Custer in the Civil War

Vendredi 21 décembre 5 21 /12 /Déc 09:00
Men of Custer's division who gained the Medal of Honor in the Shenandoah Valley, during the Civil War
Medal of Honor recipients : Hartwell B. Compson, Robert Niven, & Andrew Kuder, Charles Goheen, Daniel Kelly, Henry Bickford, James Congdon, John Miller, Peter O'Brien, Warren Carman, Harry Harvey, George Ladd, Michael Crowley
Unit : General George Armstrong Custer's 3rd division, US cavalry

Battle: Battle of Waynesboro, March 2, 1865

It was a battle where the Eighth New York Cavalry, under the gallant leadership of Major Hartwell B. Compson, earned undying fame.  The major himself performed wonderful feats of bravery and set an example which electrified his men and inspired them to deeds of splendid heroism.  At the head of his troops who were selected to make the attack, he charged down the highway into Waynesboro.  

The enemy had five pieces of artillery in the roadway and had thrown up earthworks on each side of the road ; behind these breastworks infantry was posted.  He was at the head of his command with a color-bearer on one side and a bugler on the other, when they struck the Confederate forces and a hand-to-hand fight took place.  Just then General Early and his staff moved down their front to direct the movement of the Confederate forces.
Coming upon Early's headquarters battle-flag he ordered the bearer to surrender.  A fierce fight at close quarters ensued and finally a heavy blow with the sabre knocked his opponent from his horse and the flag was captured.
Breaking through the Confederates, he moved his forces down towards South River and kept up the charge until he reached the bank.  Seeing that the enemy were closing in on his rear and that his support did not come up, he crossed the river and found earthworks thrown up on the opposite side from which the enemy could have prevented their crossing had they occupied them.  He at once dismounted his men and placed them in the Confederate earthworks.  

Then when Custer pressed down upon the rebels they were forced to cross the river, where they were ordered to surrender.  The result was that when the battle was over Colonel Compson's command alone had taken 800 prisoners five pieces of artillery, 1,500 stands of small arms and eight battle-flags.
Being needed no longer at the ford, Compson, who had noticed the enemy moving their wagon-trains over the mountains by way of Rock Fish Gap, followed with his regiment, overhauled it and captured everything in sight.  It was in this action where Second Lieutenant Robert Niven, of Company H, of the same regiment, had a hot encounter with a body of rebels.  "I was ordered to pick out five men from my company,"  says the lieutenant,  " to go ahead as an advance guard and we pressed along the narrow, hilly road, densely lined with woods.  By this time the atmosphere was quite foggy.  I had gotten far in advance of my comrades when suddenly I found myself right in the midst of a wagon-train composed of about ten wagons and a dozen Confederates, commanded by a lieutenant.  

With a great show of bravery I ordered them to surrender and promised that every one who attempted to escape would be shot on the spot.  But they saw that a one-man order to twelve scattered men was practically worthless, when the bushes around there offered such a good opportunity to get away. Consequently, when the regiment came up I had captured not only three or four prisoners, but also two rebel flags, ten army wagons with mules attached, the lieutenant's horse, and all of General Early's official papers."
Second Lieutenant Andrew Kuder, First Sergeant Charles A. Goheen and Sergeant Daniel Kelly of Company G, and also Corporal Henry H.  Bickford and Sergeant James Congdon as well as Private John Miller of this same regiment, the Eighth New York Cavalry, were fortunate enough to capture rebel colors in this grand melee.
Rebel flags were also captured in this battle by Privates Peter O'Brien and Warren Carman, of the First New York Cavalry (Lincoln),  and Harry Harvey, George Ladd and Michael Crowley of the Twenty-second New York Cavalry.  All of above mentioned were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Mercredi 19 décembre 3 19 /12 /Déc 17:05

The Story of Generals Young and Custer
Cartersville Bartow County

Pierce Manning Butler Young was a young West Point cadet in 1861 from Cartersville, Georgia. His roommate, George Armstrong Custer, was a Yankee. They were best friends; but their worlds were different.   

