Battle of the Little Bighorn

Note from Ron Nichols: This version of the Little Big Horn battle was written by Joe in 1995 and is presented here virtually unchanged from that time. Joe was probably one of the most knowledgeable people on this battle. He presented a number of papers at the CBHMA annual symposium and there is little doubt in my mind that he possessed the capability to accurately assess the events that occurred on those two fateful days in 1876. Joe passed away in 2003 and he has been sorely missed.

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Battle of the Little Bighorn

by Joe Sills, Jr.

On May 17, 1876, the 7th United States Cavalry Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer left Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, as part of a column commanded by Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry. This column, with two others already in the field led by Brigadier General George Crook and Colonel John Gibbon, was to participate in the effort to force all Sioux and Northern Cheyenne in the unceded territory back to their reservations.

When the 7th Cavalry left on the expedition, it did so divided into two wings, the right under Major Marcus A. Reno and the left under Captain Frederick W. Benteen. Within the right wing were the battalions of Captain Myles W. Keogh (Companies B, C and I) and Captain George W. Yates (Companies E, F and L). The left wing was comprised of battalions under Captain Thomas B. Weir (Companies A, D and H) and Captain Thomas H. French (Companies G, K and M). The regiment consisted of approximately 750 officers and enlisted men, although the exact number is open to question, and was accompanied by a contingent of about forty Arikara Indian scouts. Also in the column were three companies of infantry and a Gatling gun platoon, all supported by wagons carrying supplies.

On June 7, Terry’s column reached the confluence of the Powder and Yellowstone Rivers from which point he left to confer with Gibbon on June 9, and then returned. The right wing of the 7th Cavalry, along with one Gatling gun, was then ordered on a scout intended to take the unit up the Powder River, then over to the Tongue River, and back to the Yellowstone. Reno exceeded, or disobeyed, those orders by proceeding further west to Rosebud Creek where he found an Indian trail. He followed the trail upstream for perhaps 45 miles before returning to the Yellowstone.

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The United States Army and the 7th Cavalry

The crucible of fire that was the American Civil War produced military leadership still in charge a decade after that war ended.

“Total war” used against Southern states was now being waged against America’s indigenous peoples.

This was not the worst military defeat of US soldiers – that was in 1791 in Indiana…

But this would be bad enough – for both sides…

Native Americans

Some were determined to maintain the only lifestyle they knew and on the lands they had held against or taken from old traditional enemies. Others ventured forth from White constructed reservations only for the summer hunt. Every spring these groups came together for religious ceremonies and traditional hunting.

Others, with a different purpose, were also approaching the traditional grounds…

        The Oglala Lakota Nation

        The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

        The Northern Cheyenne Nation

        The Crow Nation

        The Arikara Nation

Native American Casualties

The following publications are posted for the purpose of research assistance in continuing to refine the list of Indian warriors who successfully defended their people that day.

Dr. Kenneth Hammer, respected Indian War scholar, compiled this list of warrior casualties (pdf file) from several sources. It adds several to the list compiled by noted Indian Wars scholar Richard Hardorff as contained in Hardorff’s seminal work Hokahey! A Good Day to Die.

Also included is an explanation of Dr. Hammer’s listing (pdf file) by Lee Noyes, Editor of the CBHMA Battlefield Dispatch.

Other People

The Association also welcomes stories of people who are or have been associated with the Custer story, military veterans who have served in the 7th US Cavalry Regiment, and members of the CBHMA who have played a special role in the Association. Here are their stories.

Joe Medicine Crow

One of the founding members of the Association, and is the recipient of one of America’s most prestigious honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his service in WWII. View. Article in the Billings Gazette.

Joseph C. Corrigan

He served in Troop “A,” First Squadron, Seventh U. S. Cavalry, First Cavalry Division in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater from June 26, 1943 with the invasion of Oro Bay, New Guinea to the first troops in Tokyo, Japan on Sept. 8, 1945. Read Corrigan of the Seventh: The Memoirs of Joseph C. Corrigan, Edited By Steve Alexander (pdf file)

Bill Richardson

Joined the Army in July 1940 and was assigned to the 7th Cavalry. A career soldier, Bill Richardson retired as a major in 1961. His article, The Seventh U.S. Cavalry 1940 (pdf file), was originally published in The Battlefield Dispatch, Fall, 2005.

Jacob Lyman Greene

He was Custer’s Adjutant for the Michigan Brigade and also the Best Man at Custer’s wedding. His collection of papers, photos and newspapers clippings are available to researchers at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center’s Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA. Read related article from Civil War News, November 2008.

Mike Donahue

Veteran National Park Service Seasonal Ranger Mike Donahue is a friendly and familiar face to all CBHMA members who make the yearly trek to the Little Big Horn Battlefield. Mike has served as an historical interpreter at the Battlefield for the last 20 summers. Interview with Joe Creaden (pdf.file)

Mike Koury

A member of CBHMA since 1967 and a visitor to the battlefield for more than 45 years, Mike, along with his wife, Dee, are the owners of Old Army Press. In an interview with Joe Creaden, Mike relates a little of the history of his time with CBHMA. Interview with Joe Creaden (pdf.file)