Wild West Discussion – June 2011

Major Marcus Reno certainly didn’t merit any medals for his performance at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but does he deserve to be cast as the principal villain in the 7th Cavalry disaster? His subsequent court of inquiry did not uphold the charges of cowardice and drunkenness against him. Was the verdict fair?

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  1. Dave

    SInce Maj. Reno was implicitly ordered to “pitch into” the village and didn’t, Lt. Col. Custer’s entire plan disinegrated. When Cpt. Benteen finally arrived and reported to Reno with written orders to join Custer, it was Reno’s task to see that order obeyed. It wasn’t. Custer, with less than half of the command, was left with limited ammunition to attack the entire hostile force. Reno had the option to join with Custer (more than doubling Custer’s force) while bringing the reserve ammunition. He chose not to. History will never know with certainty if such actions would have changed the outcome. However, with seven more companies and much more ammunition Custer would have had more options to bring about success. One thing IS certain: Custer EXPECTED the added manpower and ammunition when formulating his plans and gave orders accordingly. The orders were ignored. The responsibility for the disobeyed orders settles on Reno’s shoulders.

    Was Reno the “only” villain in the 7th Cavalry disaster? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, he is the “principal villain”. His villainly could have come from several motives. Thus making it impossible to suggest cowardice or drunkeness were the only factors. Even sober, brave men make mistakes. He was not charged with failing to obey orders…because he was never charged, officially for that crime. Had he been, the verdict would have been simple.

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  2. John Koster

    A guy I knew from high school was commanding a Ranger unit in Viet Nam and his best friend got shot in the head and blew blood and brains all over the guy’s face. The Ranger got his unit out of the engagement and was never quite right afterwards, but he was no coward — that stuff can unsettle anybody who isn’t nuts. That’s what happened to Reno in the timber and he bungled the retreat to Reno Hill. But if Reno had pressed the attack, he would have doubled the casualty list and the battle would have still been a catastrophe, though more people might have escaped. Custer didn’t know that the Indians were sleeping off an all-night dance and he didn’t know that half of them had Henry and Winchester repeaters on Springfield breehloaders. They shot Cuter’s five companies to pieces and would have chewed up the other seven as well, given the chance. They’re good people if you respect them, but they’re great fighters and it’s bad to piss them off.

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