The story of Corporal William Teeman from Denmark
THE DANISH SOLDIER
source: extracts from John Koster, "There was a Dane at Custer's Last Stand", Scandinavian Review, avril 2008
Born in Denmark, a veteran of the Royal Danish Army and a teenaged veteran of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, William Teeman's tangled fate brought him to the Little Bighorn a dozen years later-and left a lasting enigma just recently untangled in the quest for a Ouster survivor.
The Danish army of Teeman's era was a largely hereditary enterprise, with proud regiments where fathers left their regimental status to their sons, or uncles to their nephews. The Danes were good soldiers-Horatio Nelson said that the Danes he fought at Copenhagen were, man for man, the toughest adversaries he'd ever faced, and the Hanoverian soldiers the British landed afterwards also said the Danes were excellent soldiers.
Prussia, also, had had a harder time than anticipated with Denmark in the First Schleswig War, which actually started as a factional dispute in Denmark itself. Prussian professionals ranked the Danes with the Hanoverians and the Garibaldini of Italy as their toughest adversaries-far more so than either Austrians or Frenchmen. But no army stood against Prussia in the Bismarck years, and at 18, William Teeman, who appears to have come from the territory in Schleswig and Holstein annexed to Prussia, found himself a man without a country and a soldier without an army. His next stop was the United States. He showed up in 1865 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, and his service record at the National Archives shows that he served a full five-year hitch with Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery.
Teeman was a good soldier with a clean record for his first hitch. His next stop was General George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry, a unit formed after the Civil War to subdue the Plains Indians. Here the enigma begins. Teeman deserted from the 7th Cavalry not once but twice, yet when he returned, he made corporal again, indicating that he was a good soldier, if not a happy one. His ultimate venue was as a corporal in Company F, "The Band Box Troop," commanded by Captain George Yates, a Custer favorite and noted for its sharp appearance-"they always looked as if their equipment came right out of a band box."
As a Danish professional Teeman had learned the prime military importance of a neat uniform: When the government issued the 7th Cavalry huge Andrews hats that crumpled in the first rainstorm and made the men look like buccaneers, Teeman and his buddies in Company F were one of five companies who chipped in their own money to buy snappier non-regulation hats.
The companies that lionized the Custer brothers-Captain Tom Custer first commanded M Company, later C Company-wore their non-issue hats in defiance of the Army quartermaster and the grafters in the War Department.
The companies that polarized around Captain Frederick Benteen, a drunkard and Custer-hater to obsession-wore the floppy Andrews hats in defiance of Custer. Corporal Teeman from Denmark threw his lot with the Custer supporters (...)
Teeman had joined the 7th Cavalry after the big Indian fights of 1866 through 1868. However, in 1873, Teeman and F Company had a taste of Indian fighting against the Sioux-called Lakota in their own language-the most formidable of all the Plains tribes. (...)
(After the Little Bighorn)
"Everybody was scalped and mutilated except for General Custer and Corporal Tieman (sic) whose scalp was partially off and who had the sleeve of his blouse with the chevron uplaid over in a peculiar manner," a sergeant in the 6th Infantry wrote of the carnage on Custer Hill to the New York Herald in 1876.