Colonel Carrington's battalion of about 700
men departed Fort
Laramie in June 1866 for the Big Horn
threat to oppose the move, several families, including the commanding officer's,
accompanied the force. At Fort Reno on Powder River, some miles beyond the end
of the telegraph, Carrington with a Regular company relieved two companies of
the 5th U.S. Volunteers, former Confederate prisoners who became so-called
galvanized Yankees when they agreed to frontier
service in exchange for their freedom. Farther northwestward, 225 miles from Fort
Laramie, he selected a site on the Piney
tributary of Powder River to construct his headquarters post -- Fort Phil Kearny.
Five companies remained there while the remaining two were sent out to establish
Fort C. F. Smith at the northern edge of the Big Horns.
Fort Phil Kearny
became the focus of enemy attention and during its brief existence remained
virtually in a state of siege. On December 21, 1866, the
attacked a wood train six miles from the fort.
Captain Fetterman, who had been
brevetted lieutenant colonel in
actions and now boasted that with eighty men he could ride through the whole
Nation, asked to lead a relief column.
decoys demonstrated invitingly before the rescue party, withdrawing gradually
over Lodge Trail Ridge northwest of the post.Fetterman fell for the ruse and,
against Carrington's orders, with eighty men at his back crossed the ridge. In a
carefully executed ambush the
wiped out the entire force, including two civilians who had gone along to try
out their new Henry repeating rifles, weapons far superior to the Springfield
muzzle-loaders carried by the infantrymen and the Spencer carbines carried by
the cavalrymen in the detail.
The Army was more successful in two other
notable actions on the
Trail. In August 1867 the
launched separate but apparently coordinated attacks against a haying detail
near Fort Smith and a wood detail outside Fort Kearny.