When Georgia seceded from the Union, Pierce followed his state; Custer followed  the Union. Both soon became generals but for different countries and armies. As fate would have it, they met in conflict.                                        
Early one evening in 1863, General Custer was eating dinner in a commandeered Virginia farmhouse with his staff. Confederates broke through the perimeter and  Custer was forced to evacuate before he finishing dinner. Knowing his old roommate was commanding the assaulting Confederates, he told the reluctant hostess to tell his Southern friend, General Young, to enjoy his unfinished dinner.

The Civil War...

 Painting by Don Troiani
General Young entered the home a hero and finished his Yankee friend's dinner. After a good Southern night's sleep, breakfast was served by his grateful hostess, but soon interrupted.                                                  
This time Custer's Union forces broke through the perimeter and Young and his staff were forced to evacuate before finishing breakfast. Young, knowing his adversary, told the hostesses to tell his Yankee friend Custer to enjoy the rest of his breakfast.                                                                
Custer re-entered the Southern home. Legend has it that he left a note for his old Rebel friend thanking him for a most enjoyable breakfast.                    
After the Civil War Young went on to become a United States Congressman, Ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras, and Consul-General to St. Petersburg, Russia. His Yankee roommate went to the Little Big Horn. Today, very few have heard of General P. M. B. Young. Everybody has heard of General George Armstrong Custer.

custer3.jpg (4839 bytes)young,p.JPG (3828 bytes)

Mardi 20 novembre 2 20 /11 /Nov 20:47

 How Custer managed his units during Civil War battles
edited by 
"conz", military officer, West Point graduate, 
source: Custer Victorious, by Gregory J. Urwin, Bison Books



Time is of the essence:
“Custer was still a good two miles outside of Appomattox Station when the sun began to fail, but not wishing to tire his command or let it get spread out in the darkness, he drew the 3rd Cavalry Division into a park for the night. Let the men sleep; they will be busy enough tomorrow. While the Red Ties were settling down, a prisoner was brought to the Boy General…Four defenseless trains full of munitions and supplies were waiting at Appomattox Station for the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Yankees could probably get there well ahead of the Confederates. At that precise moment a courier from Merritt gave Custer an order to halt and rest his division. Old Curly turned to one of his staff and directed him to relay this message to the Chief of Cavalry: ‘I just have word that there are four train loads of provisions for Gen. Lee at the station two miles from here, if I do not receive orders to the contrary, I am going to capture those trains.’ Before that aide was out of sight, Custer had his brigades mounted and clattering up the road at a trot, the 1st Connecticut and 2nd Ohio out in front as an advance guard.”

Orders for an advance guard:
“Colonel Pennington was detached with the 1st Connecticut, the 2nd Ohio, and the 2nd New York and directed to pitch into anything that got in his way.”

Using his adjudant to monitor a ford crossing:
“When he had first spied those Southern foot soldiers veering away from the turnpike, Custer had sent his new adjutant, Captain Levant W. Barnhart, downstream t monitor a ford half a mile below his left.”
p. 172 

Racing ahead with small forces to cut off the enemy’s retreat:
“Taking off with only the 1st Vermont and 5th New York Cavalry and bidding his other regiments to follow as soon as they could break away and get rid of their prisoners, Old Curly jumpted his charger into a rocky ravine and clattered down to a blind ford he knew a quarter of a mile from the bridge. Hastily forming his two regiments on the south bank, the Boy General galloped forward half a mile and then turned east toward Early’s escape route.”

Tactics at Tom’s Brook:
“While the Rebs were diverted by Pennington’s skirmishers and Peirce’s stubborn battery, he ordered the 8th an 22nd New York and the 18th Penssylvania to veer right and come down on Rosser’s flank, and the 2nd Brigade was brought up to administer the coup de grace.”

