The highlighted phrase 'he was to fight without Custer’s support' can't be accurate as earlier he says that 'the observers concluded Custer had been defeated,' which if true, wouldn't've given Reno any idea that he'd've expected any support from Custer at that stage. It has always seemed to me that what McClernand had garnered from the survivors had given him a less than impressive view of Reno's performance. It should always be remembered though, that McClernand's account is hearsay.
I think that McClernand was trying to say that "due entirely to his (Reno's) own inactivity" while sitting for 2 1/2 hours on the bluffs waiting for the pack train and rear guard to arrive, he was now forced to fight the enemy entirely on his own after they had dispatched Custer's 5 Troops. Had Reno elected to send out all of his combat ready troops to engage the enemy once again before Custer's demise, then his engagement would have been supported by the action of Custer's own 5 troops still fighting in the north.
That's certainly one interpretation given the more florid language of that time. What's without doubt however, is that McClernand's hearsay account must've been heavily influenced by 7th survivors who'd been less than impressed by Reno's performance, because obviously McClernand wasn't there himself.
“who wishes to fight must first count the cost”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The following are excerpts from Edward McClernand's narrative of the Little Big Horn campaign, published in Gordon Harper's The Fights on the Little Horn Companion, with my annotations in brackets. PART X
Late in the afternoon our weary comrades on Reno Hill saw a few horsemen in the valley, who were apparently left in observation. The grass was set on fire about 7 p.m., and through the smoke screen our friends saw “an immense moving mass crossing the plateau, going toward the Big Horn Mountains.” It was estimated that the “moving mass” was five or six miles away. Undoubtedly the “mass” mentioned was the retiring enemy, seen by the “Montana Column” at about the same hour, and about the same, or perhaps a little less distance, and reported by Muggins Taylor later as being Custer’s command. Terry was now not much farther from Reno than from the “moving mass,” for that night he bivouacked eight and three quarter miles from the foot of the hill occupied by that officer, measuring along our line of march followed the next day, but probably not more than 6 3/4 miles in an air line. No effort, so far as known, was made during the night to inform the Department Commander of the situation, although it was surmised that Custer might have met Terry and that both were moving to the relief of the larger fraction of the former’s regiment.
It was during this night of June 26-27 that Lieutenant De Rudio, Private O’Neal [sic. O'Neill], Girard the interpreter, and a half breed scout named Jackson, who had been left in the bottom when Reno made his dash for the hills on the 25th, and who in the meantime had concealed themselves in the brush, ascended the bluffs and entered Reno’s lines. It would seem that their ability to do this would have suggested to Reno his plain duty to make strenuous efforts to communicate to Terry (supposed to be near with a command considerably smaller than the one Custer originally had), and inform him how roughly the larger detachment had been driven from the field, and the urgent necessity for him (Terry) to be on his guard. It would seem that even a proper regard for the interests of his own command would have dictated the propriety of such an earnest attempt, and his failure to do so can only be explained on the supposition that terror, aided by physical exhaustion, had paralyzed his faculty. [Note: Reno did make an unsuccessful attempt to get a messenger through to Terry during the first evening of the battle.]
The writer does not feel called upon to discuss the question of Reno’s personal courage, but only to weigh his qualifications for an independent command. It is not unlikely that under the immediate supervision of Custer he would have performed his duties as a subordinate in a way that would not have invited comment, but the courage to follow is one thing, and that to lead something very different. The first may dispense with all idea of responsibility for the movement about to be attempted, while the latter must assume it, and also demands a courage of convictions that is not to be shaken by the thought of the lives about to be sacrificed, or by the suggestions, always ready, of associates that it might be well to delay, to side step as we say. It was in leadership that Custer’s lieutenant seems to have failed, and that he had so failed and that Benteen was the man who stood between utter destruction and such safety as was found, was heard on all sides from his subordinates when Terry arrived.Many of the criticisms heard were severe. Later, before the Court of Inquiry that followed, many were toned down.
