General Custer's life

Dimanche 3 février 7 03 /02 /Fév 13:32

On October 10, 1877, General Custer received full military honors at West Point Military Academy
source: Harper's Weekly
General Custer's Funeral

The remains of this gallant officer were laid in their last resting place in the West Point Cemetery on the 10th of October, with appropriate and impressive ceremonies. Early in the forenoon the body was taken from the receiving vault at Poughkeepsie, where it had been lying since last August, and conveyed by steamer to West Point. Thousands of people lined the banks on either side of the roadway as the procession approached, and stood in silence till it passed. It halted in front of the chapel, where the remains lay in state until 2 p.m., at which time the regular funeral service was commenced. Before the doors to the chapel were opened, an immense throng gathered in the vicinity, and some endeavored to gain admission, but the guard on duty prevented. Finally a surging of the crowd in front of the building showed that the funeral party was approaching. An officer ordered the entrance made clear, the doors were swung open, and the mourners passed slowly in. First came Major-General SCHOFIELD, commandant of the post, with the widow of the dead hero on his arm. 

Next came General CUSTER'S father and sister, and then followed more distant relatives of the deceased, and intimate friends of the family. The family group were seated upon the right of the main aisle. Besides other floral offerings, the cadets had placed upon the casket a column of immortelles two feet high, and near it rested the dead chieftain's sabre and helmet. At the foot was a beautiful wreath encircling the words " Seventh Cavalry,"
and around all, entwined in a tasteful manner, was a large American flag. Back of the chancel against the wall hung a large flag in festoons, and at the apex was a blue silk flag, on which, in letters of gold, were the words :" God and Our Country."

The funeral was conducted by Dr. FORSYTH, chaplain of the post, who first read a portion of the Episcopal burial service, after which the choir of cadets chanted the thirty-ninth and ninetieth psalms. When the hymns were finished, the services in the chapel were ended, and the guard of honor removed the remains from the edifice. By this time all the people who intended to be present were on the grounds, and were massed in the vicinity of the chapel. Drawn up in line fronting the. chapel were the cadets of the Military Academy, with the government band, and further back was the artillery, with horses attached to caissons. Opposite, and facing the cadets, were the organizations from The funeral procession, as shown in our illustration on page 841, marched along the picturesque route from the chapel to the beautiful little cemetery at the north end of the post. The grave is just inside the entrance, to the left of the gate. 

, and BUFFORD, in the order named. Close by these illustrious men was chosen the resting-place of CUSTER. The body was lowered into the ground, earth was sprinkled upon it, the burial service was completed by the chaplain, and the battalion of three hundred cadets fired three volleys over the grave. The echoes reverberated from side to side of the river, flung back from cliff to cliff, and died mournfully away. The funeral services were over, and the body of the brave CUSTER was left to rest where his comrades had laid him.


Mrs Custer was present at the services, attended by Major General Schofield. E.H. Custer, the father of General Custer, Mrs Nettie Smith, his sister, and several other immediate relatives were present

Lieutenant Braden, of the Seventh Calvary

Choir of cadets

Major General Thomas H. Neill, with escort, consisting of a detachment of cavalry, commanded by Colonel Beaumont

Cadet battalion of artillery, Colonel Piper, West Point Band, and cadet battalion of infantry, with arms reversed and colors draped.

Brevet Major General J. H. Fry, Brevet Major General B.B. Marcy, Brevet Brigadier General J.B. Kidd, General T.C. Devins, Adjutant General Forsyth, Colonel Stephen Clyford, Colonel Ludlow and Colonel Mitchell, pall bearers.

Carriages containing mourners and friends.

Officers of the Naval Academy.

Naval and Army officers.

Loyal Legion, Veteran Organisation of New York, commanded by General George H. Sharpe.

Volunteer and military officers.

Detachments, Twenty first Regiment and Bald Eagle Battery of Ploughkeepsie.

Delegation of the Society of the First Connecticut Volunteers.


- Captain Benteen, who betrayed 220 men under fire at Little Bighorn, never received military honors at his funerals. - 

General Custer's West Point Grave 

The Custer legacy

Mercredi 23 janvier 3 23 /01 /Jan 14:07

Custer's dogs were near their master during the Last Stand
292024124GhcyjV-ph.jpg "Custer was rarely without his dogs. They accompanied him on hunts and on campaigns; they ranged themselves at his feet, rested their heads on his lap, shared his bed and his food, got under foot, made nuisances of themselves, but never lost their special place in his affection. They were like people to him". 
Brian Dippie
"As I write, the dogs surround me: "Cardigan" is sleeping on the edge of my bed, "Tuck" at the head, and "Blücher" near by.... "
General Custer to his wife, July 15, 1874 (Black Hills expedition)

