RENO IN THE TIMBER
Reno attracted the Indians by attacking them, and Fred Gerard and Sergeant Davern, Reno's orderly, said that it was exactly what Custer wanted : "to bring Indians to battle" (Gerard). Not to "charge the village", as Reno said in 1879, but to "charge", as Reno wrote it in 1876. Indians were believed to be fleeing, Custer had to force them to stop. To bring them to battle. And it worked.
Reno's position in the timber was strong, much stronger that Reno said afterwards to explain his rout. Lieutenant Hare testified at the Reno Court of Inquiry (RCOI) that the troops were not fighting the entire Indian forces and that the field itself was good for fighting: deep woods, with a kind of breastwork which protected the soldiers from the Indian fire. Indians had a lot of difficulties to go in the timber, suffered casualties (two warchiefs) and didn't want to fight around Reno anymore. Red Feather testified that the position was very good and that the Indians were frustrated to be shot down without hurting the soldiers. Cheyenne chiefs told George B. Grinnell that if Reno had hold the timber, they would have never defeated him, an opinion which was shared by Lieutenant Hare, Lieutenant DeRudio (the position was "impregnable", Reno could have hold it "four hours"), Fred Gerard and almost all the officers of the batalion. Indians testified that chiefs even warned their warriors not to attack the timber.
When Reno left the timber without any organization, Indians were very surprised by the movement and most of all told interviewers that it was the strangest movement of the battle. They didn't understand why Reno had left while he was in the strongest position. It was a tactical disaster.
US general in chief Miles, Reno Court of Inquiry chairman Jesse Lee, Colonel Gibbon and most of the officers of Reno's batalion (except Captain Moylan, who had left the woods with Reno, and McIntosh, who was killed during the rout) agreed that the position was good. Lee even said that it was the strongest position of all the battlefield, and Lieutenant Hare, of Reno's batalion, said that holding the timber was evidently made to support Custer's flank attack against the village.
But no flank attack was ever made, because Reno left the village after only 30 minutes of light fight (Fred Gerard spent 21 bullets, the men in general 30 to 40 according to Gerard, Davern spent 13, Culbertson spent 20) - and Custer's attack was already failing, but not because of Custer's plan.
The plan was good - attacking in front of the village, to stop the body of Indians, an attack in the flank, to surprise and defeat them. According to bugler Martini, Custer's plan was this (Martini heard Custer telling this to his subordinates) : Reno in the fron of the village, Benteen in the center and Custer in the extreme opposite. Altough Benteen and Reno later said that Custer didn't tell us anything, in fact, he did, and Martini heard it.