|General Custers disastrous Last Stand at Little Big Horn:
almost exactly four years before Ned Kellys equally disastrous Last Stand at Glenrowan
Its often said by Ned Kelly supporters that if Ned Kelly had been a soldier, being so brave and commanding a person, and so able at planning and co-ordinating such things as attacking Police in the Bush and pulling off Bank Robberies, he would have made a great General.
However as so often happens with Kelly mythology, this claim disintegrates completely when its examined closely, and nowhere more comprehensively does it break down than in relation to Kellys most famous act, the confrontation with the Police at Glenrowan. Here, after months of planning and preparation, including the manufacture of the iconic bullet-proof armour, Ned Kelly envisioned a bloody and decisive triumph over the Police. Precisely what he planned to do after that is unclear , but in any event whatever it was, it depended entirely on the successful realization of his planned outrage at Glenrowan.
The result however was immediate, complete and utter disaster for Ned Kelly. His grand plan failed in every possible way, except perhaps for the killing of Aaron Sherrit – yes, in that he succeeded because as ever he was brilliant at killing innocent people, but in no other way could Glenrowan be called anything other than failure and humiliation : his brother was dead, the other two Gang members were dead, he was captured and within a few months hanged, no additional Police had been killed and his mother remained in Prison.
Some try to rescue from this debacle a heroic Ned Kelly battling against impossible odds, making a brave Last Stand like General Custer, fighting to the very end against a dark corrupt and overwhelming force prepared to stop at nothing to bring him down. But this calamity was entirely of Neds making, exposing his strategy and his tactics and planning as badly thought out, weak and blundering and his leadership as inflexible, blinkered and unimaginative. He trapped himself and his brother and Steve and Joe right there in Ann Jones Inn and when it was obvious, very early on that the Grand Plan was falling apart he lacked the wit and the imagination to do anything other than blunder on with it rather than think his way out, to create a new exit strategy, to change his objective. I don’t think it was heroic – it was stupidity. Ian Jones called it madness. In fact, Glenrowan, on June 28th1880 was Ned Kellys Little Big Horn, the place where General Custers faulty strategy and tactics left him and all his men, and his brother, all dead as well, almost exactly four years earlier, June 25th 1876, in Montana.
I looked up the date of Custers last stand because I am not very familiar with the story but I have yet to hear Custer nominated as a great General. Given that Ned Kellys grandest plan, after months and months of planning came to a similarly disastrous and rapid end, I am forced to conclude that people who think Kelly would have been a great General know absolutely nothing about Glenrowan.
So what went wrong? Well, firstly, the train came a lot later than Kelly had planned for. This meant that he had to keep hostages for much longer than was intended and it gave some of them greater opportunity to escape, or as in the case of hostages like Thomas Curnow, to trick Kelly into letting him go. Curnow was of course the great hero of the day who stopped the train and saved everyone on board.
But how can Kelly be blamed for the train not coming on time? It was beyond his control was it not? Well there are two parts to the answer: the first is that a good General wouldn’t have made his plan so dependant on things he couldn’t control. Secondly, sympathizers love to claim that the delay actually resulted from police cowardice at Sherritts hut, saying that if they hadn’t been so cowardly they would have emerged immediately after Aarons murder and alerted authorities down the line the same evening. Again, a really great Generals Plan wouldn’t have been dependant on Police acting in such a particular way and time frame, but more importantly it was the actions of Joe and Dan, after killing Aaron that actively discouraged the Police from coming out and created the delay. These two assasins hung about for several hours shooting at the doorway, yelling at the Police inside and even attempted to set the house on fire and smoke them out. To say the Police were cowards for not emerging straight away into the dark night, essentially blind– to be shot at the door as Aaron was – is absurd. The Police were protecting themselves from a Gang of known Police killers who had just brutally killed another innocent man. Only an idiot would have put his head out the door. If the Generals killers had done as they were told, killed Aaron and then headed to Glenrowan maybe the train would have arrived a lot earlier, but the delay resulted from the time-wasting intimidation by Dan and Joe – already the Plan was unraveling.
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