White Bull account of the Little Big Horn Battle as given to Walter S. Campball (aka. Stanley Vestal) at Cherry Creek, South Dakota, in 1932, published in Richard Hardorff's book Indian Views of the Custer Fight, with my annotations in brackets:
Question? Could Reno have saved himself in the timber?
White Bull: Yes. It was foolish [to leave the timber and] run across the river [like he did].
Post by benteeneast on May 31, 2020 9:42:37 GMT -5
Captain French went to the timber and mounted his company. Seems odd for this officer to state they should remain in the timber. Maybe his earlier July letter expresses his thinking when he moved into the timber.
Sgt Ryan stated that they only had minutes to get out or be fixed and destroyed. The Indians held the high ground and could shoot into the timber. Some places like the flat where Custer rode down are less than 100 yards.
I would take Ryan's assessment over Bull's assessment.
Since Reno made the assessment under fire that the timber was not defensible it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. What action did Captain French take to defend the timber. Zero He was the company commander and could order his command to defensive positions instead he mounted his company.
I am sure long after the battle it is easy to change what was going on in real time. In real time French thought Custer was coming into the timber until the private was shot. That should end the discussion on whether the Indians had closed in within range of their weapon system.
As Benteen stated if Reno had remained in the timber and Benteen joined him the results would be the same. Custer is still dead. If the timber was full of shooters like French and Ryan that may have given Reno an additional available choice.
This was a offensive mission unlike when Custer was attacked before two times. Custer retrograded and moved to a location he could defend but Custer was not on an offensive action. In this battle Custer was on offense and Reno was to block movement to the south and receive support. His available choices as an advanced guard confronting overwhelming enemy numbers included the use of a retrograde just like Custer used to move away from some of these same Indians. By Reno staying in the timber the Indians had free used of any travel corridor that they chose. If your on defense you would be happy to see the Indians leave but this was not the mission.
Post by Doug Mills on May 31, 2020 20:05:30 GMT -5
From what I have read of Reno's own thoughts and before his death later in life. He told Custer they should stay closer together and George didn't take heed. Wooden Leg states - thousands of arrows falling on Reno's men. Reno goes to the timber. Everything Reno is doing makes sense to me and he's not a coward...........Reno knows he's being drawn into a trap and being surrounded, he must get outta there.
A scout told Custer, a bunch of Indians/warriors were getting away from a distance see's dust and horses moving, so George changes his plans and distances himself from Reno. Bad move! Reno states George was not his cheerful/happy self and looked depressed, as if something was going to go wrong. George isn't using common sense. This massive village isn't going anywhere. George is being impulsive and out of control................
I have read more about Reno's conversation with Benteen, in which he tells Benteen on the evening of the 25th; "I propose to mount all my men that can ride on horses & mules, destroy the property we cannot take with us and make a retreat to the wagon train at the mouth of the Power River".................
Benteen asks Reno - "What are you going to do with the wounded that cannot ride?" Reno says "We will have to abandoned them." Benteen says - "You can't do that." That was the end of it.....................
What do I make of all this? Two very different men. Reno is impulsive, selfish and unconcerned about others. Benteen on the other hand is helpful, caring, cool headed and uses far greater judgement. Reno seems to suffer from false conscious, where he doesn't realize nor accept what's happening around him. He psychological process & behavior is abnormal due to failure, embarrassment and shame.................and then what does he do? He starts to drink.
I think there were discussions of the many options. The ultimate decision was Reno's and he made the choice to stay. To me Benteen's comments would have little to do with the final decision. More likely Terry's comment about leaving the wounded would also have entered into the decision making. We all know that if Reno shows up anywhere without wounded questions would be asked.
It was Reno's decision and he chose to stay. I agree with Robb on Benteen. That was his nature.
