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PROCEEDINGS OF A COURT OF INQUIRY IN THE CASE OF MAJOR MARCUS A. RENO

CONCERNING HIS CONDUCT AT THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN RIVER

JUNE 25-26, 1876

Q.Q. 979

SECOND DAY

Chicago, Illinois Tuesday, January 14, 1879 11 o’clock A. M.

The Court met pursuant to adjournment.

  • Present
  1. Colonel John H. King, 9th Infantry
  2. Colonel Wesley Merritt, 5th Cavalry
  3. Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. Royall, 3rd Cavalry
  • Recorder
  1. 1st Lieutenant Jesse M. Lee, Adjt. 9th Infantry
  2. Major Reno was also present.

The proceedings of the last session were read and approved.

Major Reno then asked permission to introduce Lymen D. Gilbert, Esq. as his counsel, which was granted, and he appeared as counsel for Major Reno.

The Recorder then said: In relation to the application of Major Reno for a Court of Inquiry, as I stated yesterday I had not time to give the papers received a careful examination. As a part of his application he encloses a letter and invites attention to it. I submit that that should be read as part of the application, thus forming a basic for the matters to be inquired into.

Major Reno, by his counsel then said: With permission of the Court it is necessary to make an objection. We understand this to be an inquiry according to the order of the War Department. Whatever may have prompted the President, or those in authority to make the order, I respectfully submit, is not before the Court. All that is before the Court is contained in the instructions of the War Department. If they had desired that Major Reno’s letter or the motives which induced him to write the letter should be laid before the Court, I submit that mention would have been made of it in the order. I ask at this time, as well as during the further progress of this investigation, the indulgence of the Court. I am unaccustomed to this practice, but last night, with the scanty time at my disposal for consideration, I read a part of the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry in the case of Gen. Dyer, and I found there that in the order convening the Court was referred to it for consideration a report of a Committee of Congress, and the Court had authority to consider that matter only because reference had been made to it in the order under which they existed as a Court. I may be very much mistaken in the law, and speak now, and at all times, subject to the decision of the Court. But the order under which you sit asks you to investigate, not into the motives which led Major Reno to ask for a Court of Inquiry, but to investigate his conduct at a certain battle in the Northwest. It comes before you without intimation or instruction from the War Department, and has not been especially referred to you for consideration, it appears to be your duty, if I may so say, with due deference, to investigate his conduct, without inquiring into the motives of the War Department of Major Reno, which led to the convening of the Court. I desire to apologize for my absence on yesterday and for any delay it may have occasioned. I also desire to express the wish, which will abide with us, that the Court will cooperate with us, to establish, in the most exhaustive manner, the truth in this matter. I protest against the reading of the letter of Mr. Whittaker: it is not a part of the proceedings of the Court.

The Recorder replied: May it please the Court, I am not appearing here in the light of a prosecutor, and I do not wish to take up the time of the Court in any elaborate discussion in regard to this matter. The course seems to be to get at the whole truth of the matter. Major Reno applies for a court by written application in which he refers to this letter and attaches a copy of his application and makes it a part thereof. This copy comes from the War Department, the same authority which convenes the Court, and I submit this letter should be taken as the basis upon which to start in this matter.

The Court was then cleared and closed, and after mature deliberation was reopened, and the decision of the Court was announced by the Judge Advocate: that the entire application of Major Reno for a Court of Inquiry, including any letters or papers which he included in his application shall be read and received by the Court, as the basis on which to initiate the inquiry, and the duly authenticated copy sent from the War Department shall be read.

The entire application was the read to the court, and is appended hereto marked “Exhibit No. 1.”

The Recorder stated that the next question for the consideration of the Court was whether himself or Major Reno should first call and examine witnesses.

Major Reno asked with what view is this letter read. Does it contain the charges which Major Reno is called upon to answer? If that is the view, possibly we have no objections to the Recorder proceeding.

The Recorder answered: The letter is read as the Court directed, as a basis upon which the inquiry is to be initiated.

Major Reno asked: Are the matters charged in the letter subject to proof. Is it understood that is what we are to meet.

The President answered: We are not to be confined to that letter. We expect to go over the whole ground.