Tactics at Mt. Crawford:
“Swiftly gauging the situation, he sent two regiments from Capehart’s brigade, the 1st New York and 1st West Virginia, to swim the river a mile above the bridge and then pounce on Rosser’s flank while he charged across the flaming span.”

Tactics as Waynesboro:
“Making one of his quick reconnaissances, Old Curly spotted this weakness and decided to take Old Jubilee without waiting for Merritt and Devin. Custer had Pennington dismount three regiments from his 1st Brigade armed with Spencer carbines…and move around the Confederate left under the cover of some woods near the river. Led by the division’s Acting Assistant Inspector-General, LTC Edward W. Whitaker, the flanking force got into position unseen, crouching among the trees and awaiting the signal from Custer that would turn them loose on Early’s hindquarters. Custer kept the enemy’s attention riveted to the front by having Colonel Wells send forward a line of mounted skirmishers to pester his opponents.”


Buy "Custer Victorious" now!
Custer Victorious: The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer 
Mardi 13 novembre 2 13 /11 /Nov 16:01

  General Custer's triumph during the Civil War
by Roy Morris Jr., America's Civil War Magazine, March 2001,

The winter of 1864-65 was one of the harshest on record in Virginia's war-torn Shenandoah Valley. Heavy snows and frigid temperatures conspired to freeze into place two opposing armies that had just spent the previous fall contending for control of the vital Southern breadbasket. In Winchester, at the northern end of the valley, the Union Army of the Shenandoah, commanded by feisty Major General Philip H. Sheridan, rested in comparative comfort, well-supplied by the efficient Federal Quartermaster Corps -- notwithstanding the veteran soldiers' seemingly unbreakable habit of eating up five days' rations in four days' time. Meanwhile, 90 miles to the south at Staunton, Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early's Confederate Army of the Valley shivered and starved in stark contrast to their victorious enemy. Early's thrice-beaten soldiers huddled in their run-down huts and ragged tents, their morale as low as the arctic temperatures outside. "Men's spirits dull, gloomy and all are evidently hopeless, waiting for we know not what end," one private wrote.

 The two armies' contrasting moods mirrored their commanders' divergent fortunes. "Little Phil" Sheridan, all 5 feet 5 inches of him, stood high in the ranks of public opinion. His three successive victories in the Shenandoah Valley, at Winchester, Fisher's Hill and -- most prominently -- Cedar Creek, had effectively ended two years of Union frustrations in the Confederacy's most important granary. Tough, unsentimental and confident to the point of cockiness, Sheridan had more than justified Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's controversial decision the previous summer to give him command of the Army of the Shenandoah. Told by more than one person that the diminutive Sheridan was "rather a little fellow," the taciturn Grant had responded, "You will find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him." 

Sheridan's Confederate counterpart, Jubal Early, was not so sanguine. "Old Jubilee" could more than match Sheridan's rough, salty language and personal bravery, but he could not match the Federals' overwhelming advantage in sheer numbers. While Sheridan counted nearly 10,000 battle-tested cavalry troopers in his winter camp, Early could scarcely scrounge together one-eighth that number of Rebel soldiers. To make matters worse, the enemy's destruction of farms and livestock in the valley had depleted the Confederates' food and forage supplies. To keep his men and horses from withering away completely, Early had been forced to disperse his already dwindling command. He returned two cavalry brigades to General Robert E. Lee's equally hard-pressed army at Petersburg and sent another brigade to winter in southwestern Virginia, along with an infantry brigade and an artillery battalion. The situation was so dire that artillerymen who accepted responsibility for feeding their horses were allowed to take them home.

Two months earlier, on the morning of October 19, 1864, neither commander could have guessed what their comparative conditions would soon be. That morning, while Sheridan was still sleeping in Winchester after returning from a whirlwind visit to Washington, Early had sent his army crashing into the Union lines outside Middletown at Cedar Creek. The pre-dawn surprise attack, spearheaded by three divisions under Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's command, had nearly destroyed Sheridan's army. A prematurely jubilant Early, consciously echoing Napoleon's words at the Battle of Austerlitz half a century earlier, had greeted the rising sun with the satisfied exclamation, "The sun of Middletown!"

