Little Big Horn, Montana

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

This is one of the most microscopically scrutinized battles in history. Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer (he had been given temporary general rank during the Civil War, which is why he is sometimes called "General") led about 600 men as part of a three pronged campaign to force the Lakota and Cheyenne back onto reservations. On June 25, 1876, he stumbled onto the largest Plains Indian encampment in recorded history. He sent troops under Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen to attack the southern end of the encampment. Reno and Benteen ended up in a desperate fight for their lives and lost about 50 men. With the southern force pinned, the Indians were free to send warriors north to deal with Custer. Custer and his group of 216 soldiers was annihilated. Custer's widow spent the rest of her life trying to pin the blame on Reno.

Custer was given the brevet rank of brigadier general at the age of 23, the second youngest general in American history (only the Marquis de Lafayette was younger).

The name of the monument was changed in 1991. It is now Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Views looking out over the battlefield.
Last Stand Hill
This monument carries the names of the troopers killed in the fighting. Many remains are buried under the monument.
Markers locate where soldiers fell. Some bodies were relocated to military cemeteries. Others were reburied on site, or buried in the mass grave on Last Stand Hill. As recently as 1985, bones were discovered during archeological excavations. In 1995, remains of a cavalry horse and soldier were found a few miles to the south.
Left: the densest cluster of markers marks the climax of the battle. The markers were placed in 1890, replacing stakes that originally marked the locations of bodies.

Below: the one marker with a black shield is that of Custer himself. His rank is shown as Bvt Maj Gen (Brevet Major General) and his permanent rank as Lt Col (Lieutenant Colonel).

Artifacts from the battlefield: arrowheads, buttons, insignia and bullet casings. Indian participants agreed that Custer and his men fought hard.
Not everyone who gets the Medal of Honor gets it for killing the enemy. In fact, at least half have been awarded for saving lives. Nineteen of Reno's men won their medals for getting water for their comrades or providing covering fire for the water party. Five more medals were awarded for other actions. One of the medal winners, Charles Windolph, was wounded but survived. In fact he was the last surviving veteran of the battle, and died in 1950 at the age of 98. The last Indian survivor, Dewey Beard, died in 1955.

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Created 22 June 2007, Last Update 04 June 2020