Poor Maida, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend;
Whose honest heart is still your master's own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone.
But who with me shall hold thy former place,
Thine image what new friendship can efface.
Best of thy kind adieu!
The frantic deed which laid thee low
This heart shall ever rue.
General Custer's poem to his dog Maida, killed during a buffalo hunt


The use of dogs for hunting on the Frontier
extract of James E. Potter, The Magazine of Western History,  Autumn 2005

... Many officers in die West owned greyhounds or other hunting dogs, which accompanied them even during Indian campaigns. General Eugene A. Carr took his greyhounds on the 1869 Republican River Expedition, which culminated in the death of Tall Bull and defeat of the Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers by the Fifth U.S. Cavalry and the Pawnee scouts at the Battle of Summit Springs. Convinced that his hounds could easily run down an antelope. Carr one day set them loose while William K. "Buffalo Bill" Cody and scout captain Luther North looked on. After a brief chase the antelope disappeared over a hill, with the panting greyhounds lagging hadly and losing ground at every step. Cody could not resist a quip at Carr's expense, remarking. "General, if anything the antelope is a little bit ahead."

In the 18705 Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie kept at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, a pack of foxhounds specially trained, or so the general thought, to pursue only wildcats and hears. After one exciting chase, Mackenzie was mortified to find that his prized hounds had cornered a pack of wild pigs.

Dogs appear everywhere in accounts of life on officer's row. Frances M. A. Roe. the wife of Lieutenant Fayette Roe, owned a well-loved greyhound named Hal while the couple lived at Fort Lyon, Colorado Territory, in 1871. In her letters Roe told of following her dog in chases after coyotes andjackrabbits. And, despite their failure to catch the antelope in 1869, Carr's greyhounds did successfully run down deer near Fort McPherson, Nebraska, in 1870. Custer's dogs stayed with him constantly, and they often appear in photographs taken during his service on the plains. Reports from western posts frequently mention bird dogs.


Custer and his dogs at Little Bighorn

When the battle began, Custer let his dogs behind him, but his orderly John Burkman couldn't catch them before they left the pack train and followed their beloved master.
Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg remembered a dog on Custer Hill when the Last Stand had finished. John Burkman said that he had seen one of the dogs on a distant hill, on June 26

None of the dogs has been seen again.

Letter from Custer to Libbie, June 12 1876 :

"Tuck" regularly comes when I am writing, and lays her head on the desk, rooting up my hand with her long nose until I consent to stop and notice her. She and Swift, Lady and Kaiser sleep in my tent."


Mercredi 5 décembre 3 05 /12 /Déc 12:21


Write a message near Libbie's grave to celebrate America's Golden Cavalier

"I wanted to be a mark of honor for the future generations."

George Armstrong Custer is 168 years old!




A comment posted by a visitor on

"This is one of the most beautiful grave markers at West Point "old" Academy Chapel. Next to this oblisque is Elizabeth (Libbie) Bacon Custer who was buried here 57 years after her brave and noble husband died. The base for this memorial was the original base for GAC's statue at West Point. Liibbie didn't like it so it was probably used for armamont during WWI. I have head tour guides deriding Cust er and not speaking well of his military service. That person and anyone with that mind-set showing this brave warrior's grave at WP is a fool. Custer was a brave and loyal patriot. He died fighing for his flag and the nation he served for almost 20 years including 4 years at the Academy. He was in every major battle of the Civil War (Army of the Potamac) and should not just be remembered as a failure at LBH. He was in 4 Indian fights. He was victorious in 3. Over 1/2 his command at LBH lived. He rode in with 500 and 265 perished. Custer should be remembered as an American hero and this nation needs to heal its "White-Christian" guilt over the native peoples of this land."

Jeudi 25 octobre 4 25 /10 /Oct 16:32

  1941: while Errol Flynn plays Custer on screen, an ordinary citizen of Michigan remembers Custer
source: Monroe Library

These are the days of Custer reminiscences in Monroe, awakened by the General George Armstrong Custer picture "They Died with Their Boots On" which closes a week's run at the Monroe Theatre today. Among those whose memories carry back to the post Civil War days in the city are Mr. and Mrs. Conrad F. Schrauder who live quietly at 706 West Front St. as they await July 22 and the seventieth anniversary of their marriage.

custer54u.JPG (20415 bytes)Mr. Schrauder, who was 93 years old last October, saw the Custer motion picture Wednesday afternoon accompanied by his son Edward "Mike" Schrauder. He like the picture, like the riding of the Indians and the cavalrymen of the Seventh Regiment, and marveled at the ability of the motion picture industry to re-stage so realistically those battle scenes. But he doesn't often go to the theater and he decided to see the Custer picture suddenly. Ordinarily pictures upset him too much.