Major Reno then said: Then, may it please the Court, we propose that the Recorder shall proceed in his own way to prove whatever matters he chooses to allege against Major Reno.

First Lieutenant Edward Maguire, Engineer Corps, being called as a witness by the Recorder, and being duly sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, testified as follows:

  • Questions by the Recorder.
Q. State your name, rank, official designation and where serving.
A. Edward Maguire, 1st Lieutenant of Engineers, Chief Engineer officer, Department of Dakota, serving at St. Paul, Minn.
Q. What duty were you on on the 25th and 26th days of June, 1876.
A. I accompanied Gen. Terry as Engineer Officer on his Staff, from the mouth of Tullocks Creek, Montana, to within about eight miles of Gen. Custer’s battlefield on the Little Big Horn.
A. To what command was Gen. Terry moving – in what direction?
Q. Gen. Gibbon was in command. The column was moving to form a junction with Gen. Custer.
Q. Were you on what was known as Gen. Custer’s battlefield or the battlefield of the Little Big Horn?
A. I was.
Q. When did you arrive there?
A. At about 10 o’clock on the morning of the 27th of June 1876, we arrived at Gen. Reno’s Position on the hill.
Q. State whether you, in your official capacity as Engineer, ever made an examination, measurement, sketch or map of what is known as the battlefield of the Little Big Horn.
A. I had such measurements made by a Sergeant who accompanied me.
Q. What do you recognize that to be (showing witness a map).
A. That is a printed map, the original of which I sent to Washington attached to my report to the Chief Engineer. It was published as an appendix to the Chief Engineer’s Report for 1876.
Q. Do you recognize this as the same thing (showing witness another map)?
A. Yes sir.

The Recorder then, without objection by Major Reno, offered in evidence the printed copy of the map identified by this witness, which is hereto attached and marked “Exhibit No. 2.”

