In 1874 Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer led an expedition to the Black Hills of Dakota. He reported that he discovered gold in the area. The following year the United States government attempted to buy the Black Hills for six million dollars. The area was considered sacred by the Sioux and they refused to sell. Custer's story attracted gold hunters and in April 1876 the mining town of Deadwood was established in the area.
On 17th May Sioux warriors killed and scalped five settlers in the Black Hills. Over the next couple of days seven more cases of men being murdered by the Sioux. On 17th June 1876, General George Crook and about 1,000 troops, supported by 300 Crow and Shoshone, fought against 1,500 members of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. The battle at Rosebud Creek lasted for over six hours. This was the first time that Native Americans had united together to fight in such large numbers. On 28th June General William Sherman declared: "Forbearance has ceased to be a virtue toward these Indians, and only a severe and persistent chastisement will bring them to a sense of submission."
On 22nd June, George A. Custer and 655 men were sent out to locate the villages of the Sioux and Cheyenne involved in the battle at Rosebud Creek. A very large encampment was discovered three days later. It was over 15 miles away and even with field glasses Custer was unable to discover the number of warriors the camp contained.
Instead of waiting for the arrival of the rest of the army led by General Alfred Terry, Custer decided to act straight way. He divided his force into three battalions in order to attack the camp from three different directions. One group led by Captain Frederick Benteen was ordered to march to the left. A second group led by Major Marcus Reno was sent to attack the encampment via the Little Big Horn River.
Major Reno was the first to charge the village. When he discovered that the camp was far larger than was expected he retreated to the other side of the Little Big Horn River. He was later joined by Captain Benteen and although they suffered heavy casualties they were able to fight off the attack.
George A. Custer and his men rode north on the east side of the Little Big Horn River. The Sioux and Cheyenne saw Custer's men and swarmed out of the village. Custer was forced to retreat into the bluffs to the east where he was attacked by about 4,000 warriors. At the battle of the Little Bighorn Custer and all his 231 men were killed. This included his two brothers, Tom and Boston, his brother-in-law, James Calhoun, and his nephew, Autie Reed.
The soldiers under Reno and Benteen continued to be attacked and 47 of them were killed before they were rescued by the arrival of General Alfred Terry and his army. It was claimed afterwards that Custer had been killed by his old enemy, Rain in the Face. However, there is no hard evidence to suggest that this is true.
General Philip H. Sheridan concluded that George A. Custer had made several important mistakes at the Little Big Horn. He argued that after their seventy mile journey, Custer's men were too tired to fight effectively. Custer had also made a mistake in developing a plan of attack on the false assumption that the Sioux and Cheyenne would attempt to escape rather than fight the soldiers.
Sheridan also criticized Custer's decision to divide his men into three groups: "Had the Seventh Cavalry been held together, it would have been able to handle the Indians on the Little Big Horn." His final mistake was to attack what was probably the largest group of Native Americans ever assembled on the North American continent. President Ulysses Grant agreed with this assessment and when interviewed by the New York Herald he said: "I regard Custer's Massacre was a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary".
After the battle Captain Frederick Benteen believed that Custer's battalion had taken more than their own number of the enemy with them. Contemporary newspaper accounts claimed that over 200 Sioux warriors had been killed during the attack. But interviews with surviving chiefs, have put the Indian loss at about 45 killed. As Flying Hawk said after the battle: "The white men's accounts are guesswork... for no white man knows. None left."
After the battle false stories circulated that one of Custer's party had survived. On 6th July, 1876, the Bismarck Tribune reported that "one Crow scout hid himself in the field and witnessed and survived the battle." Three days later the New York Times reported that a scout had escaped through the lines by disguising himself in a Sioux blanket."
On 26th July 1876 the New York Herald Tribune published an interview with an Indian scout who it claimed had survived the battle. The newspaper quoted the scout as saying that "General Custer was the last man to be killed." He also added that Custer had not been scalped because the Sioux respected their brave enemy.
Custer's scout Curly was the person most often identified as the lone survivor. He denied this, pointing out that the four Indian scouts (Hairy Moccasin, Goes Ahead and White Man Runs Him) had been sent by Custer away from Little Bighorn before the battle began. However, on 29th July, the Chicago Tribune published an article claiming that Curly had told them that "more Indians were killed than Custer had men." John F. Finerty of the Chicago Times also claimed that Curly had witnessed Custer's death. In a book published several years later, Finerty claimed that "Curley said that Custer remained alive throughout the greater part of the engagement, animating his men to determined resistance, but about an hour before the close of the fight lie received a mortal wound."
Soon afterwards the St. Paul Pioneer-Press and Tribune published another account of a lone survivor. Over the next few years newspapers and magazines published several articles based on interviews with so-called lone survivors such as Williad Carlisle, W. B. Hicks, James Snepp, W. J. Baily, George Yee, John Lockwood, Jim Flannagan, Alexander McDonnell and Charles Mitchel.
In his influential book, The Life of General George A. Custer (1876), Frederick Whittaker included the story of Curly witnessing the battle of Little Bighorn as a fact. Whittaker also claimed that Custer had been killed by Rain in the Face. He also insisted that the disaster had been caused by the cowardice of Captain Frederick Benteen and Major Marcus Reno.
The U.S. army responded to the battle of the Little Bighorn by increasing the number of the soldiers in the area. As a result leaders of the attack such as Sitting Bull and Gall fled to Canada, whereas Crazy Horse and his followers surrendered to General George Crook at the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska. Crazy Horse was later killed while being held in custody at Fort Robinson.
The Brigadier General commanding directs that as soon as your regiment can be made ready for the march, you proceed up the Rosebud in pursuit of the Indians whose trail was discovered by Major Reno a few days ago. It is, of course, impossible to give you any definite instructions in regard to this movement, and were it not impossible to do so, the Department commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy. He will, however, indicate to you his own views of what your action should be, and he desires that you should conform to them unless you shall see sufficient reason for departing from them. He thinks that you should proceed up the Rosebud until you ascertain definitely the direction in which the trail above spoken of leads. Should it be found, as it appears to be almost certain that it will be found, to turn toward the Little Big Horn he thinks that you should still proceed southward, perhaps as far as the headwaters of the Tongue, and then turn toward the Little Big Horn, feeling constantly however, to your left so as to preclude the possibility of the escape of the Indians to the south or southeast by passing around your left flank.
