The U.S. Army's fight against Native Americans can be traced back many years before there was an actual American army. European settlers in colonial America often clashed with Native American tribes. From its establishment in 1775 until the 1890s, the U.S. Army fought a series of battles and wars against various American Indian tribes. The American Army had a number of decisive advantages in these struggles.
The most obvious advantage the U.S. Army had when it went to war against American Indians was its advanced weaponry. American soldiers were equipped with firearms while Native Americans generally used bows and arrows, war lances and other traditional weapons. While Indians often acquired and used firearms, either through trade or by capturing them, they generally faced a U.S. Army which had both a much greater quantity of guns and better access to technological advancements such as revolvers and repeating rifles sooner than Native Americans.
Communication is Key
Throughout most of the Indian Wars, the American Army was able to communicate much more efficiently than the Indian tribes with which it fought. Most Indian tribes had no written language. Native Americans did make use of creative means of communicating over long distances, such as using smoke signals. Still, their ability to communicate with one another to coordinate military endeavors was far more limited than that of the American Army, which made use of advances such as the telegraph to coordinate efforts.
The U.S. Army benefited from the structure of American society. The American soldier was a full-time, paid warrior who could devote his full time to duties as a soldier. He could do this because other segments of society provided foodstuffs, clothing, weaponry and other goods and services for him. Native American warriors -- depending on the tribe and its culture -- were also hunters or herdsmen who directly provided their families' food, shelter and clothing needs in addition to fulfilling their duties as warriors. Additionally, the U.S. Army had a definite command structure in which soldiers were directly accountable to their superiors. Native Americans were less rigid in their approach to authority, even on the battlefield.
Other Significant Advantages
Many of the Native Americans with whom the American Army fought were semi-nomadic. They did not typically build significant fortifications. The U.S. Army often operated from forts, to which they could retreat if a battle went badly for them. Many, such as historical scholar Ward Churchill, believe that the U.S. Army also made intentional use of diseases such as measles and smallpox by giving infested blankets to the Indians. Whether the Army intentionally infected the Native Americans or not, many Indians perished because they lacked immunity to and medical treatment for diseases which soldiers and other Americans brought with them.
- History: America-Indian Wars
- PBS: The Story of Smallpox...and Other Deadly Eurasian Germs
- PBS: The Story of...Writing
- Hoover Institution: Lessons from the Indian Wars
- Texas State Historical Association: Indians
- Plagiary: Did the U.S. Army Distribute Smallpox Blankets to Indians? Fabrication and Falsification in Ward Churchill's Genocide Rhetoric
- Army.mil: Army Birthdays
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