University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Reno, Marcus A., 1835-1889, (Marcus Albert) / The official record of a court of inquiry convened at Chicago, Illinois, January 13, 1879, by the President of the United States upon the request of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th U.S. Cavalry, to investigate his conduct at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876

Twenty-fifth day,   pp. 530-542 PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 533

diverged to the left, and after going a distance which no one states to be
greater than two miles, was lost to the view of the rest of the column0 The
command thus diminished in number by the separation of Col. Benteen continued
in the direction in which it had been marching until it reached a point about
ten or twelve miles lower down, where there was a burning tepee containing
the body of a dead Indian. At this point Reno received an order from Gen.
Custer as commanding officer which governed his future action. It has been
stated in several ways, but all of them unite in declaring that he was to
charge the Indians, who had already been discovered in the bottom on the
side of the Little Big Horn, under a promise of support from Gen. Custervs
command. At the time that Reno received this order, he was accompanied by
Lieut. Wallace, whose testimony the court hzs heard, and by Lieut. Hodgson
who so bravely died in the charge. An orderly by the name of Davern, at that
time a private soldier who was in the rear of Major Reno, has testified to
recollection that is different from that of either M4aj. Reno or of Lieut.
Wallace, and which is also different from the recollection of Capt. Benteen;
he has sought to convey the impression that at the time this order was
communicated a statement was made, that Col. Benteen would be on Maj0 Reno~s
left and would have the same instructions that he had. It is hardly necessary
for us to linger to see how impossible this statement must be, for when he
was asked where Benteen was at that time in order to receive instructions,
Davern could not place him, and the whole testimony shows that Ienteen had
long before this been sent to the left and was already far out of sight0
Besides Capt. Benteen himself says that no such word was given him after
left the main column and none such ever reached at any later time0
    For the purposes of this case I think we can assume that the orderly
either misunderstood what the adjutant of Gen, Custer had stated to Major
Reno or else he wilfully stated what is not the fact.
    After the command was received Reno gave the order to trot and his
battalion moved down to the crossing of the river. The Indians had already
been seen on the river bottom0 Lieut, Varnum had had a glimpse of them from
the top of the knoll near the tepee; Band Girard, the Indian interpreter,
had also seen them and had told Gen. Custer in a loud voice that there were
the Indians and they were running like devils, The trail that Reno followed
led straight to a crossing which from the nature of the country and from
character of the troops, who were mounted, the Indians would expect the com-
mand to use, When the crossing was reached without any delay whatever the
battalion went to the other side of the river, and passing through a fringe
of timber such as follows the water courses on the Western prairies, halted
to reform0 Before them lay an open stretch of prairie covered slightly with
sage brush, with grass eaten by Indian ponies and the ground cut up by their
hoofs0 Before advancing from this point Maj. Reno saw enough of the Indians
who were approaching him, to judge of their numbers and their disposition.
He knew as Benteen knew, as Girard says he knew, that Gen. Custer believed
that the Indians were retreating, and he could fairly presume that the order
he had received from Gen, Custer had predicated on wrong information. He
sent back word by a private soldier who served him in the capacity of a body-
servant, whom Sergt, Culbertson saw on his way back over the river, that
Indians were all before him and that they were very strong0 Not receiving
an answer as he had expected he again sent back word by a man named Mitchell,
and as neither of them.ever returned or were ever again seen alive it is
to infer that they succeeded in reaching the main column. Girard himself
testified that he saw Indians advancing up tha valley in such large numbers
that he called >!aj. Renoes attention to the fact; and not satisfied with
that, that he turned back from the river's edge and met Adjt, Cook and told
him of that fact, and that the Adjutant promised to inform Gen. Custer of
Adjt, Cook died on the lower hills with Gen. Custer and it is safe to say
that he performed his promise,
    Major Reno was justified in. sending back this word to his commander,
because he believed that he was being followed by him; and Lieut0 Wiallace
testified that Gen. Custer's Adjutant and Capt, Keogh, who also fell with
Custer, accompanied tenons command until within a very short distance of
river, Without any further delay, Maj. Reno formed two companies into line

Go up to Top of Page