I think we must have stumbled along in the dark for around three hours, when a halt was ordered. None of us had had much sleep for several days, so we were glad to lie down and grab a little rest. When daylight came around 3 o'clock we made coffee, but the water was so alkaline we almost gagged on it.
It was around 8 o'clock when we got orders to saddle up. We marched about ten miles, when we were halted in a sort of ravine. We'd been told to make as little noise as possible and light no fires. There'd been no bugle calls for a day or two.
When we got to the timber we rode down an embankment and dismounted. This was where the channel of the river changed and was probably several feet lower than the level of the prairie. We dismounted in haste, number four of each set of four holding the horses.
We came up onto higher ground forming a skirmish line from the timber towards the bluffs on the other side of the valley and facing down stream in the direction of the Indian camp. This was our first view of the Indian camp from the skirmish line. Some of the men laid down while the others knelt down.
At this particular place there was a prairie dog town and we used the mounds for temporary breast works. We got the skirmish line formed and here the Indians made their first charge. There were probably 500 of them coming from the direction of their village. They were well mounted and well armed. They tried to cut through our skirmish line. We fired volleys into them repulsing their charge and emptying a number of their saddles.... Finally when they could not cut through us, they strung out in single file, lying on the opposite side of their ponies from us, and then they commenced to circle. They overlapped our skirmish line on the left and were closing in on the rear to complete the circle.
Reno took a steady gallop down the creek bottom three miles where it emptied into the Little Horn, and found a natural ford across the Little Horn River. He started to cross, when the scouts came back and called out to him to hold on, that the Sioux were coming in large numbers to meet him. He crossed over, however, formed his companies on the prairie in line of battle, and moved forward at a trot but soon took a gallop.
The Valley was about three fourth of a mile wide, on the left a line of low, round hills, and on the right the river bottom covered with a growth of cottonwood trees and bushes. After scattering shots were fired from the hills and a few from the river bottom and Reno's skirmishers returned the shots.
He advanced about a mile from the ford to a line of timber on the right and dismounted his men to fight on foot. The horses were sent into the timber, and the men forward on the prairie and advanced toward the Indians. The Indians, mounted on ponies, came across the prairie and opened a heavy fire on the soldiers. After skirmishing for a few minutes Reno fell back to his horses in the timber. The Indians moved to his left and rear, evidently with the intention of cutting him off from the ford.
Reno ordered his men to mount and move through the timber, but as his men got into the saddle the Sioux, who had advanced in the timber, fired at close range and killed one soldier. Colonel Reno then commanded the men to dismount, and they did so, but he soon ordered them to mount again, and moved out on to the open prairie.
The command headed for the ford, pressed closely by Indians in large numbers, and at every moment the rate of speed was increased, until it became a dead run for the ford. The Sioux, mounted on their swift ponies, dashed up by the side of the soldiers and fired at them, killing both men and horses. Little resistance was offered, and it was complete rout to the ford. I did not see the men at the ford, and do not know what took place further than a good many were killed when the command left the timber.
Just as I got out, my horse stumbled and fell and I was dismounted, the horse running away after Reno's command. I saw several soldiers who were dismounted, their horses having been killed or run away. There were also some soldiers mounted who had remained behind, I should think in all as many as thirteen soldiers, and seeing no chance of getting away, I called on them to come into the timber and we would stand off the Indians.
Three of the soldiers were wounded, and two of them so badly they could not use their arms. The soldiers wanted to go out, but I said no, we can't get to the ford, and besides, we have wounded men and must stand by them. The soldiers still wanted to go, but I told them I was an old frontiersman, understood the Indians, and if they would do as I said I would get them out of the scrape which was no worse than scrapes I had been in before. About half of the men were mounted, and they wanted to keep their horses with them, but I told them to let the horses go and fight on foot.
We stayed in the bush about three hours, and I could hear heavy firing below in the river, apparently about two miles distant. I did not know who it was, but knew the Indians were fighting some of our men, and learned afterward it was Custer's command. Nearly all the Indians in the upper part of the valley drew off down the river, and the fight with Custer lasted about one hour, when the heavy firing ceased. When the shooting below began to die away I said to the boys 'come, now is the time to get out.' Most of them did not go, but waited for night. I told them the Indians would come back and we had better be off at once. Eleven of the thirteen said they would go, but two stayed behind.
I deployed the men as skirmishers and we moved forward on foot toward the river. When we had got nearly to the river we met five Indians on ponies, and they fired on us. I returned the fire and the Indians broke and we then forded the river, the water being heart deep. We finally got over, wounded men and all, and headed for Reno's command which I could see drawn up on the bluffs along the river about a mile off. We reached Reno in safety.
We had not been with Reno more than fifteen minutes when I saw the Indians coming up the valley from Custer's fight. Reno was then moving his whole command down the ridge toward Custer. The Indians crossed the river below Reno and swarmed up the bluff on all sides. After skirmishing with them Reno went back to his old position which was on one of the highest fronts along the bluffs. It was now about five o'clock, and the fight lasted until it was too dark to see to shoot.
As soon as it was dark Reno took the packs and saddles off the mules and horses and made breast works of them. He also dragged the dead horses and mules on the line and sheltered the men behind them. Some of the men dug rifle pits with their butcher knives and all slept on their arms.
At the peep of day the Indians opened a heavy fire and a desperate fight ensued, lasting until 10 o'clock. The Indians charged our position three or four times, coming up close enough to hit our men with stones, which they threw by hand. Captain Benteen saw a large mass of Indians gathered on his front to charge, and ordered his men to charge on foot and scatter them.
Benteen led the charge and was upon the Indians before they knew what they were about and killed a great many. They were evidently much surprised at this offensive movement, and I think in desperate fighting Benteen is one of the bravest men I ever saw in a fight. All the time he was going about through the bullets, encouraging the soldiers to stand up to their work and not let the Indians whip them; he went among the horses and pack mules and drove out the men who were skulking there, compelling them to go into the line and do their duty. He never sheltered his own person once during the battle, and I do not see how he escaped being killed. The desperate charging and fighting was over at about one o'clock, but firing was kept up on both sides until late in the afternoon.
