Who Was Ranald S. Mackenzie And What Was His Part in The Great Sioux War?

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, sometimes known as Bad Hand or No-Finger Chief depending on which one of the elders you asked, would survive the Civil War as part of the Union Army and go on to serve during the Great Sioux War, where his career flourished. Although his command during these wars was noteworthy for a number of reasons, he temporarily held control over the 41st, a regiment of African-American soldiers. Many officers during this time veered away from such assignments, but Mackenzie seemed to work well with the men.

On November 25, 1876, soon after the U.S. victory against a couple hundred Sioux, Cheyenne, Minneconjou, and Brules (mostly women and children) at the Battle of Slim Buttes, Colonel Mackenzie and the fourth cavalry under his command were able to annihilate another village in the Dull Knife Fight. While the Battle of Slim Buttes was the beginning of the end of the war, the Dull Knife Fight crushed the Northern Cheyenne tribe’s battle capability in the future.

The Dull Knife Fight ended the war in the Black Hills, and quashed U.S. fear that had arisen from the catastrophe at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Before his success during the Great Sioux War, he served in a number of notable Civil War conflicts: Antietam, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, Petersburg, Fort Stevens, Cedar Creek, Five Forks, and Appomattox Courthouse among them. During these campaigns he was injured at least six times in the line of duty, but survived to see the end of the war and the northern victory.

This service granted him the praise of Ulysses S. Grant, who wrote that Mackenzie was “the most promising young officer in the army.” This praise was not shared by the men he led into battle, who knew him as the “Perpetual Punisher.” They thought him cold and callous, but he was still successful leading them. He was well-known for his obvious ability to lead in combat.

From the period that began with the end of the Civil War until he left military service altogether, he mostly participated in the Indian Wars, of which the Great Sioux War was a part, and was injured at least once more in service.

Because of his victory at the Dull Knife Fight, he was granted a series of promotions that led to a general sense of good fortune in life. He first became commander of District of New Mexico, then brigadier general at the Department of Texas. It was there he bought a ranch and married. Unfortunately, the good luck ended in an unfortunate accident that was eventually blamed for Mackenzie’s sudden mental instability that led to an early and forced retirement from the U.S. army.

He died only five years later, the event going somewhat unnoticed at the time. It wasn’t until years and decades later that his name resurfaced and his long service in the military was acknowledged and studied at length by Ernest Wallace, a Texas historian, in 1964.

You can even watch an entire televsion show about him here: