(expanded from a Pinterest Post)
RENO THE PEEPER: Today’s Your History Moment is presented in honor of the Anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Major Marcus Reno, Custer’s Senior Staff Officer and second in command, led a shabby post Little Big Horn career.
After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Reno was assigned the command of Fort Abercrombie in December 1876, he was charged with making unwanted advances toward the wife of another officer of the 7th Cavalry, Captain James Bell, while Bell was away from the fort. An Episcopal minister, the Rev. Richard Wainwright, was staying with the Bells, and became concerned enough about Reno’s behavior to persuade Capt. Bell to file charges against Reno for immoral conduct. Complaints of public indecency we duly filed but dropped by the Commander of the 7th, Col. Samuel Sturgis. Most of the incidents happened at parties and public gatherings where copious amounts of alcohol were consumed, and in the 19th century U.S. Army on the Plains, being a drunkard hardly made you a standout.
Responding to charges of cowardice and drunkenness at the Little Big Horn, Reno later demanded and was granted a Court of Inquiry. The court convened in Chicago in January 1879, and called as witnesses most of the surviving officers who had been in the fight. Enlisted men later stated they had been coerced into giving a positive report to both Reno and Benteen. The court reporter who contacted General Nelson Miles, then head of the Army, later wrote that the entire inquiry was a whitewash. While the court did not sustain any of the charges against Reno, neither did it single him out for praise.
Once court-martialed for drunkeness and conduct unbecoming an officer, and having survived a Regimental Court of Inquiry that was hardly a prop to his reputation, one might have thought the chastened Reno would have turned over a new leaf and applied himself, but that did not happen. A second, and far more damning incident where Reno was witnessed peeping at the daughter of his commanding officer, Col. Sturgis, while she was dressing, occurred. This time, (to no one’s great surprise) Col. Sturgis was in a less forgiving attitude towards Reno. The second court martial resulted in Reno being kicked out of the army, where he lived in obscurity & poverty until age 54 in 1889.