I mounted my command and charged through the reds in a solid body. As we cut our way through them, the fighting was hand to hand and it was instant death to him who fell from his saddle, or was wounded. As we dashed through them, my men were so close to the Indians that they could discharge their pistols right into the breasts of the savages, then throw them away and seize their carbines, not having time to replace their revolvers in their holsters.... Our horses were on the dead run with, in many instances, two and three men on one animal. We plunged into the Little Big Horn and began the climb of the opposite bluffs. This incline was the steepest that I have ever seen horse or mule ascend.... In this narrow place (the ford) there were necessarily much crowding and confusion and many of the men were compelled to cling to the horses' necks and tails for support, to prevent their being trampled to death or falling back into the river. Into the mass of men and horses, the Indians poured a continuous fire and the Little Big Horn was transferred into a seeming river of human blood.
My buddy, a young fellow named Jones, who hailed from Milwaukee, was lying alongside of me. Together we had scooped out a wide shallow trench and piled up the dirt to make a little breastwork in front of us. It was plumb light now and sharpshooters on the knob of a hill south of us and maybe a thousand yards away, were taking pot shots at us.
Jones said something about taking off his overcoat, and he started to roll on his side so that he could get his arms and shoulders out, without exposing himself to fire. Suddenly I heard him cry out. He had been shot straight through the heart.
The lead kept spitting around where I lay. Up on the hilltop I could see a figure firing at me from a prone position. Looked like he was resting his long-range rifle on a bleached buffalo head. I tried my best to reach him with my Springfield carbine but it simply wouldn't carry that far.
Somehow I always figured that the sharpshooter who had killed Jones ... must have been a renegade white man.... He could shoot too well to have been a full-blooded Indian.
Had Custer carried out the orders he got from General Terry the commands would have formed a junction exactly at the village, and have captured the whole outfit of teepees, etc., but Custer disobeyed orders from the fact of not wanting any other command - or body to have a finger in the pie - and thereby lost his life.
On the top of the first page of the morning papers of July 5, 1876, in large black letters, was the one word, "Horrible." The journals announced that a good part of General Custer's command of the Seventh Cavalry had been annihilated on the Little Big Horn in Montana. Custer's command was very popular with the citizens of that region. The news of this massacre, as it was called, created intense excitement and sympathy. In fact, there had been no such demonstration of sorrow since the appalling tragedy of April 12, 1865. Buildings were draped in mourning. Telegrams were flying between military authorities, and a command was ordered from Fort Leavenworth to move to Montana and take part in the campaign. A part of my regiment, the Fifth United States Infantry, was ordered for this service, and I requested permission to go in command; the request was approved, and within a few days the command was equipped for war and marched away as light-hearted as ever troops proceeded to the field of arduous and hazardous service.
Since the murder of General Canby by the Modocs the country has not been more startled than it was by the announcement that General Custer and five companies of his regiment, the Seventh Cavalry, had been massacred by the Sioux Indians in a ravine ... the Indians outnumbering our troops ten to one. General Custer had personal and soldierly traits which commended him to the people. He was an officer who did not know the word fear, and, as is often the case with soldiers of this stamp, he was reckless, hasty, and impulsive, preferring to make a daredevil rush and take risks rather than to move slower and with more certainty. He was a brave, brilliant soldier, handsome and dashing, with all the attributes to make him beloved of women and admired of men; but these qualities, however admirable they may be, should not blind our eyes to the fact that it was his own madcap haste, rashness, and love of fame that cost him his own life, and cost the service the loss of many brave officers and gallant men. They drew him into an ambuscade ravine.... In this instance, three hundred troops were instantly surrounded by 3,000 Indians, and the fatal ravine became a slaughter-pen from which but a few escaped.... No account seems to have been taken of numbers, of the leadership of the Sioux, of their record of courage and military skill.
All along the slopes and ridges and in the ravines, lying as they had fought, line behind line, showing where defensive positions had been successively taken up and held till none were left to fight, lay the bodies of the fallen soldiers; then huddled in a narrow compass horses and men were piled promiscuously.
At the highest point of the ridge lay General Custer, surrounded by a chosen band.... Here behind Colonel Yates' company, the last stand had been made, and here, one after another, these last survivors of General Custer's five companies had met their death. The companies had successively thrown themselves across the path of the advancing enemy and had been annihilated. Not a man has escaped to tell the tale, but the story was inscribed on the surface of the barren hills in a language more eloquent than words.
When the redskins made their rush down the valley that morning, I did not know what was going on, but I climbed a hill and there in full sight was the terrible battle going on. The Indians rode around in a circle and kept picking off the horses first. After they had shot all the horses, killed or wounded them, then they started to close in on the men, and they done it slow too. Custer and his men then retreated to a small rise of ground, and there made their last stand.
Those of the redskins who had lost their horses, closed in on foot and slowly but surely they picked off the white men, one by one, until at last only the brave General Custer was left with his comrades dead around him.
One sweep of the saber and an Indians head was split in two, one flash of his revolver, his last shot, and a redskin got the bullet between the eyes, then he fell with a bullet in the breast, the last of that brave band.
I saw him within 15 minutes after he was shot, and there was still a smile on his face. Perhaps he was thinking of his home, his beloved wife or Mother. Who can tell.
I arrived at the conclusion then as I have now that it was a rout, a panic, till the last man was killed; that there was no line formed. There was no line on the battlefield; you can take a handful of corn and scatter it over the floor and make just such lines. There were none; the only approach to a line was where five or six horses were found at equal distances like skirmishers.... Only where Custer was found were there any evidences of a stand. The five or six men I spoke of were where Capt. Calhoun's body was.... The position of the bodies on the Custer battlefield indicated that the officers did not die with their companies.... That shows they did not fight as companies. All the officers, except Col. Keogh, Capt. Calhoun, and Lt. Crittenden were on the line with Custer. That would not be the fact if the command was overwhelmed while making a stand.
The men lay dead in an irregular line, Calhoun and Crittenden in place in rear. This is the order of the tactics, the officers watching and moving along their line, within a few feet. There they fell, every man in his place. They were ordered to stay and be killed, to save the day, and they obeyed orders. Who then was Calhoun, that he was the first ordered to die?... He was Custer's dearest of all friends on earth; he was the bravest and gentlest of men.... Did Calhoun murmur - did he question the order?...
Not a murmur came from that one, and the other showed by this first sacrifice that he placed the country above all his earthly loves. "The country needs; I give her a man who will do his duty to the death: I give them my first brother. I leave my best loved sister a widow, that so the day may be saved. Farewell."
