Battle of Little Bighorn

General Custer with U. S. Army troops in
Little Bighorn Battlefield
June 25, 1876, Little Bighorn River, Montana

Battle of Bighorn Summary and Definition

Battle of Bighorn Summary and Definition: The year that the Battle of Little Bighorn took place was in 1876 and was part of the Great Sioux War.
 

The location was near the Little Bighorn River in Montana. The combatants were the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army  led by General George Custer and a combined force of Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors led by Chief Sitting Bull. Custer underestimated the size of the Native Indian forces which led to his defeat and the deaths of the men of the 7th Cavalry under his command. The Little Bighorn is a river in the West central US flowing north to the main Bighorn River.

Facts about the Battle of Bighorn
Who fought in the Battle of Bighorn? When did the conflict start and when did the conflict end? What were the causes of the Battle of Bighorn? What was the significance of the Battle of Little Bighorn? What were the results and effects of the Battle of Bighorn? Interesting history and facts about the Battle of Little Bighorn:

Name of Conflict: Battle of Little Bighorn
Alternative Names: Battle of Big Horn, Custer's Last Stand, Battle of Greasy Grass, Battle of Bighorn
Location: Little Bighorn River in Montana
Name of War: The Battle of Little Bighorn was a major conflict in Great Sioux War, aka the Black Hills War, of 1876 to 1877
Date of Battle: June 25 1876
Duration of the Battle: Less than 1 hour
Combatants: United States 7th Cavalry fought against Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, tribes of the Northern Plains
Strength of Forces: 700 men fighting for the US against approximately 1500 Native Indians
Result of the Battle of Little Bighorn: The Battle of Little Bighorn ended in defeat for the US and the deaths of George Custer and the 7th Cavalry - nearly 200 troops
Famous Leaders: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Rain in the Face and Chief Gall. George Armstrong Custer, Marcus Reno, Frederick Benteen, James Calhoun

History & Causes of the Battle of Bighorn - Political Policies and Beliefs
What were the causes of the Battle of Bighorn? Some of the history and causes of the Indian Wars and battles were dictated by general policies & beliefs which shaped the historical background to the causes of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

  • Culture Clash: Distrust and hostilities grew between the indigenous population of the region and the Europeans as the number of newcomers increased leading to the inevitable culture clash. A major cause of conflict in the 1800's

  • Land: The United States adopted the European practice of expansion and of recognizing only limited land rights of indigenous peoples. A major cause of conflict in the 1700 and 1800's

  • Manifest Destiny: In the 1800's advocates of 'Manifest Destiny' fuelled by religious fervour believed in American cultural and racial superiority and efforts to "civilize" the indigenous people was widespread. A major cause of conflict in the 1800's

  • Extermination of the buffalo: The US government promoted a policy to exterminate the buffalo in the 1870'S which would inevitably mean the demise of the Indians who relied on them for almost every aspect of their existence. This, in turn, would reduce the capacity of the Native Indians to continue armed battles against the United States

Specific Causes of the Battle of Bighorn
What were the specific causes of the Battle of Bighorn? The specific causes of the Battle of Bighorn at a local level were:

  • Changes and inconsistent policy of the U.S. government toward American Indians:

    • The Second Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) had guaranteed to Indians exclusive possession of the Dakota territory

    • Discovery of gold led to an influx of white settlers and miners on Indian territory prompting Indian hostilities Indians

    • When the US government failed to persuade the Indians to sell the Black Hills they used the Indian raids as an excuse to release them from the treaty

    • The US government then that ordered all Indians to return to the designated reservations by 31 January, 1876, or be deemed hostile.

  • The threat of forced relocation to Indian reservations which were restrictive and harsh

History Timeline of the Battle of Little Bighorn
This short History Timeline of the Battle of Bighorn provides fast facts and information about the history, years & dates, key events and famous people who fought in the Battle of Bighorn.