Mrs. Schrauder didn't get to see the picture, She will be 91 years old on July 16 and since her ninetieth year has had difficulty in seeing although all other faculties are normal. Both Mr. and Mrs. Schrauder recall vividly and without difficulty the Monroe of the time of the Custers and the Bacons.

"One of my first recollections of General Custer", Mr. Schrauder said, "was of him riding through the streets with his yellow hair flying. I remember him one time Custer and two of his buddies decided they wanted a drink and rode their horses right into the saloon and up to the bar. The general always seemed to have a good time when he came to Monroe."

custer9u.JPG (17838 bytes)"Custer was a great hunter and killed plenty of buffalo" Mr. Schrauder recalls.

Mr. Schrauder's father was a butcher, one of a group of German citizens coming to Monroe at about the same time. Mr. Schrauder was 3 years old at the time the family came to America from Europe. Mrs. Schrauder, also born in Germany, came to America when she was 2 years old. She was the daughter of George Blitz, a contractor whose specialty was the making of frames for ornate church windows.

Custer knew Mr. Schrauder principally as "Coon" Schrauder, a nickname given him as a boy and derived from his given name Conrad. Custer sold quantities of dried meat to the Schrauder packing plant. Mr. Schrauder recalls the time General Custer sent him a large St. Bernard dog of the type which Custer had acquired to chase deer. The dog was quite valuable but Mr. Schrauder said he had little use for it and sought to have Custer take it back which he finally did.

The general and Libby Bacon had already married when Lena Bitz secured a job in the Custer family as a house maid at a salary of $1.50 to $2 a week. She worked for the Custers for three or four years, the Custer family then living in the Bacon house which stood on the site of the present post office. The General and his wife used to come to Monroe for visits often, she recalls, generally staying a week or so at a time. Only two of Emmanuel Custer's children were at home during the period she worked for the Custer family. They were Boston, the youngest, and Maggie, next to the youngest. Maggie graduated from Boyd Seminary during that period.

On one of his visits to Monroe General Custer purchased a farm for his brother. Nevin Custer who came up from Ohio to live on the place which comprised 80 acres and is the present Custer farm on the North Custer road as Mrs. Schrauder recalls it. She quit working for the Custers about the time of her marriage and saw them only infrequently afterwards.

When the general left for the west he sought to have Mrs. Schrauder accompany them, as their house maid, but she declined. Going with the General were Tom Custer, a colonel; Boston Custer, Tommy Reed of the family Custer visited in Monroe, and Lieutenant James Calhoun, who had married Maggie Custer.

"The Custers were all nice people," Mrs. Schrauder said. "They were always nice to me. My father was sick for a long time when I was a young girl and we had quite a hard time of it. Later he got better and oftentimes had four or five carpenters working for him."

"I don't think I'd have cared to see the picture, anyway," Mrs. Schrauder said, "but I'm glad he (Mr. Schrauder) liked it. I once was a moving picture of the Custer battle at the Reaper - and I got so wrapped up in it that I couldn't get to sleep until 3 a.m. So I don't think I would have gone even if I could see it." 


Lundi 8 octobre 1 08 /10 /Oct 17:25

"You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end. "
"I appeal to you as a soldier to spare me the humiliation of seeing my regiment march to meet the enemy and I not share its dangers."

  custer7s1.jpg (30195 bytes)

Dimanche 30 septembre 7 30 /09 /Sep 20:46

: Pritzker Military Library

"If Custer had run for Presidency in 1876, he would have been elected."

Political scientist and author James S. Robbins, extract of the interview


James S. Robbins on "Last of their class, Custer, Pickett, and the goats of West Point"

(with Real Player)

click here to buy the book

Samedi 8 septembre 6 08 /09 /Sep 17:32


source: newspaper article from Topeka, Kansas, date of June 1910, Monroe Library

In a big white farm house fronting the historic river Raisin, three miles north of Monroe, Mich., lives Nevin Custer, a typical Western farmer. He is up at daybreak to rattle down the hard coal burner and do the chores at the barn and of evenings he sits beside the kerosene lamp in the rag carpeted sitting room and reads the Democrat and the poultry journals to his wife and son. Not in years has the even flow of his life been interrupted. He lives today as he has lived since boyhood- quietly, unpretentiously, avoiding prominence, shunning public honors.

But above the old cherry desk in the sitting room, in a handsome gilted frame, hangs the picture of his brother, a black slouch hat pulled over his eyes, and around his mouth the set, determined .. bespeak a soldier and under the picture is inscribed:

"General George A. Custer. Died at the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1883".