Well did Calhoun redeem that trust. Every man in his place, no faltering, no going back, Calhoun's company kept on firing till the last cartridge was gone, and one by one dropped dead in his tracks under the fire of the swarms of Indians that kept dashing to and fro before them, firing volley after volley. Down they went, one after another, cheered up by this grand figure of duty, young Calhoun encouraging them to the last.... Calhoun, with his forty men, had done on an open field, what Reno, with a hundred and forty, could not do defending a wood. He died like a hero, and America will remember him, while she remembers heroes....
The sight of Calhoun's men, dying as they did, had nerved Keogh's men to the same pitch of sublime heroism. Every man realized that it was his last fight, and was resolved to die game. Down they went, slaughtered in position, man after man dropping in his place, the survivors contracting their line to close the gaps. We read of such things in history, and call them exaggerations. The silent witness of those dead bodies of heroes in that mountain pass cannot lie.
The valley of the creek was followed toward the Little Big Horn, Custer on the right of the creek, Reno on the left of it, Benteen off still farther to the left and not in sight. About 11 o'clock Reno's troops crossed the creek to Custer's column and remained with it until about half-past 12 o'clock, when it was reported that the village was only two miles ahead and running away.
Reno was directed to move forward at asrapid a gait as he thought prudent and to charge, with the understanding that Custer should support him. The troops under Reno moved at a fast trot for about two miles, when they came to the river, crossed it, halted a few minutes to collect the men, and then deployed. Not seeing anything, however, of the subdivisions under Custer and Benteen, and the Indians swarming upon him from all directions, Reno took position dismounted in the edge of some timber winch afforded shelter for the horses of his command, continuing to fight on foot until it became apparent that lie would soon be overcome by superior numbers of Indians. He then remounted his troops, charged through the enemy, recrossed the river and gained the bluffs on the opposite side. In this charge First Lieutenant Donald Mclntosh, Second Lieutenant B. H. Hodgson and Acting-Assistant-Surgeon J. M. DeWolf, were killed.
Reno's force succeeded in reaching the top of the bluff, but with a loss of three officers and twenty-nine enlisted men killed and seven men wounded. Almost at the same time that Reno's men reached the bluff, Benteen's battalion came up, and a little later the pack-train, with MacDougall's troop escorting it. These three detachments were all united under Reno's command, and numbered about 381 men, in addition to their officers.
All during June 1876, events and Custer's own mistakes conspired against him. Experience in the plains wars indicated that the problem in fighting the Indians was not so much defeating them as it was getting them to stand and fight at all. This was one of Custer's major worries. Moreover, he had been led to believe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to expect more than 800 hostile braves; in fact he was probably confronted by over 4,000. Finally, he was not aware that many of his future foes were armed with Winchester repeating carbines, whereas his own men were equipped with single-shot Springfields. Thus of the three major aspects of military intelligence - the number of the enemy, their willingness to fight, and their armament - Custer was ignorant and unprepared.
Some thought Reno lost his head, and Custer with it: some thought he should have marched at once to the sound of the guns, without waiting for the ammunition packs. But those most critical of his conduct in the valley were not with him in the valley; and those who held that he should have marched at once ignored his lack of ammunition.
But when these same men took the witness stand and swore to tell the truth, all, as good soldiers, even the more experienced Benteen, to whom Reno himself looked for advice and counsel, recognized and acknowledged that it was Reno and not one of them who was the Commanding Officer; that it was he, not they, upon whom rested the duty and responsibility of decision.... And not one of them, not even the unfriendly Godfrey, was able to put his finger on any act that he was willing to stigmatize upon his oath, as cowardice.
I feel that Custer would have succeeded had Reno with all the reserve of seven companies passed through and joined Custer after the first repulse. I think it quite certain that General Custer had agreed with Reno upon a place of junction in case of a repulse of either or both of the detachments, and instead of an effort being made by Reno for such a junction as soon as he encountered heavy resistance he took refuge in the hills, and abandoned Custer and his gallant comrades to their fate.
As a soldier I would sooner today lie in the grave of General Custer and his gallant comrades alone in that distant wilderness, that when the last trumpet sounds I could rise to judgment from my post of duty, than to live in the place of the survivors of the siege on the hills.
Having been called upon to prepare the biography of the late Brevet Major General George A. Custer, U.S.A., a great amount of evidence, oral and written, came into my hands tending to prove that the sacrifice of his life and the lives of his immediate command at the battle of the Little Big Horn was useless, and owing to the cowardice of his subordinates.
First: Information coming to me from participants in the battle... is to the effect that gross cowardice was displayed therein by Major Marcus A. Reno... and that owing to such cowardice, the orders of Lieut. Col. Custer, commanding officer, to said Reno, to execute a certain attack, were not made.
That the failure of this movement, owing to his cowardice and disobedience, caused the defeat of the United States forces on the day in question; and that had Custer's orders been obeyed, the troops would probably have defeated the Indians.
That after Major Reno's cowardly flight, he was joined by Captain Benteen... and that he remained idle with this force while his superior officer was fighting against the whole force of the Indians, the battle being within his knowledge, the sound of firing audible from his position, and his forces out of immediate danger from the enemy.
That the consequences of this second exhibition of cowardice and incompetency was the massacre of Lieut. Col. Custer and five companies of the Seventh United States Cavalry.
The facts as now understood dispose most people here to lay blame for the slaughter upon General Custer's imprudence and probably disobedience of orders. But criticism is kindly and charitable in tone, as it would not be had he not fallen with his command in the thickest of the battle.
The Crow Indian Curly is believed to be the only survivor of the 250 men who went into action with Custer. He is very clear in his knowledge of the fight, and has made a statement.... The fight began about 2 o'clock, and lasted, Curly says, almost until the sun went down over the hills.... Curly says more Indians were killed than Custer had men. He also says the big chief (Custer) lived until nearly all his men had been killed or wounded, and went about encouraging his soldiers to fight on.... The last officer killed was a man who rode a white horse (believed to be Lieut. Cooke).
When he saw that the party with the General was to be overwhelmed, he went to the General and begged him to let him show him a way to escape. General Custer dropped his head on his breast in thought for a moment, in a way he had of doing. There was a lull in the fight after a charge, the encircling Indians gathering for a fresh attack. In that moment, Custer looked at Curly, waved him away and rode back to the little group of men, to die with them.... Why did he go back to certain death?
