Wild West


On January 29, 1879, 1st Lieutenant Charles C. De Rudio took the stand during a U.S. Army court of inquiry requested by Major Marcus Reno and convened at Chicago’s upscale Palmer House to determine what exactly had happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25–26, 1876. Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s calamitous defeat was not the worst debacle in the history of the Indian wars. At the Nov. 4, 1791, Battle of the Wabash (aka St. Clair’s Defeat), in the Northwest Territory (present-day Ohio), General Arthur St. Clair lost nearly twice as many troops killed as those slain at Custer’s Last Stand and the 1866 Fetterman Fight combined. The perennial controversy surrounding the 1876 clash between the 7th U.S. Cavalry and Plains Indians in Montana Territory came about in part because survivors either loved or loathed Colonel Custer.

De Rudio may have been the perfect impartial witness. Custer had disliked the lieutenant, as did Custer nemesis Captain Frederick Benteen, who ridiculed the mannerly and reputedly boastful De Rudio as “Count No-Account.” The title was authentic. Born Carlo Camillo di Rudio in Austrian-ruled northern Italy in 1832, he was a son of Count Ercole Placido Aquila di Rudio and Contessa Elisabetta de Domini, with a parchment pedigree dating to 1680. Captain Myles Keogh, a son of the Irish Catholic gentry who sported an English public school accent, had served in the armies of the Papal States during the Revolutions of 1848, while De Rudio had fought for Italian independence under General Giuseppe Garibaldi. Keogh was reportedly fond of twitting De Rudio for having been excommunicated, as had all of Garibaldi’s men, by Pope Pius IX.

De Rudio had immigrated to New York in 1860, enlisted as a 79th New York Volunteer Infantry private in 1864 and been appointed a second lieutenant over black troops in the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry. Honorably

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