In honor of this man in the picture, Custer the famous Indian fighter and soldier, President Taft and prominent men from all over the United States will assist in the dedication of an equestrian statue in front of the Monroe Courthouse on June 4, the little city of 3,000 population has been on tiptoe over the event for weeks. It will be the biggest celebration the town has ever experienced; officials and business men are scurrying to put the place in gala dress, but out on the farm Nevin Custer sits on his back veranda in his black satin shirt and overalls, and gazes out over the orchards and fields that he and George bought back in "63. Of the four Custer brothers, he alone survives.

The fresh spring breezes set the apple trees a-nodding. The rambling white house with its two chimneys, backed by its big red barns, speaks of prosperity and contentment. It seems a far cry back to the days when the placid river rang with Indian yells and only a little way down the stream the population of Monroe was massacred by the redskins.

Stooped a little from his labor about the farm, Nevin Custer is still robust bearing his 68 years as lightly as though little more than half their burden rested on his shoulders, only instead of his onetime activity, he likes to sit on the steps now while his son oversees the men, and he pulls the ends of his scraggy mustache, the mustache that has characterized all of the Custer brothers, as he recalls the days and years that have flown. 

custer2b.jpg (12227 bytes)

"It doesn't seem natural, some way, their doin' all this for George," he said to a friend who called on him recently. "Of course we all knew he deserved it, but when you think of him and me a hoein' corn together and how pap used to put us fifty yards apart so we couldn't loaf and talk, why it don't seem as though he had grown up to be a general, and had died, and was being honored by the President of the United States. Seems as though he's the same fellow that used to get lectured for carrying a book with him into the fields."

"Twasn't more than yesterday, was it, that George and Tom and Boston and me were all down on the old farm near New Rumley, Ohio, going to school in the district school house, with the pine slabs for seats and old Foster layin' for us up in front with the birch?"

"Lawsey, how that man could whip! But George never got licked, somehow. It was always some of the rest of us. Maybe that was because George kept his geography on top of his paper backed novels. He used to read 'em all the time in school, but Foster never caught him, for he was bright as a dollar and never missed a recitation. Foster'd come along and pat George on the head, and then yank up the rest of us, and make us stand on our toes on one crack and our fingers touching another while he lashed us over the backs."

"I got it for whispering about a spelling lesson; and Tom, he was always getting licked. Tom chewed tobacco, same as most of the boys did, but of course 'twasn't allowed in school. However, Tom couldn't let it alone, so he bored a hole in the school room floor with an auger to give him a place to spit. He tried to keep it covered with his foot, but of course after while Foster found it and Tom got licked.

"No teachers like them nowadays."

"It was unusual for the schoolmaster to treat the pupils at every holiday vacation, but old Foster wouldn't treat, so we locked him out of the schoolhouse and when he tried to come in through the window we kept him out with the coal shovel that we heated in the stove. I guess we all got licked for that, except George. George wasn't in it. He was home studying. Always studying.

The old man scratched the crown of this nearly bald head. "I can't remember things in order," he said. "They just come piecemeal, sort by scattering."

"I can remember about the days on the farm and how 'fraid George was of the girls and bashful. Why he'd blush as red as a tablecloth whenever a girl came his way. An yah know he didn't like the water much either. We used to go swimmmin' and boatin' and all that, but George never would. He always wanted to stay home and read.

"Yuh see father was pretty strict: stricter than most fathers nowadays are, I guess. He made us ride to church a-horseback every Sunday morning, and mother and Margaret came in the cart, and we had to sit there and never so much as smile."

"He worked the farm just the same way. Everybody had his work cut out an' he had to do it without whimpering and do it promptly; sort of religious duty, yuh know, only I remember George hated to get his clothes smelly; and he and I made a dicker so that I did all the work at the barns, while he split the wood and carried it in. I hated splitting wood and it was all done with a wedge in those days."

"Us younger boys always expected to grow up on the farm, but George didn't. He wanted to teach school right off and he got one over at Hopedale, Ohio after he had been up to Monroe there for a while going to Stebbins academy and boarding with this sister-in-law. Hopedale was fifteen miles from the farm and George used to walk it every other week and get home about midnight and wake us all up."

"Even when he was a little kid, George used to go down and drill with the Rumley Invincibles with a little wooden gun they made him. They thought he was a pretty good mascot, I guess. After he'd been teaching school awhile, he decided he wanted to go to West Point, so he up and asks Congressman John A. Bingham to appoint him."

"Bingham was a Republican and pap was a Democrat and we didn't think George would ever get anything. He did, though, after a while. Bingham appointed him in spite of politics- men was honester then than they are now- and if you ever saw a crazy youngster it was George."

"After that he was away from home a good deal, and nothing much happened on the farm except that I got to know Ann North pretty well- her father's farm ran close to ours- and I married her when I was 20." Mr. Custer grinned. "Folks married younger then, yuh know" he added, half apologetically.