Curly the Upsaroka scout tells us, he the only man who escaped alive... Custer had to go farther down the river and farther away from Reno than he wished on account of the steep bank along the north side; but at last he found a ford and dashed for it. The Indians met him and poured in a heavy fire from across the narrow river. Custer dismounted to fight on foot, but could not get his skirmishers over the stream. Meantime hundreds of Indians, on foot and on ponies, poured over the river, which was only about three feet deep, and filled the ravine on each side of Custer's men. Custer then fell back to some high ground behind him and seized the ravines in his immediate vicinity. The Indians completely surrounded Custer and poured in a terrible fire on all sides. They charged Custer on foot in vast numbers, but were again and again driven back. The fight began about 2 o'clock, and lasted. Curly says, almost until the sun went down over the hills. The men fought desperately, and, after the ammunition in their belts was exhausted, went to their saddlebags, got more and continued the fight. He also says the big chief (Custer) lived until nearly all his men had been killed or wounded, and went about encouraging his soldiers to fight on. Curly says when he saw Custer was hopelessly surrounded, he watched his opportunity, got a Sioux blanket, put it on, and worked up a ravine, and when the Sioux charged he got among them, and they did not know him from one of their own men.
The white men's accounts are guesswork... for no white man knows. None left.
So heavy a blow has seldom, indeed, been struck at the regular troops of a civilized Power by a barbarous enemy... It is inevitable that such a disaster should sting the American people almost more as an insult than as an injury; but though the threatened retaliation will be severe, we cannot censure it severely, or contend that it is not dictated by a natural impulse.... We cannot doubt that the recital will kindle a flame in the United States before which the Indians will be driven back upon the alternative of death or deserts more barren and distant even than those of the present "reserves." The people of the United States, and especially the men of the West, who alone in this generation have been brought into actual contact with the Red Indians, have been little under the influence of those humanitarian ideas which are found to plead so powerfully for a mollification of English policy when we have to deal with inferior races. The conduct of the American Government towards the Indians of the Plains has been neither very kindly nor very wise; but its restraining influence, not always implicitly obeyed, has drawn loud complaints from the settlers of the frontier lands.... The borderers will certainly make the disaster to General Custer's command an excuse for forcing upon the Government a war of extermination or of expulsion.
It is time to quit this Sunday-school policy, and let Sheridan recruit regiments of Western pioneer hunters and scouts, and exterminate every Indian who will not remain upon the reservations. The best use to make of an Indian who will not stay on a reservation is to kill him. It is time that the dawdling, maudlin peace-policy was abandoned. The Indian can never be subdued by Quakers, and it is certain that he will never by subdued by such madcap charges as that made by Custer.
It is even desirable that our defeats should impel us to wage war in the sharp, vigorous manner which is the truest mercy to friend and foe. But it is neither just nor decent that a Christian nation yield itself to homicidal frenzy, and clamor for the instant extermination of savages by whose unexpected bravery we have been so sadly baffled.
All through the West there is manifested a wild desire for vengeance against the so-called murderers of our soldiers. The press echoes with more or less shamelessness the frontier theory that the only use to which an Indian can be put is to kill him. From all sides come denunciations of what is called in terms of ascending sarcasm "the peace policy," "the Quaker policy," and "the Sunday-school policy." Volunteers are eagerly offering their services "to avenge Custer and exterminate the Sioux," and public opinion, not only in the West, but to some extent in the East, has apparently decided that the Indians have exhausted the forbearance of heaven and earth, and must now be exterminated as though they were so many mad dogs... We must beat the Sioux, but we need not exterminate them.
Who shall be held responsible for this event so dark and sorrowful? The history of our dealings with these Indian tribes from the very beginning is a record of fraud, and perjury, and uninterrupted injustice. We have made treaties, binding ourselves to the most solemn promises in the name of God, intending at that very time to hold these treaties light as air whenever our convenience should require them to be broken.... We have driven them each year further from their original homes and hunting-grounds.... We have treated them as having absolutely no rights at all.... We have made beggars of them
The well-known capacity, tenacity and bravery of General Custer and the officers and men who died with him forbid the supposition of a panic and a rout. There was a desperate and sanguinary struggle in which the Indians must have suffered heavily. From the evidence that has been spread before this Court it is manifest that General Custer and his comrades died a death so heroic that it has but few parallels in history.
Fighting to the last and against overwhelming odds, they fell on the field of glory. Let no stigma of rout and panic tarnish their blood-bought fame. Their deeds of heroism will ever live in the hearts of the American people, and the painter and poet will vie with each other in commemorating the worldwide fame of Custer and his men.
I think I owe it to myself to put you more fully in possession of the facts of the late operations. While at the mouth of the Rosebud I submitted my plan to General Gibbon and to General Custer. They approved it heartily. It was that Custer with his whole regiment should move up the Rosebud till he should meet a trail which Reno had discovered a few days before but that he should not follow it directly to the Little Big Horn; that he should send scouts over it and keep his main force further to the south so as to prevent the Indians from slipping in between himself and the mountains. He was also to examine the headwaters of Tullock's creek as he passed it and send me word of what he found there. A scout was furnished him for the purpose of crossing the country to me. We calculated it would take Gibbon's column until the twenty-sixth to reach the mouth of the Little Big Horn and that the wide sweep which I had proposed Custer should make would require so much time that Gibbon would be able to cooperate with him in attacking any Indians that might be found on that stream. I asked Custer how long his marches would be. He said they would be at first about thirty miles a
day. Measurements were made and calculation based on that rate of progress. I talked with him about his strength and at one time suggested that perhaps it would be well for me to take Gibbon's cavalry and go with him. To this suggestion he replied that without reference to the command he would prefer his own regiment alone. As a homogeneous body, as much could be done with it as with the two combined and he expressed the utmost confidence that he had all the force that he could need, and I shared his confidence. The plan adopted was the only one that promised to bring the Infantry into action and I desired to make sure of things by getting up every available man. I offered Custer the battery of Gatling guns but he declined it saying that it might embarrass him: that he was strong enough without it. The movements proposed for General Gibbon's column were carried out to the letter and had the attack been deferred until it was up I cannot doubt that we should have been successful. The Indians had evidently nerved themselves for a stand, but as I learn from Captain Benteen, on the twenty-second the cavalry marched twelve miles; on the twenty-third, thirty-five miles;
from five a.m. till eight p.m. on the twenty-fourth, forty-five miles and then after night ten miles further; then after resting but without unsaddling, twenty-three miles to the battlefield. The proposed route was not taken but as soon as the trail was struck it was followed. I cannot learn that any examination of Tullock's creek was made. I do not tell you this to cast any reflection upon Custer. For whatever errors he may have committed he has paid the penalty and you cannot regret his loss more than I do, but I feel that our plan must have been successful had it been carried out, and I desire you to know the facts. In the action itself, so far as I can make out, Custer acted under a misapprehension. He thought, I am confident, that the Indians were running. For fear that they might get away he attacked without getting all his men up and divided his command so that they were beaten in detail. I do not at all propose to give the thing up here but I think that my troops require a little time and in view of the strength which the Indians have developed I propose to bring up what little reinforcement I can get. I should be glad of any that you can send me. I can take two companies of Indians from Powder River and there are a few recruits and detached men whom I can get for the cavalry. I ought to have a larger mounted force than I now have but I fear cannot be obtained. I hear nothing from General Crook's operations. If I could hear I should be able to form plans for the future much more intelligently.
