George Armstrong Custer -- Hero or Nut-job?

Feb 2017
423
Minneapolis
#51
Reno was erratic and indecisive - after he got a faceful of Bloody Knife's blood and brains. Before that, Reno was neither.

Reno was sent against a force which was both larger and more willing to fight than Custer had expected. Rather than charging into a force that vastly outnumbered him, Reno formed a skirmish line. When the Indians attempted to flank him, Reno recessed his flank. By this point, firing was intense enough some soldiers reported difficulty in hearing commands or even bugle calls. Reno conferred with an officer covering his flank with both concluding that maintaining position would result in their being cut off, surrounded, and overwhelmed by the Indians. There was no sign of Custer coming to support them, so Reno ordered a fallback to the woods, which was accomplished in decent order. Falling back to better defensive positions was a logical and reasonable action, not an act of cowardice or indecision. Custer attempted the same when he realized how badly he was outnumbered.

Reno’s fallback position was not as safe as he had thought. He asked the scout, Bloody Knife, what he thought the enemy would do next, when a bullet struck Bloody Knife in the head, splattering blood and brains in Reno’s face. Let me try to convey some of what Reno experienced in that moment.

Reno was facing Bloody Knife, probably leaning close, trying to hear and be heard over the din of battle. Bloody Knife may not have been a friend, but Reno respected his opinion. Then half of Bloody Knife’s face disappears, leaving a horror of torn flesh and glistening bone. Reno may feel shards of tooth or bone embed in his cheeks. He definitely feels gobbets of flesh and brain, splashes of blood strike him in the face. It’s in Reno’s hair. It’s in his eyes. It’s in his open mouth. Reno doesn’t just see Bloody Knife’s death, he hears it, he feels it, he smells it, he tastes it. But the horror is not over – Bloody Knife is mortally wounded, not instantly dead. The catastrophic brain injury sends random nerve impulses to Bloody Knife’s muscles, which spasm in a grotesque mockery of dancing before he collapses. If Reno is lucky, Bloody Knife doesn’t collapse into Reno’s arms. If Reno is lucky he’s in enough shock he doesn’t register the way Bloody Knife’s body continues to twitch until it finally gives up its hopeless struggle for life or hear the noises that come from the dying man’s mouth. If Reno is lucky, it’s not until later he realizes the bullet that hit Bloody Knife must have missed Reno’s own head by inches.

It’s an experience Reno will never be able to forget, something that will give him nightmares for the rest of his life. It would drive many past their breaking point into numb immobility or helpless weeping or uncontrollable screaming or shooting themselves to make the horror go away. Reno was pushed near to his limit – he was dazed and confused, impaired enough that some thought he was drunk.

The wonder is that Reno was functioning at all. He fell back hastily and in some disorder, but Reno did not totally collapse. The retreat had an objective – a defensive position on high ground, and it stopped there. About a third of Reno’s men died in the retreat, but when some of Custer’s forces tried to withdraw from Calhoun Hill to Last Stand Hill, only about one in six made it.



Philbrick does say that "Given the immense size of the village, it only made sense to wait for reinforcements before initiating the attack." Yet Custer had 80 to 90 more men than he'd ordered Reno to attack the village with.



If Custer delayed 45 minutes then Benteen might have been able to join Custer if Benteen abandoned Reno and the pack train in the face of the enemy.

In 1919, White Man Runs Him said "Custer moved slowly, taking lots of time and stopping occasionally. He did not leave that place until Reno had started fighting." and "Custer had come down Medicine Tail Creek and was moving toward the river. The Indians saw him there, and all began running that way. There were thousands of them. Custer tried to cross the river at the mouth of Medicine Tail Creek, but was unable to do so."

Also in 1919, White Man Runs Him said "Custer's men did not fire at all on this side. Custer believed that Reno's command was all killed because they were retreating into the bluff and the dust was flying. The scouts believed that Reno's outfit was all killed. It was hard to tell because the dust was flying and they were retreating so fast. I know for sure that Custer went right to the river bank. I saw him go that far. The Sioux were right across the river. Then Custer fired. That was the first firing Custer did." and "Custer was reckless. Instead of Custer going ahead and starting at the same time as Reno, Custer held back and did not start until he saw Reno fighting. That was poor generalship."