"Before George could graduate from West Point the war broke out and he was sent south as a lieutenant to fight in the battle of Bull Run. We didn't get the war spirit so fast, back on the farm, but it came, straight enough, and I enlisted. Yep, though I'd have to go along and fight with George, yuh know. Thought maybe we could fight together same as we'd hoed corn and picked berries together in the fields."

"I went through all right till it came to the state camp at Columbus, and there," Mr. Custer's voice dropped to a disgusted drawl, "an there I got thrown out for rheumatism."

"Mad? Why, I was the maddest boy you ever saw in your life. I went back to the farm and Tom and Boston and I declared war against the whole United States, North, South and in between. And then the next thing I knew, Tom came home and said he'd enlisted. He was almost 17 then, which was under age. I laughed at him and told him I guessed he'd get as far as the state line maybe, but plagued if he didn't put it through, and off he marched with the Twenty-First Ohio."

"It was a dead old time on the farm during the war. Boston and I did the chores and spent our spare time looking for news from the front. Course we read how George was tearing things up and how he'd been made captain and put on General McClellan's staff. He was a great boy to write letters home and I tell yuh we certainly read 'em, those days. When he'd come home on furlough and we'd hear about Fair Oaks or Harrison's Landing or something new about Eliza, the old Negro mammy he picked up near Bull Run. She followed him clear through the war, was at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., when he was brought home from Little Big Horn, and she's living yet, somewhere down in Ohio. Maybe she'll be up for the dedication, I don't know."

"Let's see, what was I telling you about? Oh yes- he used to come home on furlough occasionally, and one of 'em he made up to Miss Elizabeth Bacon. Little Lizzie Bacon, we used to call her, daughter of Judge Bacon, president of the bank and a big man in Monroe. She was swinging on the gate one day when George went by to school and all of a sudden she yells: 'Hello, you Custer boy,' and that just won George right over." 

custer37u.jpg (33345 bytes)

Mr. Custer leaned back against the white pillar of the porch and passed his horny hand across his forehead.

"Things are pretty much jumbled in my mind after that. George and Elizabeth were married and George went south and sent back some fine fast horses. Frogtown, one of 'em was, and Don Juan another, and Blackhawk. But before that he and I came up here to Monroe and bought this farm. 110 acres, and father and mother moved to Monroe.

"Then came the Indian campaign out West, and the cholera epidemic here, and Judge Bacon died of it, and Elizabeth went to live with her mother at the old Bacon homestead. George got to be quite a hunter, and I always wandered at it because he wasn't much for handling a gun around home. That elk's head over there is one he killed."

"Relics? Yes, we've got a few. This little mortar was made from bullets picked up by the soldiers around Fort Hell, and the desk was one George had with him through the war. All of his swords and guns are down to the armory, I guess, except what his wife has with her in New York."

"It's no use tellin' yuh about his Indian fights, is it?" asked Mr. Custer. "Yuh got all those in history. Things went on about as usual here at the farm. Don't seem as if anything much ever happened here. But we kept hearing news of Indian uprisings and battle and finally come the word about the Little Big Horn and that George and Thomas and Boston all were killed. Tom and Boston had gone back with him after his last visit home, just to see the country and be along with him as leader of the expedition."

"I remember I had been down in Ohio to see about some land and was driving back to Monroe. I pulled into Hastings, Ohio for the night, and when the mail came in there was the news of the battle. I didn't believe it at first, but I drove on home as fast as the team could travel and there I found Monroe all draped in mourning."

Suddenly the old man's hands clenched tightly at his side.

"I didn't intend to say it, an' I won't say much, but I'll tell yuh this, if it hadn't been for U.S. Grant, George Custer would a been alive today." 

The little blue eyes flashed like the gleam of steel unconsciously the old man's head went back with the same fighting spirit that Custer showed in the Indian infested valley of the Big Horn.

"I won't tell you all about what Grant did to George. You can find out easy enough. It was the Belknap investigation, you know. Oh, I won't say any more. It makes my blood boil, and I'm liable to say something that I hadn't ought. But we don't like Grant around here."

His eyes fixed themselves sternly on the distant winding river; and slowly the fires within their depths died away; the contracted brow relaxed.

"After all we didn't see much of each other, George and I. He was away making a name for himself, taking an active part in things. And I stayed home and tended the farm. George liked the soldiering and the public honors; I never could have been satisfied that way. Why, pap wanted me to be a preacher and named me Johnson after a Presbyterian man who said he'd educate me into the clergy, but pshaw, I couldn't do it. Too conspicuous for me."

"We've had some pretty rough times, we Custers. Name sort of stands for fight. And this old river has seen its bloody times too, though you never would guess it today. I'm the only one left of the brothers now, and though its nice, of course, to gave George honored as he deserved, still the war is over, and the Indians are gone, and now that times are peaceful again, I can't imagine George as a fighting man half so well as I see him hoeing corn down in Ohio. I guess that's because I'm a farmer." 