We may now turn to the lost five troops, found by Gibbon’s Chief of Scouts on the morning of the 27th, and follow their movements as best we may from the mute evidence derived from the groupings of the dead bodies where they fell on the hillsides, and from the meager statements of their comrades with Reno, made on the morning of the 27th as I recall them, and from statements written since by them and others. It will be recalled that the 7th Cavalry crossed the dividing ridge between the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn rivers a little before noon [ie. about 11:00 a.m. according to our Participant Timeline here] on the 25th, and that shortly before this [ie. between 10:15 and 10:30 a.m.] Custer told his officers that the Indians had discovered their presence, and that although he had not intended to attack until the next morning, the 26th, the day Terry had promised to be on the Little Big Horn [at its junction with the Big Horn River], their discovery made immediate action imperative.
In the division of the regiment that was made soon after crossing the summit, Custer took five troops, Reno three, Benteen three, and McDougall one [troop], together presumably with the troopers detailed as packers, and in addition a detachment of one non-commissioned officer and six men from each troop, that is, 84 men from the 12 troops. Recall that Benteen’s battalion was [then] ordered to the left, either apparently because Custer thought the village [in the Little Big Horn valley] extended farther to his left than was the case, or on the supposition that the Indians would run [southward] up the [Little Big Horn] valley and Benteen would be in position to head them off. Reno went on toward the burning tepee and the river, while Custer with his battalion followed Reno closely, while at the same time bearing to the right.
Reno was told to assault [the enemy in the valley] and that the “whole outfit” would support [him there]. As previously stated these instructions probably contemplated close support, and Reno so interpreted them, but again, apparently because Custer thought it desirable to gain some distance to the right so as to intercept the enemy, if instead of trying to escape up stream [southwards towards Benteen], he would run down the valley [northwards] from Reno’s assault, or because the nature of the terrain threw him farther to the right than he contemplated - the fact remains his battalion became widely separated from the balance of the regiment, and he lost control over the greater portion of his command.
If we accept the theory that he bore to the right with a view to intercepting the flight of the Indians down the valley, it is by no means necessary to conclude that he imagined such a wide interval would become necessary, for he probably did not foresee that the steepness of the bluffs below the point in the river where Reno was headed would be such as to prevent him (Custer) descending to the valley at a point comparatively near by. However, his battalion bore off to the right and was lost to view, although he, with a companion or two, were seen later by members of Reno’s command, on the bluffs overlooking the valley. His actions, the waving of his hat, seem to imply he was encouraging [Reno] to vigorous action. Possibly, as previously stated, Custer was misled by seeing the vast pony herd being driven down stream along the plateau across the river, and was thus further encouraged in the belief that the Indians would not stand to meet his attacks. At all events, his command continued the down-stream advance at a considerable distance back from the river.
[Note: We see here McClernand's assumption that Custer was somehow fooled by the vast pony herd being driven from the bluffs into the village a ways to the north and misinterpreted as Indians fleeing down the valley. I sincerely doubt that a man of Custer's experience on the plains would be so easily misled by such a sight. I find it more likely that Custer intended to cross the river to the north and envelop the enemy force confronting Reno's threat south of the village.]
(to be continued)
Last Edit: Jan 23, 2019 15:52:08 GMT -5 by moderator
"The more I see of movement here (Little Big Horn Battlefield), the more I have admiration for Custer, and I am satisfied his like will not be found very soon again.”
~ Gen. Nelson Miles, Commanding General of the Army ------
"With our cherished ones deliverance within our grasp we waited breathless two hours, for the order that never came."
The following are excerpts from Edward McClernand's narrative of the Little Big Horn campaign, published in Gordon Harper's The Fights on the Little Horn Companion, with my annotations in brackets. PART XI
When the battlefield was carefully gone over and studied by Gibbon’s command and the remnants of the 7th Cavalry, I cannot recall that there was any dissenting opinion about Custer having descended from the bluffs by following down a large coulee [ie. Medicine Tail Coulee] that led to the river [at Ford B] not far from the center of the village. If he entertained any intention to strike at the hostiles, or their camps, when he reached this [Medicine Tail] coulee, it certainly invited him to descend, for it offered the first good opportunity for his command to reach the valley after it commenced to bear to the right from Reno’s column. That he did enter the [Medicine Tail] coulee and turn toward the river was shown by the position of the dead [there], so that there is apparently only to decide if the positions of the bodies [there -- ed. likely on Butler Ridge] marked the furthest advance toward the Little Big Horn.
