- Dec 2011
Couple of thoughts on Reno stopping the charge come to mind. First, to just charge through the camp (couple of miles long) as fast as 120 men can ride does no good. Just alerts everyone. Even though a fast paced situation, if there is no hesitation for killing and destruction, the charge is just so much of a race to see if the Indians can catch up. Sort of like Reno setting up an alarm instead of being the attacker. If you read the details of cavalry attacks upon Indian villages, it is not just a race through the village counting coup.Still, Reno made some dubious decisions: Halting his mounted charge to form a picket line, giving the otherwise surprised Indians time to get their act together. The order to retreat that turned into a bloody rout. Unwillingness to go with Benteen to try to hook up with Custer then deciding to follow him after Benteen left with his companies. Philbrick paints a picture that Reno's behavior was erratic and indecisive.
I've gotten to the point in the narrative where Custer apparently dwaddles for 45 minutes after Reno has engaged the Indians. It's a mystery as to why. Testimony from three Crow scouts suggests he was deliberately letting Reno get chewed up so he could ultimately claim the victory all to himself. Philbrick is noncommittal. It doesn't seem right to me, however. Custer may have despised Reno but it doesn't seem like he would deliberately leave the men under Reno's command to be slaughtered. And even if Reno were successful, the victory would still be Custer's as it was his overall command. My guess is that he thought Reno could hold his own and he was waiting for the Indians to commit themselves before he attacked.
But also, the sheer size of the camp will swallow a spread line of 120 riders into itself and fold around those men unless they keep moving fast.
A difficult charge to be certain, this business of attacking while greatly outnumbered.
But, while those are just a couple of my personal thoughts, here is a nice quote from the very famous Custer historian, W A Graham. By 1926, Colonel Graham is the Judge Advocate of the US Army and has quite a reputation for digging into the details and interviewing anyone he could. He had some correspondence with Major Carter who was retired but had been with General Miles during the campaign. Carter had referred to Reno as "cowardly poltroon" in a prior correspondence. Here is part of Graham's reply:
"The truth is - and I think you will recognize it when you think it over - that most of the criticism and condemnation of Reno comes from men who were not there with him in the valley, nd whose ideas upon that matter were based on hearsay - not always too accurate; and upon the natural disdain that arose from his passing of the buck to Benteen, as soon as the latter came up.
I hold no brief for Reno; but I believe in giving even the devil his due; and it is not necessary to attack and condemn Reno in order to account for what happened to Custer.
Don't forget that Reno's 112 wee opposed in the valley by not more than 25% of the Indians at any time. There were never to exceed 800 or 900 of them. The rest - fully 2500 or 3000, were attacking Custer before Reno's retreat got under way. There was no hope for Custer before Reno's retreat got under way. There was no hope for Custer from the moment he abandoned his intention to support Reno from the rear. His command was doomed as soon as it rode down the river. . . . ."
Graham went on to question whether Crook should be considered a 'cowardly poltroon' for his retreat a week before at the Rosebud?
Anyway, quite interesting stuff. Lots of Custer opinions out there from good sources on all sides. I personally find a couple of weak spots in Graham's analysis. For one thing, his timeline of Custer being attacked before Reno retreats may be a bit aggressive as to Custer's movement. Also, the number of Indians may be a bit inflated. However, that is the studied opinion of Colonel Graham.