Lieutenant Colonel Custer was instructed to keep constantly feeling toward his left, well up toward the mountains, so as to prevent the Indians escaping in that direction, and to strike the Little Big Horn, if possible above (south) of the supposed location of the camp.... The department commander strongly impressed upon him the propriety of not pressing his march too rapidly.
The first day General Custer marched twelve miles, and in four days he moved one hundred and eight miles, ten of which were to conceal his command. He frequently called his officers together and urged them to act in harmony and not become separated. He said he did not expect to fight until the 26th. He scouted the country, saw Indians in the distance, and, knowing his command would be discovered and fearing the Indians would escape, he decided to attack on the 25th. He formed his command for action in three parallel columns, within- deploying and supporting distance; moving with the right column himself, Major Reno, commanding the center, following the Indian trail, and Captain Benteen on the left. He rode forward to a high bluff. Discovering the location of the camp just before going into action, he sent an order to Benteen, directing the left column, to alter its course, which would have changed the formation and brought this command into the center instead of on the left.
When Reno's troops fired into their village the Uncapapas and Ogalallas rushed for their arms and war ponies, fought Reno, and chased his command "like buffalo" across the plains, over the river and up the bluff. Just at that time the alarm passed among the Indians that another command (Custer's) was attacking their village. The two tribes then withdrew, and, without recrossing the river, passed down along the right bank of the Little Big Horn and massed opposite to the left of Custer's troops. The Minneconjoux and Sans Arcs had crossed the river and were fighting Custer's troops back and forth. They said it was a drawn battle up to that time. The Cheyennes had moved up the valley against Reno's attack without becoming engaged, but when the alarm of Custer's attack was given they retraced their steps, moving down the left bank of the Little Big Horn, and, fording the river, took position behind a ridge near the right flank of Custer's line.
The Uncapapas and Ogalallas then charged his left flank, rolling up his line from left to right. When that point was reached the soldiers killed some of their horses for defense and let loose the remainder. The Cheyennes said they secured most of these. The fight continued, and when the Indians had killed all except forty those who remained rushed in a forlorn hope for the timber along the Little Big Horn. All were killed before they reached the river. This accounts for the line of dead bodies on that part of the field on which no dead horses were found. The Indians said that they would have fled if Reno's troops had not retreated, for the troops could not have been dislodged. They also said that, when they left to attack Custer, had the seven companies under Reno and Benteen followed them down and fired into their backs they would have been between two fires and would have had to retreat. Thus the battle was twice lost. We walked our horses over the ground from Reno's last position to the extreme right of Custer's line, and were fifty-six minutes by the watch. Had Reno's command walked half that distance it would have been in action. Moving at a smart trot or gallop, as cavalry go into action, it could have attacked the Indians in the rear easily in fifteen or twenty minutes.
Custer had commanded large bodies of troops successfully in many desperate battles. How his strong heart must have felt when he saw from the ridge a part of his own regiment running from the field and when the major part of his command failed to come into action! His flag went down in disaster, but with honor. The greatest military genius could not win victories with five-twelfths of his command, when seven-twelfths remained away.
Custer had devoted friends and bitter enemies. His brothers and strongest friends died with him, while his enemies lived to criticize and cast odium upon his name and fame; but it is easy to kick a dead lion.
While I was sitting on my horse I saw flags come up over the hill to the east like that (he raised his fingertips). Then the soldiers rose all at once, all on horses, like this (he put his fingers behind each other to indicate that Custer appeared marching in columns of fours). They formed into three bunches with a little ways between. Then a bugle sounded, and they all got off horses, and some soldiers led the horses back over the hill.
Then the Sioux rode up the ridge on all sides, riding very fast. The Cheyennes went up the left way. Then the shooting was quick, quick. Pop - pop - pop very fast. Some of the soldiers were down on their knees, some standing. Officers all in front. The smoke was like a great cloud, and every where the Sioux went the dust rose like smoke. We circled all round him - swirling like water round a stone. We shoot, we ride fast, we shoot again. Soldiers drop, and horses fall on them. Soldiers in line drop, but one man rides up and down the line - all the time shouting. He rode a sorrel horse with white face and white forelegs. I don't know who he was. He was a brave man.
Indians keep swirling round and round, and the soldiers killed only a few. Many soldiers fell. At last all horses killed but five. Once in a while some man would break out and run toward the river, but he would fall.
At last about a hundred men and five horsemen stood on the hill all bunched together. All along the bugler kept blowing his commands. He was very brave too. Then a chief was killed. I hear it was Long Hair (Custer), I don't know; and then five horsemen and the bunch of men, may be so forty, started toward the river. The man on the sorrel horse led them, shouting all the time. He wore a buckskin shirt, and had long black hair and mustache. He fought hard with a big knife. His men were all covered with white dust. I couldn't tell whether they were officers or not. One man all alone ran far down toward the river, then round up over the hill. I thought he was going to escape, but a Sioux fired and hit him in the head. He was the last man. He wore braid on his arms (sergeant).
All the soldiers were now killed, and the bodies were stripped. After that no one could tell which were officers. The bodies were left where they fell. We had no dance that night. We were sorrowful.
We journeyed up the Little Big Horn to the Custer battlefield. On this visit, just two years after the battle occurred, I was accompanied by a body of twenty-five of the principal chiefs and head warriors of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes, who had all been prominently engaged in the battle, and later had surrendered to me. During the time they were under my control they had become reconciled and reliable. They had proved their loyalty by valuable military service in the campaigns against hostile Indians.
