Monday, March 10, 2014

Custer’s Last Stand - Reno’s Charge

On June 25,1876 George Armstrong Custer's Indian scouts identified what they claimed was a large Indian encampment along the Little Bighorn River.  Custer decided to attack despite the warning from Mitch Bouyer a veteran scout of French and Sioux descent that this was the largest gathering of Indians that he, Bouyer, had seen in more than thirty years.

Custer divided the regiment into three battalions.  Captain Frederick Benteen was sent south and west, to cut off any attempted escape by the Indians.  Major Marcus Reno was to charge the southern end of the encampment, and Custer rode north, planning to circle around and attack from the north.

Reno began a charge on the southern end of the village.  The Indians did not flee, but began pouring out of the village toward Reno like angry bees.  Reno halted, had his men dismount and formed a skirmish line.  Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in huge numbers began to flank Reno’s position and he beat a hasty retreat, or as he reported it “a charge to the rear”.  Barely escaping massacre, Reno established a defensive position atop the bluffs overlooking the river and made a successful stand against the attacking Indians.

Custer attempted to ford the river at the north end of the camp but was driven off.  Now, hundreds of warriors pursued the soldiers onto a ridge north of the encampment. Custer’s men were unable to dig in, however, because they had been outflanked by the Indians.

For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

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