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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 535

with Capt. Moylan to see the situation for himself, He becomes convinced
that it is his duty to retire the men from the skirmish line and bring them
into the timber, and in that act he is abundantly confirmed by the judgment
of those who were with him. All testify that the number of Indians was con-
stantly increasing and Sergt, Culbertson has given it, as his opinion, that
if the skirmish line had not been retired, within three minutes of the time
it was, he did not think any man would have gotten off the line. Reno,
unsupported as he was, was then forced to decide what duty he owed his command
and his commanding officer, and he decided to leave the timber,
   Was he justified in this act? Lieut, Wallace says: "rWe were surrounded
and in a bad position to defend ourselves", and he approved the going
to high-
er ground. He said that it was about the only thing that could have been
done under the circumstances. Lieut. Varnum testifies that "at the time
the retreat, a good many bullets had begun to drop from the woods from our
rear. Whether the bullets came from the bluffs above or from the bottom I
do not know, but I know that quite a lively shower came in from our rear
toward the river." He further says: "The position we held in the
timber -
I do not know exactly its size, but it was large enough so thatwith the
number of men we actually had in the timber,those three companies that were
under Col. Reno - it does not seem to me they could cover the entire position
which they must necessarily hold in order to keep the Indians out of the
timber. We could not let them come in there with usn We had to occupy
the position as the ground lays in order to hold it at all, It does not seem
to me that we had men enough to hold the entire circle of the timber".
    He testifies again in another part of the proceeding to the same effect.
Capt0 M4oylan, in answer to whether a formation could not have been made
the timber to have held it, says - "With a formation of that kind with
number of men at Maj. Reno2s disposal the line would be necessarily so short
that it would not extend to the bank at the outer edge of the timber, In
my opinion had such a formation as that been made the Indians could have
possessed themselves of this bank at the edge of the timber and been on mach
higher ground than Maj. Reno's men could have been on the bottom. Therefore
it would have made the position there perfectly indefensible0" He says
another place "I think the most judicious course was to leave the timber
possible. Had the command staid there thirty minutes longer, I doubt if
it would have gotten out with as many men as it did". Again he says
command was virtually driven but not exactly driven. It would have been
driven from the timber in a very short time". Lieut. Hare testifies
Maj. Reno's command remained in the timber until all hope of support from
Gen. Custer had vanished.  Again he says - "The impression produced
upon my
mind by the movement from the timber was that M4aj. Reno thought that we
would be shut up in there and the best way out would be to charge. The
whole business impressed me that if he was going to get out of there, that
was the best way to do it,
    A number of questions were asked the witnesses with regard to Maj., Reno's
ability to continue in the timber if he had been joined by Col. Benteen.
A sufficient answer to this is that P4aJ. Reno knew that Benteen had been
ordered away from the column before he (Reno) had been directed to make his
charge - that he was in entire ignorance of the orders given to Benteen
and therefore had no reason to expect him to support him; and Benteen further
says, that Reno was not Justified at all in expecting that he (Benteen)
under orders given him by Gen. Custer, could render him any support whatever0
    In addition to the increasing number of Indians and the threatening
positions that they occupied on his rear and flank, Maj. Reno found another
difficulty. And that was the want of ammunition. It is in evidence that
Lieut. DeRudio heard him tell the men while on skirmish line to use their
ammunition with care, but it is also true as Capt. Mloylan states, that some
of the men had already expended half the number of cartridges that they had
brought across the river, and therefore that if there was to be a prolonged
resistance, that long before it could be successful the troops would be
left with empty carbines0

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