Godfrey holds, after careful talks in after years with some of his previous enemies, that Custer never was nearer the river than the position on the [Battle] ridge on which he was found, and I doubt if he was ever nearer [the river] than where the extreme right of his final line rested [on Last Stand Hill], but I am still of the opinion that he was further down the [Medicine Tail] coulee than where we found the remains of Calhoun’s and Keogh’s troops. The trails I saw, and the dispositions indicated by the positions of the dead men and horses, incline me to the belief that he went further down this [Medicine Tail] coulee with the intention of crossing [the river at Ford B] but was deterred therefrom by the Indians as they commenced to arrive in great numbers after having temporarily disposed of Reno.
He then decided he must withdraw slightly and take the best attainable position on the higher hills to his rear. The pressure of the arriving Indians on his left flank as he moved toward the river - that is, up stream nearest Reno’s position, and who naturally arrived first, forced his now retiring column to his new left, that is, down stream from the coulee marked as “Gall’s approach” [ie. Deep Coulee] on Godfrey’s map, and he first halted [on Calhoun Hill and Finley Ridge] and dismounted Calhoun’s troop to hold them in check until he could place the balance of his command. Apparently Calhoun’s troop was not equal to the task imposed upon it, and he added Keogh’s [Troop I] a little farther on. [Note: McClernand does not distinguish between Calhoun Hill and Finley Ridge, believing it was a single position held by Calhoun's L Company.]
I am of the opinion that an appreciable interval of time must have elapsed between the order for Calhoun to fight on foot, and the similar order given Keogh, for if they had been dismounted by the same command, or order, then the dead led horses of the two troops would have been found closer together. [Note: McClernand notices a separation between the led horses of I and L troops. This separation is likely a reference to the area in upper Calhoun Coulee from C Co's led horses were being held on the west side of Battle Ridge from I & L Co. horses being held in the swale area on the east side of Battle Ridge. McClernand, like other early students of the battle, did not realize that C Co. was deployed in this area, believing only I and L Co's to be deployed there.]
In his withdrawal, Custer moved his command between Calhoun’s position [on Calhoun Hill and Finley Ridge] and “Custer Hill” - that is, the knoll on which he died - and dismounting on it, deployed the major part of what remained of his command [E & F Companies] as dismounted skirmishers along the [basin] ridge running from the said [Last Stand] knoll [westward] toward the river, and possibly at the same time, some of Smith’s troop [ie. a platoon of E Co.] on the higher ground that extended toward Keogh’s position.
These skirmishers toward the river [on the basin ridge west of Battle Ridge] were evidently told to turn their horses loose as no dead animals were lying along this line, although there were dead horses to their left on Custer’s knoll. Evidently Custer, who, facing death, had found himself [on Last Stand Hill] and was thinking clearly and acting quickly, had decided that here they must fight to the death, or until Reno or Benteen brought relief. The position taken was the best obtainable.
The line he established on the [basin] ridge mentioned, running from this position [on Battle Ridge] toward the river, showed more care taken in deploying and placing the men than, in my opinion, was shown on any other part of the entire field, including, of course, Reno’s several positions. [Note: This unnamed ridge mentioned by McClernand is found within the area known today as the 'Big Basin' area, just east and a bit south of Deep Ravine. This is the very area that Stands In Timber describes troops having been deployed near the end of the fight. I refer to it here as 'basin ridge.']The intervals between the dead skirmishers were remarkably regular - so regular that the deployment of the line must have had the close supervision of some officer. My recollection is that the body of no officer was found on this line, which I do not understand. It is possible that officers were originally with the men there, but were among the last to survive, and in the end joined Custer and others on the [Last Stand] knoll.
At the lower end of the line - toward the river- in a deep coulee [ie. Deep Ravine], slightly to the front and right of the line of skirmishers, a number of bodies, 28 I believe, were found. They belonged to Smith’s and other troops [primarily a platoon of F Co.] originally placed further to the left. I am of the opinion that these men [found in Deep Ravine] were at one time at the right of the skirmish line, having been sent there as they drifted to Custer’s knoll from Smith’s [platoon of E Co.] and other troops [I, C & L Co's.] to the left, and when the end was approaching, as they were farthest from Custer, or the living controlling force on the [Last Stand] knoll, they broke from the skirmish line [on the basin ridge] in the hope of escaping observation in[to] the deep coulee [ie. Deep Ravine].
