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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
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Mystery Of The Scot Who Died With Custer
By Steven Brown
Webmaster's Note: This article appeared in the Glasgow Sunday Post, September 14, 2003.
The famous "last stand" of Lt Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn River in Montana on June 25, 1876, ended in the deaths of more than 200 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry at the hands of 1500 Indian warriors, mainly Sioux and Cheyenne, under Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
Although Custer was hailed as a hero for his death-or-glory offensive, his campaign until then had amounted to little more than driving the Sioux back to their reservation in Dakota.
The repercussions echoed around the world, because Custer's force was an international brigade of recruits drawn from Germany, Ireland, Finland, Russia, Hungary, Switzerland -and Scotland.
The muster roll shows 10 Scots on the 7th Cavalry pay roll at the time.
Alexander Brown from Aberdeen; James Callan, Thomas Conlan from Ayrshire; John Stuart Hiley, James Hill, William Moodie, David McWilliams, Edinburgh; Joseph Milton, Glasgow; Charles Scott and Peter Thompson, Markinch.
The battle wasn't a complete massacre. Several men survived - James Hill died aged 80 in 1906 in Massachusetts.
Peter Thompson had a narrow escape. His horse collapsed from exhaustion on the way to Little Bighorn and he was seconded to another division. But as his unit charged to rescue their comrades, Thompson was shot in the hand and arm. He received the U.S. Medal of Honor.
Others weren't so lucky. Private John Hiley (27) perished only yards from Custer.
When his belongings were searched, it was discovered his name wasn't Hiley at all. More intriguingly, he had a blue-blooded background as the grandson of a baronet.
His real name was John Stuart Forbes, and he’s one of the few ex-pat cavalrymen to have a memorial erected to him in his home country with a brass plaque in the north aisle of St John's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh's Princes Street.
“A lot of people come to see it, particularly from America,” explains the Church Rector, Dr. John Arnes. “They must be told about it by tour guides. From what we can gather Forbes seems to have got into difficulties here and went to start a new life in America to wipe the slate clean.”
Those difficulties seem to have been gambling debts.
He was the son of banker Charles Hay Forbes and Jemima Rebecca of Canaan Park, Edinburgh, and the second youngest brother of the 9th baronet Sir William Stuart Forbes of Pitsligo and Monymusk, Aberdeenshire.
After Edinburgh Academy and Rugby public school, he spent time with his sister and her husband, Rev. Walter Hiley, whose name he took when he enrolled in the U.S. Army.
Dr. John Arnes at the memorial to the tartan trooper
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