"I supposed General Custer able to take care of himself." Captain Benteen, 1879
Sources: Hammer, Custer in ’76, page 75
By David Cornut
Author of “Little Bighorn, autopsie d’une bataille légendaire” (384 pages, France, 2006)
Sources: Hammer, Custer in ’76, page 75
Hunt; I fought with Custer, page 81.
Sklenar, To Hell with Honor, pages 224, 365 note 18
Hammer, Custer in ’76, pages 75-76
Gray, Centennial Campaign, page 183
McClernand, On Time for Disaster, page 71-88
On June 25 1876, after noon, Custer sent Captain Benteen on a scout in the South, while he was moving towards the Indian village. The purpose of the scout was to find if "satellite villages” (other Indian villages around the main one) existed. On June 22, Custer had seen the steps of three villages, built on the same day. "Sattelite villages" could be dangerous, as Custer had seen during the Battle of the Washita, when warriors from nearby villages had attacked Custer as he was burning the village of Chief Black Kettle. Now, seven years later, the commander of the 7th wanted to prevent any threat by satellite villages.
WATERING THE HORSES
When Benteen understood that the scout didn’t give any results, he came back on Custer’s trail. He had specific orders to follow Custer’s steps and to send him a note about the results of his scouts. Benteen didn’t send any note to Custer (disobedience of order) and moved on the trail with considerable slowness.
He then stopped his column to water the horses at a name later called “the morass”. Shots were heard in the valley, a sign that the battle was beginning on Custer’s side. Private Jan Moeller and Sergeant Windolph heard the firing, as well as Lieutenant Godfrey.
Captain Thomas Weir became very impatient. Lieutenant Godfrey stated that many officers became “uneasy by the lengthy stay. One subaltern wondered why the “Old Man” (Benteen) was keeping them out of the battle for so long.
Captain Weir’s anger grew. He said to Benteen: “We ought to be over there!”
Benteen ignored him. Weir went to his company, mount up and moved towards the sound of the guns. It was a disobedience of orders, because, as Godfrey stated, “his position in the column was that of second unit.”
Benteen eventually moved behind Weir.
It was the first time Captain Weir was leaving his command because of Benteen’s indifference to the ongoing battle. It wouldn’t be the last.
The battle was still on in the valley of the Little Bighorn. However, Captain Benteen’s battalion was still out of the fight. Benteen travelled at three miles an hour, when Custer’s other battalions did the same in an hour less time.
Benteen was slow, and there is no explanation for this betrayal. He just acted as if no battle was going on. He just ignored his duty.
He then met Daniel Kanipe, who was carrying a vocal order by Custer. Benteen learnt that Custer was asking for immediate reinforcements, but didn’t act at all. His battalion was still moving at trot. He even stopped in front of a lone tepee to examine it. He was wasting time, and didn’t care about it.
Soon, another messenger appeared. Private Giovanni Martini was carrying a written order by General Custer: “Benteen, come on, be quick, bring packs.” The packs were not the entire pack train, as it is often stated, but the “extra ammunitions”. Every soldier knew it, as lieutenant McClernand clearly said in his articles and book.
Benteen had to pick the extra ammunition up and then to go quickly towards Custer. Did he act as his orders urged him to? Not at all. He didn’t go at a gallop, but at a walk or a trot (Lieutenant Godfrey). Custer’s men had moved on the same ground on overall speed or fast trot.
Captain Weir was outraged again. Ignoring Benteen’s orders once more, he moved quickly, left the command and reached Reno Hill the first. Again, Thomas Weir was the only one in Benteen’s troops who acted like a soldier.
Benteen would never reach Custer (see Reno Hill).
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