Crucially, they were under strict orders not to attack until they were joined by thousands of cavalry reinforcements who would follow later.
Custer's men marched in sweltering heat for five weeks amid a pungent stench of horsehair and human sweat.
But the truth, as the riveting new book The Last stand by award-winning historian Nathaniel Philbrick reveals, is rather different.
Philbrick suggests that while Custer may have been brave, he was also reckless - an impetuous and vain romantic with a narrow-minded nostalgia for a vanished past, whose ego meant he ignored orders and took appalling risks with his men's lives.
Sitting Bull's strategy was not to go looking for a fight with the white man, but to be ready to fight back if they were attacked.
Fatally, and in defiance of his orders, Custer made the decision to do just that.
The American plains - now South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana - would have been as strange to them as the surface of the moon. military believed it would be a walkover, they had not reckoned on their implacable opponent, Sitting Bull, the 45-year-old sioux leader, a man whose legs were bowed from a boyhood of riding ponies and whose left foot had been maimed by a bullet in a horse-stealing raid.
In June 1876, when Custer and his army met their grisly end, there were no farms, ranches, towns or even military bases in the plains. But, two years earlier, gold had been discovered in the nearby Black Hills by none other than Custer himself during a reconnaissance mission. government decided it had no option but to acquire the hills - by force if necessary - from the indigenous indians. Sitting Bull was determined that his people would never give up their revered lands without a bitter fight.I'm at my best when I'm working with really talented people, and I'm there to gently suggest or guide or inspire or contribute whatever I can to their effort.It's not like I'm gonna tell Robert De Niro how to act - but I could provide him with useful anecdotal material from my own life or other people I've known, or actual psychological information, or insights into his character. As for his army, far from being craggy-faced Marlboro men, nearly half were immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany and Italy.They were nervous, ill-trained and overly fond of the bottle.In retreat, the troopers were being herded to a fording point across the river that was to become the scene of even worse slaughter as they floundered through the fast-flowing current. The slap of the horses' bellies as they hit the water reminded one indian warrior, Brave Bear, of 'cannon going off'.