Dimanche 29 avril 7 29 /04 /Avr 20:34
Jeudi 26 avril 4 26 /04 /Avr 19:09


Rewarded with rapid promotions, he became the youngest brigadier general at 23) and, later, major general in the Union Army. During the final six months of the war, Custer's men captured 111 artillery pieces, 65 battle flags, and 10,000 prisoners. It was he who accepted the whitefringed towel as a flag of truce from Maj. William Simms of Gen. James Longstreet's Confederate forces at Appomattox. Sheridan, who witnessed the formal surrender, bought the table on which the document was signed and asked Custer to give it to Libby. The accompanying note stated: "... There is scarcely an individual in our service who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your gallant husband."

Custer was accused of being arrogant, a glory hunter, showoff, clothes horse, braggart, risk-taker, and one who "cooked the books" on his achievements. All except the latter were true, though his record benefited from occasional exaggeration. Can he be condemned for these characteristics? One might ask about Douglas MacArthur with his 50-mission cap, sunglasses, corncob pipe, penchant for public relations, and eventual insubordination; George Patton with pearl-handled revolvers running his tanks until out of fuel and slapping a soldier he thought was a coward; or Mark Clark's unnecessary decimation of historic Monte Cassino. The fact is, they were all winners, as was the Custer of the East.Ellizabeth Bacon Custer

With the ending of the Civil War, Custer was reduced to the rank of captain. What could this man of action do during the time of the South's reconstruction? For a while he drank and gambled in civilian life, despite Libby's efforts to "Christianize" him and served army administrative roles i Texas, Louisiana, and Kentucky. He wa offered a 16,000 position with Mexico's military, but the Army refused to give him leave. However, military opportunity was to come his way once more.

The Indian Wars

West of the Mississippi River, "the Indian problem" became increasingly bothersome to settlers moving to the plains in growing numbers. While liberal-minded Easterners regarded the Indians as children of nature, Westerners knew differently and emphasized the Indians's savagery in pleading for more protection. The official report of Col. Henry Carrington, the post commander at a Bozeman Trail fort, describes the carnage of some 80 soldiers killed: "Eyes tom out and laid on the rocks; noses cut off; ears cut off, chins hewn off; teeth chopped out; joints of fingers; brains taken out and exposed; arms taken out from sockets; private parts severed and indecently placed on the person.... All this does not approximate the whole truth."

The 1860s and 1870s brought what were known as the Indian Wars. Although there were few big battles, there were constant skirmishes, leading up to the massacre at the Little Big Horn.

For instance, in 1862, there was the Minnesota Uprising in which Sioux killed some 600 whites, largely precipitated by corruption in the Indian Agency there. Whites were terrorized and 38 Indians were hanged. The cavalry forces at Ft. Phil Kearney in Wyoming suffered a loss of more than 80 men at the hand of Red Cloud's warriors. In between, settlers were raided, killed, and mutilated; Pony Express and stage stations robbed; etc.

Treaty Indians were difficult to distinguish from non-treaty ones. The former were under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department; the latter, under the War Department. A pattern developed whereby Indians fought whites in summer and returned to reservation sanctuary in winter, being fed and armed by the Federal government. Sheridan was furious at this, complaining, "General Hazen feeds them and we fight them."

Custer was called west in 1866 to train and lead the newly created 7th Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Riley, Kans. Appointed to the rank of lieutenant colonel at age 27, he took part in the campaign headed by Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, which was a dismal failure. A year later, he was accused of "several indiscretions," among which was going AWOL to see his wife, whom he thought was ill. This brought him a court martial, and he was suspended without pay for one year.

Hancock was replaced by Sheridan, and he and Custer made plans for a winter campaign against the Indians, who were then most vulnerable. About 125 whites had been killed by them in Kansas, and Sheridan was under pressure to do something. The result was the Battle of the Washita in the Oklahoma Panhandle in November, 1868. Sheridan's briefing to Custer was: "I rely upon you in everything, and shall send you on this expedition without giving you any orders, leaving you to act entirely on your judgment."

After surrounding the village, Custer attacked through a foot of snow at the break of dawn. He wrote beforehand that some squaws and children would be killed, as many of them often were combatants. A number were slain, and Custer was villified by the East and dubbed Squaw Killer. Yet, farmers' foodstuff and possessions and Kansas mail were found in the Washita camp. A white prisoner was gutted by a squaw, and the notorious Dog Soldiers, who warred on whites, also were present.