Q. From the measurement or examination, or survey you made at that time in your official capacity, please state, after refreshing your memory from this map, the topography around that battlefield, its location with reference to the Indian Village or where it appeared to have been: with reference to the position of troops or the movement of troops on the whole field, and in connection that all the developments which came under your observation in relation to that matter.
A. The general features of the country were, it being the valley of the Little Big Horn River, like all the valleys in that part of the country. There was a river bottom proper, which is timbered and is very narrow, from 50 to 300 yards wide. Then comes the first bench, which is treeless, an open grassy plain. Then back of that is a rise and all prairie beyond. When we arrived at the Little Big Horn, to Major Reno’s position on the hill I instructed the Sergeant who had the odometer cart and the instruments to pace off the whole of this bottom land down to the Indian village, taking compass bearings, so as to make a plat. That was done. The position which Major Reno occupied when we arrived there was on the bluff across the river on the opposite side. They were, I should say, from 80 to 90 feet high. When I got up there the troops were not in position and of course I did not know what the arrangement was. I was told how they had been placed and I put it approximately on the map. Of course this map, except with regard to the relative position of points, is a mere sketch: it is not like a survey made with a transit and chain. The dotted lines on the map are lines I put on to illustrate the report I wrote to the Chief of Engineers. They are what I supposed to be the trail of the troops in marching. The position of the skirmish line was pointed out to me by some officer I don’t remember who. I was told that was the place they were. That line is drawn across to indicate the general direction of the line and is not intended to show that the whole of the troops were stretched across the bottom. That part from the point marked “B” the Odometer care was run across. It is a broken country, ravines and hillocks, covered with gravel and sand, and very little grass. Some views were taken with the prismatic compass, and intersection lines were taken and the map filled in by eye on the field. The distance between the two points marked “Reno’s command and “E” where Gen. Custer’s body was found, is correct. The location of the ravine and the general direction of the battlefield are correct. The position of the Indian village or the arrangement of it I can’t tell. When we arrived the ground was strewn with saddles, camp kettles and things the Indians had left. I had the teepee put in to indicate a general idea of where the village was in relation to the rest of the topography.
Q. Please state the distance following the dotted line from Major Reno’s position on the hill to the point marked “E”.
A. Four and half miles.
Q. What does the point “B” on the map indicate.
A. That is a ford, and it was supposed Gen. Custer went there and attempted to cross, and the line is to indicate the trail of the men and horses.
Q. State whether or not there4 was a trail indicating that it had been taken by Gen. Custer.
A. The ground was so well beaten that we could find no well-defined trail. The ground was covered with tracks.
Q. Were there any evidences of fighting at or near the point “B”, if so state what evidences, and how near the first was.
A. There were empty shells lying all around, and the marks of ponies or horses having been ridden all around. The whole field was covered with tracks. Every now and then we would find an empty shell, and as we advanced up further we found dead bodies in a circle around the crest of a little hill and quite a number of empty shells. There were dead bodies stretched from “D” to “E” and in the ravine “H” there were 28 dead bodies found.
Q. How near to the point “B” was it that you found empty shells and evidences of fighting?
A. Upon a little rise, on the slope, as if persons had lain there to take advantage of whatever protection there was in the formation of the ground. There were Government shells, and Winchester shells, and one peculiar brass shell was found that nobody knew anything about, but which was supposed to belong to Gen. Custer’s pistol.
Q. State the distance from Major Reno’s position on the hill to the point “B” following the dotted lines.
A. Two and four tenths miles.
Q. Give the distance between those same points in a straight line.
A. Two and two tenths miles.
Q. State whether you examined any crossings of the river above Major Reno’s position on the hill.
A. This man was ordered to make a survey or reconnaissance of the whole of the bottom.
Q. There is a point “A” on the map: what is that?
A. That is intended as the point where Major Reno crossed.
Q. Describe to the Court with as much particularity as possible the character of the ground on the left bank of the stream from the point “A” to the point indicated as Major Reno’s skirmish line.
A. It is just the same nature as the other open bottom land, with a fringe of timber around the stream. Passing through the timber you get into open ground, all the way down to where they struck the timber again on the stress where the line is marked.
Q. Describe the character of the timber as indicated on the map to the right and in front of the position indicated as Major Reno’s skirmish line.
A. It was cottonwood timber of all sizes, with near the little depression indicating on the map the separation of the bottom from the first bench, a growth of underbrush, rose bushes and such things.
Q. State in regard to the density of the timber at that particular point, if you noticed it.
A. To tell the truth it looked so much like other river bottoms, with the timber about the same that I took no special notice.
Q. What was the width of the timber on Major Reno’s right as indicated by the map.
A. One hundred and fifty yards.
Q. Following that timber down, there is a blank space – what is that.
A. That was a place where there seemed to have been a separate Indian camp, as if of some chief of medicine man. We supposed it to have been Sitting Bull’s lodge.
Q. Describe, if you made any particular examination in regard to it, the timber from there down to where it run out.
A. Just where the ravine comes in there is no timber: that is a wash-out.
Q. State whether the timber was continuous.
A. It was not.
Q. From the right of the line indicated as Major Reno’s skirmish line down to the point “B” was the timber continuous.
A. Yes sir, it was.
Q. How far is it, following the timber, from the right of the line indicated as Major Reno’s skirmish line to a point opposite “B”?
A. One and eight tenths miles.