Had not Benteen showed up, Reno would have lost all his wits and fled further to safety. I think another side we don't see, is Reno's anger & frustration towards Custer. Where is he? Why didn't he support me? We have wounded, dying and disoriented men. This notion that Reno & Benteen are just doddling around, wasting time and unconcerned about Custer, is utter nonsense to me. How can they possibly stop, what they are dealing with and race to the aid of George? It's not going to happen nor as soon as George wants it too.................
It would be like, I was just in a car wreck and my friend wants me to go help him repair his vehicle?
At the time this note was written, Benteen come quick bring packs, George hasn't a clue, what is happening to Reno and just assumes, Benteen can come to their assistance jiffy quick. George has already miscalculated this assault and it's ramifications upon Reno. George has already sent Benteen further off and in an unreachable distance from him. Then he sends some half, witted Italian messenger who can't even speak ENGLISH? If anyone is lacking common sense or unable to recognize these obvious blunders, it's George Custer......................
Post by Doug Mills on Jun 11, 2020 20:39:10 GMT -5
*Great points & analysis as always. I was reading Edwards Godfrey's diary and dated August 15, 1876. The Commdg. officer of the 7th Cal. Maj. Reno has been playing an "ass" right along and is so taken up with his own importance that he thinks he can "snip" everyone and comment on the orders he receives from General Terry's Hdqrs. and insult his staff, so there is not any one the personal staff on speaking terms.
He doesn't inspire *appreciation, *respect & confidence, if you ask me? Maybe to his horse? (lol)
From our forum member Gerry, who posted this on the LBHA Facebook forum:
Peter Thompson took a particular disliking to this portion of this article [ie. Reno's interview from Harrisburg, PA,] and included it in his narrative.
"Major Reno makes another mistake. He says that Custer “bore down on the Indians with his handful of men for the purpose of gaining all the credit for himself. The attack which occasioned the massacre was unwarranted, because the in Indians were the rightful possessors of the land and were entirely peaceable, and many a brave man fell in that fight simply to gratify Custer’s ambition.”
Major Reno forgets that General Custer was acting under orders. This expedition was undertaken for the express purpose of driving the Indians back to their respective reservations, which they had no business to leave for the purpose of committing lawless acts against settlers."
...Gerry has removed some contents unrelated to this article...
"Major Reno says: “When we found the men dead on the battlefield they laid in such a position as to show that they fled after the first fire and the Indians pursued and shot them down, for in almost every instance they were shot in the back.”
What a slander! Does he think that anyone will believe that the cavalry dismounted for the purpose of running away from mounted savages? No one will believe it. They faced their foes like men and died like heroes,unlike their traducer who fled like a coward.
Again Reno says: “When I came to the body of Captain Tom Custer and saw that his heart was cut out I knew that Rain-in-the-Face had done it for Tom had him arrested for larceny for some cloth.”
But was for murder that Custer had Rain-in-the-Face arrested and he should have been hung for it, but he had escaped from the guardhouse at Fort Lincoln."
