Battle of Little Bighorn: 56 – Passing in Review

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

The 7th Cavalry Company Flag

On June 22, the 7th Cavalry passed in review before Terry, Gibbon, and Custer. The regimental band had remained at the Powder River base so there was no stirring strains of “Garryowen” to spur these soldiers marching, or riding, into war. But several trumpets added a military measure to the scene.

The Regimental Standard

Swallow-tailed guidons flourished in the hot air. Dust rose as each company passed their Commanders. These troopers wore a variety of costumes. Slouch hats were seen, such as Custer himself wore. Some wore shirts of gray, others wore blue, with the regulation sky-blue trousers stuffed into cavalry boots.

“Each man carried a Springfield single-shot carbine and a Colt revolver, with 100 cartridges for the former and 24 for the latter.” No one carried a saber, an item of military equipment that many artists since July 25, 1876, has erroneously adorned these fighting men with in the oil and linseed portraits of The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Custer’s command included “31 officers and 566 enlisted men, 35 Indian scouts (the Arikaras, four Sioux, and six Crows borrowed from Gibbon), and about a dozen packers, guides, and other civilian employees. Bringing up the rear, a train of pack-mules bore rations and forage for 15 days together with reserve carbine ammunition of 50 rounds per man.”

Lt. Col. George Custer

“Custer swelled with pride at the spectacle,” except for the mules that were breaking ranks and already throwing their packs. In his own costume, Custer was as flamboyant as usual. He wore his fringed buckskin jacket and trousers as well as knee-high troop boots. Of Civil War memory, he had on his scarlet cravat and broad-collared blue shirt. Topping it all, above his red-golden shorn locks was his wide-brimmed white hat. There were many, through out Custer’s career, who criticized the way he dressed. He must have truly been god-like to see, and why not! Why not do it in style? Besides, his wife Libbie liked it.

William Cook

But criticize, some would. But not all of them disdained Custer. Loyal to him were Captain Thomas Weir, and Lieutenant William Cooke, who was a Canadian-born regimental adjutant. Certainly his younger brothers, Tom and Boston, as well as nephew Harry Reed were enamored of their commander.

Capt. Frederick Benteen

The opposing team was led by Custer’s two senior officers, Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen. It was said that these two looked on Custer “with contempt or even loathing.” Reno had served well as a colonel in the Civil War. Now he no longer commanded much respect. Benteen, who in this instance was Captain of Company H, had been a lieutenant colonel in the Civil War. He was “lean, muscular, clean-shaven [Custer at this time had let his whiskers grow into a beard], and white-haired.” He was known to be fearless in combat but he returned compliments with an ill-tempered ridicule to most of the other officers. His ill feeling toward Custer “harbored a passionate hatred that soured his character for the rest of his life.”