Q. State what was the character of the ground on the right bank of the river, between Major Reno’s position on the hill, in a straight line to the point marked “B” as regards elevation.
A. It is the highest land in the neighborhood.
Q. Do you mean that point was higher than Maj. Reno’s position on the hill?
A. To the best of my knowledge it was.
Q. You stated that Major Reno’s position on the hill was about 90 feet high: do you mean above the bed of the stream?
A. Above the bottom.
Q. Then in a straight line from his position on the hill to the point “B”, what, from the examination you made, is the elevation.
A. The highest point between those two points, I should think is in the neighborhood of 150 feet.
Q. Describe the character of the ground.
A. There were bluffs coming close to the river at “B”; back of them was a valley, running off. Near “B” the termination of the bluff was almost precipitous.
Q. How far was Major Reno’s position on the hill from the Indian village proper?
A. I can’t tell that because there was no village there when we arrived. The position of the village that I had put down was indicated by a lot of old pots and lodge-poles.
Q. State whether there were any stakes left showing where the lodges had been pinned down or any evidences of that kind.
A. There were some old wickyups left down near the timber.
Q. How far was that point where you saw the pots and kettles and general refuse from Major Reno’s position on the hill?
A. They were scattered all over the bottom. The Indians broke up their camp and moved off over the hill when they saw us on the night of the 26th. We saw them about two miles off. They must have moved in a hurry and left whatever they did not think valuable. They were scattered all over the plain.
Q. State how near the point “B” the first dead body was found, and whether it was an Indian, a soldier or a citizen.
A. It was a soldier. I think the first one was on what is indicated as the second little hill, to the left of the first ravine beyond “B”.
Q. How far is that from the point “B”?
A. Six-tenths of a mile.
Q. State whether or not any more dead bodies were found in that immediate vicinity.
A. There were not. That man was alone.
Q. How far from that point was it till you found other dead bodies.
A. I don’t remember now. I simply remember the prominent points where bodies were found.
Q. Please describe with as much particularity as you can, as to Major Reno’s position on the hill and that of his command. I want to get at the nature of the position on the hill; whether the troops were together or separated.
A. As I said, when I got on the hill the troops were not in position. There were certain signs: for instance little holes with dirt thrown up, cracker boxes placed around for protection. The troops were along on the ridge. I was told they had been moved. His position was on top of the bluff, and the holes were as if one company had one point and another some other one.
Q. What was the length of the position occupied by the troops should you judge.
A. On this map that third line is an error: the one opposite “and” in the word command. This map was got up in such a hurry that it escaped my attention before I sent it on. I should think a quarter of a mile was the whole length of the troops.
Q. How far was Major Reno’s position on the hill to the Little Big Horn River?
A. One third of a mile.
Q. How far from his position on the hill to the point at the right of what is marked as Reno’s skirmish line.
A. One and two-tenths mile.
Q. What is the distance from “C” to the crossing, marked Lt. Hodgson killed?
A. Nine tenths of a mile.
Q. Please state the condition of Major Reno’s command at the time you reached them: whether exhausted or otherwise, and state any facts you may know in regard to the condition of his command, special or general, as they come under your observation.
A. The two officers I saw first were Lieutenants Wallace and hare, they came riding rapidly towards us, but did not appear to be very much excited. Ongoing upon the hill Gen. Terry and the rest of them rode up there were shouts and there were enlisted men and also officers crying. That is some had tears rolling down their cheeks, and others showed it in their voices. They were talking rapidly and excitedly about the affair. I stopped back with the younger officers and Gen. Terry rode on to confer with Major Reno and Gen. Gibbon I think, and I did not see Major Reno till we had been there I think over an hour. At that time he was not at all excited. I saw Colonel Benteen and Major French and they appeared to be perfectly calm and quiet.
  • Questions by Major Reno
Q. You came up on the morning of the 27th.
A. Yes sir.
Q. What was the condition of the plain on the left side of the Little Big Horn in regard to being occupied or not by Indians?
A. There were no Indians there except some dead ones.
Q. Were any lodges standing?
A. Only two, which had some dead in them. There were a few wickyups [sic].
Q. I see on the plain on the left of the river certain figures representing Indian lodges. Is that representation correct as to the location of the Indian encampment?
A. No sir, it was to give an idea of the camp. It was not there when I arrived, and all the bottom was strewn with material the Indians had left.
Q. How close to the depression opposite the point “C” did evidences of Indian occupation extend?
A. That little space that is marked there is a position where we found evidence of an old camp, as if set apart from the main camp, for some particular chief.
Q. Were there evidences of any Indian lodges in that belt of woods you have marked there.
A. that I don’t remember; I think not.
Q. Was that space to the left of that depression, between that and the bluff, entirely uncovered by any evidences of Indian lodges?
A. I don’t remember any indications of lodges except pots that were dropped on the way as I judge.
Q. Can you state positively that the Indian lodges were confined on the left of the river to that belt of timber?
A. No sir.
Q. Do you or not know whether they did not extend to the left for a considerable distance between that and the bluff.
A. Yes sir, because I saw fires and their wickyups.
Q. Between the timber and the bluff you saw evidences of lodges.
A. Yes sir.
Q. Can you fix the point in the timber where Major Reno was with his command?
A. No sire I cannot. I simply put it down from information given me, and I can’t say whether it is correct or not.
A. I wish to ascertain what accuracy you attribute to it.
A. That is the point some officer said the line was thrown out, I don’t remember who it was.
Q. Does “C” correctly mark the extreme point reached by Major Reno and his command.
A. That I don’t know: I put it there from information furnished me.
Q. Do you know the number of men who accompanied Major Reno across the river?

