How Major Reno, a drunk coward, escaped punishment after Little Bighorn
THE RENO WHITEWASH
source: a letter included in "Reminiscenes of General Custer: Custer's Last Battle", by Richard A. Roberts. Edited by custerwest.org member and Civil War author Jeff Veach
Richard A. Roberts was Custer's secretary in 1876 and on the last campaign. Roberts was with the Seventh Cavalry until June 21, 1876, when he stayed at the Powder River Station. He wrote this analysis of Little Bighorn after interviews with witnesses and personal research:
"Reno's investigation is already one of the things that were, but the man and his character remain unchanged: heroic as Gilbert, Attorney for Reno, has made Reno's conduct in the Little Big Horn matter appear, there are those who still know circumstances which occurred in his army record which show his conduct to be so far removed from the heroic as to make that work in connection with Reno a farce.
The heroic Reno! Hundreds will laugh at the incongruity!
One little phase of the investigation, I observe, has not been touched upon: The witnesses testifying on the defense were, necessarily I admit, beneath Reno in rank. What does that imply? Just this: they knew Reno would come out all right, or else lone ere this charges would have been preferred against him by the higher military authorities.
Supposing they had testified their opinions with freedom, unbiased by fear of consequences, Reno would have made it so hot that no regiment could have held them. A commanding officer, even a Major, has it in his power to persecute officers beneath him in rank in a thousand ways not appreciated by any one outside of the army, but maddening to any man of spirit, who finds himself unable to get redress because his very complaint must pass through the hands of his superior who may put whatever indorsement upon it that suits his fancy or spirit of revenge.
And so though no one says that any of those young officers under Reno falsified themselves yet many think they colored their statements rather highly and they had learned their little tales at Papa Reno's knee in the most perfect Poll-parrot order, or in other words, they were like so many pieces of smoked glass, through which Reno looked the same to all of them, not heroic certainly, but still Reno. Major Reno having smoked these glasses to suit himself satisfied even if he did appear a little lurid; at any rate, no Indian got a chance to extinguish him.
When the painful news of Custer's disaster was first brought in, many were the rumors of Reno having shown the white feather, and not only Reno; there were reports that white feathers were plentiful on the hill to which Reno and his men stampeded.
If this were the case, it became the interest of somebody to go into the feather coloring business, and could not a skillful dyer give to a goose's feather the tints of those of the eagle, if it paid?
Every officer on that stand, every person for or against Reno, heard Custer's firing; some even heard firing in volleys, and yet from the first one to the last, no one dreamed it was Custer being engaged.
This child-like taking for granted that Custer had run off to Terry, and that the Indians were firing off and wasting ammunition would be the most absurd part of the evidence, were it not for the implied insult to
General Custer and the brave hearts with him. One single shot to men of the right stuff with their hearts inside of them, would have been a signal from Custer, which nothing, not even the knowledge that they had a coward for a leader, could have made them disregard.
Col. Weir knew Custer engaged and begged Reno to go to his aid, and when without direction from Reno he attempted with his Company to reach Custer and found he could get no further unsupported by Reno he cried; tears streamed down his cheeks and extending his hand in Custer's direction he exclaimed, "there are my friends being killed, down there, and I can't go to them."
Well is it for Reno now that poor Weir is gone; he died in New York City a few months after the battle. (Of a broken heart, as he possessed a very fine sympathetic nervous temperament. Col. Weir was noble in every sense of the word. His mind was one of the brightest, and stored with gems, which he generously gave to others, who could appreciate them. R.A.R.)
Why was Reno upheld? How is it the man had the influence to keep him in the army with such reflections as these upon his character, and with the foul memory of his last court-martial still clinging to him; with the knowledge that he was never trusted during the war (Civil War- J.V.) with commands of any account; never distinguished himself in the least; is known in the army of the Potomac to have cheated at cards in a private game in the tent, of a brother officer; that he was kicked out for the same in the most ignominious manner, and never to this day resented the treatment in the least?
Why is it, I say, that this man still holds a place in the army? It is, because it is easier to keep him there than to stir up a long string of investigations dating back to the organization of that fatal expedition of Custer's in 1876.
It is, because it would be too tedious to get into an everlasting squabble with the Indian Department, who should have known what Indians were off their reservations, the number of hostile in the field and a
thousand other points that might spring up if that question of Custer's defeat were too much raked over.
It is because officers higher in rank than Custer know how badly organized that expedition was when it left Fort Lincoln, May 17th, 1876, Custer having been called away before Clymer's investigation committee during its organization (House Committee Chairman Hiester Clymer began digging into War Department records and wanted Custer to testify- J.V.).
O, yes! let Reno stay; nobody loves him, but he is a necessary evil, and it would be so tedious, so fearfully annoying to have to go into this thing any deeper, such queer things would come up and so many people would be disturbed and unsettled thereby, it would not pay you know.
So Reno goes back, the boys had their trip to Chicago, nobody's hurt and nobody knows any more about it than they did before.
Reno never called Col. Weir in his behalf but as Major in command detailed him on duty that would not permit of his coming, and as for the defense of Gen. Custer he knew that "dead men tell no tales" and that they could not testify. Hence his confidence of being whitewashed.
Although he was adjudged no coward, he in less than a year belied the finding of the court, by finally acting the part of a poltroon and coward in insulting a perfect lady, the daughter of the Colonel of his
own Regiment (caught peering inappropriately through a parlor window at the daughter of his commanding officer- J.V.).
Even the "powers that be" and influential friends tried to condone this offense, but the storm created all over the union was so great the the "court martial" had to heed to it, and he was kicked out of the army,
and after the most strenuous efforts were made to reinstate him he relegated himself to oblivion, but before meeting the judgment of an outraged God, he writes an article trying to show that Custer was a
coward and no General. The publication was met with such overwhelming disapproval that the paper which published the same apologized for having been so basely misled.
It was not long after this that Reno the gambler, drunkard, poltroon and coward, died of cancer of the throat, the last condemnation which could be visited upon him. May God have pardoned him.
In answer to the charge that General Custer was "no General" the following bit of history will throw some light on the charge. It occurs in a general order addressed to his (Custer) troops dated at Appomattox
Court House, 9th April, 1865:
"During the past six months, though in most instances confronted by superior numbers, you have captured from the enemy in open battle 111 pieces of field artillery, 65 battle flags, and upward of 10,000 prisoners of war, including seven generals officers. Within the past ten days, and included in the above, you have captured 46 pieces of artillery, and 37 battle flags. You have never lost a gun, never lost a color and never been defeated, and notwithstanding the numerous engagements in which you have borne a prominent part, including those memorable battles of the Shenandoah, and have captured every piece of artillery which the enemy dared to open on you."
video: The summarize of Reno's deeds at Little Bighorn
How Major Reno, a drunk coward, escaped punishment after Little Bighorn