The Battle at the Little Bighorn in June 1876 is known as one of the major defeats in U.S. military history and was the highest moment for American Indians in their constant battles with the U.S. military. Over more than 10 years after this, the Indians didn’t have a single victory.
We can say that Little Bighorn was the military’s wake-up call that American Indians were not going to leave their lands quietly.
This battle is infamously known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” named after Gen. George Custer, who commanded the cavalry at the Little Bighorn and was killed in battle, in which American Indians overwhelmed the military detachment of about 700 men.
The U.S. Army was already considered the best in the world by the end of the Civil War, and after taking down a well-trained Confederate Army just a few years earlier, a renegade and ragtag group of American Indians would certainly be no match.
By the time of the Little Bighorn conflict, the military has had some trouble with larger bands of warriors, but the majority of the skirmishes involved only a couple hundred or so at a time. There was a belief that the American Indians were already on the run and it would not be long before they were led to submit, and taking about 700 men to one place would decide this conflict once and for all.
Here‘s The Miscalculation
As the military neared the Little Bighorn River, the leaders found from the scouts that it was hard to estimate how large the village was. With only about 700 men, they were possibly going to face more than 2,000 warriors – the village was much larger than anyone had seen to that point.
Custer’s attack plan was not to consolidate all his forces in one place, but instead to split up his command, with the taking the majority to the north of the village, the other part going to the south, one group to attack a second flank and another group stationed to prevent the Indians from escaping to the south.
The Attack that Wasn’t
Major Marcus Reno was in charge of a couple hundred soldiers to the south of the village, and he was to lead the southern flank attack on the village at the Little Bighorn River. Reno worked his way through some woods near the river, approaching the village. The warriors that were hiding out the woods were being dispatched with relative ease, setting up Reno’s men to take on the village.
But Reno stopped short, as he wrote in his report to Congress, sensing that he might have been walking into a trap. He ordered his men to dismount their horses and to encounter the enemy on foot, aligning into what was known as a “skirmish line.” That turned out to be a questionable decision, as before long, Reno noted a large flurry of Indian warriors were attacking his group from the village.
Reno then led his group back into the woods for a more defensive position, but Sioux warriors soon infiltrated the woods, with one of them shooting Reno’s Crow Indian scout in the head as he sat behind Reno on his horse. Reno then ordered his troops to mount and led them on a charge out of the woods – looking like an attack but was actually serving as a retreat to a bluff on the other side of the river. Reno then assumed a defensive posture but was unprepared for when Custer’s troops needed assistance to the north after the warriors abandoned the attack on Reno and focused on Custer, ultimately killing the general and ensuring Indian victory and military embarrassment.
You can watch this movie about him here: