Battle of Little Bighorn: 07 – Men of the Civil War Go West

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

Since 1861 the United States Army had found itself involved in two wars. The first was the national conflict between the northern and southern portions of the country. But now, in 1865, the American Civil War came to a close and the military could concentrate on the second war, the conflict raging in the west between whites and Indians.

General Philip Sheridan

Now the government could pay more attention to the Indian situation. This attention meant not only additional military arms that could be used in the west, but also considerably more manpower.

General U.S. Grant

The years of the American Civil War had developed and produced some fine and outstanding military leaders. Among this noted group was General Philip Sheridan who, in the summer of 1864, had been placed in command of a division by General Grant. Grant, himself, would go on to become President of the United States, serving his country in this capacity during the years of the Sioux Indian Wars. Under the President’s leadership as well as that of General William Tecumseh Sherman, the post Civil War commanding general of the U.S. Army (famous for Sherman’s march to Atlanta), Lieutenant General Philip Henry Sheridan became commander of the Army’s Division of the Missouri in 1869.

General William Tecumseh Sherman

Also numbered among this heroic rank was Major George Forsyth whose name would become forever linked with the famous siege at Beecher’s Island, Colorado. It was during this fight that War Chief Roman Nose of the Cheyenne, while defying a taboo placed on him, was killed.

Major George Forsyth

Many such men, of military career ambition, merely transferred their lives from fighting their countrymen to fighting the native western population. Among their numbers who would again be heard from were also Generals Gibbon, Crook, and Terry.

General Alfred Terry

Amongst these men of military rank was one young gentleman who, by the age of twenty-three, had been made a general in the Union Army. Now, leaving his brevet title and civilized civilization behind, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was about to embark upon a whole new concept of ‘warfare’—that of Indian fighting. Custer was about to step upon the vast western stage of the Great Plains.

Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer

But before Custer’s star was to shine, the government had one more act to perform. This scene took place at Fort Laramie, in present-day Wyoming, and the action entailed the signing of the Treaty of 1868.

But in spite of this treaty, in the years from 1866 to 1876, the Indians and the United States Army would meet in no less than two hundred confrontations.