Last Edit: Oct 17, 2020 1:00:20 GMT -5 by moderator
I will step back into the fray here -- and some neutrality above, and some not, but my thoughts. 1. Reno's attack on the village was fine. Did he stop early? I don't think so. He saw the enemy, knew he had to dismount his men to fight them as they were not trained to fight mounted - I think of them more as dragoons. He spread them out on line - correct move, and he did so in time to secure his horses, and get the line set. 2. Reno falling back on the Timber, was that warranted? Yes, I think so - he was securing his exposed flank, and no way you want your men flanked by Lakota. Protecting your flank is Cavalry Tactics 101. This seems to have been more or less orderly, depending on French's comments (as he was the exposed flank). 3. Reno leaving the Timber was that warranted? I don't think so. Enough comments earlier on the thread, but that position was secure enough where several stranded men, made their escape back to Reno's Hill later on without even being seen by 1000 warriors going back and forth. This would leave me to believe that it could have been secured. Definitely better access to water. 4, Reno states that he didn't know where Custer was, but he knew Custer was on the other side of the river - he had left the main column on that side. He had to know that Custer wasn't fleeing south, so pretty safe that Reno with combat experience, would reasonably assume that Custer is flanking the village (if he wan't told this by other parties that just happened to have been killed) - yes Cavalry Tactics 102. The - I didn't know where Custer was line - from Reno I think is an outright fabrication, he had an idea that Custer was moving on the other side of the river; and if he did the skirmish line makes even more sense, as it pulls out the warriors toward him and makes the village more vulnerable to being flanked. 5. Therefore, I doubt Malfeasance is correct, but how about a bad tactical decision, based on underestimating the Lakota ability to close and wipe out his retreating men. It seems obvious that Reno knew that his men could not fight mounted, because this is why he dismounted them on the skirmish line, so to "charge" with men that can't fight mounted would be incompetent. I think again an underestimation on how quick the Lakota were able to close on retreating men who did not fire on them -- it stunned the US Cavalry at the Rosebud, and it stunned Major Reno. Some above are blaming Custer for Reno's poor decision (Custer made enough errors even if only based on assumptions to lose his 5 companies), but really Reno made a bad tactical error. Would Benteen had made the decision to charge himself out of the bottom - In my opinion - no way. Does that mean Custer lives or not - maybe not - because if Benteen goes to the sound of the first guns, he is probably supporting Reno.
Maybe we need a role reversal thread, what if Benteen led the attack on the village and not Reno?
I will step back into the fray here -- and some neutrality above, and some not, but my thoughts. 1. Reno's attack on the village was fine. Did he stop early? I don't think so. He saw the enemy, knew he had to dismount his men to fight them as they were not trained to fight mounted - I think of them more as dragoons. He spread them out on line - correct move, and he did so in time to secure his horses, and get the line set.
I have no objections to Reno's decision to fight defensively on foot once he made contact with the enemy. In doing so he was still able to fulfill his advance guard mission imo. I am not so sure I buy into the theory that the men were so poorly trained that they could not effectively fight mounted. If that were the case Reno would -- or should -- never have attempted a mounted breakout from the timber position.
2. Reno falling back on the Timber, was that warranted? Yes, I think so - he was securing his exposed flank, and no way you want your men flanked by Lakota. Protecting your flank is Cavalry Tactics 101. This seems to have been more or less orderly, depending on French's comments (as he was the exposed flank).
I am in full agreement with you on this one.
3. Reno leaving the Timber was that warranted? I don't think so. Enough comments earlier on the thread, but that position was secure enough where several stranded men, made their escape back to Reno's Hill later on without even being seen by 1000 warriors going back and forth. This would leave me to believe that it could have been secured. Definitely better access to water.
In full agreement with you on this one as well. At the RCOI Benteen was asked this very question and answered that the timber position was a superior defensive position compared to the one later occupied on the bluffs.
4. Reno states that he didn't know where Custer was, but he knew Custer was on the other side of the river - he had left the main column on that side. He had to know that Custer wasn't fleeing south, so pretty safe that Reno with combat experience, would reasonably assume that Custer is flanking the village (if he wan't told this by other parties that just happened to have been killed) - yes Cavalry Tactics 102. The - I didn't know where Custer was line - from Reno I think is an outright fabrication, he had an idea that Custer was moving on the other side of the river; and if he did the skirmish line makes even more sense, as it pulls out the warriors toward him and makes the village more vulnerable to being flanked.
We're in agreement on this one too.
5. Therefore, I doubt Malfeasance is correct, but how about a bad tactical decision, based on underestimating the Lakota ability to close and wipe out his retreating men. It seems obvious that Reno knew that his men could not fight mounted, because this is why he dismounted them on the skirmish line, so to "charge" with men that can't fight mounted would be incompetent. I think again an underestimation on how quick the Lakota were able to close on retreating men who did not fire on them -- it stunned the US Cavalry at the Rosebud, and it stunned Major Reno. Some above are blaming Custer for Reno's poor decision (Custer made enough errors even if only based on assumptions to lose his 5 companies), but really Reno made a bad tactical error.
