“Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.”
Looks like they died standing very close to each other. Little Big Horn, right?
If you look at the big picture, they died spread out. "Son of the Morning Star" is the definitive work on the subject in my opinion even though there has been further study since that was published. About 15% of the troopers in Custer's command didn't speak English. Their firearms were antiquated and the Indians had better equipment and better firearms. It was a motley, poorly trained, military force by todays standards and not much better by the standards of the day. Custer's 7th was strongly divided and both Benteen and Reno hated him. The Souix and their cousins, the Cheyenne called Custer "Son of the Morning Star" because he had a habit of attacking Indian encampments before dawn while everyone was asleep with Gatling guns and mountain howitzers, followed up by a ground assault. He left the Gatling guns behind for the Little Bighorn Campaign because he was afraid that the Indians would escape if he didn't move fast enough. Oooops.
We studied this reasonably in depth a decade or so ago in one of my military history classes. Upon looking at the evidence I interpret it differently. He was on a recon mission, the forces for the actual assault were forming elsewhere. The detail that he commanded was apparently doing the recon. They were not carrying a full combat load out as evidenced by a surviving communique requesting that ammo be sent forward. We know that his subordinate commanders didn't like him. We also know that one of them commanded the detachment that actually assaulted the Indian encampment, though it always looked to be a screening force for the log base commanded by the other. No, I don't recall which one was commanded by Reno or Benteen. My suspicion is that the commander of what I considered the screening force decided to embarrass Custer and poked the encampment, expecting them to react close to the manner in which they ultimately did. However, I suspect that the encampment was a bit larger than expected and the response a tad bit more energetic.
Gen. Crook who came up from the south was stopped and turned around. Terry had a mixed force of cavalry to screen and infantry. He also had packed mountain howitzers and Gatling guns. Custer was out for glory, and clearly did not expect to see so many aggressive Indians. In previous engagements (being Son of the Morning Star) he'd attacked when the odds were on his side. In this situation. You may call it a reconnaissance in force. But I think that he wanted a fight. Roughly half of his command (Reno and Benteen) survived because they dug in -- and didn't know of Custer's fate until a couple of days after the Indians left. Custer was caught in the open. There at the battlefield, the grave markers show that the famous "last stand" was a running retreat -- which makes perfect sense. The dragoons (mounted troops who fight on foot) fought in dismounted skirmish lines with rifles and were enveloped. Some were able to remount and flee, only to be cut down. Others (but not many) died where they stood.