Custer’s Luck

Unfortunately, by the time Custer reached the head of Medicine Tail Coulee, Reno’s charge had dissolved into a disorderly retreat back over the river. The rapid and complete collapse of Reno’s battalion freed hundreds of warriors to stream back north, wild with the exultation of victory and eager to confront the new threat developing to their rear.

If he were to survive the day with scalp and reputation intact, Custer needed to regain the initiative, and few good choices lay before him. He could turn on his heel and ride back south over the bluffs that were getting thick with hostiles. He would take casualties, but five companies of heavy cavalry formed in a disciplined body were sure to break through to Reno’s position. Gathering in Benteen’s battalion and the vital packtrain and establishing a defensive perimeter, the regiment would survive until Terry relieved them. Recriminations and court-martials would follow, but Custer’s reputation would survive more or less intact. He would argue that the plan would have worked if Reno hadn’t been an incompetent, cowardly drunk.

But he would have lost the battle and Sitting Bull won. Custer’s Luck was proverbial not just within the Army but with his adoring public. He never lost.

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