Eyewitness Reports in History Custer's Last Stand Part 1

An eyewitness account of the Custer's last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn an important event in United States history.

Custer's Last Stand

When: Sunday, June 25, 1876

How: Probably no single battle in U.S. combative history has given rise to more commentary or controversy than the Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought between 700 troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and some 3,000 warriors of the great Sioux nation residing in the camp of the Hunkpapa medicine man, Chief Sitting Bull. Insofar as it was the last major stand of the fierce Plains Indians, the battle was the climax of the Indian wars which had dominated Indian-white relations for more than 30 years. It also resulted in charges of cowardice, drunkenness, and reckless disregard of orders against some of the principal participating officers of the U.S. armed forces. And no one really knows what happened to George Custer on that fateful day, except that he died; because every man who rode under his personal command died too. (Six men were listed as missing in action, but the army eventually declared them dead.) The bodies were not found until the following day, by the ragtag ends of a beaten U.S. Army.

Late in 1875 an order went out from Washington to the various "hostile" Indian tribes that they were to report to reservations and Indian agencies no later than Jan. 31 of the following year or they would be pursued by armed forces. Certain tribes, notably the Cheyennes and the Hunkpapa and Oglala Sioux, disregarded the government order. Thus it came to pass that on May 17, 1876, the Yellowstone Expedition set out from Fort Abraham Lincoln, in the Dakota Territory, under the command of Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry.

The purpose of the expeditionary force was to find Sitting Bull's encampment and, one way or another, bring his warriors to heel. Although under ordinary circumstances Custer would have led the entire expedition himself, he had recently incurred the ire of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant, who permitted the famous, dashing young Indian fighter to accompany the expedition only because of General Terry's intercession.

General Terry's forces were to meet up with those under the commands of Col. John Gibbon, who set out from Fort Ellis, Mont., and Gen. George Crook, who started from Fort Fetterman, Wyo. The overall plan was to trap the Indians in a three-way pincer. When General Crook--having become involved in a disastrous battle of his own--failed to appear at a prearranged meeting place, Terry gave Custer explicit instructions to lead the 7th Cavalry up the nearby Rosebud River and to arrive at the valley of the Little Bighorn River no sooner than June 26, in order to allow Gibbon's troops, encumbered by a Gatling gun division, time to take up their positions. Terry himself rode with Gibbon, leaving Custer in sole command of the 7th Cavalry.

The impetuous Custer paid little heed to the directives of his commanding officer. Soon after departing up the Rosebud, he headed directly for the valley, making forced marches late into the night and starting again before dawn. With his troops trail-weary and his horses exhausted, Custer reached the valley early in the afternoon of June 25 and made plans to attack the Indians immediately.

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