Major Reno's incompetence and drunkeness provoked the infamous "charge to the rear" as related here by Private Theodore Goldin
RENO'S DISASTROUS ROUT
source: letter by Theodore F. Goldin to C. T. Brady, August 11, 1904, Astonisher
Little Bighorn, early in the afternoon: after 20 minutes of fighting against 300 warriors, a drunk Major Reno left his men behind in the timber and rushed to the nearby hills. His line broke and the infamous "charge to the rear" began. No rear guard or attempt of organization was made by Major Reno.
In a private letter, Captain Thomas French, whose company left the timber with organization, wrote that he "should have shot Major Reno" for cowardice. Here is Private Theodore Goldin's account of this awful rout:
"Lieut. McIntosh had lost his horse and took one belonging to a trooper named McCormick, who gave him up with the remark that we were all dead anyway, and he might as well die dismounted as mounted. Swinging into the saddle, we moved out of the timber and to our surprise discovered that instead of "charging the Indians" Reno was executing a masterly charge on the bluffs on the opposite side of the river.
As soon as the Indians discovered this, they massed on our flanks and opened a heavy fire on the retreating column. Fortunately, they were poor marksmen mounted, and our loss was comparatively small at this stage of the stampede, for that is what it was.
It is reported that Reno became so excited that he emptied his revolver at the Indians and then threw the weapon from him. I happen to know this was not so, as the revolver is now in the possession of Gen. Benteen or his family, or was a few years ago.
During the progress of this retreat I was riding on the left of our column and near the timber, and when almost in sight of the river my horse fell, throwing me into a bunch of sage brush, but without doing me serious injury save to exterior cuticle. As I scrambled to my feet Lieut. Wallace passed me, shouting for me to run for the timber as my horse was killed. I did not stop to verify his report, but took his advice, striking only one or two high places between where the horse fell and the timber, which I presently reached.
From where I was concealed I could see our men force their horses into the river and urge them across the boulder-strewn stream. I saw Lieut. Hodgson's horse leap into the stream and saw him struggling as though wounded, I saw the lieutenant disengage himself from the stirrups and grab the stirrup strap of a passing trooper and with that aid make his way across the stream. No sooner had he reached the bank than it became apparent he had been wounded, but he pluckily held on, and the trooper seemed to be trying to help him up behind him on the saddle, but without daring to stop his horse.
An instant later Hodgson seemed to be hit again, for he lost his hold, fell to the ground, staggered to his feet and sought to reach another comrade who reined in to aid him, and just as it seemed that he was saved I saw the second trooper throw up his arms, reel in the saddle and fall heavily to the ground. Hodgson started to make his way toward the ravine up which the command was disappearing, he staggered forward a few steps, stumbled, struggled to his feet again, only to fall once more.
He apparently decided that further effort to retreat was useless, as I saw him turn and face the Indians, draw his revolver and open fire. An instant later three or four shots rang out from my side of the river, and I saw Hodgson reel and fall and I knew it was all over.
In the meantime our men had succeeded in crossing the river and made their way up a neighboring ravine, all save those who had met their fate at the ford, which was one of the worst along the river for many rods. Left alone, I began to wonder what my own fate was likely to be, but I was not observed and therefore not molested, the Indians being busy stripping and mutilating the bodies of our dead along the banks of the stream.
About this time I could hear sounds of heavy firing down the river, and made up my mind that Custer was engaging the Indians, and from the momentary glimpses I had of the village I felt that he was as badly outnumbered as we were. Most of the Indians in our front melted away and I could see them lashing their ponies as they hurried to join their friends at the lower end of the village."