Ryan observes here that they mounted their horses without any effective cover fire from any of the troops, thus allowing the Indians to close in at will and direct their fire at them like sitting ducks while they remain a disorganized mass sitting in their saddles. Disorder and chaos begin to ensue, with no trumpet calls being issued for the men to follow orders.
Do you really think that French was going to direct fire toward what he thought was Custer's troops? I think that if French thought it was Custer's troop than he must have anticipated that the "support" would be coming sooner rather than later.
I suspect that French thought they were mounting up in anticipation of a charge or advance against the Indians, and he mistook the warriors coming up in their rear (depending on which direction you think he meant by the term 'rear') with the troops Custer had told Reno would be supporting him in the valley -- ie. Benteen's battalion, which should have arrived at that time had Benteen not delayed so long at the watering hole. What French was not expecting at that time was an order to flee the valley, as he indicated later.
Bill you can have all kinds of interpretations but it does not change what they did. Since we are discussing Sgt Ryan and his observations I will stick with what he observed and what we have recorded.
At best I view your interpretations as done in a debriefing, at least how we carry out operations, but not in the way that you do it. When we debrief we start with what went right, than what we could improve on (rather than the negative types comments that Bill likes to make), we look for improvements in tactics and equipment.
At the end we come up with items we can share with other groups, training needs, tactics improvements, and equipment recommendations.
If you look at Sgt Ryan's assessment of the current troops in the 7th it should give anyone an impression of what he thought of thier battle readiness. From that assessment of battle readiness you choose what tactics that you believe you can preform with what you have on the ground. That Sgt Ryan expanded on that should give everyone a clue. Thier choice may have been different with different troops on the ground that day.
None of us will ever have all the that first hand information that those Officers and NCOs had in making decisions. Of course you can do it better on the computer. No one gets hurts if your wrong.
I think Sgt Ryan noting the circling Indians tells troops and others looking at the decision making what the next action/reaction should be. I think the reaction to that is similar to being flanked you know you have do something and should be aware of the tactics to defeat the flanking.
I think we tend to underestimate the mindset of horse mounted troops when thier horses are in jeopardy. I believe their was a greater dependence during the Indian War effort than the CW also.
I think, in attempting to evaluate Ryan's account of the situation, we must give just as much consideration to what he chooses to leave out of his observations than what he chooses to say in print. Ryan left an awful lot of important detail out of his rather bare-bones account. From the little he does say, one can get the mistaken impression that he was defending the decision to evacuate the timber due to its indefensibility, yet, he never states that at all. He merely told us the obvious, that if they did not leave when they did, their retreat would have been cut off and they would have been forced to remain and defend the timber position, which is what they were expected by Custer to do in any event, and which was vital to the accomplishment of their mission at that point.
Ryan, for whatever reasons, probably CYA for his Regiment, decided to leave out these rather important observations:
1) Who ordered the retreat from the valley skirmish line back to the timber position?
2) Were both troops (A & M) on the valley skirmish line ordered to fall back at the same time, or at different times?
3) Were the troops ordered to disregard the defense of the timber position and fall back to their horses, or fall back to defend the timber position?
4) If all the troops were ordered to fall back to their horses, how did they expect to keep the Indians from coming in close to direct a deadly fire on their command?
5) How long were the troops allowed to sit defenseless on their horses while in the timber?
6) How were the troops organized to exit the timber? Or did was it every man for himself?
7) Did Ryan understand that the retreat from the valley would be conducted with no rear guard or covering force? And did Ryan believe that losing one third of his battalion was an acceptable price to pay for leaving the timber how and when they did?
8) Did Ryan approve of leaving 15 to 20 men behind in the attempt to escape the valley when they did?
9) If he realized there would be no rear guard on the retreat, did he really believe their casualties would be less than if they stayed longer to defend the timber position until their support arrived from Benteen and Custer?
So, in my view, what Ryan says is a lot less important than what he chooses not to say in his comments on the valley fight.
All good questions Bill but how do expect Ryan to answer them?
We can only speculate. I do think it relevant that, for whatever reason, 1st Sgt. Ryan chose not to reveal anything at all about those vitally important questions and instead chose to focus on the rather bare-bones explanation he gave -- at least to the reading public. I suspect he was not entirely happy about how things played out that day and wished to keep most of these questions out of the public debate, as the answer to many, if not most, of them would present the 7th and their officers in a less than flattering light, at least as it pertains to the valley fight. In this regard, the less said, the better.
"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."