In 1916, Hairy Moccasin said "Custer yelled to us to stop, then told us to go to the high hill ahead (the high point just north of where Reno later entrenched). From here we could see the village and could see Reno fighting. He had crossed the creek. Everything was a scramble with lots of Sioux. The battle was over in a few minutes. We thought they were all killed." and "When we met Custer he asked, "How is it?" I said, "Reno's men are fighting hard." We went with the command down into a dry gulch where we could not see the village."

Some time before 1920, Goes Ahead was summarized as saying "Custer rode to the edge of the high bank and looked over to the place where Reno's men were, as though planning the next move. When they had arrived at about the point where Lieutenant Hodgson's headstone was placed later, the three Crow scouts saw the soldiers under Reno dismounting in front of the Dakota camp and thought that the enemy were "too many." Custer's command went down the draw toward the lower ford on the run. "

All three scouts accounts indicate that Custer did not hurry - until he saw Reno was losing, at which point Custer quickly advanced towards the river. None of these accounts support the idea that Custer dawdled for 45 minutes.
Points taken. I can only imagine the shocking impact of Bloody Knife's death. I still think Reno's order to halt the charge and form a skirmish line was an act of indecisiveness. A decision to make a cautious approach should have been made earlier. A number of Indians thought that, had the charge been carried through, it would have been devastating. The village was surprised. Reno's halt gave the warriors time to gather and prepare for battle.

According to Philbrick, Custer's supposed waiting around for 45 minutes comes from three Crow scouts who said they were with Custer at the time. White Man Runs Him "scolded" Custer for not descending to help Reno and reported Custer's reply: "No, let them fight, there will be plenty of fighting left for us to do." As I indicated above, I doubt the testimony but it is testimony and I think Philbrick rightly presents it. (p207, "Last Stand")
 
Feb 2017
423
Minneapolis
#52
I visited the Little Bighorn battlefield last Thursday and had a good time, spent 5 hours there. The terrain is rougher than I thought. I was most surprised by the steepness of the slopes near where Reno's men retreated from the river. Essentially unclimbable, especially on horseback, you can see where the troopers were forced to go up a narrow ravine that wasn't so steep which bunched them up and where they suffered the most casualties.

I just finished Lakota Noon (Michno). I like the format -- breaking the battle up into 10-minute segments, offering paraphrased accounts of the various Indian participants with maps tracing the movement of the Indians giving the accounts which is followed by a discussion section. A couple of assertions that Michno makes:

1. Gall wasn't really an instrumental leader that other accounts make him out to me. He was late getting to the battle and there's little or no corroboration that he led any attacks.

2. Crazy Horse didn't make a sweeping move around to the north. He and his followers did get around to the east side of Custer's command. Apparently Crazy Horse was trying to decide what to do when his companion, White Bull, dashed off on a dare ride through a gap in Keogh's line on Battle Ridge, circled around and came back through another gap. That's when Crazy Horse decides to do the same thing with his whole group. Was it just a big dare ride or was it tactical? I'll give him credit for being tactical. The charge cut Keogh's command, panicked the troopers and precipitated its destruction on Calhoun Hill.
 
Oct 2009
3,337
San Diego
#53
I visited the Little Bighorn battlefield last Thursday and had a good time, spent 5 hours there. The terrain is rougher than I thought. I was most surprised by the steepness of the slopes near where Reno's men retreated from the river. Essentially unclimbable, especially on horseback, you can see where the troopers were forced to go up a narrow ravine that wasn't so steep which bunched them up and where they suffered the most casualties.

I just finished Lakota Noon (Michno). I like the format -- breaking the battle up into 10-minute segments, offering paraphrased accounts of the various Indian participants with maps tracing the movement of the Indians giving the accounts which is followed by a discussion section. A couple of assertions that Michno makes:

1. Gall wasn't really an instrumental leader that other accounts make him out to me. He was late getting to the battle and there's little or no corroboration that he led any attacks.

2. Crazy Horse didn't make a sweeping move around to the north. He and his followers did get around to the east side of Custer's command. Apparently Crazy Horse was trying to decide what to do when his companion, White Bull, dashed off on a dare ride through a gap in Keogh's line on Battle Ridge, circled around and came back through another gap. That's when Crazy Horse decides to do the same thing with his whole group. Was it just a big dare ride or was it tactical? I'll give him credit for being tactical. The charge cut Keogh's command, panicked the troopers and precipitated its destruction on Calhoun Hill.

