In my opinion he did just like he testified, and from near Ford A he saw the last of Reno’s skirmish line hotly pressed and falling back into the shelter of some timber two miles away, a disturbing sight which made him discard the option of entering a valley thick with hundreds of victorious warriors; and 15 minutes and one mile later, when approaching Reno Hill, he and his men saw the beaten battalion breaking through the hostiles and fleeing across the river up to a point on the bluffs just over half a mile ahead. This is what Benteen, his officers and men distinctly recalled, and I see no reason to put this in doubt, since it fits nicely with the timing of events as recalled by survivors of the Valley Fight.
As I told in my previous post, your interpretation makes perfect sense only if we put aside the sworn testimony of Benteen and Edgerly, but I don’t think we have any right to do so. Benteen made clear before the Court that his first sight of the valley was of Reno’s last men being beaten back to the point of timber about two miles from Ford A, and that he saw nothing else –at that time there were no more troops in sight but that small, regular skirmish line.
Yes, Benteen said that the line was being charged and recharged, but he was nearly 2 miles away, so this was either an optical effect for its being almost surrounded –braving the feint charges of Indians circling around its front and flanks– or a natural attempt to justify his prudent decision of not rushing across the river without first assessing a situation which looked very serious and was completely unexpected. Otherwise Benteen would not have felt compelled to speculate before the Court about the whereabouts of the rest of the command, which he SUPPOSED had retreated somewhere else. By that time it was undoubtly in the timber, since Benteen was seeing the whole Indian force –900 warriors– circling around in the valley rather than approaching his own position by wildly galloping in pursuit of Reno. After his ignorance of the latter’s actual location, and his dramatic exaggeration that they were charging and recharging that skirmish line, it’s evident that the hostiles’ attention was exclusively centered in the timber position towards which the line was falling back.
In other words, the 900 Indians Benteen saw from Ford A were not overruning and pursuing Reno’s battalion, but circling around a small skirmish line in the valley bottom. Standing nearly two miles away, I guess Benteen would have had the impression that those braves (in the foreground) galloping back and forth around the front and flanks of the line (in the background of the picture) were apparently going through it. Of course we know it was not so, since 13 or 15 bodies at skirmish intervals “a la Calhoun” were not found pinned to the ground with arrows just outside Reno’s timber. Therefore Benteen was not lying to the court, but saying what was his impression at the time. It would have been easier for him to testify that the first thing he saw in the valley was not a fight going on but a battle already over, with Reno’s command in full flight for the bluffs. This would have been the easiest justification for his keeping on the right bank of the river, but also an outright lie and an unnecessary perjury.
And I don’t think that Benteen was much off the mark in his placement of the skirmish line in the Daily Graphic sketch. It all depends on how you interpret the artist’s view of the terrain. Benteen marked the point of dismount and also the place where the line was formed and stood for a short time with the horse-holders right behind in the open. Then the line advanced while the horses were sheltered into some timber to the right and rear (Pitsch’s timber), then stopped as shown in the sketch, resting its right on the westernmost fringe of timber edging the Garryowen Loop (Vaughn’s timber). As to Maguire, he did depict the line at the point of dismount, and this should be obvious since the park clearing in his sketch is ahead of the line. When the line advanced, the clearing was left to its right and rear, where all witnesses say it was during the fight.
As to your analysis about the timing of the retreat, you know that the line did not retire as a whole: first its right flank bunched, then most of the men made their retreat (under orders or maybe on their own), and finally the extreme left, all alone, carried out its own retreat –and in better order than the rest. I guess that the bunching began 5 minutes after the firing started; 10 minutes later most of the line was going for cover into Vaughn’s timber and within another 10 into Pitsch’s to get closer to the horses, while simultaneously the extreme left made its fighting retreat towards the safety of the Pitsch timber. This more or less orderly retrograde would have ended about 14.00 p.m., and in my opinion the battalion would have dismounted 40-45 minutes earlier, advancing to Vaughn’s and starting the fight at 1:30 as seen by Martin while approaching Reno Hill. It’s at about that time, 1:30 p.m., that some of Benteen’s men heard faint firing in the distance and Co. D left the waterhole (3 miles from Ford A, as per Kanipe and others) in a rush, being soon overtaken by Benteen himself so that it was the Captain the first in meeting Kanipe within half a mile later, and then Martin one mile farther on at about 1:45 or 1:50. It was then that Benteen & orderly would have spurred their horses to ride over one mile in say 7 minutes, in time to see from the vecinity of Ford A the last stages of Co. M’s retreat into the timber nearly two miles ahead –and nothing else but hundreds of circling Indians, as Benteen insisted in his testimony.
