as battles get, the tale of the Alamo is one of legend. The Alamo was a mission and structurally nothing more than a very small building with a wall surrounding it. Garrisoned there was a tiny group of Texan soldiers that Mexican General Santa Anna decided to dispatch, rather than navigate around. Pride comes before a fall, as they say.
That is a saying that rings true in this instant. The Mexican army refused to pass the outpost, instead staying and launching attack after attack. This unnecessary delay turned out to be more significant than one might think. It gave Texas the chance to ready itself and when Santa Anna arrived he was vanquished at San Jacinto and shortly after the Republic of Texas was founded.
Invading Russia, 1812
General Santa Anna was also known as the Napolean of the West, which is interesting as Monsieur Bonaparte is our third entry. It’s odd he makes the list as until this point Napolean had conquered all comers throughout Europe and had amassed the largest army every seen on the continent. So why not take Russia? The answer to this is written in history.
Napoleon takes himself and his 500,000 plus strong army into Mother Russia. Although there were significant battles, essentially the Russian’s retreated into their vast country using scorched earth tactics. This meant that by the time the French got to Moscow they found it largely evacuated and burning. At this point Napolean decided to head home, disastrous doesn’t come close. Winter and guerrilla tactics took heavy numbers and by the time Napolean abandoned his troops. Yes abandoned his men, there were only 27,000 fit soldiers remaining. This escapade didn’t entirely destroy Napolean’s career, but it was incredibly significant both to him and the fate of Europe.