History Timeline of the Battle of Little Bighorn
This short History Timeline of the Battle of Bighorn provides fast facts and information about the history, years & dates, key events and famous people who fought in the Battle of Bighorn.

  • 1874: George Custer led an expedition to the Black Hills of Dakota and reported that he had discovered gold
  • 1875: The US government attempt to buy the Black Hills of Dakota from the Indians
  • 1875: The offer is refused as the land includes the sacred burial grounds of the Sioux
  • 1876: 8 February: War Department orders operations against hostile Indians
  • 1876: 17 March: Colonel Reynolds attacks Cheyenne on Powder River
  • 1876: 24 March: Survivors of Powder River seek refuge with Crazy Horse
  • 1876: April: The Black Hills gold rush leads to the establishment of the mining town of Deadwood
  • 1876: 16 May: Lieutenant James Bradley discovers Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne camp on Tongue River
  • 1876: April: The Black Hills gold rush leads to the establishment of the mining town of Deadwood
  • 1876: 5 June: Sitting Bull creates the Sun Dance alliance, named after this famous ritual, between the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne. During the event Sitting Bull has a vision of "soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky." and prophesizes a great victory
  • 1876: June 17: The Battle of the Rosebud between the United States Army led by General George Crook and a force of Lakota Sioux. The Battle of the Rosebud delayed Crook from joining Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn
  • 1876: June 22: General Alfred H. Terry and George Custer are ordered to pursue the Indians. They plan to trap the Indians between their two forces
  • 1876: June 25: Custer abandons the plan when he locates a large group of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians and devises a three-pronged attack from different locations, led by himself, Captain Frederick Benteen and Major Marcus Reno assuming that the Indians would attempt to escape, rather than to fight
  • 1876: June 26: Major Marcus Reno attacks first, is overwhelmed by the unexpected number of Indians and retreats
  • 1876: Major Reno is joined by the fresh troops of Captain Benteen
  • 1876: 26 June: The Battle of the Little Bighorn begins. The major force of Indians ride to attack General Custer killing all of his 231 men who included Custer, his two brothers, Tom and Boston, his brother-in-law, James Calhoun, and his nephew, Autie Reed. The infamous conflict became known as the Battle of Little Bighorn.
  • 1876: 27 June: General Alfred H. Terry and Montana Column (450 men) arrive to discover Custer's dead battalion at the scene of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The dead bodies had been stripped of their clothing and ritually mutilated. Reno and Benteen are rescued (they lost 47 men in their fights)
  • 1876: 27 June: Captain George K. Sanderson and the 11th Infantry bury the mutilated bodies where they were found on the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn
  • 1876: July: The stunned and angry reaction to the US defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn prompted a massive outcry and the US government flooded the area with troops, forcing the Indians to surrender or flee.
  • 1877: July: The body of George Custer, who had been buried at the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, was re-interred in West Point Cemetery.

The Significance and Effects of the Battle of Bighorn
The effects and significance of the Battle of Bighorn in history is that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars. The nomadic hunter lifestyle of the Plains Indians was lost forever. The languages, culture, religion, beliefs and ceremonies of conquered people fell into decline. The news in the East of the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn shocked people who were accustomed to battlefield victories and convinced of their inherent superiority and claim to manifest destiny. The US Government expanded the Army in the region by 2,500 men following the Defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Battle of Little Bighorn led to increased intolerance of the Native Indians and a determination to place them on a reservation in order to 'civilise' them.

Battle of Bighorn - The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (formerly Custer Battlefield National Monument) preserves the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The graves of those killed in the Little Bighorn Battle are located around a granite monument marking the spot of 'Custer's last stand. The first memorial on the site was assembled by Captain George K. Sanderson and the 11th Infantry who buried the mutilated bodies where they were found. In 1877 the body of George Custer, who had been buried at Little Bighorn, was re-interred in West Point Cemetery.

Chief Sitting Bull
Crazy Horse
Rain in the Face
Chief Gall
The Indian Wars
Native Indian Tribes Index

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