An unaccountable delay in pressing the attack -- Gordon accused Early of shrugging off his calls for another charge with the airy reasoning, "This is glory enough for one day" -- had allowed Sheridan to ride back to his army in a stirring 10-mile dash known ever afterward as "Sheridan's Ride." Once on the field, the Union commander had managed to rearrange his lines and inspire his troops, telling them flatly, "We'll sleep in our own beds tonight, or we'll sleep in hell." A subsequent counterattack, ably supported by Union cavalry, had completely reversed the Confederates' gains that morning and sent Early and his army stumbling southward in ignominious defeat.

Sheridan's victory at Cedar Creek, together with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's capture of Atlanta earlier that fall, had gone a long way toward enabling President Abraham Lincoln to win re-election. Lincoln's victory at the ballot box, in turn, ensured that the North would continue pressing its "hard war" against the South, and nowhere was that concept more harshly carried out than in the Shenandoah Valley. Throughout the fall of 1864, Sheridan's troopers fanned out across the lower valley, burning barns, poisoning wells, killing livestock and doing all they could to follow their commander's orders to "consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills and drive off all stock in the region." Valley residents who complained about the wholesale destruction were told, per Sheridan's instructions, "that they have furnished too many meals to guerrillas to expect much sympathy."

One subordinate who followed Sheridan's instructions to the letter was Brevet Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer. The flamboyant 25-year-old commanded Sheridan's 3rd Cavalry Division, and that fall he led his troopers on a series of raids and reprisals against the deadly Confederate guerrillas who patrolled the region. Custer directly owed his new rank to Sheridan, who had requested following the Battle of Cedar Creek that Custer and 30-year-old Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, whom Sheridan proudly styled his "brave boys," be promoted. The impetuous Custer, brave to the point of recklessness, was Sheridan's particular protégé. Perhaps Sheridan saw something of himself in Custer: Both men had struggled mightily to complete their courses at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Indeed, Custer was the class "goat" in 1861, finishing dead last academically. More likely, however, the unsentimental Sheridan simply appreciated the young Michigander's unhesitating obedience to orders and his utter lack of remorse in carrying them out.

Repeatedly that fall, Custer crossed swords with Lt. Col. John Singleton Mosby and his 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion. Mosby's men were legally sworn Confederate soldiers, but their irregular raiding habits caused them to be considered guerrillas, and Custer, for one, was not much troubled by military formalities. In early October, near Dayton, Custer had a Southern bushwhacker summarily shot. Two days later, two more captured Confederates were tried as spies and executed. On October 12, one of Mosby's horsemen was hanged from a tree alongside a roadway, bearing a placard that read, "In retaliation." And when a favorite trooper in the 6th Michigan was killed by a sniper shot from one of two adjacent houses, the owners of both houses were dragged outside and shot, without reference to which -- if either -- was the guilty party. Custer was also blamed erroneously for the execution of six Mosby's Rangers at Front Royal on September 23. In fact, Merritt had commanded the force that captured the Rangers, but Custer was present when four of the men were shot down in a field behind the Methodist Church -- one in front of his screaming mother -- and two others were hanged from a nearby walnut tree. The flamboyant Custer was easily the most recognizable Yankee on hand for the killings, and residents of the town mistakenly labeled him the chief perpetrator of the outrage. Mosby, who had not been present for the initial attack, began stockpiling any Custer troopers he managed to capture, and on November 6, at Rectorville, he had 27 Federal prisoners draw numbered slips of paper to determine which seven would be executed in reprisal for the murders at Front Royal and the slaying of a seventh Confederate prisoner on October 13. The unlucky seven were led away (two managed to escape) and executed, with a note left dangling from one of the bodies, reading: "These men have been hung in retaliation for an equal number of Colonel Mosby's men hung by order of General Custer, at Front Royal. Measure for measure." 


