The Battle of Little Bighorn: Reno Battle Renewed by the Native Americans
The Story of the Battle:
Causes of Warfare |
The Expedition Against the Native Tribes |
Native American Movements and Their First Conflict With the Troops |
Custer's Troops Take to the Trail |
Custer Divides His Command, and Reno Engages the Native Americans |
Custer's Last Battle |
Reno Battle Renewed by the Native Americans |
The March of Generals Terry and Gibbon and Their Arrival at the Battleground |
The Return to Bismarck |
The Story of the Failed Attack Released |
After Reno's retreat to the bluffs and the Native Americans' retirement to
the north to fight Custer, the roll for Reno's command was called. There were
absent 3 officers and more than 40 men, including a few civilians. How many
were wounded, hiding, or killed no one knew. The troopers with Reno had
numbered 112, as well as 20 or more Arikara scouts, 3 or 4 Crow scouts, 3 white
scouts, and 1 Negro listed as an interpreter.
Benteen with his three companies had seen no action as yet, for he had swung
to the left to scout the country as ordered. Finding that the bluffs were
almost impassable and that his horses were fast wearing out, he swung back to
the trail. About 3 o'clock a messenger from Custer met him. Sergeant Kanipe, of
Company C, brought orders to Captain McDougall to hurry up the pack train. The
sergeant was smiling, and, as he passed on his way to the pack train, he called
out "We've got 'em boys." Soon after, another messenger arrived,
Trumpeter Martin of Company H, on duty as orderly trumpeter to Custer. He bore
a hastily scrawled message from Lieutenant Cooke, Custer's Adjutant.
"Benteen-Come on-Big village-Be quick-Bring packs. W. W. Cooke. P. S.
Bring pacs." Indicating how urgently Custer then wanted his reserve ammunition,
Cooke had added the postscript, "Bring pacs." Martin had been fired
upon during his ride, and his horse was wounded; but he also was elated,
telling Benteen that the Native Americans were "skedaddling" and that
Custer was charging the village. Increasing the gait, Benteen pushed forward
and joined forces with Reno, whose command was depleted and unnerved as they
had just gained their defensive position on the high bluffs. An hour or so
after Benteen arrived at this point, Captain McDougall came up with his company
and the train of pack mules.
Officers immediately conferred on what action to take. Reno's retreat had
done considerable damage to the morale of the remaining men. Benteen's men felt
more confident, naturally, as they had not engaged the Native Americans.
While the combined command was being organized, heavy and continuous firing
was heard from down the river, evidently from the Custer engagement. Believing
that Custer's troops might need assistance, Captain Weir started with Company D
in the direction of the firing. Captain Benteen and the other two companies of
his battalion followed Weir, and soon the remaining troops prepared to follow.
When Weir reached a high point about a mile and a half to the northeast (now
referred to as Weir Point) he saw a field of action several miles beyond.
Native Americans were moving about, but owing to the distance, nothing else was
distinguishable. This later was found to be Custer's battlefield, and perhaps
at that time Custer and all his men were dead.
When the Native Americans observed the troops' approach from the distance,
they began a ride to cut them off. Soon warriors were near at hand, and it was
necessary to dismount and prepare to fight on foot. Lines were thrown out and a
stand made at this point. However, there were difficulties back of the line. It
was impossible to bring up the wounded, and the pack mules had become
scattered. Considering the advantages of the first position over the one now
commanded and also in an effort to bring all the forces into a more compact
body, orders were given to withdraw. No sooner had this operation been
completed, than Native Americans appeared from everywhere. Lines were thrown
out for defense, and heavy firing continued until dark, when the warriors
withdrew to the valley.
During the night an effort was made to prepare for the return of the Native
Americans which was expected with the coming daylight. The three or four spades
and shovels were used to dig rifle pits and trenches. Some men waited their
turn for the shovels, while others used knives, tin cups, or mess kits to dig
protections for themselves. Ammunition cases and hard tack boxes were piled up
for barricades. Occasionally, men would wander to the packs to obtain hardtack
or raw bacon to allay their hunger.
At dawn of the 26th, the Native Americans were back and the battle was
resumed with renewed vigor. Most of the troopers were suffering from thirst,
and the wounded especially were in great need of water. Dr. Porter, the one
surviving surgeon, asked that water be obtained at any cost. Camp kettles and
canteens were gathered together, and a group of volunteers moved down a deep
ravine to the river. Four sharpshooters stood on a high point to draw the
Native Americans' fire and also to protect the water carriers with their own
fire. The move was successful, and the wounded were cared for. The 19 men who
participated in this operation were later awarded Congressional Medals of Honor
for this heroic action.
The battle continued throughout the forenoon and into the afternoon. It was
at this time that the warriors began to withdraw, leaving only a small group to
keep up occasional firing. Late in the afternoon, the Native Americans fired
the grass in the valley, and when the cloud of smoke lifted the troops watched
with relief the departure of the entire Native Americans encampment. The long
procession of ponies and tepee pole travois went slowly trailing off toward the
Bighorn Mountains, and before darkness enveloped them the last of the Native
Americans had disappeared from sight.
About a dozen of the men who had been left behind by Reno's force during the
flight from the valley on the afternoon of the 25th had hidden in the brush to
prevent detection by the Native Americans. Some were able to gain the bluffs on
the night of the 25th, but several were trapped until the night of the 26th,
after the Native Americans moved off. During the 2 days, Reno and Benteen had
lost 32 men killed and 44 wounded.
Apparently, all the Native Americans had departed, but the soldiers moved
with great caution to avoid possible ambush by concealed warriors. The horses
and mules were watered for the first time since before the battle started. A
few men made fires for coffee, and the position on the bluff was moved slightly