I think the above is what is meant by describing a number of Reno's decisions that day as "malfeasance," although 'misfeasance' might be a better term to use. I believe his decision to abandon the timber position and leave the valley before his support had a chance to materialize resulted in the direct failure of his advance guard mission that day.
Would Benteen have made the decision to charge himself out of the bottom - In my opinion - no way. Does that mean Custer lives or not - maybe not - because if Benteen goes to the sound of the first guns, he is probably supporting Reno.
I would suggest that Custer expected Benteen to go into the valley to support Reno's attack there. Had he done so, I believe Custer would have made an effort to cross the river at Ford B to envelop the enemy from behind. His odds of winning the fight would imo have been greatly improved had that occurred.
Maybe we need a role reversal thread, what if Benteen led the attack on the village and not Reno?
I have no doubt that Benteen would have held the timber position. His testimony at the RCOI strongly implied as much.
Last Edit: Jan 19, 2021 15:38:22 GMT -5 by moderator
My humble opinion - i think that the retrograde by Benteen was far better handled than the one by Reno. Reno wasn't out in the open - Reno could have worked his way back or forward if he kept his troops in check and commanded his three troops. Instead he retreated without ensuring his three troops commanders could follow those orders. Mistake #1. The question sometimes is whether the troops were about to break, I believe the Fred used to or still believes that, but I am on the fence there. However, running in mass formation from Lakota was suicide and almost every officer knew that, especially with horses that were not fresh, or the bad mounts that some troops had. Mistake #2. Then you are charging toward an unknown objective (note the 90 degree turn across a bad fording site. Mistake #3, and Mistake #4. Its not charging when you are avoiding contact, it is at best racing to a good terrain feature.
When Weir fell back Benteen dismounted the line behind him, Weir dismounted for the other two companies to fall back through in turn. And Benteen states (Goldin letters) that the reason why he did that is because he didn't want to basically do what Reno did. Troops MAG could have even moved dismounted -- not like they were going 10 miles.
Just me, it was stupid at best - Mark (and I am not saying I wouldn't have been stupid in that occasion)
Comment, Reno's movement from the valley to the hill was both a 'charge' and breakout, and a retreat... Being surrounded, he had to breakout by charging into the warriors. Reno has been criticised for not correcting conducting his retreat. But I do not see any good way to conduct a tactically sound retreat when you are surrounded by 50 to 100 to one odds! Was he to assign one company to stay behind and provide covering fire? They would be cut off and die. Was he to assign one company to wide at the rear and act to protect the command? Why would they have done any better? The 7th was set up to fight afoot. The carbines were useless mounted after the first shot- if your horse did not bolt out of control at that shot. The 6 shot revolvers were not intended to fight those odds a close range, and useless at medium to long range... I just can't imagine anyway to defend yourself and the rest while galloping to escape? Is there a good way, that would have cost them fewer men? Could they have gotten to the hill moving carefully instead of pell mell? Or was the fact that there were so many warriors that when charged, they did not flee, just moved out of the way that doomed the troops to heavy losses?
With the logic expressed above, it sounds like Reno should never have considered a breakout to begin with. It was always going to be a recipe for disaster, as well expressed by Capt. Thomas French, who basically said: "To attempt to run from mounted Indians is to throw life away."
I have never understood the ferocity of those who defend Reno's Breakout. He mounted his men, stopped returning fire, and the Lakota starting closing with him -- and that is when Bloody Knife goes down, Lorentz gets shot, one man gets shot in the knee -- the Lakota literally close to point blank range, and then he decides to run off with A mounted next to M, not firing at all; and over half of G basically left behind.
In the history of Plains Warfare, no defendable position was ever overran by Plains Indians, from Adobe Wells, to Beecher's Island, to the Wagon Box Fight, the Hayfield Fight -- if you could get cover, the Lakota would not enter. Here they stop firing - probably for a good few minutes, and sit there waiting to get an order, no trumpet call is sounded, no thought to defend the timber - which was thick enough to hide 20 men.
