Battle of Little Bighorn: 44 – Some Men of the 7th Cavalry

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


During the 1876 campaign against the hostiles, Reno was second in command to George Armstrong Custer. Reno was born into a distinguished family in Carrolton, Illinois in 1835. He graduated from West Point in 1857, five years prior to George Custer. Reno was commissioned Colonel of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry in 1861. Though at the end of the American Civil War he still retained that grade, he had obtained a brevet of brigadier general and an impressive military record. In 1868 Reno received an appointment as a major in the Seventh Cavalry. The upcoming battle was his first Indian fight.


Benteen’s ancestors emigrated from Holland and settled in Baltimore. However, in his father’s time, the family moved to Virginia and then westward to St. Louis, Missouri. During the American Civil War, Frederick Benteen joined the Union Army, serving with Bowen’s Battalion which evolved into the Tenth Missouri. Benteen’s military record was “studded with citations for gallantry” even though his father disowned him as a traitor to the south. During the Civil War, Benteen’s southern father, T. C. Benteen, went to work on a Mississippi steamboat which supplied the Confederacy, and which was captured by a Union flotilla that included two companies of Bowen’s Missourians. Among these Union troops was Captain Frederick Benteen, the son. After the captured steamboat was taken to Helena, Arkansas, all the captured Confederate personal aboard were released—except T. C. Benteen who was locked up until the end of the war.


Calhoun was the husband of George and Tom Custer’s sister, Margaret Emma Custer Calhoun. Though George Custer became a published author, brother-in-law Calhoun seems to be the somewhat poetic one in the 7th. His written words had a fluid flowing, such as his diary entry concerning military drunkenness when he wrote, “surrounded by a crowd of admiring frauds who flatter his vanity and take advantage of his love for the rosy which is inordinate and are thus enabled to carry out their own ends.”


Tom was the younger brother of George Custer. Although Brother Tom was of the true Custer blood, this did not excuse him from his leader’s wrath. The extremely early morning of the Washita battle Tom lingered long over his scanty breakfast “to the disgust of [George] Custer, who told him repeatedly to hurry and finish his breakfast.” When Tom continued to linger George erupted into an explosive rage, charged into the tent, and kicked over the mess table, sending dishes and food flying everywhere. Sometime later, Tom asked George’s wife, Libbie, “to intercede with Custer for him, to see that he quit jumping on him for every little damned thing just because I happen to be his brother.”