Having decided to keep the river between himself and the mass of victorious warriors, Benteen moved his command with due caution along Custer’s trail until he ordered a halt a few hundred yards south of Reno Hill, two miles and 30 minutes after Martin had met the battalion. Then Benteen and his officers rode to a lookout in the edge of the bluffs where some friendly scouts were calling them out. The time would be 2:20 p.m., and since ten minutes earlier Reno had panicked when fired upon by warriors inflitrating the Pitsch timber, the scene evolving before the eyes of Benteen and his men would have been as terrifying as they all described: troopers being chased up, unhorsed and hacked to pieces in the valley bottom, some fortunate ones still struggling to get across the river, and others already climbing the bluffs or crowning the top, just half a mile or so ahead (as per Godfrey and Edgerly). This scene had nothing to do with the one Benteen and his orderly (and nobody else) had sighted 20 or 25 minutes earlier from the vecinity of Ford A, i.e. the fighting retreat of Co. M, which he saw taking place –as he repeatedly insisted under oath– nearly 2 miles ahead.
Members of Weir’s company enjoyed a more complete sight because, as you know, Co. D separated from the others and trailed Benteen down Reno Creek in his solitary ride to Ford A. For this reason the Company reached the battalion’s halting point near Reno Hill along a different route closer to the river, and this is why Lt. Edgerly was able to see the stampede of Reno from its starting point at the timber; though he clarified to the Court that at the time he thought those horsemen to be hostiles in full flight from the attacked village, not cavalrymen.
I agree with you and DeRudio in thinking that it was about 2:20 p.m. that the warriors checked their pursuit at the sight of Benteen’s approaching battalion; but I would say that the cavalry formation seen by DeRudio was Co. D moving up the bluffs from the vecinity of Ford A, since the other companies did not move towards the ford as if intending to cross it, like DeRudio remarked.
In my opinion Benteen may have been not aware that Reno performed two retreats in disarray –one to the timber, one to the bluffs– in both of which men on foot were left behind. However he did see portions of both and, for clarity’s sake, in his narratives he mixed them into one and the same retreat; but, under oath, it seems that Benteen did prefer to stick to the facts as seen by himself.
And it’s needless to say that I fully share your enthusiasm and delight in these discussions!
Last Edit: Apr 11, 2021 22:21:55 GMT -5 by moderator
General of the Army (Medicine Man/Chief))
Benteen added detail to a sketch of the little Bighorn valley made during the visit in 1877 to exhume and remove Officer's remains. The published sketch with Benteen's information is shown above and retouched to lighten the detail. This sketch was used at the Reno Court of Inquiry according to W.A. Graham and much later formed the basis of revised thinking about the valley fight which was published by Kuhlman and Brininstool.
It is difficult to visualise the valley as portrayed and relate the three lines to actual locations but is none the less important contribution to understanding evolving understanding of the valley fighting and locating the point of timber. There is a timing problem of course because Benteen was not a participant or observer of the dismount, advance and fighting. It would be extremely worthwhile to learn where and how Benteen gained the information. I haven't tried relating the sketch to Lt. Maguire's or his 1876 & 1877 maps yet but that may help to understand Benteen's idea of things. There is also Benteen's 1876 sketch map of the battle to consider and help things along.
Last Edit: Sept 24, 2020 2:23:55 GMT -5 by herosrest
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General of the Army (Medicine Man/Chief))
I could perhaps outline my own concept of the advance to contact in the valley, if that might help, and have it shot at and modified by members and see what we can see. There are loads of pearls of wisdom and insight amongst those with an interest here and let's do the third skirmish line.
Gerry Shultz did a very insightful study, which..... Wow..... His website remains. Hoorah! Polf Design and Peter Thompson.