The Recorder objected to the question as irrelevant because the witness has stated that he did not arrive there till after, and can’t know that fact.

Major Reno replied: We shall not insist on the question if the Recorder insists on his objection, but it must be evident to the Court that this witness’ testimony has been to a large degree hearsay. We have not objected, and if the Recorder chooses to draw the line now we shall not insist on the question.

The Recorder said: it is irrelevant and encumbers the record.

The question was then withdrawn.

Q. I find a dotted line from “C” to a line on the bluff, marked Reno’s skirmish line – what is the length of that line.
A. Eight-tenths of a mile.
Q. How many men, I ask you as a soldier, would it take to cover a skirmish line of that length, approximately is all I expect you to answer.
A. I don’t even know what the intervals are. If you state the distance apart he set his men I can tell.
Q. Does that dotted line certainly indicate the length of Major Reno’s skirmish line?
A. No sir, I did not intend it to. I did not suppose the line would reach across there with the number of men he had.
Q. Does “C” certainly indicate the extreme point at which the skirmish line commenced?
A. I don’t know. That is from information.
Q. You can’t state from your own knowledge.
A. No sir.
Q. Does the dotted line indicate the direction of the line?
A. From information I received it does.
Q. From whom did you receive that information?
A. From some officer down there in the fight. I can’t say who it was.
Q. “A” indicates the crossing of Major Reno.
A. Yes sir.
Q. Did you fix the distance from “A” to “C”?
A. I did not.
Q. Can you give it as indicated on the map?
A. One and six tenths miles.
Q. Is the map correct in that respect? Was that distance measure so that you can say it is correctly represented.
A. The man had orders to start above Maj. Reno’s crossing keeping the course of the river and pacing the distance, using the prismatic compass, and taking shots to prominent points to take the intersections.
Q. Would that enable a man to determine the distance between A”A and “C” with reasonable accuracy.
A. Yes sir.
Q. What is the distance between “C” and the square depression in the timber?
A. One sixth of a mile.
Q. At what point do you measure the width of that belt of timber.
A. At the point “C” along that dotted line.
Q. Did you have that timber measure at all, and were those trees placed according to actual measurement.
A. In running a line of that kind the man who runs it runs along the river and runs outside of the timber but of course he did not locate each tree.
Q. Did he locate the river edge of the timber?
A. Yes sir.
Q. What is the character of the bank on the left side at the point “C”, as to being high or low?
A. I don’t remember.
Q. What relation does it bear to the bank on the other side: is it higher or lower?
A. I don’t remember: I think it is about the same.
Q. Then the banks of the river on the left and right at the point “C” are about even in height, according to your judgment.
A. I don’t know: I am looking at the map, and knowing they are bottom lands I judge they are about the same height.
Q. Did you see it yourself?
A. No sir.
Q. You have marks on the right hand of the river – do they represent timber.
A. Yes sir, trees.
Q. What is the character of that timber?
A. Cottonwood.
Q. Was it the same in density?
A. No sir.
Q. Was it much sparser?
A. Yes sir.
Q. You saw that yourself.
A. Yes sir.
Q. Were any dead men found near the point “B”?
A. I think the first dead man was found on the second little plateau.
Q. I see dotted lines on the right side of the river: do they represent the paths taken in reaching “E”.
A. They represent my idea of the paths taken on looking at the ground. This map was prepared for my own use to illustrate my report, and I never expected it to be used for anything else.
Q. Was there a heavy trail leading to “B”?
A. I was not over it.
Q. Were there heavy trails leading to “D” from “B”?
A. Yes sir, and from “D” to “E”.
Q. Did that trail commence at “B”.
A. The ground was all cut up by hoofs. My theory was that Gen. Custer went to the ford and was met there and driven back, and they separated into two bodies to concentrate on the hill at “E”, and I put those lines as my idea of the route they took.
Q. Do you or not know that Captain Benteen was sent over that ground to “B” before you went over it.
A. Yes sir. I know he was sent over to the hill “E” to see who was there.
Q. Might not those marks have been made by Captain Benteen and his troops?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Might not the marks from “B” have been made in the same way?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Did you examine between the bluff on the right hand side of the river and the dotted lines you made there to see whether there were evidences of a trail.
