site logo
M.A. Reno

M.A. Reno

Federal (USA)


Marcus Albert Reno

(1834 - 1889)

Home State: Illinois

Education: US Military Academy, West Point, NY, Class of 1857;Class Rank: 20th

Command Billet: Commanding Detachment

Branch of Service: Cavalry

Unit: Ist United States Cavalry, Companies B,C, H, and I

Before Antietam

He graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in July 1857 and was brevetted 2nd Lieutenant of Dragoons. He was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, First United States Dragoons on 14 June 1858 and was at Forts Walla Walla, WA and Dalles, OR into 1861. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 25 April 1861, the Dragoons were redesignated First US Cavalry on 3 August, and he was promoted to Captain on 12 November 1861. He joined the Army of the Potomac for the Peninsular Campaign in March 1862.

On the Campaign

He was in command of the detachment of consolidated Companies B, C, H, and I of the 1st US Cavalry, serving as the Quartermaster's Guard, at Headquarters, Army of the Potomac.

The rest of the War

He was wounded at Kelly's Ford, VA on 17 March 1863 and brevetted Major for gallant and meritorious conduct there. He was also at Cold Harbor, Trevillian Station, and at Cedar Creek, on 19 October 1864, where he was awarded a second brevet, to Lieutenant Colonel. He was appointed Colonel of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry on 1 January 1865 and served with them to muster-out on 20 July 1865. He was further honored in March 1865 by brevets to Colonel, USA, and Brigadier General of Volunteers for his war service.

After the War

He was assistant instructor of infantry tactics in the US Military Academy, served in the Freedmen's bureau at New Orleans, then assigned to duty in the west.

In 1868 he was promoted to Major, 7th US Cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer. He was at Fort Hays, KS in 1870, took part in Custer's 1874 expedition through the Black Hills, and was with Custer 2 years later at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

As the officer in charge of the only unit to survive the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Marcus Reno has remained a subject of controversy for more than a century.

Many in the army and in the general public refused to believe that mere Indians could destroy a commander like Custer unaided by American blunders, and they sought to blame Reno for the defeat at the Little Bighorn. They pointed to Reno's defensive reaction when his assault on Sitting Bull's encampment was met with unexpected resistance, to his evident loss of command at several points during the course of the battle and to the fact that he had clung to his defensive position even while Custer's forces were being surrounded and destroyed.

In 1879, a military court of inquiry officially cleared Reno of charges of cowardice, but the following year he was court-martialed on several unrelated charges by an officer whose son had died at the Little Bighorn. By the time of his death in 1889, Marcus Reno had become the antithesis of the gallant Custer in the popular imagination, a disgrace to the noble code of the United States cavalry who was unworthy to lie buried beside the brave men who had died at "Custer's Last Stand." In 1967, however, a military Board of Review re-examined Reno's court-martial and reversed history's judgment against him by changing the status of his discharge to honorable and ordering the reinternment of his remains in the sacred ground of the Little Bighorn cemetery.
By 1880 he was a boarder living alone in Washington, DC, giving his occupation as miner.

References & notes

His service from Cullum;3 his Cullum number is 1779. The quote above from an online exhibit accompanying the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) film The West (1996), since removed. Personal details from family genealogists and the US Census of 1870-1880. His gravesite is on Findagrave. His picture from a wartime CDV sold by Heritage Auctions in 2018.

He married Mary Hanna Ross (1843-1874) in Pittsburgh, PA in July 1863 and they had a son Robert (1864-1920).

More on the Web

See Marcus and Mary, with two other couples, in an 1866 group photograph, over on the blog.


11/15/1834; Carrolton, IL


3/30/1889; Washington, DC; burial in Little Bighorn National Cemetery, Crow Agency, MT


1   Cullum, George Washington, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the US Military Academy, 2nd Edition, 3 vols., New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1868-79, Vol. II, pp. 688-690  [AotW citation 29078]