Calhoun’s troop practically, if not entirely, died where placed [on Calhoun Hill and Finley Ridge -- like many participants who witnessed the field, McClernand fails to distinguish between the platoons of L Co. on Calhoun Hill and C Co. on Finley Ridge] on the left of the line; Keogh’s troop [died] apparently mostly where placed, but Keogh himself was found about midway between Calhoun’s position and Custer’s, considerably nearer Custer’s knoll than where the troop dismounted [ed. a likely reference to L Co's horses being held a short distance south of Keogh's position in the swale]. This does not necessarily imply the troop broke, and stampeded to Custer. I am inclined to think that when the latter [ie. Custer] had established himself [on Last Stand Hill], he ordered Keogh and what was left of his troop [or battalion] to join him, and it is not unlikely that he shifted the remnants of Smith’s troop [or platoon] at the same time.
The following are excerpts from Edward McClernand's narrative of the Little Big Horn campaign, published in Gordon Harper's The Fights on the Little Horn Companion, with my annotations in brackets. PART XII
A dead horse about a hundred, or 150 feet [ie. about 35 to 50 yards or meters], more or less, from Custer’s [Last Stand] knoll in the direction of Keogh’s and Calhoun’s positions, was pointed out to me as the animal ridden by Custer. The animal fell with his head toward the knoll, and from the position of his legs I judge he was traveling rapidly when he fell. Custer was evidently making for the [Last Stand] knoll when his mount was shot, and it occurred to me at the time that the loss of his horse might have determined Custer to stand on the said knoll and mentioned ridge when he gained them, instead of trying to gain the still higher hills further [east] toward the divide. [Note: This is an interesting theory put forth by McClernand, however, a number of other reliable accounts claim that Custer's horse 'Vic' was not found killed on the battlefield. Indian accounts claim that Custer's horse was captured by a Santee Sioux warrior.]
I do not say that such was the case, for it is probable the pressure of the Indians was already too great to permit of a retreat much longer prolonged, or of further delay in establishing a firing line, especially to a man of Custer’s aggressive temperament, whose custom had always been to throw himself upon his foe, like a hound on a rabbit -- but the thought at least suggests itself. He was dismounted, and doubtless many of his men also, the enemy was pressing, and here was a position on which they could stand and strike back -- probably without hope of victory, but at least with the possibility of holding on until Reno or Benteen came, or that relief of dying like brave men. I think no thoughtful and unprejudiced man could have examined the last positions held by Custer, as marked by the dead, without being convinced that he was thinking clearly, fast and courageously.
I said to myself, as did others doubtless, here a hero died. That his was the spirit of battle seemed clear from those who chose to die on that [Last Stand] knoll with him. Some, I think many, with him must have killed their own horses to use their dead bodies for breastworks -- the circle around the top of the knoll was not badly formed -- undoubtedly other brave men died on the knoll, but to my mind at least, it seemed clear that he was the strong man, whose support was sought as the shadow of death was quickly closing down upon those heroes of the 7th Cavalry.
The next day [June 28th] was passed in burying the dead, bringing the wounded down to camp from “Reno’s Hill,” and in making hand litters for their transportation. As we had but a few spades, the burial of the dead was more of a pretense than reality. A number were simply covered with sage brush. Yet we did our best. At 6:30 p.m., on the 28th the hand litters being finished, the command was put in march for the mouth of the Little Big Horn, where the boat was supposed to be, but the difficulty of carrying the wounded by hand was so great, that although the march was continued until near midnight, we only covered a little over 4 1/ 2 miles. [Note: This would likely be in the vicinity of the river between Fords D-1 and D-2.]
The inefficiency of the hand litters having been demonstrated, the next day, June 29th, was spent in constructing mule litters. The credit for these, which worked well, is due to Captain Doane of the 2nd Cavalry.... At five o’clock p.m., we again started for the boat. The night was dark, the road unknown and the care of the wounded a difficult task. When the Big Horn was reached, we found ourselves on a high plateau, and were at a loss to find a way to descend. Finally fires were started in a gully, and by this light the wounded were taken down and at 1:30 a.m., placed on the boat. The command followed to the banks of the river, and tired out, each man threw himself down to sleep....