In this case, though, I think the evidence shows that there was little or no wind...hence all the smoke and dust from the battles causing virtual "smokescreens" upon any contact with the enemy.
And for terrain's affect on sound, if Reno's men can hear Custer's firing, then the vice versa is almost certainly true, given that wind is not an issue. Of course, for most of this event, there's not much firing to be heard from Reno's position, and that, in itself, is one of the most important pieces of information Custer knew!
In any event, I must judge that by the time Custer fired those first two volleys heard by Reno and Herendeen, Custer knew Reno was in dire trouble, and maybe even annihilated.
I think at this point Custer is desperate to do something to affect Reno's action...by attacking them to relieve Reno, and even find a way to move back to Reno's position. If he couldn't do it by retracing his path, he might do it more quickly by threatening the village.
I've always thought that it was Custer who saved Reno, not Benteen. <g> I don't think Maj Reno ever appreciated him for that, though...
We have been debating the questionas to whether Custer knew that Reno's attack had been blunted, and whilst it may seem a small point in the grand scheme of the battle, I think to know that he did helps us understand some of his subsequent actions.
As has been pointed out, its almost certain he was aware that something was wrong once he had moved up onto Luce, in which case one's automatic assumption would have been that he should have turned about and gone to Reno's assistance, but as we know he didn't do so. Custer being Custer he obviously thought he could deal with the problem in a totally different way.
So what did he do? I'm of course guessing here; but then that's about all we can do with this portion of the battle, but I doubt that Custer thought Reno was in any serious trouble; nonetheless, one wonders why he didn't send someone back to check that out, but again he didn't, possibly because he reasoned that Benteen would be arriving fairly soon, and would immediately put the impetuous back into Reno's attack. If and when that happened, what then should Custer do?
Faced by yet another force of cavalry to add to the one they were already fighting, the Indians would slowly but surely be driven back towards the center of the village, in which case he, Custer, could hit them with a flank attack across MTF. But for whatever reason he chose not to do that either; its unlikely that indian pressure was a factor at this stage, or that the ford itself was an insurmountable obstacle, in which case we are forced to the conclusion that he was already thinking about crossing the river much further North, whether to attempt to round up the non-coms as some would have it, or to turn and attack the retreating warriors from the rear is of course up for debate.
One things for sure, Custer would have wanted to get off those ridges, which were totally unsuitable for cavalry, and down onto the valley floor where he could operate at his best, as soon as possible. No commander in his right mind would choose to spend an hour or more up there, but he never made it which begs the question why?
Personally, I think that as he rode off leaving Keogh to man Calhoun hill; probably with instructions to attack across MTF should he see the opportunity, although aware of the increasing numbers, and obviously angry temperament of the Indians that were coming out to fight him, he was shamefully disparaging of their capabilities, even to the point of willfully choosing to ignore that there was a possibility that they might surround part of his command. Far from looking at the big picture he had become blinkered, so that he could only focus on what he himself wanted to do, which was attack the far end of the camp.
Up until they arrived on Calhoun, there was still a chance that he could have extricated himself, but once there, the window of opportunity banged closed behind him, and we all know the results.
If Custer needed assistance he should have sent another messenger with SPECIFIC orders rather than a low-level non-com with limited English carrying a cryptic note.
At the time he sent off Martini, he had not yet seen the full extent of the village. Besides, we don't really know if he attempted to send other messengers back. Goldin always claimed to be a messenger from Custer to Reno. Others might not have succeeded in making it through. I think its important to keep in mind that Martini's message did not need to be specific. At the time he was sent, Custer wanted Benteen's battalion to move up quickly and pitch into the hostiles where ever he found them. Benteen was in no confusion over his orders.
I think several of the reasons you put forward seem plausible, but the thorn in the foot in these theories is Custers probable propensity to get in there and do something rather than sit around on a hill well away from the action for well over half an hour.
By the end of that period he would have been well aware that Renos's attack had failed, and yet he continued to push on further North, now whether looking for another ford or had some other motive in mind we will probably never know, but one things for sure, if he wasn't being pushed by the Indians, then he was one hell of a confident man.
I don't think anyone who knew Custer would question his confidence going into a battle, Blue Horse. Its logical to assume that if Custer truly intended to cross in force at MTF, he would have brought all 5 Companies down to the ford area. The fact that he kept roughly half of his force back on Luce Ridge would indicate to me that he had other ideas in mind for his intended strategy. Most likely, he was planning to use a battalion to move further north to cut off the escape of the noncombatants, or to cross the river unopposed while his 2nd battalion occupied the attention of the hostiles by holding or threatening to cross at MTF, all while buying valuable time for Benteen's battalion to arrive and pitch into the hostiles by either supporting Reno in the valley or following him up on his backtrail.
I'm quite sure he never knew Reno's attack had failed; he would never have waited around long enough to find out. And pretty sure too those volleys didn't come from the eastern ridges. They came from somewhere downstream, (not downstream by Keogh's definition) as the testimony states. Fred gives 18 accounts. 12 of them say the firing was downstream. And just to clarify the firing wasn't coming from the eastern ridges we have the following...