More controversy followed as Maj. Joel Elliot pursued Indians downstream and ran into other encampments. Custer felt he had to return to protect his supplies, and Elliot and 18 troopers were left to fare on their own. All were killed. It was a command decision, but brought considerable criticism. Militarily, the Battle of the Washita was highly successful as, for the first time, the Army demonstrated it could go anywhere at any time to bring the battle to the Indians. Sheridan congratulated Custer, as the latter did what he was ordered to do.

Custer's other assignments included exploration of the Yellowstone and Powder River areas, providing protection for the railroad, leading visiting dignitaries on tours, and making a foray into the Black Hills - an action that was allowed under a treaty. In assessing his reputation, it must be realized that the makeup of the Army of the West was different from the East, and Custer felt he had to instill discipline in unmotivated and largely untrained troops. Of the approximately 25,000 soldiers assigned to the West, some were former Union officers waiting out their pension, often reduced to enlisted man rank; others were opportunists who found the army a convenient way to get to the gold fields; and still others foreigners who wanted to learn English and the American way of life. Desertions took a toll of about one-third of the troops and suicide another eight percent.

Custer put spit and polish to the troops, ordered deserters shot, and pushed his men to the extreme to make them become an envied fighting unit that was recognized as elite. This provoked a love/hate relationship. Outsiders and many insiders regarded him as nothing less than a tyrant. His second in command, Maj. Marcus Reno, a distinguished Civil War hero himself, hated Custer, and the two leaked reports to the press criticizing each other. The troops knew of this dissension.

As if not controversial enough, Custer, a talented writer, penned articles exposing the sad plight of the Indians. He also fanned the flames of politics when he testified before Congress about the corruption in Indian Agencies, implicating Ulysses S. Grant's brother, Orvil. Custer always made sure his own name was in the news.

By 1875-76, the Indian Wars were coming to a climax. All Indians were ordered to their reservations, and those who did not return were to be regarded as hostiles. Indian agents lied to the army about the number who presently were on the reservations. A false high count produced surplus supplies for the agents, who thereby profited.

A master plan for a three-prong cleanup of the hostiles was made. Generals George Crook, Alfred Terry, and John Gibbon were to converge in the Valley of the Little Big Horn, where the Indians supposedly had gathered. Custer was under Terry's command and proceeded from Ft. Abraham Lincoln. He had about 650 in his regiment, which was at 60% strength, about one-third new recruits. Their weapons were sidearms and single-shot Springfield carbine rifles that fouled easily. Ejection problems often required one man to repair his weapon while three others continued firing.

The generals believed the number of hostiles to be around 800, largely on the basis of false reports from the Indian Agencies. A scout under Reno's command indicated agreement with this figure. The Army's fatal presupposition was that the Indians wouldn't fight a pitched battle, but, as usual when attacked by a major force, would disperse and run away, hence the enclosing pincers movement. Terry's orders were "to preclude the possibility of the escape of the Indians." The fast cavalry would force them to flee, thus confronting the infantry, and a cordoning maneuver would effect their surrender.

Plans go awry, however. On his way to converge with the other columns, Crook ran into a fierce encounter with the Sioux at the Battle of the Rosebud. He retreated after a standoff and never met the other troops. Neither Terry nor Gibbon knew of this situation at the time.

Terry told Custer that "It is impossible to give you any definite instructions in regard to this movement, and, were it not impossible to do so, the Department Commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy and ability to impose on you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy."

The rest is history. Custer split his regiment into three groups and was killed along with about 230 of his men. His strategy was to have Reno ride through the village creating havoc. Before the Indians had a chance to regroup, Custer and Maj. Frederick Benteen would come to Reno's aid from other directions.

It is true that his scouts told him of a huge encampment ahead, saying the horse herd was so numerous they looked like worms. Custer couldn't see them himself, and so had to make his own judgment. He knew, though, that Indian scouts were superstitious and often unreliable in their reports when encountering omens.

(...) The minimum number of warriors probably was around 2,000.

In retrospect, Gen. Nelson Miles, a battle-seasoned veteran of East and West, thought Custer acted correctly. Pres. Grant excoriated Custer, and the nation mourned its "Boy General" in the year of its centennial. Out of respect for Libby, many who wanted to speak out against Custer decided to wait until her death to do so. Ironically, she outlived almost all of them, surviving until 1933 and never ceasing to extol her husband's virtues. The Indians told confusing stories, worried about retaliation. Enough is known, however, not to make absolute judgments about the Custer of the West.

Today, George Armstrong Custer, the tragic hero, lies buried under a weeping beech next to his ever-loving wife. Perhaps we can agree with Shakespeare's observation, "The evil that men do lives on long after them, the good is oft interred with their bones."

Was he a distinguished and honored military hero or a headstrong, irresponsible egomaniac?

source: USA Today (Magazine) | Date: 5/1/1994 | Author: Kreyche, Gerald F.