And yes, I realize that I will get the counter argument, of oh the ammunition was running out (although several accounts don't relay that fact when they say they fired 20 or 30 rounds). And how do you justify that when you absolutely know there are 9 other companies around you. The excuse of feeling abandoned seems very hollow to me. The charge that took a 90 degree turn to avoid contact, across a non-ford; that fortunately had a one horse wide trail to exit the river of death from - seems to be poorly planned. The lack of providing covering fire after crossing, well that is pretty inexcusable to me. Hare and Varnum certainly thought so, as they tried to organize a defense while being shot at.
So yes, I think at best a very Tactically stupid decision, managed very poorly, no trumpet calls (5 trumpeters actually make it to the hill) -- and the only thing that saves them 3 other companies riding up.
According to the expedition commander, who obviously asked Benteen about this: he was 'was some two (2) miles to the left of Reno when the action commenced'. Terry questioned Benteen and Benteen replied on 27th June 1876. At Benteen's walk of 5mph, that means he was about 20 minutes distant. Benteen arrived at Ford A to see Reno retreating away from him (Benteen). Therefore, Reno's engagement lasted about 15 minutes in total.
I'm not sure how anyone except Benteen being silly, could come up with 15 miles. He did write that or similar about up and down the hills to his wife but was he serious? Of course not. Things with Terry on 27th July were serious and Benteen was quite serious with Terry. Benteen also had quite a chat with Maguire about what went on.
Reno had not a clue where Benteen was and made the point fully and forcefully at Chicago in 1879. Bearing in mind the Cain of command, the only place Terry got that information was from Benteen himself. Primary source and the commanding officer's report of the battle, made two days later.
It is probably a good job you were not Benteen, then.
Do you think Reno could have done more, or held on until his support arrived?
I would say that Reno had a clue, because Reno saw Benteen's detachment leave, and he more than likely saw Custer on the ridges because many other people did, and as the battalion commander he is maneuvering his unit, and should be looking around (are we really sure Custer or Benteen's units had no dust trail at all if they were under a couple of miles away) - unless he is incompetent -- and he was experienced. So I also believe Reno unless he was an idiot had a fairly good idea that Custer was going down the other side of the river, and that because he was doing that he wasn't intending to invade Canada but to flank the village from the side.
Many people vary on what Reno knew, but he is a Major with over a decade experience as a field grade officer. If we give him any level of intelligence, he very well knew which way Custer went, and he should have easily been able to assume based on the fact that this was an assault on a village, that if Custer was on the other side of the river, he was flanking the enemy. To those who give Reno a free pass, I don't. If he had thought for 15 seconds on where Custer was he would have known. And when he did know for sure that Custer was down range getting shot at, he had so mishandled his breakout abandoning over 15 men, and leaving about 30 dead -- he was probably combat incapable of pursuing the battle. "For God Sake's Benteen don't leave me"..... (rough quote). The fact that he left the timber when he probably knew that Custer was on the other side of the river striking the village, implies to me -- that this didn't matter to him. Now I prepare for the volley fires that returnith.... VR Mark.
General of the Army (Medicine Man/Chief))
There are a couple of decent Reno discussions on the board, in the Officers who did section, and wealth of information, experience and opinion. On balance it is obvious to me that Reno put himself first and that involved 'saving' his men. He wen about it unusually and with him being an experienced and sober if small and tiny minded Officer of considerable service, I conclude the decsion to abandon the timber - wasn't a decision. It wasn't a panic either. It was a knee-jerk as he arrived from the timber glade into sun drenched confusion. Alternative theory might be along the lines that his horse, whose name eludesme..... damn..... a chestnut with four white socks..... damn..... well, it bolted. It did a Korn and took a powder at rapi gait and Reno was so drunk he managed to stay onboard. Deeply embedded into the warrior accounts given in the Ree Narratives, is first hand record of Reno losing his lunch during the first rally in climbing the bluffs but he may not have been alone in that.
