Do you remember learning about the Battle of Little Bighorn in high school or college? That oxymoronic name tends to stick in one’s memory, and who can forget so many pop culture references to Custer’s Last Stand? It’s funny which details we remember, and which we forget. Unless you were a history major or just finished watching a special on the History Channel, I’m willing to bet you don’t know what war that famous battle was fought in (The Great Sioux War of 1876 – I had to look it up). The battle was fought on June 25 and 26, 1876, and it’s just one of many failed military campaigns that have been immortalized in design. The following represents just a few notable artworks from the Battle of Little Bighorn and four more famous failed military campaigns.
So, how bad was Custer’s defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn? The only survivor was a horse.
During the 1854 Battle of Balaclava during the Crimeon War, a miscommunication led to the destruction of a British cavalry unit of more than 600 men when they erroneously entered the “Valley of Death,” so coined by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in poem about the battle. The charge was so suicidal in nature that the Russians reportedly believed the British soldiers were drunk. The artist notes that this artwork is a misinterpretation of Tennyson’s poem, but I think it could also be symbolic of so many lives lost.
In June 1942 Japan tried to set a trap for U.S. Naval forces at Midway Atoll in the Pacific during World War II. The Americans caught on to the plan and instead of being trapped, they ambushed the Japanese Navy, sinking four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser.
This design remembers the Gallipoli Campaign. In 1915 World War I, British and French forces invaded the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to open a sea route to Russia. The campaign was stalled at the Gallipoli Peninsula, where the outnumbered Ottomans defeated the Allies in a battle that took the lives of nearly half a million men with a nearly 60 percent casualty rate on both sides.
On the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, Major General George Pickett led a Confederate charge to overtake Union soldiers on Cemetery Ridge, thereby allowing the Confederate Army passage into Pennsylvania. The Union predicted the charge and were prepared; the Confederates suffered a 50 percent casualty rate and defeat. It was the turning point of the Civil War, which as a whole might be considered a great military failure for all involved.