Published on November 3, 2011 by Amy
By the time he arrived, Reno had already been driven back by the Indians, who soon discovered Custer and his men coming towards the other end of the village. The Cheyenne and Sioux crossed the river and pushed into the advancing soldiers, forcing them back to a long high ridge to the north. Meanwhile, another force of Sioux under Crazy Horse’s command swiftly moved downstream and then doubled back in a sweeping arc, enveloping Custer and his men.
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As the Indians closed in on Custer, some 3.5 miles north of Reno and Benteen, Custer ordered his men to shoot their horses and stack the carcasses to form a wall. However, the horses provided little protection against the onslaught of bullets and arrows raining upon Custer and his 210 men. In less than an hour, Custer and his men were killed in the worst American military disaster ever.
While exact numbers are difficult to determine, it is clear that the Northern Cheyenne and Lakota outnumbered the U.S. forces approximately three to one.
After the Indians had annihilated Custer’s troops, the Lakota and Cheyenne advanced on the remaining U.S. troops under Benteen and Reno, who had finally ventured toward the audible firing of the Custer troops. For the next 24 hours the Indians and soldiers fought a hard battle until the U.S. lines were finally secured when additional troops under General Terry began to approach from the north. As the troops were fortified, the Indians began a retreat to the south.
By the time Terry arrived, the Indians had removed their own dead and wounded from the field. However, the bodies of the soldiers remained lying where they died, many having been stripped of their clothing and mutilated. For some, identification of the bodies was impossible. Though the wounded were given treatment, but six would later die of their injuries.
Custer was found near the top of the hill, where today stands a memorial inscribed with the names of the U.S. soldiers who fought in the battle. He had been shot in the temple and in the left chest, but his body was left unmutilated, some believe because he was dressed in buckskins rather than a uniform. 210 men died with Custer while another 52 died serving under Reno. All were given hasty burials. Only an estimated 60 Indian warriors died in the battle.
The massacre, having occurred right before the nation’s centennial birthday, substantially changed the mood against the Indians. The U.S. Army responded by increasing the number of soldiers in the area in an effort to “crush the Indians” and take revenge for those who died in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
It was to be three years later before the battle became the subject of an army court inquiry in 1879. During the investigation, Reno’s, Banteen’s, Terry’s and Custer’s actions were all carefully scrutinized. Testimony suggested that Reno was a drunk and a coward, while Banteen was criticized for disobeying Custer’s orders. Another contributing factor was General Terry’s late arrival on the scene. However, the primary contribution to the U.S. defeat is blamed on faulty intelligence and poor communication. Both Reno’s and Benteen’s subsequent military careers were cut short.
In the same year as the military investigation, the Little Bighorn Battlefield was designated a national cemetery administered by the War Department. Two years later, in 1881, a memorial was erected over the mass grave of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers, U.S. Indian Scouts, and other personnel killed in battle. In 1940, jurisdiction of the battlefield was transferred to the National Park Service.
Over the years, the American Public’s sentiment towards Custer’s image and the Battle of the Little Bighorn has changed as the recognition of the general mistreatment of Native Americans during America’s westward expansion has increased.
In 1991, the U. S. Congress changed the name of the battlefield from Custer Battlefield National Monument to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial.
Today, additional red granite memorials have been erected that celebrate the Indians who fought there, including Cheyenne warriors, Lame White Man and Noisy Walking, and Lakota warriors, Long Road and Dog’s Back Bone.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located in southeastern Montana near Crow Agency, Montana and administered by the National Park Service.