What the Indians did at the Little Big Horn, or the Custer Massacre, as it was called, and how the battle was fought on their side, was perfectly familiar to them. What our government and people knew concerning the battle was very vague, for of the two hundred and sixty-two officers and soldiers who fought under Custer not one lived to tell the story. All that was known to the other troops in the field was the orders given and the actions of Custer and his men while they were with them, and the impressions and surmises made from the evidences of the field, as well as the position of the dead bodies after the battle.
Unfortunately, in that campaign the government authorities greatly underestimated the strength of the hostile Indians. They had little knowledge of the character of the country, and sent weak exterior columns, five hundred miles apart, into the field without concert of action against a superior body. The commands from the East and West united on the Yellowstone at the mouth of the Rosebud, under General Terry. He even then divided his force, sending General Custer with the Seventh Cavalry south and west, while with the remainder he moved on the north side of the Yellowstone west and then south. Evidently his object was to inclose the Indians, but he placed at least fifty miles of rough country and an impassable river between the two columns, necessitating the giving of discretionary authority to the commander of the column thus isolated and moving into a country known to be occupied by a powerful body of Indians. General Custer has often been unjustly accused of disobedience of orders. The order referred to is in the nature of a letter of instruction, and not a positive order.
Before the attack the Sioux were camped on the Rosebud river. Sioux moved down a river running into the Little Bighorn river, crossed the Little Bighorn river, and camped on its west bank.
This day (day of attack) a Sioux man started to go to Red Cloud agency, but when he had gone a short distance from camp he saw a cloud of dust rising and turned back and said he thought a herd of buffalo was coming near the village.
The day was hot. In a short time the soldiers charged the camp. (This was Major Reno's battalion of the Seventh Cavalry.) The soldiers came on the trail made by the Sioux camp in moving, and crossed the Little Bighorn river above where the Sioux crossed, and attacked the lodges farthest up the river. The women and children ran down the Little Bighorn river a short distance into a ravine. The soldiers set fire to the lodges. All the Sioux now charged the soldiers and drove them in confusion across the Little Bighorn river, which was very rapid, and several soldiers were drowned in it. On a hill the soldiers stopped and the Sioux surrounded them. A Sioux man came and said that a different party of Soldiers had all the women and children prisoners. Like a whirlwind the word went around, and the Sioux all heard it and left the soldiers on the hill and went quickly to save the women and children.
From the hill that the soldiers were on to the place where the different soldiers [by this term Red-Horse always means the battalion immediately commanded by General Custer, his mode of distinction being that they were a different body from that first encountered] were seen was level ground with the exception of a creek. Sioux thought the soldiers on the hill [i.e., Reno's battalion] would charge them in rear, but when they did not the Sioux thought the soldiers on the hill were out of cartridges. As soon as we had killed all the different soldiers the Sioux all went back to kill the soldiers on the hill. All the Sioux watched around the hill on which were the soldiers until a Sioux man came and said many walking soldiers were coming near. The coming of the walking soldiers was the saving of the soldiers on the hill. Sioux can not fight the walking soldiers [infantry], being afraid of them, so the Sioux hurriedly left.
The soldiers charged the Sioux camp about noon. The soldiers were divided, one party charging right into the camp. After driving these soldiers across the river, the Sioux charged the different soldiers [i.e., Custer's] below, and drive them in confusion; these soldiers became foolish, many throwing away their guns and raising their hands, saying, "Sioux, pity us; take us prisoners." The Sioux did not take a single soldier prisoner, but killed all of them; none were left alive for even a few minutes. These different soldiers discharged their guns but little. I took a gun and two belts off two dead soldiers; out of one belt two cartridges were gone, out of the other five.
The Sioux took the guns and cartridges off the dead soldiers and went to the hill on which the soldiers were, surrounded and fought them with the guns and cartridges of the dead soldiers. Had the soldiers not divided I think they would have killed many Sioux. The different soldiers that the Sioux killed made five brave stands. Once the Sioux charged right in the midst of the different soldiers and scattered them all, fighting among the soldiers hand to hand.
One band of soldiers was in rear of the Sioux. When this band of soldiers charged, the Sioux fell back, and the Sioux and the soldiers stood facing each other. Then all the Sioux became brave and charged the soldiers. The Sioux went but a short distance before they separated and surrounded the soldiers. I could see the officers riding in front of the soldiers and hear them shooting. Now the Sioux had many killed. The soldiers killed 136 and wounded 160 Sioux. The Sioux killed all these different soldiers in the ravine.
The soldiers charged the Sioux camp farthest up the river. A short time after the different soldiers charged the village below. While the different soldiers and Sioux were fighting together the Sioux chief said, "Sioux men, go watch soldiers on the hill and prevent their joining the different soldiers." The Sioux men took the clothing off the dead and dressed themselves in it. Among the soldiers were white men who were not soldiers. The Sioux dressed in the soldiers' and white men's clothing fought the soldiers on the hill.
The banks of the Little Bighorn river were high, and the Sioux killed many of the soldiers while crossing. The soldiers on the hill dug up the ground [i.e., made earthworks], and the soldiers and Sioux fought at long range, sometimes the Sioux charging close up. The fight continued at long range until a Sioux man saw the walking soldiers coming. When the walking soldiers came near the Sioux became afraid and ran away.
The official story of the Custer disaster was put into a few words, but no account that I have heard or read, either on or off the Plains, equals in clearness and succinctness the story of the Crow Indian scout, Curley, who alone of the immediate command of General Custer survived the memorable disaster of June 25, 1876. The following is the gist of Curley's statement.
Custer, with his five companies, after separating from Reno and his seven companies, moved to the right around the base of a high hill overlooking the valley of the Little Horn, through a ravine just wide enough to admit his column of fours. There were no signs of the presence of Indians in the hills on that side (the right) of the Little Horn, and the column moved steadily on until it rounded the hill and came in sight of the village lying in the valley below them. Custer appeared very much elated, and ordered the bugles to sound a charge, and moved on at the head of his column, waving his hat to encourage his men. When they neared the river the Indians, concealed in the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream, opened fire on the troops, which checked the advance. Here a portion of the command were dismounted and thrown forward to the river, and returned the fire of the Indians.
During this time the warriors were seen riding out of the village by hundreds and deploying across Custer's front and to his left, as if with the intention of crossing the stream on his right, while the women and children were seen hastening out of the village in large numbers in the opposite direction.
