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Ranald MacKenzie – “Bad Hand”

Speaker - Murray Neil

MacKenzie was described by President Grant in his memoirs as “the most promising young officer in the army”. He was also described by the Texan writer T.R.Ferenbach as “the most effective Indian fighter of that time”. And yet when I have asked Americans about MacKenzie none of them know about him. So why is he so little known? The principal cause may be that his life ended in tragic circumstances. He was quietly forgotten for over forty years until one of his former officers wrote a book about him called ”On the Border with MacKenzie”. However he remains relatively unknown.

MacKenzie has been compared frequently with George Armstrong Custer and called the Anti-Custer. Custer’s Civil War exploits exceeded those of McKenzie mainly because MacKenzie was a year behind him in joining the army but also because he spent his first two years of the war as an engineering officer with little potential for “glory”. When he was given the opportunity towards the end of the war as an infantry, and subsequently a cavalry, officer he distinguished himself as a competent commander, thus drawing Grant’s memoir comment.

As an Indian fighter MacKenzie defeated Comanches & Kiowas, Cheyenne, Kickapoos and Lipan Apaches. He fought and won more battles against the tribes than Custer who fought only two, with one of them being the disaster of the Little Big Horn.

MacKenzie deserves to be better known.

My interest in the American West began a result of my father’s service in the 7th US Cavalry. My father, George Neil, immigrated to America in 1924 aged 19. For two years he worked on a ranch in Colorado before joining the 7th US Cavalry in January 1926, shortly after he turned 21. In June of that year he was a member of the provisional command of the 7th Cavalry who attended the commemoration ceremonies for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. There were survivors of the battle present from both the 7th Cavalry and the Indians. During the ceremony my father rode alongside one of the Indians who had fought in the battle.I have been a member of the Custer Association of Great Britain where I wrote an article around my father’s time in the 7th Cavalry. During visits to America I have been to the Little Big Horn Battlefield; travelled down the Shenandoah Valley and visited seven Civil War battlefields in Virginia; I have also been to San Antonio in Texas where MacKenzie was Military Governor at the end of his career.

I have written a short book on the “Washingtons of Tring” and I have given talks on that subject. I am a committee member of the Tring & District Local History & Museum Society and a Group Leader of the American Studies section of the Tring U3A where I have given talks on various subjects including Custer, George Washington, the American Flag, The Declaration of Independence , and of course Ranald MacKenzie. I am currently preparing another talk entitled “Remember the Alamo”. - Murray Neil

Date: Saturday 17th January 2015

Time: 13:30 start - 16:30 close

Venue: The Civil Service Club, Great Scotland Yard, London

Admission: £10 with reservations made by Friday, 9 January 2015 - contact Treasurer for further details. N.B. admittance cannot be guaranteed without an advance reservation.

The Venue

The Civil Service Club is situated in Great Scotland Yard, near Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross railway station, Charing Cross Underground Station (Northern and Bakerloo lines), Embankment Underground Station (Circle and District, Northern and Bakerloo lines). Click here for location map.


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