Heroes are like the phoenix; when they die, they always are resurrected out of their own ashes. Subsequently and inevitably, their lives become legend and, in them, history and myth merge so as to become almost indistinguishable. A prime example is the case of George Armstrong Custer, who died at the Little Big Horn in southeast Montana, June 25, 1876. About 300 books, 45 movies, and 1,000 paintings have centered on him. Custer has had a city, county, highway, national forest, and school named in his honor.

Controversial in life, he is more so in death. Even his grave marker at West Point was changed at the insistence of his wife, Libby. The original was that of a cavalryman astride a charger; the second, a more simple obelisk. Did his widow, who lived for 55 years after his death, shape the image of both the real-life and mythical Custer?

Custeriana continues to generate controversy. One might say it even thrives on it. Examples are Congress' rescinding Maj. Marcus Reno's court martial verdict a few decades ago. Another is the renaming of The Custer Battlefield that was the site of a national military cemetery and given national monument status by Pres. Harry Truman in 1946. Political correctness, at the urging of Native Americans, won out, and the national monument was renamed the Little Big Horn Battlefield. Apparently, Custer's name was anathema. Directorship of the monument also changed. Whites were replaced and the previous and present Monument Director both are of Indian ancestry. To complete the purge of Custer influence, the Custer Battlefield Association, which ran the book store and previously contributed time, material, personnel, and money, was ousted in 1993.

A prominent encyclopedia that, when published in 1975, told of the Indians slaughtering Custer's troops at the Little Big Horn accuses Custer in its new revised edition of effecting a massacre at the western engagement at Washita in the Oklahoma Panhandle. It is instructive that the 1941 Errol Flynn movie, "They Died with Their Boots On," glorified Custer and received rave reviews as a classic. Of course, it served wartime ardor, coming out when the nation was confronting World War II. In the anti-Vietnam War era, Dustin Hoffman's 1970 film, Little Big Man, portrayed Custer as a raving maniac.

A major fire on the battlefield in August, 1983 (possibly set by disgruntled Indians), exposed the area, and a subsequent two-year archaeological dig with forensic and anthropology experts took place in 1984-85 85. More than 1,000 additional artifacts were discovered, offering new grist for the interpretation mill, and Custer's Last Stand was fought all over again in a spate of books on topics as diverse as time/motion studies and new archaeological explanations. Opinions as to Custer's blame for the defeat became doubted.

Why is Custer of such perennial and controversial interest? Was Custer a Janus? Were there two George Armstrong Custers - one, the Custer of the East, a distinguished and honored breveted Civil War general; the other, a maniacal regular rank Lt. Col. Custer of the West? Was the first a hero and the second a goat?

George Armstrong Custer was born in 1839 in New Rumely, Ohio. His father was a blacksmith and a staunch Democrat. The family moved to Monroe, Mich., where they joined other relatives. How Democrat Custer got an appointment to West Point from diehard Republican Congressman John Bingham remains a mystery.

After a probationary period, Custer received full cadet status in 1857. Always a prankster and bon vivant, he graduated at the bottom of his class and his record of demerits (mostly for minor infractions) was the highest at the Point. Cadets sympathetic to the South, many who were friends of Custer, already had left the academy. They would be met later on the field of battle. Upon graduation, he married Elizabeth Bacon, known always as Libby, who as well-connected politically and became more so as Custer's career flourished.

He served on the staff of or had contact with famous generals who favored him, including Winfield Scott, George McClellan, Irvin McDowell, Alfred Pleasanton, and the feisty, profanity-spouting Phil Sheridan. It is easy to understand why. Fiercely loyal, Custer was flamboyant, optimistic, brave, impetuous to the point of recklessness - and he was lucky! Nearly a dozen horses were shot from beneath him, but he never was wounded seriously.

A man of incredible energy, needing only a few hours of sleep a night, he led his troops into battle with fearsome saber charges, riding four horse lengths ahead and always on the attack. The press latched onto him, for he was a colorful figure as he led his Michigan troops, their orange-red bandannas flying in the wind, calling, "C'mon, you Michiganders!"

That he was a genuine Civil War hero is disputed by no one. For his leadership and many victories in that conflict, he was praised by the press, generals, and Pres. Abraham Lincoln.

His army career in the East found Custer serving variously as staff officer, spy, balloonist, courier, engineer, and especially as a cavalryman. In the early days of the war, the saying had it that "no one ever saw a dead cavalryman." Custer changed this, and his cavalry charges reminds one of the German Panzer units with their blitzkrieg strikes.

He bested the elite of the South's cavalry units headed by J.E.B. Stuart and Jubal Early. Custer actively was involved in such battles as Bull Run, Gettysburg, Antietam, Yellow Tavern, Beverly Ford, the Wilderness, Waynesboro, and Winchester.


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