Today in History, November 27, 1868:
His story could make him the 19th-Century version of Joe Kennedy, Jr or John F. Kennedy. He was born in 1844 into a family filled with Secretaries of the Treasury and Secretaries of State, wealthy bankers, and his grandfather, Alexander Hamilton, was a Founding Father and the first Secretary of the Treasury in President Washington’s cabinet. And of course, Alexander Hamilton lost his bright future in a duel, killed by Vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804. Both the Hamiltons and the McLanes were well placed.
Louis McLane Hamilton had wealth, influence, a bright future, and according to his contemporaries, a high degree of character. Joe and Jack Kennedy had used their influence to get INTO combat during WWII. It cost Joe his life, and very nearly cost JFK his. Likewise, young Louis Hamilton used his influence to get into combat during the Civil War when he was 17 and 18. JFK had to use his father the former Ambassador’s influence to get an assignment in the Pacific. Louis had a letter from President Lincoln himself to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton recommending his commission as an officer. Louis didn’t waste what was given to him. He fought with distinction during the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox Courthouse.
After the war Hamilton continued his service, serving as a Lieutenant and a Captain in the 7th Calvary under Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Hamilton commanded Fort Lyon in Colorado for a time, and fended off an attack led by Chief Pawnee Killer.
On November 26th, 1868 he found himself assigned as “Officer of the Day”, an assignment which gave him responsibility for the 7th Cavalry’s supply train as Custer searched in Indian Territory for Southern Cheyenne warriors. As Custer planned a pursuit, some of Hamilton’s command was taken to bolster the assault’s numbers. True to his nature, Hamilton went to Custer and made his case…earnestly, insistently asking not to be left behind as his troops went into battle. Custer was sympathetic to the request…he would make the same request before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer agreed to let Hamilton leave the wagon train and join his troops.
As a result, Captain Louis McLane Hamilton, Alexander’s grandson, was at the lead of his troops who, as it happened, were the first to attack Chief Black Kettle’s village along the Washita River.
“Keep cool, fire low, and not too rapidly” was the last thing Hamilton was heard to say before being shot in the chest, killed instantly, by one of the defenders firing from within a wigwam. Hamilton the first person killed in the battle.
Elsewhere on the battlefield was Chief Black Kettle and his wife. Not much is known about Chief Black Kettle prior to the mid 1850’s, but what is known that this leader in the Southern Cheyenne tribe often worked hard to keep the peace. In 1864 he and his band were in Colorado when some settlers had been attacked. The Governor declared any Indians who did not report to a military post would be considered hostile. Chief Black Kettle led his band to Fort Lyon and came to an agreement with the commander there for his Southern Cheyenne to camp along Sand Creek in eastern Colorado. This agreement didn’t prevent Colorado Militia Colonel Chivington, ambitious and about to lose his troops to the end of their enlistment, from attacking the peaceful encampment, which was complete with an American flag flying. Many were killed, but Black Kettle and his wife managed to survive.
He was encamped with his people along the Washita River in present day Oklahoma for much the same reason, with the same results. But this time his luck ran out. As he and his wife fled, they were shot down and killed.