The reprisals at Rectorville put an end to the most blatant violations of military code, but they left behind a festering bitterness in Custer and his men. That bitterness was compounded by a surprise attack on Custer's camp at Lacey Springs in mid-December by members of Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser's skeleton cavalry force. With the two opposing armies largely locked into place for the winter, only the cavalry could negotiate the ice-wracked countryside, and Custer and his troopers had set out on a raid toward Staunton. Instead, nine miles above Harrisonburg, Custer's camp was overrun by Rosser's hard-charging riders. Little real damage was done, but the blow embarrassed the Union cavalry commander, not least because Rosser had been his best friend at West Point, and Custer was forced to explain to Sheridan -- somewhat sheepishly -- how he had managed to get himself attacked in his camp in the first place.

Fortunately for Custer, Sheridan was in a forgiving mood, and the incident at Lacey Springs was quickly dismissed, if not forgotten. Custer spent the rest of the winter with his wife, Elizabeth, who had come south to join her husband during his triumphant visit to Washington following the Battle of Cedar Creek. The popular cavalry commander had been selected by Sheridan to lead an honor guard to present a number of captured Confederate battle flags to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. It was the sort of extravagant ceremony that Custer always excelled at, and even the hard-to-please Stanton was impressed by the young general's gleaming demeanor. "A gallant officer always makes gallant soldiers," the secretary told him. Following the ceremony, the Custers made their way back to the Shenandoah Valley -- carefully escorted by 150 handpicked men -- and set up housekeeping at the home of Robert and Sarah Glass, four miles outside Winchester. The Glasses were Quakers and, in the words of Libbie Custer, "such nice people."

With winter campaigning at a standstill, the Custers took a 20-day furlough in late January, visiting family and friends in their hometown of Monroe, Mich. A fellow traveler on the train to Michigan jotted down a hasty, hero-worshiping account of the general in his diary. "Genl Custar [sic] reminded me of Tennyson's description of King Arthur," wrote Lewis T. Ives. "He is tall straight with light complexion, clear blue eyes, golden hair which hangs in curls on his shoulders[,] has a fine nose." Kingly or not, Custer took advantage of his furlough to put himself right with God. At a Sunday evening service at the Monroe Presbyterian Church, he experienced a religious conversion, one that left him feeling, Custer said: "somewhat like the pilot of a vessel who has been steering his ship upon familiar and safe waters but has been called upon to make a voyage fraught with danger. Having in safety and with success completed one voyage, he is imbued with confidence and renewed courage, and the second voyage is robbed of half its terror. So it is with me."

When Custer returned to Winchester in mid-February, he quickly learned from Sheridan what that second voyage would be. For the past four months, since the great Union victory at Cedar Creek, Grant had been urging Sheridan to cut the Virginia Central Railroad at or around Charlottesville and then move eastward toward Richmond and the rear of Robert E. Lee's lines at Petersburg. For various reasons -- inclement weather, Mosby's guerrillas, the threat of Confederate reinforcements in the valley and just plain stubbornness -- Sheridan had resisted. But Grant was impossible to dissuade, and he sent Sheridan a new set of discretionary orders: Sheridan was to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River canal, capture Lynchburg and then either return to Winchester or link up with Sherman's army in North Carolina. Sheridan decided to obey Grant's orders -- but only up to a point. 

At dawn on February 27, 1865, Sheridan and his cavalry broke camp at Winchester and headed south. Along with two full cavalry divisions and a section of artillery, the blue-clad force included a long train of supply wagons, a pontoon train, 12 ambulances and two medical wagons. Each trooper rode out with five days' worth of rations for himself, 30 pounds of forage for his horse and 75 rounds of ammunition. Winchester resident Emma Reily observed the departure of the Union invaders. "I witnessed one of the grandest spectacles that can ever be imagined as they were leaving," she wrote, "10,000 cavalry passing our house four abreast, thoroughly equipped in every detail. Their horses, having been in winter quarters so long, had been fed high and curried and rubbed until their coats shone like satin. Each man had a new saddle, bridle and red blanket, and all their accouterments such as swords, belts, etc., shone like gold. It was a grand sight, requiring hours in passing."


