The Battle of Little Bighorn: The March of Generals Terry and Gibbon and Their Arrival at the Battleground
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 |
The troops of Generals Terry and Gibbon, numbering about 450 men, left the
mouth of the Rosebud Creek on June 21, proceeded up the Yellowstone River, and
crossed to its south side just below the mouth of the Bighorn River. On the
night of the 24th they camped on lower Tullock Creek. The 25th, the day of
Custer's battle, they traversed the arid hills along the Bighorn River in an
effort to get to the mouth of the Little Bighorn River.
On Monday the 26th, near the mouth of the Little Bighorn River, these troops
had sign talk with three Crow Native Americans who had been scouts with Custer.
The Native Americans told them all the white men had been killed. None of the
men fully believed this story. The entire command marched up the Little Bighorn
Valley, continually noting Native Americans farther up the valley and on the
bluffs to the right, some riding singly and others in groups. That evening camp
was made near the present site of Crow Agency, Mont.
On the morning of the 27th no Native Americans were seen by the troops and,
following breakfast, the march southward began. Lieutenant Bradley, with a
detail, was sent on special scout duty to the east side of the river. After the
main column of troops had marched south up the valley about 3 miles, an officer
saw men and animals moving on a hill 3 miles to the east across the valley. An
officer, with a few men, was detailed to get closer to this group to identify
them. They proved to be a detachment which had been sent by Reno. The story was
told of the disappearance of Custer and his battalion.
While this conference was in progress, Lieutenant Bradley and his scouting
party returned. He brought the first official news of the defeat of the
attacking force. On July 27, 1876, in the Helena Weekly Herald, Bradley
made the following statement of what he had found:
"Of the 206 bodies buried on
the field, there were very few that I did not see, and beyond scalping, in
possibly a majority of cases, there was little mutilation. Many of the bodies
were not even scalped, and in the comparatively few cases of disfiguration it
appeared to me rather the result of a blow than of a knife . . ."
Immediate action was taken to care properly for the wounded men in Reno's
command. They were transferred before the day ended from the Reno defense area
on the hills to the valley where Generals Terry and Gibbon had set up camp, and
the men began work making litters on which to transport them.
On the 27th, a group under the supervision of Captain Benteen was sent to
Custer's Battlefield to make a survey of the field. Early the next day the
Seventh Cavalry proceeded to the battlefield to locate, count, and bury the
bodies of their comrades. Four officers and 14 enlisted men were found to be
missing, but none was found alive. Accounts vary as to what percent of the
bodies were scalped or mutilated. Much of the clothing and personal belongings
was missing. It is known that General Custer's body, though stripped of clothing,
was neither scalped nor mutilated. He had been struck twice by bullets, either
one of which could have been fatal. The burials were made in shallow graves and
properly marked wherever identification was possible.
Previous to the arrival of the soldiers, the Native Americans had carried
away and cared for most of their own dead. The exact place of their burials is
not known. The loss of the Native Americans has never been satisfactorily deter
mined. Published figures vary from 30 to 300.