The fight appeared to have begun, from Curley's description of the situation of the sun, about 2:30 or 3 o'clock P.M., and continued without intermission until nearly sunset. The Indians had completely surrounded the command, leaving their horses in ravines well to the rear, themselves pressing forward to the attack on foot. Confident in the great superiority of their numbers, they made several charges on all points of Custer's line, but the troops held their position firmly and delivered a heavy fire which every time drove them back. Curley said the firing was more rapid than anything he had ever conceived of, being a continuous roll, or, as he expressed it, "like the snapping of the threads in the tearing of a blanket." The troops expended all the ammunition in their belts and then sought their horses for the reserve ammunition carried in their saddle pockets.
As long as their ammunition held out, the troops, though losing considerably in the fight, maintained their position in spite of all the efforts of the Sioux. From the weakening of their fire toward the close of the afternoon the Indians appeared to believe that their ammunition was about exhausted, and they made a grand final charge, in the course of which the last of the command was destroyed, the men being shot where they lay in their positions in the line, at such close quarters that many were killed with arrows. Curley said that Custer remained alive throughout the greater part of the engagement, animating his men to determined resistance, but about an hour before the close of the fight lie received a mortal wound.
Strictly speaking the destruction of General Custer's command was not a massacre, since it involved only soldiers fighting in open battle. Yet after the lapse of almost eighty years it continues to intrigue the popular mind and to challenge the resources of historians, so that almost no year passes which does not witness the publication of one or several articles and books devoted to the subject. The author's (John F. Finerty) discussion presents one viewpoint which was more or less prevalent sixty years ago. A convenient more recent and more authoritative account is Colonel W. A. Graham's The Story of the Little Big Horn, first published in 1926 and several times reprinted since then, most recently in 1952. The story told by Curley, the Crow scout, is no longer seriously credited.
1. The Court of Inquiry of which Colonel John H. King, 9th Infantry, is President, instituted by direction of the President, in
Special Orders No. 255, Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office, November 25, 1878, on the application of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th Cavalry, for the purpose of inquiring into Major Reno's conduct at the battle of the Little Big Horn River, on the 25th and 26th days of June, 1876, has reported the following facts and opinions, viz:
First. On the morning of the 25th of June 1876, the 7th Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel G. A. Custer commanding, operating against the hostile Indians in Montana Territory, near the Little Big Horn River, was divided into four battalions, two of which were commanded by Colonel Custer in person, with the exception of one company in charge of the pack-train; one by Major Reno and one by Captain Benteen. This division took place from about twelve (12) to fifteen (15) miles from the scene of the battle or battles afterwards fought. The column under Captain Benteen received orders to move to the left for an indefinite distance (to the first and second valleys) hunting Indians, with orders to charge any it might meet with. The battalion under Major Reno received orders to draw out of the column, and doing so marched parallel with and only a short distance from, the column commanded by Colonel Custer.
Second. About three or four miles from what afterwards was found to be the Little Big Horn River, where the fighting took place. Major Reno received orders to move forward as rapidly as he thought prudent, until coming up with the Indians, who were reported fleeing, he would charge them and drive everything before him, and would receive the support of the column under Colonel Custer.
Third. In obedience to the orders given him by Colonel Custer, Captain Benteen marched to the left (south), at an angle of about forty-five degrees, but, meeting an impracticable country, was forced by it to march more to his right than the angle above indicated and nearer approaching a parallel route to that trail followed by the rest of the command.
Fourth. Major Reno, in obedience to the orders given him, moved on at a fast trot on the main Indian trail until reaching the Little Big Horn River, which he forded, and halted for a few minutes to reform his battalion. After reforming, he marched the battalion forward towards the Indian village, down stream or in a northerly direction, two companies in line of battle and one in support, until about half way to the point where he finally halted, when he brought the company in reserve forward to the line of battle, continuing the movement at a fast trot or gallop until after passing over a distance of about two miles, when he halted and dismounted to fight on foot at a point of timber upon which the right flank of his battalion rested. After fighting in this formation for less than half an hour, the Indians passing to his left rear and appearing in his front, the skirmish line was withdrawn to the timber, and the fight continued for a short time - half an hour or forty-five minutes in all - when the command, or nearly all of it, was mounted, formed, and, at a rapid gait, was withdrawn to a hill on the opposite side of the river. In this movement one officer and about sixteen soldiers and citizens were left in the woods, besides one wounded man or more, two citizens and thirteen soldiers rejoining, the command afterwards. In this retreat Major Reno's battalion lost some twenty-nine men in killed and wounded, and three officers, including Doctor De Wolf, killed.
Fifth. In the meantime Captain Benteen, having carried out, as far as was practicable, the spirit of his orders, turned in the direction of the route taken by the remainder of the regiment, and reaching the trail, followed it to near the crossing of the Little Big Horn, reaching there about the same time Reno's command was crossing the river in retreat lower down, and finally joined his battalion with that of Reno, on the hill. Forty minutes or one hour later the pack-train, which had been left behind on the trail by the rapid movement of the command and the delays incident to its march, joined the united command, which then consisted of seven companies, together with about thirty or thirty-five men belonging to the companies under Colonel Custer.
Sixth. After detaching Benteen's columns Colonel Custer moved with his immediate command, on the trail followed by Reno, to a point within about one mile of the river, where he diverged to the right (or north-ward), following the general direction of the river to a point about four miles below that (afterward taken by Major Reno) where he and his command were destroyed by the hostiles. The last living witness of this march, Trumpeter Martin, left Colonel Custer's command when it was about two miles distant from the field where it afterwards met its fate. There is nothing more in evidence as to this command, save that firing was heard proceeding from its direction from about the time Reno retreated from the bottom up to the time the pack-train was approaching the position on the hill. All firing which indicated fighting was concluded before the final preparations were made in Major Reno's command for the movement which was afterwards attempted.
Seventh. After the distribution of ammunition and a proper provision for the wounded men, Major Reno's entire command moved down the river in the direction it was thought Custer's column had taken, and in which it was known General Terry's command was to be found. This movement was carried sufficiently far to discover that its continuance would imperil the entire command, upon which it returned to the position formerly occupied, and made a successful resistance till succor reached it. The defense of the position on the hill was a heroic one against fearful odds.
The conduct of the officers throughout was excellent, and while subordinates, in some instances, did more for the safety of the command by brilliant displays of courage than did Major Reno, there was nothing in his conduct which requires animadversion from this Court.