The departure of the Federals was not such a grand event for Jubal Early and his winter-shriveled command in Staunton. Spies in Winchester and soldiers manning the army's observation and signal station on Massanutten Mountain had already detected signs of the impending Union movement. Nine days earlier, Confederate Private Henry Berkeley confided to his diary: "We hear that the Yanks are collecting a very large cavalry force at Winchester and are expected to move up the Valley as soon as the weather permits. I don't see how it is possible for our little force to make any headway against them. We are only 1,500; they are reported to be 15,000. They will run over us by sheer weight of numbers. Who will be left to tell the tale?"

Berkeley's estimation of the Federals' strength was off by one-third, but his apprehension was shared by his army commander. All winter Early had brooded about his three stinging defeats, particularly the lost opportunity at Cedar Creek. Ungenerously, he had blamed that defeat on his own men, complaining to Lee, "We had within our grasp a glorious victory, and lost it by the uncontrollable propensity of our men for plunder." He failed to mention his own delay at the time of the initial breakthrough, and he flatly declared that the subsequent Confederate retreat had been "without sufficient cause," a panic created by "an insane dread of being flanked and a terror of the enemy's cavalry." That the army had already been outflanked twice before, at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, and that the Confederate cavalry had been sent reeling at Tom's Brook were factors Early neglected to mention.

Robert E. Lee, however, could understand clearly enough what had happened, and in the intervening weeks and months he had proceeded to strip Early of much of his command. The skeleton force that still remained in Staunton, Lee advised Early, was simply there "to produce the impression that the force was much larger than it really was." Gently, Lee advised Early to do the best he could. Faced with a flurry of alarming reports announcing the enemy's advance up the valley, Early minded Lee's advice. He directed Rosser to regather his horsemen, who had temporarily disbanded to winter at their homes, and attempt to delay the Union advance at Mount Crawford, where a covered bridge crossed the North River. At the same time, Early telegraphed Maj. Gen. Lunsford Lomax at Millboro, 40 miles west of Staunton, and ordered him to bring his understrength cavalry division back east. Similar orders went to Brig. Gen. John Echols to dispatch his infantry brigade by rail to Lynchburg, which Early assumed was Sheridan's ultimate target. Finally, Early had all military stores removed from Lynchburg, in case the town fell to the Federals.

The blue column moved up the macadamized Valley Pike on the 27th, stopping to camp for the night at Woodstock. The next morning, with Custer's 3rd Division in the lead, the march resumed. Despite a steady rain, spirits were high, with Sheridan informing Grant that "the cavalry officers say the cavalry was never in such good condition." The mood darkened, at least temporarily, when eight troopers drowned while attempting to swim their horses across the rain-swollen North Fork of the Shenandoah River. "[M]any others would have been drowned had it not been for the superhuman efforts of a number of officers and men...who rushed into the stream, and at great personal risk brought them to the shore," reported the commander of Custer's 1st Brigade, Colonel Alexander Pennington. The rest of the army waited for the engineers to put out a pre-constructed pontoon bridge.

As early as February 28, Sheridan made it plain to his officers -- if not to Grant -- that he had no intention of returning to Winchester following the raid. (Whether he intended to head south and join Sherman, as Grant wanted, Sheridan did not say.) At officers' call that morning, Sheridan gathered his subordinates together and told them "that we were on a big march of not less than 350 or 400 miles," Sergeant Roger Hannaford of the 2nd Ohio reported -- certainly much longer than an advance and return from Winchester to Staunton would require.

