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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

Command Billet: Commanding Detachment

Branch of Service: Cavalry

Unit: Companies B, C, H, & I, 1st United States Cavalry

Before Antietam

Capt Reno was an 1857 graduate of the USMA at West Point. He served in the 1st US Cavalry Regiment in the Pacific Northwest

On the Campaign

Capt Reno was in command of 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

In the action at Kelly's Ford, Virginia, 17 March, 1863, where he was wounded, he was brevetted major for gallant and meritorious conduct, He was also present at Cold Harbor and Trevillian Station, and at Cedar Creek on 19 October. 1864, when he was brevetted lieutenant-colonel. From January till July, 1865, as colonel of the 12th Pennsylvania cavalry, he was in command of a brigade and encountered Mosby's guerillas at Harmony, Virginia.

After the War

After serving as assistant instructor of infantry tactics in the US Military Academy, and in the Freedmen's bureau at New Orleans, he was assigned to duty in the west.

In 1868 he was made a major in the Seventh Cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer, and took part in Custer's 1874 expedition through the Black Hills. He was with George A. Custer 2 years later at the Batlle of Little Big Horn. Says PBS ...

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.

References & notes

Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889

More on the Web

See a PBS Piece on his role at Little Big Horn, a more thorough bio on the Indian Wars discussion site (former discussuion topic, not found as of 17 May 2004).


11/15/1834; Carrolton, IL


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