Early in this topic, his sobriety is examined Topic in for and against and in rather good humour as well, . However, a simple reality is the man was drinking whether he held it or not and to state otherwise is an immense disrespect of those who simply told the way it was. Members of the AGM battalion stated Reno was drinking during the the advance in the valley, during the river crossing before that and he himself admitted that he drank but was pedantic with timing it. He had a drink in him - I doubt he was mixing the bottle's contents with river flow.
I once was in a knee-jerk kill or run, five on one, street fight - It took a millisecond from realising I had been stabbed by one of them, to light speed out of it and being a seriously fast mover, it worked. Reno was not in that situation or in a position to put his interests above the mission in his survival. It gets personal and focused because it's you and Officers by my experience are emotionally cynical. Some people fight better with a drink in them. Reno wasn't one.
No one knows what would have happened had Reno been supported in the valley but supported he was in the sense that Benteen was there with nowhere else to go until Reno tried to return to Ford A, and was railroaded into the river. His knee jerked and his mount, the fastest in the regiment, did its thing. Reno purchased horse fleash for the Union Army and knew the toothy end from the swishey bit.
He followed the river course-- not moving down the valley in a straight line, and when he could no longer be sure of what he was facing, he ordered a dismount and a skirmish line.
If you read the individual testimonies; if you try to put people in the places they said they were in; if you contextualize events and comments in their proper sequence, you must conclude this was a well-conducted series of events.
Best wishes, Fred.
The quote from the topic is by author of the latest Reno book which is profoundly flawed in vein flattery of shambles. The author is contrite beyond exceedingly in studied detail and numbers of participants to the point he should be able to name the 4-500 hostiles who rode from Weir's Peak, across MTC, to attack Yates, Keogh, Smith, Custer and Calhoun. This is profoundly absent the author's mindset and thinking.
If Reno's advance is considered, he was in pursuit of running Indians to close and engage if you accept that version of stuff; or to attack a village. For reasons too obvious to waste words upon - The advance in the valley did not skirt along the river timber and thought nee conviction that it did is lunacy and imposing it on Reno.
Reno's horse bolted. In reining it in he teased to the left.
At last, a sensible theory of the retreat into a river by a charging cavalry battalion.
Point of order. Custer's style of attack was aggressive, he also exercised timing which I guess is worthy of a discussion. Let not, it be lost, the humour in Reno's comment: ' That Sir, was a charge. 2ic to 'Sir Charge-a-lot!
You cannot dream this stuff up. Here's to 'F Troop'. Bring it back!!
Last Edit: Jun 9, 2021 4:35:42 GMT -5 by herosrest
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Post by benteeneast on Jun 9, 2021 10:06:05 GMT -5
Reno states he did not think the timber was defensible. The horses were there, so they had to go there. At least one company went directly to their horses and were mounted. I don't understand why people think they went to the timber on defense when the commander states it was not defensible.
While in the timber getting the horses, the Indians began to surround their location in overwhelming numbers. Sgt Ryan tells us this, and he believed they were minutes away from being destroyed. Reno ordered a breakout with a charge through the Indians. It worked, and the Indians gave way. The Indian accounts are consistent with the event. After a charge, you move to a rallying point. That would be on the bluffs. Here is where battle readiness or lack thereof becomes evident. In a retrograde such as this, your goal is to break contact and reform on the bluffs. It didn't happen here nor anywhere else on the battlefield. It wasn't just Reno's battalion that could not break contact with these Indians.
If they had shooters and could ride and shoot, the results could have been different. The expectation in a retrograde is not good, and casualties are a factor. We know that staying in place if you become fixed is not good, as evidenced on this battlefield.
Some will say running from Indians triggers a response and I agree but going after their families is just as deadly. Captain French, who was a shooter, was at the rear and shot several Indians. If they all could shoot like him, then moving away is not the same issue. He found himself in a target-rich environment.