Rain continued to fall on the third day of the Union march. Again, Custer's division took the lead, and at Mount Crawford they ran into a familiar foe, Tom Rosser, who had scraped together a couple hundred cavalrymen and was busy setting fire to the covered wooden bridge across the North River. Custer called for Colonel Henry Capehart, commander of the 3rd Brigade, and ordered him to secure the bridge at all costs. Capehart had just joined Custer's division after a transfer from the 2nd Division, and he was understandably eager to make a good impression. He quickly had two regiments swim across the river above the bridge, while he personally led the rest of the brigade in a high-throated charge across the burning timbers. Rosser's men fired a last volley at the oncoming Federals and melted back into the woods, but not quickly enough to prevent the capture of 37 Southerners.

That night the Federals bedded down in an icy shower at Cline's Mill, seven miles north of Staunton. Sheridan ordered Colonel Peter Stagg's Michigan brigade to skirt Staunton in the dark and burn the railroad bridge to the east at Christian Creek to prevent the Rebels from evacuating the town. Stagg's troopers successfully burned the bridge after piling fence rails on top of the span, but they were too late to stop the evacuation. Early and his staff had ridden out of Staunton at 3:45 that afternoon, headed for a fateful rendezvous with Brig. Gen. Gabriel C. Wharton's ragtag infantry division at Waynesboro, a small village midway between Staunton and Charlottesville on the banks of the South River near Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

The next morning Sheridan entered Staunton. The streets were deserted, the warehouses empty, but somehow Early had left word for his old adversary that he intended to fight at Waynesboro -- or at least that is what Sheridan reported later. It seems doubtful that Early, leaving in haste with an army eight times the size of his snapping at his heels, would have been so bold as to invite further pursuit. Probably, Early expected Sheridan to continue south to Lynchburg, where "Jube" had already dispatched his largest infantry force. Sheridan later explained that he was reluctant to leave Early's troops -- all 1,200 of them -- in his rear, although what possible harm they could have done in their present worn-down state was anyone's guess. Still, if Early wanted to fight at Waynesboro, Sheridan would be more than happy to accommodate him. Besides, each step Sheridan took to the east carried him that much closer to Grant -- and that much farther away from Sherman. All in all, it seemed like a good trade-off.

Sheridan summoned Custer and told him, Custer reported, to "ascertain something definite in regard to the position, movements, and strength of the enemy, and, if possible, destroy the railroad bridge over the South River at that point." Since Sheridan already knew how many men Early had and where he had gone, the order did not make much sense, but it was all Custer needed to mount up and head east.

In the meantime, Early had reached Waynesboro and set about preparing a makeshift defensive line on a low ridge west of town. General Wharton, a veteran of every major valley fight since the Battle of New Market, was given the unenviable task of holding down a three-quarter-mile-long line of rifle pits with a skeleton force of 1,000 infantry, 100 cavalry and six artillery pieces. The thin-stretched line was a mere 200 yards from the rain-swollen South River, and the sleet-soaked Confederates were uncomfortably aware of the raging watercourse to their rear. To make matters worse, the line did not stretch far enough south to touch the westward bend of the river -- a gap of about an eighth of a mile that left the Rebel flank hanging in the air. Captain Jedediah Hotchkiss, Early's New York--born topographical engineer, charged later that Early had "committed an unpardonable error" in posting his troops in such an exposed position. Early explained, rather lamely, that he had placed the men there in order "to secure the removal of five pieces of artillery for which there were no horses, and some stores still in Waynesboro, as well as to present a bold front to the enemy, and ascertain the object of his movement, which I could not do very well if I took refuge at once in the mountain. I did not intend making my final stand on this ground, yet I was satisfied that if my men would fight, which I had no reason to doubt, I could hold the enemy in check until night, and then cross the river and take position in Rockfish Gap." 


