Taken from "Custer's Last Stand" by Mort Kunstler

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Custer marches: June 22nd to June 24th

 

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Terry Revises His Plan

Custer Marches: June 22nd

June 23rd

June 24th

 

Terry Revises His Plans

With the return of Maj. Reno and his command on June 19th Gen. Terry decided he had to revise his plans. He ordered Reno on the 20th to remain where he was and called Custer to move the balance of the 7th to join Reno. Custer finally encamped about 2 miles below the mouth of the Rosebud around noon on the 21st. That day was one of reorganization and development of a strategy. Terry finalized his plans and gave both written and verbal orders to Custer. In short, he was to:

  • Proceed up the Rosebud with his entire command to determine the direction in which the Indian trail led. 
  • Expecting the trail to turn toward the Little Big Horn, Custer was to continue south "...perhaps as far as the headwaters of the Tongue", with the intention of outflanking the Indians in that direction. 
  • Special emphasis was given to "...feeling constantly, however, to your left" with the intent of preventing the escape of any Indians to the south or east. 
  • Custer was also to examine upper Tullock's Creek (which emptied into the Big Horn from the southeast just short of the Big Horn's junction with the Yellowstone), and communicate with Gibbon's command via a scout. 
  • Meanwhile, Col. Gibbon would proceed to the mouth of the Big Horn, then up that river to its junction with the Little Big Horn. Terry and his staff would proceed with Gibbon. The steamer 'Far West' would also proceed to the junction of those streams, if possible. 
  • Custer was expected to report to Terry at that point at the end of his excursion. 

The apparent intention was to trap the Indians between both columns. No mention of engaging the Indians was made (at least in writing) however Terry did indicate -in writing - that he had confidence in Custer and did not want to hamper his movement by "precise orders" when "nearly in contact with the enemy". 

Terry's written orders, and what is known of his verbal instructions during the course of their meeting, have become a focal point of contention. Those who consider Custer reckless and impetuous attempt to use these orders as an example of his disobedience and consequent destruction. However, the orders explicitly state confidence in Custer, and give him written support in the use of his own judgment should circumstances warrant a change in plan. I have read these orders many times over the years and have been unable to reach any other conclusion. In short, I do not subscribe to arguments that lay the responsibility for Custer's defeat to his disobeyance, recklessness or lack of caution. 

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Custer Marches: June 22nd

The 7th marched at Noon on the 22nd day of June, 1876. It left its camp 2 miles above the mouth of the Rosebud, proceeded to the mouth of that stream, then upstream to regain contact with the Indian trail Maj. Reno had previously discovered on his reconnaissance. No sabers were taken, their being left behind and crated. The regimental band also remained behind, part of a contingent of 2 officers and 152 other personnel on detached assignments. Regimental strength was 31 officers and 566 enlisted personnel. They encamped around 4 p.m. having reached 10 miles south of the Rosebud's mouth. That evening Custer held a conference with his officers. He issued orders for conduct during the march and outlined his plan of campaign. 

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June 23rd

The regiment regained the march at 5 a.m. the morning of June 23rd. Having forded the stream several times they halted after another 9 miles to examine an Indian village. They halted once more to examine another village approximately 25 miles from the mouth at the Yellowstone. A third village was examined before ending the march at about 4:30 p.m. having reached mile 42. The pack train did not arrive until sunset. The weather had been sunny and warm. In 28 1/2 hours the regiment had traveled 44 miles at an average rate of 2.7 mph (15 1/2 hours on the trail - not including camps or stops).

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June 24th

The 24th was another sunny day and the regiment again began its march around 5 a.m. Soon after beginning the day's march Custer called George Herendeen to him and indicated he should prepare to scout the head of Tullock's Fork with Charley Reynolds. Herendeen informed Custer it was too early to make the scout, as the column would be in a better position for them to leave later on. Mitch Boyer confirmed Herendeen's opinion and Custer decided to delay this scout.

Scouts who had been sent ahead soon returned and announced the discovery of another Indian camp. This was reached at mile 45 shortly thereafter. This was the 'Sundance camp' which dated back to early June. After a brief stop to investigate this camp, the column again proceeded upstream. Scouts were sent out to look for divergent trails. The regiment would march in two parallel columns with Custer in advance with two companies. Just above Lame Deer Creek they came upon a multiple of trails instead of the one single trail heretofore being followed. Campgrounds appeared to be everywhere and sign was much more fresh than before. Custer decided to send the six Crows further upstream as far as possible and still return to the column by sundown. He wanted them to look for divergent trails and also maintain a lookout toward Tullock's Creek. It was evident that Custer believed the main camp he'd been following the previous two days may have been breaking up. This appeared to be the general consensus although not among the scouts. They correctly read the appearance of new sign over the old original trail as that of converging camps; not the dispersion of the old original camp. The Crow scouts sent couriers back who reached the column about 4 p.m. They announced a 'fresh' camp near the forks of the Rosebud (where Davis Creek empties into the Rosebud), now known as the 'Busby Bend'. At 5 p.m. the column again moved out and continued until about 7:45 p.m. Custer sent flankers out to look for trails both 'right and left'. In 2 1/2 days the regiment had traveled 73 miles. Custer was eager to hear news of where the trails led, and whether the Indian camp was breaking up. This day's march was slow with multiple breaks, one lasting 4 hours.

Custer's anxiety over hearing from the Crow scouts was answered later that evening. They returned at about 9 p.m. to report the Indian trail had "crossed the divide to the Little Big Horn". It hadn't broken up at all. Custer ordered Lt. Varnum to leave immediately for a point in the mountains the Crows knew of where the Little Big Horn could be watched. He was to take Charley Reynolds, Mitch Boyer, six Rees and a number of Crows. Custer would regain the trail at 11 p.m. and would encamp near the base of the mountains where Lt. Varnum and his scouts would be scouting for the enemy.

Custer was now acting on his own recognizance. His orders were to continue south up the Rosebud. However, the Indian village was on the lower Little Big Horn, not the upper portion of that stream. To continue south would put his column farther from the Indian village. However, to follow the trail could mean he would encounter the village before the Gibbon column could reach its point of destination. True to form he elected to follow the trail. Some critics point to this as indicative of his wanting all the glory. I see it as typical of his nature.

Lt. Varnum reached the point suggested by the Crow scouts (we now know as the Crow's Nest) around 2:30 a.m. on the 25th. At officer's call at 9:30 p.m., Custer outlined his plan. He intended to cross the divide that night and conceal the column the next day while determining the location of the village, with the intent of attacking the next morning, June 26th. He then issued orders to move at midnight. The column actually moved out around 12:30 p.m.

Once the column was again moving, Custer was told it would not be possible to conceal the command after crossing the divide. A little after 3:00 a.m. he halted the column east of the divide to await news from Lt. Varnum and his scouts. 

It was now June 25, 1876.

Author's note: All information on this page comes from the following two books by John S. Gray:

Centennial Campaign, The Sioux War of 1876 and Custer's Last Campaign, Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed.

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