September 10, 2013
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Up early but in no hurry this morning, I have a short ride today.
Not sure what's going on with my GPS but it believes the fastest way to get to the Rosebud Battlefield State Park (B) above, is the route shown. It's almost a 100 mile round trip from where Hwy212 joins I-90. According to mapquest (after the fact...yeah, I know, stupid) there is a 37 mile route from Sheridan through Decker, WY on Hwy338. I been Garmined...again. But that's not all the bad news about getting to Rosebud Battlefield. When I reached the road to go to the park I was looking at 2 1/2 miles of pea-gravel. Nothing wrong with pea-gravel, unless you want to stop. Then it's the equivalent of stopping on ball bearings. Betsy don't do pea-gravel except in very short stretches. Nothing short about 2 1/2 miles so, you guessed it, I turned around and headed back to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
But, of course, the big deal here is Custer's Last Stand. On 25 June 1876 Custer led his 7th Calvary consisting of approximately 600 troopers and scouts into the Valley of the Little Big Horn. His scouts reported locating an Indian camp early on that morning. Custer, significantly underestimating the size of the encampment and the number of warriors potentially present made one of the cardinal errors of the military art. He split his forces, retaining 5 companies and sending 3 companies each with Maj. Marcus Reno and Capt. Frederick Benteen. Benteen was to scout the bluffs to the south while Custer and Reno headed toward the village.
Near the river Reno was ordered to cross and attack while Custer and his troops continued northward to halt any retreat of the villagers in that direction. Reno was attacked by significant numbers of warriors. Realizing he was vastly outnumbered he dismounted and formed a line of battle. Unable to hold and quickly outflanked, Reno was forced to retreat "in disorder" (read: run like hell), and take up defensive positions on the bluffs above the river. He was joined by Benteen who had hurried forward under orders from Custer to "Come on; Big village, be quick, bring packs."
Whenever the fighting lessened in his front Reno sent an advance company under Capt. Thomas Weir in an attempt to determine Custer's location. Advancing about a mile Weir crested a high hill from which he could see the area now known as Last Stand Hill. At this point there was no firing from that quarter. In fact, the Indians, regrouping, turned and attacked up the hill on which Weir was holding. After coming under attack there, Reno pulled the troops back, and his and Benteen's companies joined with the company assigned to guard the wagon train and returned to his original retreat position on the bluffs overlooking the Little Big Horn. There they successfully withstood attacks and discouraged further forays by the Indians through this and the next day. The seige lifted when the Indians learned of Gibbon's approach from the north.
The next two pictures probably give the best idea of that the terrain was like where this battle was fought.
High grass with little cover. No place to run, and little in which to hide.
This is the view from the bluffs above the Little Big Horn from which Reno was able to hold until the siege was lifted. He first entered the valley from about a mile to the left.
Looking further to the right is the area across the river where the Indian "village" was located. It was one of many. Spread out further along the river were the "villages" of Uncpapa, Blackfeet, Brule, Oglala, Minniconjou, Sans Arc, and Northern Cheyenne.
About a mile further to the right Custer led his 5 companies down an escarpment called Medicine Tail Coulee pointing directly at a ford across the Little Big Horn. At this point he would have been able to see "all" the villages present. There are disputes about what he did at this point, but it is obvious what he didn't do: He didn't make the connection between the numbers of teepees and the possible force of braves he might face. A prudent commander would have and, I think, turned back to unify his force in the face of such opposition.
Given his predilection for the attack and his stated goal of circling and stopping a retreat from the villages to the north, there is good evidence he split his force YET AGAIN(!) sending Companies E and F to try to cross the ford, leaving himself with Companies C, I, and L on the ridge as support and, equally important, as a rallying point for Benteen who he had ordered to "come quick."
By this time, the forces coming at him from the villages were many and close, I believe, forcing his two companies at the ford back up the hills and instituting a running fight to the end. His remaining forces temporarily re-united at Calhoun Hill where another skirmish line was established by Company L under Lt. James Calhoun. This probably gave some small relief to Custer and his troops in their flight toward the highest ground they could find, but it didn't last long. The position was overrun with the further disaster of the company's horses being scattered trapping them there to their destiny. But the end is near now. Custer and his command reach Last Stand Hill. Capt. Myles Keogh's Company I and remnants of C Company were cut down by Crazy Horse and White Bull on Battle Ridge while attempting to join with him there.
The site at Calhoun's Hill where Company L formed a skirmish line. Their horses were held in a small ravine just over the hill to the left.
There is a large grouping of headstones near the bottom of the hill.
A closer view.
The picture above makes the point about a running battle taking place here. To the far right is the grouping of Company L headstones. You can see the line of markers coming up the hill toward this position on the side of Last Stand Hill. It had to be unbelievably horrific for those troops.
Custer and about 41 of his men are isolated and under fire from many positions. Killing their horses for use as breastworks they make a stand. Custer, his brother, Tom, and Lt. William Cooke are found near the site of the 7th Calvary Monument now erected at this site.
There can be little doubt that Custer overestimated the capabilities of his command, and underestimated those of his opponents. Additionally, he made the often fatal mistake of ignoring intelligence reports regarding the strength of the forces arrayed against him and then split his forces at least twice during the battle. Those brave troops deserved much better leadership than that.