A. No. I was not there at all.
Q. Did you pass over the ground yourself that is represented on the map by the dotted lines?
A. Between those two points, no. I was all over the field to the left.
Q. Was there a definite trail leading from “B” to “H”?
A. It was just like the others from “B” to “D” and “E”.
Q. Did you pass over that part yourself?
A. Yes sir. That is about the same as the other trails.
Q. The trail was such as could have been made by a company of mounted men.
A. Yes sir. I suppose it could.
Q. How soon after you arrived at Major Reno’s position on the hill before you saw Major Reno himself?
A. It was at least an hour.
Q. How as he then, cool or otherwise.
A. He was cool in my judgment.
Q. You speak of the position in which you found Major Reno when you came on the hill. Do you know what length of time he had held that position?
A. I understood it was not the first position he had assumed: that they had changed on the night of the 25th or 26th.
Q. What does the circular mark indicate?
A. That the troops were thrown around the crest of the hill as I was told.
Q. The position of the troops at what time.
A. When they first went on the hill.
Q. And ending when.
A. I think they changed position on the night of the 25th.
Q. Are you sure when they made the change?
A. No sir, it is merely what I was told.
Q. Your evidence was what you heard people say.
A. Yes sir, it is hearsay evidence.
  • Questions by the Recorder
Q. State whether or not that map or sketch or whatever you call it is the engineer’s office was made in your official capacity as Engineer officer of Gen. Terry.
A. It was made in my official capacity.
Q. State whether is making maps it is required or expected that the engineer officer himself shall see all the ground when he has men with him, or to verify every measurement.
A. No sir.
Q. State whether you regard this map as showing the relative position of the troops, the village, the stream and other prominent points as reasonably reliable.
A. I certainly do.
Q. State when the data was gotten from which this map was prepared.
A. On the afternoon of the 27th and a short time on the 28th.
Q. State whether on going over the ground on the right side of the river in the vicinity of where you found Gen. Custer’s body and that of the man, you found at any other point than you have indicated, anything showing a trail of a large body of troops.
A. My recollection is those lines were a little more distinct than any other lines on the ground. The whole surface of the ground was covered with marks of ponies and horses hoofs. From “D” to “E” bodies were found lying at intervals, and it was my idea that Captain Calhoun had stopped at “D” and the other companies were from “D” to “E” and that they had formed some sort of a skirmish line.
Q. Did you find any bodies at “D”?
A. Yes sir. Calhoun and Crittenden and some men.
  • Questions by the Court
Q. State if the dotted lines all indicate trails.
A. They indicate that. They are my idea that the troops moved in that way. They are lines I put in myself explaining my report.
Q. They do indicate practicable country that troops could have moved over, all of them?
A. Yes sir.
Q. I would like to know the character of the river, as to its being fordable from “A” to the lower part of the Indian village.
A. I think the river could be forded all the way from “A” to where Major Reno crossed it. They were not regular fords but they could easily have been made so by cutting down the banks.
Q. Then below that, how was it.
A. My impression is above “B” the river was not fordable, that being where the bluffs come close to the stream. It might have been made fordable by cutting down the banks.
Q. I understand you to say at “B” is a bluff. Would not that indicate that the trail between Major Reno’s position and “B” was not practicable in a line?
A. You misunderstand. It was a bluff just on the river and very narrow, and sloped down gradually to the rear. There was a large ravine running down there and they could easily get down that dotted line. I think Colonel Benteen went there and Colonel Weir said he went there with his troops.
Q. You mean the steep bluff is only on the river side.
A. Yes sir, it is a gradual slope back.
  • Questions by Major Reno
Q. What is the width of the river to the right of the point “C”?
A. About 30 or 40 yards. The river varied along there from 30 to 75 yards wide.
Q. What was the general depth of those fords?
A. I think about to the stirrups of a horseman if I remember right.

The witness then retired.

Then at 1:30 P.M. the Court adjourned to meet at 11 o’clock A.M. tomorrow, Wednesday, January 15, 1879.



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