Actually... It was Gall- as you say, running late, who saw custer's column retreating after the attempt to cross at medicine tail coulee- he had been drawn there by the Four Cheyenne who had apparently dropped Custer from his saddle in midriver which caused the detachment to withdraw.
It was Gall's small group that then doubled back north, crossed the river about a quarter mile down, and then circled around to surprise Custers detachment- which had dismounted to assess Custer's condition.

It was Gall's group firing at Custer's detachment that drew others to the massacre site- including Crazy Horse- who at the time was harassing Reno.

oh- and of course, none of them knew it was custer they were fighting.
 
Oct 2009
3,337
San Diego
#54
Points taken. I can only imagine the shocking impact of Bloody Knife's death. I still think Reno's order to halt the charge and form a skirmish line was an act of indecisiveness. A decision to make a cautious approach should have been made earlier. A number of Indians thought that, had the charge been carried through, it would have been devastating. The village was surprised. Reno's halt gave the warriors time to gather and prepare for battle.

According to Philbrick, Custer's supposed waiting around for 45 minutes comes from three Crow scouts who said they were with Custer at the time. White Man Runs Him "scolded" Custer for not descending to help Reno and reported Custer's reply: "No, let them fight, there will be plenty of fighting left for us to do." As I indicated above, I doubt the testimony but it is testimony and I think Philbrick rightly presents it. (p207, "Last Stand")

Reno was NEVER ordered to charge. Reno never intended to charge.
Reno was ordered to dismount and enfilade the village from outside the village on the upriver side.

This was Custer's Entire tactic. Natives would not form a line of battle... and any charge always ended up a melee. Custer figured the only tactic that would work for a cavalry unit was to drawn the warriors out, away from the village, to form a line of defense on one side of the village. This would not only draw most of the native firepower out... but get their rifles pointed at men in skirmish cover. This created the village as the native rear... Custer would then lead his own detachment in a cavalry charge from the opposite side of the village ( now the native rear ) and capture ALL their lodges, stores, women and children... All with very few native rifles pointed his way. His objective was to seize native materiel and families to force the surrender of the warriors...

Custer used this technique several times in his indian fighting career... splitting his forces and having one detachment enfilade on foot from outside the village. So, Sorry, Reno never was going to charge. He wasn't supposed to. He was a diversion to draw the warrior's firepower OUT of the village to leave it susceptible to Custer getting to grab all the glory of a charge.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
2,838
Sydney
#55
Custer was a cavalryman , by definition having more balls than brain
it's a job description .
Antoine Chales Louis de Lasalle , as mad and brave a rider as one could get said
"a light cavalryman still alive at thirty is a wan...ker "
 
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Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,975
US
#56
Custer was an man of his time. Like most military officers, he wanted glory and fame. Like most officers, he was told, "there is the enemy," and he worked to defeat that perceived enemy. People should be very careful not to judge historical characters by the values we hold today. It isn't fair.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,433
Stockport Cheshire UK
#57
Custer wasn’t mad he was brave but he was also over confident and a little reckless, an often fatal mixture
 

unclefred

Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
6,729
Oregon coastal mountains
#59
The idea that Custer was shot at the river crossing is an old canard that I'm surprised is still repeated.

One of the major misconceptions of the Little Bighorn fight is that Custer was shot down in a midstream charge while crossing the river. The idea stems from two sources: one was the Lakota White Cow Bull, and the other was two Crow scouts who were not there. Many other Indian eyewitnesses who were there never said anything of the sort.....
It is clear from the explanations of the Indians who were there that Custer’s soldiers never got across the river, or even into it; the Indians were already on the east (north) bank fighting them. Where do we get the idea that Custer was killed in the river? Mostly from White Cow Bull. His story has caused more mischief than almost any of the tales that have been circulated about the battle.
It is only White Cow Bull who supposedly said that he and Bobtail Horse shot a buckskin-clad soldier in the river. Neither Bobtail Horse nor any of the other Indians who were there mention anything of the sort – they don’t even say White Cow Bull was there. Yet, White Cow Bull says that he, almost single-handed, stopped a full-scale cavalry charge in midstream. No other Lakota or Cheyenne saw it. They were not fighting on the river, but east of it. White Cow Bull’s story is just that – bull.
Gregory Michno-

Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn | HistoryNet
 
Last edited:
Oct 2009
3,337
San Diego
#60
The idea that Custer was shot at the river crossing is an old canard that I'm surprised is still repeated.



Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn | HistoryNet
Just cause someone wrote that its a myth- doesn't mean its not true'
What is your ARGUMENT?
Custer wounded at the river is the ONLY rational and credible explanation for why Custer's column failed to cross the river.

It is the only explanation for why his detachment utterly failed to defend themselves when Reno was able to find and establish a defensible ground in the same terrain and was able to hold off the ENTIRE native force for two full days.

We KNOW his detachment ENTERED the river at medicine tail coulee. We KNOW that not a single shod horse made it to the other side.

We KNOW that Gall reported he arrived at the river crossing to see Custer's detachment in full retreat- and that gall only had 20 men with him - Gall's men fired no shots at the crossing, And 20 men would not have been enough to scare Custer off.

We Know that the Cheyenne who were camped AT the river crossing reported that the only 4 warriors they had at hand countercharged Custer's detachment, and THEY reported that they fired a SINGLE volley, and ONE man dropped into the river and the detachment stopped, picked him up, and then retreated.

That is the reportage of the people ON THE SCENE AS IT UNFOLDED...So what is you explanation of these first hand accounts?

Tell us... WHICH member of the detachment, falling from his horse mid charge, would have gotten Custer to STOP- and then Withdraw?


Custer was NOT a personal coward- and he was infamous for his disregard for his own men's lives... Given that modern forensics shows that there was No significant exchange of fire at the river crossing...What possible rational cause could explain Custer charing down the coulee and into the river... but then turning tail and running?


We know Custer suffered two wounds- One in the chest and one in the temple.
We know he was NOT scalped. ALL the men on the field who had similar close contact head wounds were ALSO not scalped. That can only mean that no brave shot them in the head... Natives did not scalp men who killed themselves because their was no honor in their hair. they could not claim that death.

So Custer MUST have been shot in the chest, first.

When did THAT happen?


Sorry uncle fred but no CLAIM that he was not shot at the crossing is even remotely credible if it can not explain ALL the other evidence on the field.

that RENO survived as well as he did, and Custer's detachment did not, especially given that Reno was entrenched for some time before he heard the crescendo of fire that signalled the massed attack on Custer's men argues strongly that Custer was NOT in command. Custer should have been able to find a similar escarpment along the banks, and set up a perimeter given that Reno had more than enough time to do the same. He didn't. More in keeping with Custer's Civil war history would have been for Custer to STAY mounted, and rely on his faster horses to beat a path back to Reno... he did not.

Even more in keeping with Custer's history would have been for him to Complete the charge, regardless of who got dropped at the river, and continue on to relieve Reno by attacking his attackers in their rear.

Custer had a CLEAR plan of attack... and he utterly failed to follow thru. Why?



Sorry- I believe the Cheyenne's version- and Gall's. They saw the column coming down the coulee... cried out in alarm, and as the column entered the river 4 cheyenne fired a volley that dropped a man.
A Man in Front.

Custer was not KILLED at the river... and his men, unwilling to let him drown, stopped and picked him up and withdrew to assess his condition. They stopped and dismounted to deal with a wounded Custer... and THAT was how Gall reported finding them...
dismounted.

From that point on it was a running fight. Perhaps Gall's men shot or stole some of their horses...leaving them no choice but to stand, or abandon some number of men afoot.
But all their subsequent actions show NO clear command initiative.

That argues that Custer- tho still breathing, must have been either unconscious, or mentally incapacitated.


this scenario perfectly explain ALL evidence on the site. Even the fact that Custer's own rifle was never fired until the very end of the battle- because Custer COULDN'T fire it...


It is possible that Custer rallied enough to be actively firing near the end ... and that he shot himself in the temple at the last extreme. Or it could be that one of his own men was firing his rifle defending an incapacitated Custer and that He shot Custer in the head at the final extreme before doing himself.-

But there is NO other thing that COULD have happened that would explain Custer's failure to cross the river against such light resistance.
 
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