Godfrey -- "down the river" Porter -- "downstream to the left" Wallace -- "bottom on the left" Herendeen - "down the valley"
clw, lets keep in mind that the eastern ridges in the area of Luce Ridge are just as far back from the river as Nye-Cartright Ridge or Calhoun Hill or Last Stand Hill. They are all "downriver" from the locations of all who heard the volleys. We can eliminate LSH, as the distance was too great to hear firing from Reno Hill. The same goes for any action around Ford D or the Cemetery area. The only other possible location from where the volleys might have come was in the vicinity of MTF. I discount the latter as the most likely area, as there were no witnesses who claimed to have seen signs of volley fire around MTF, nor has any archaeological research turned up to support this theory. Girard's account specifically mentions that he heard "only a few shots" around the bottom, which would indicate the area of MTF to me. He never claimed to hear any volleys fired at all "in the bottom", thus by a process of elimination, I think we are left with 3 likely areas to consider....Luce Ridge, N-C Ridge, or Calhoun Hill. The first two can clearly be heard on Reno Hill. Hearing gunfire from Calhoun Hill (over 3 miles from Reno Hill) is very, very questionable. All 3 of these locations are about equidistant from the river, so if you wish to discard Luce Ridge from consideration, you would have to do likewise for N-C and Calhoun Hill as well.
Regarding archeological evidence, isn't there some accounts in the 1900's of crow horse & cattle herders picking up buckets of casings in the MTC area to sell to tourists?
Yes, this is true, bc. Its one of the reasons why I would not entirely discount MTF as a possibility for volley fire. However, I am also considering Gerard's statement that there were "only a few shots" he heard coming from the bottom. Where do you suppose he meant by the area referred to as "the bottom", if not MTF?
I don't think the MTC was part of the burn area and I don't know if they did a complete metal detection of MTC and ford B or not.
No, MTC was not a part of the burn area, but yes, they did a complete metal detection of the MTF area around ford B and found evidence of only light skirmishing....no heavy volley firing. Of course, the area might have been picked clean, but when compared to the eastern ridges of Luce and N-C, quite a bit of evidence emerges from shell casings and the distances between them to support a case of heavy volley firing.
P.S. Great job on the map, Clair. For those who don't read maps too well, the flag marked "Y" at 'H+40' indicates the region just above MTF some call Butler Ridge. If there was volley fire in that location, it might have come from there. Just above it, at the flag marked "K" at 'H+40' is the Luce Ridge position, or what clw calls the "eastern ridges". You will note that both of these positions are significantly downstream from Gerard's position located at the flag marked "R" at 'H+35'.
Is there anything in military training that states that volleys could be used as a signal?
No crzhs, there is nothing in the tactical manuals about using volley fire as signals, but this should not be a reason to assume it would never be done. There is nothing in the tactical manuals detailing the use of a brass band in combat, yet Custer used it quite often. There is also nothing in the training manuals about the use of horse link straps, yet we know they were used to hold the horses to fight on foot. There is also nothing in the training manuals to decribe the use or training of pack mules to transport supplies, yet we know they were used. So going by what was in, or not in, the period training manuals is not particularly useful here. It would not limit a commander from using innovation and common sense.
If so, what kind of signal? Everything is OK? We need help?
One would need to use common sense in this situation, but it would suggest to me that the intent of the volley fire was to let the rest of the regiment know the whereabouts of the Regimental Commander and to rally on that location. The other possibility was that Custer was using volley fire to attract the attention of the hostiles away from Reno and onto Custer's position to give Reno a chance to fall back to Benteen's support.
Or was it volley-firing for the simple reason of keeping warriors at bay?
Certainly a possibility to consider, along with other things, such as body locations, horse carcasses, troop positions, etc.
My intuition tells me, due to the time these were heard and the enemy situation in front of Custer vice in front of Reno when heard, that they were long-range suppressive fire by Keogh's battalion on Luce Ridge against Natives coming over the Weir extension ridges (on Bouyer Ridge and around Weir point).
If Yates' squadron was down by the ford, it was probably firefighting at this point (pop - pop - pop) and wasn't in shape for controlled volleying...they were too busy already.
Keogh's squadron's position shows that it was back from the Natives, who would certainly be drawn first to Yates dismounted lines and held horses, so Keogh wasn't closely engaged yet, but we have a lot of casing in neat lines from up on Luce Ridge.
That tells me controlled firing at a distance. In the tactics of that day, this is the ideal situation for using volley firing...long-range fire to suppress a large target. It was the main way for Keogh to support Yates and keep him from getting overwhelmed by mounted warriors trying to come around his flanks.
And it must have worked, too, because Yates was able to extract himself from down near the ford on Butler, and come up the ridge towards Keogh without the Warriors getting behind him...that is, between him and Keogh.
I wouldn't rule out that Gerard's few shots he heard in the bottom were from the ford B area and the volleys were back up MTC a ways either covering the charge/withdrawal.
As I understand it, there were a few NAs south of MTC on the ridge they provided some light resistance. If Custer or anyone else was in a full charge down MTC and received some firing from the top of the ridge there, wouldn't the more appropriate response be to divert a company or squad towards that position to clear them out while continuing on with a charge. Now if you were demonstrating towards MTC then stopping to form a skirmish line to fire a couple volleys towards the NAs may be the appropriate response to support a squad moving to ford B.
Reno, perhaps inappropriately, stopped his charge and formed skirmish lines but he allegedly was facing hundreds of NAs. Custer didn't have those odds at MTC that I am aware of. There was not enough resistance at MTC to stop a bulldozing column of fours driving down the coulee. I am now beginning to think maybe he wasn't trying to cross ford B with a charge but more of a diversion for Co. E and others to move north.