Custer and companies of the 7th Cavalry were part of the military column commanded by Colonel David S. Stanley accompanying the 1873 Northern Pacific Railway survey party surveying the north side of the Yellowstone River west of the Powder River in eastern Montana. Stanley's column consisted of a 1,300 man force of cavalry, infantry, and two artillery pieces (3" rifled Rodman guns). It traveled with 275 mule-drawn wagons and 353 civilians involved in the survey. Twenty-seven Indian and mixed-blood scouts supported the column.
On the morning of August 11, 1873, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, commander of the 7th Cavalry was encamped with a portion of the 1873 Yellowstone Expedition (Various companies of the 7th Cavalry and one company of the 22nd Infantry) along the north side of the Yellowstone River at what is now known as Pease Bottom near present-day Custer, Montana. In the early morning warriors from the village of Sitting Bull started firing at Custer's camp from across the river, and by dawn skirmishing had broken out in several locations. After Private John Tuttle of Company E, 7th Cavalry was killed in the morning fighting, warriors crossed the Yellowstone River and attacked the rear of Custer's camp. The 7th Cavalry successfully defended their rear from this attack, then the warriors suddenly broke off the fight. The soldiers under Custer soon learned this was because of the approach of Colonel Stanley and the main column. During the battle, Lieutenant Charles Braden of the 7th Cavalry was critically wounded, along with two other Private's of the same regiment. Braden's thigh was shattered by an Indian bullet and he remained on permanent sick leave until his retirement from the Army in 1878.