Thursday, July 21, 2011

Major Reno

I'm going to be at the battlefield of the Little Big Horn in just a few days. Custer's Last Stand, this battle involved a thousand or two combatants, in which a few hundred died, stands in the top three most famous battles in North America, along with Yorktown (world turned upside down) and Gettysburg (the last best hope of mankind). Heady company.

Little Big Horn has it all, a villain, Major Reno (his men survived), a savior, Captain Benteen (he disobeyed orders and left the doomed men under Custer to their fate by joining Reno and saving his command) and an enigma, General Custer (the greatest Indian fighter of the day who got all of his men killed). Their ferocious opponents, the Sioux and Cheyenne, were protecting their children, women and elderly and their way of life, with Crazy Horse as their tactical leader and Sitting Bull as their spiritual leader.

I have always been a Reno fan and a Custer detractor. Lately, research has "shown" that Reno was drunk throughout the battle and that maybe, Custer could have won and destroyed the Indian village if Reno had been steadfast when his 110 troopers charged the village containing 1,500 or more warriors, allowing Custer and his doomed 210 troopers to swing around and strike a hammer blow upon Reno's anvil.

Here's how Mari Sandoz in 1966 in her book The Battle of the Little Bighorn explained Reno's bizarre behavior on the field of battle against overwhelming odds when, in the white hot heat of battle he issued confusing orders that ultimately saved two thirds of his command:

"The major [Reno] stopped beside the Ree [Indian scout Bloody Knife] to ask by sign where the Indians would concentrate their thrust, to help [Reno] plan the run for the river and the heights beyond. Before the scout could answer, a new burst of bullets ripped though the torn foliage. One of them struck Bloody Knife, blowing his skull open and spattering the handsome black kerchief with blue stars that Custer had given to his once-favorite scout--spatterings that reached Major Reno standing beside the Ree. For a moment the hardened campaigner was as sickened as the rawest recruit. Plainly the Indians were everywhere, penetrating everywhere ... ."

The horrified Reno issued a series of contradictory commands that led to the salvation of most of his command (something akin to, Every Man for Himself!]. What would you have done?

Meanwhile, according to recent research, Custer watched Reno's desperate battle from the heights across the river and commented that Reno must fight his own battle. He didn't ride to Reno's aid, rather Custer rode in the other direction seeking glory and finding it, but at a high price for everyone else.

Whatever Custer did led to his command's complete annihilation. Perhaps Custer, a teetotaler, should have drunk of the same cup as Reno.

1 comment:

Sunshine said...

We were in Missoula MT for the marathon races in mid-July.
Drove out, right by Custer's last stand.