Perhaps that was so, but Early was gambling on being able to out-bluff the Federals, and the ever-aggressive Custer was a hard man to bluff. Arriving outside Waynesboro at about 2 p.m. on March 2, Custer sent Colonel William Wells' 2nd Brigade forward to probe the Confederate line. A brisk rattle of rifle fire convinced Custer that a frontal assault "would involve a large loss of life." Hastily, he looked for another approach, and soon discovered the dangerous gap between the Rebel left and the river. While Wells kept the enemy occupied in the front, Custer sent Lt. Col. Edward Whitaker, his chief of staff, to relay his orders to Colonel Pennington's brigade. Custer directed Pennington to dismount three of his regiments and attack the enemy's flank through a stand of woods that would obscure the troopers' approach. The three attacking regiments -- the 2nd Ohio, 3rd New Jersey and 1st Connecticut -- were armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles. The brigade's fourth regiment, the 2nd New York, was held in reserve. 
At a signal from bugler Joseph Fought, the Union forces began the attack. It did not last long. While Lieutenant C.A. Woodruff's section of horse artillery blasted away at the Rebel breastworks, compelling the defenders to lie flat, Pennington's men lifted a yell and attacked at a dead run, firing their Spencers as quickly as they could. Meanwhile, Colonel Capehart's 3rd Brigade stormed into the works from the front. The overwhelmed Confederates broke for the rear in what a disgusted Jedediah Hotchkiss termed "one of the most terrible panics and stampedes I have ever seen. There was perfect rout along the road up the mountain."


Early, who was watching the fight from a hill between the rifle pits and the river, saw at once that "everything was lost." Cutting through a nearby stand of trees, he and his staff raced for the bridge leading to Rockfish Gap. Early and Wharton made it, but Dr. Hunter McGuire, the army's gifted medical director, was not so lucky. Attempting to jump his horse over a rail fence, McGuire and his mount went sprawling face first in the mud. When he looked up, a Union cavalryman was pointing a carbine at his head. Thinking quickly, McGuire made the arcane distress sign used by members of the Masonic Order. A Federal officer and fellow Mason immediately rode up and took charge of the shaken physician, telling the other soldier: "This man is my prisoner. Let him alone."

McGuire was one of more than 1,200 Confederates captured at Waynesboro, along with all 11 artillery pieces, 17 battle flags and 150 wagons, including Early's own headquarters wagon. Union losses were nine men killed or wounded. After a brief pursuit of the handful of Rebel stragglers who made it safely to Rockfish Gap, Custer broke off the attack and reported to Sheridan, who had arrived on the scene.

As Sheridan staffer Captain George B. Sanford remembered: "Up came Custer himself with his following, and in the hands of his orderlies, one to each, were the seventeen battle flags streaming in the wind. It was a great spectacle and the sort of thing which Custer thoroughly enjoyed."

Sheridan, too, enjoyed the scene, praising Custer for the "brilliant fight" and reporting to Washington with pardonable pride that the battle at Waynesboro had "closed hostilities in the Shenandoah Valley." It had also closed Early's military career. Never again would Old Jubilee command troops in battle.

While Sheridan went on to complete a brilliant Civil War career and advanced to eventual command of the entire U.S. Army, Early retired to an embittered postwar career as one of the most unreconstructed of all unreconstructed Rebels. The fulcrum of fate that had held both men's careers in the balance one October morning at Cedar Creek had tipped irreversibly in favor of Phil Sheridan, with a slight assist from his golden-haired protégé, George Armstrong Custer.


Dimanche 30 septembre 7 30 /09 /Sep 20:24

BATTLE OF ALDIE : Captain Custer leads the charge.

BATTLE OF TOM'S BROOK (Woodstock Races): Major General Custer salutes Confederate General Thomas Rosser, who was his classmate at West Point. This will be one of the greatest victories of the Union cavalry during the Civil War.

APPOMATTOX : Major General Custer receives the flag of truce by a member of General Longstreet's flag. Custer was also the first man of the Army of the Potomac to take colors from the enemy.

Samedi 1 septembre 6 01 /09 /Sep 20:48

When Civil War's John Singleton Mosby's Partisan Rangers clashed with George A. Custer's Union Cavalry, the niceties of war were the first casualty. Reprisal and counter reprisal became the order of the day.

by John F. Wukovits in the March 2001 issue of America's Civil War, in

  The Murat of the Union vs the Gray Ghost 

The peaceful stream and lush, rich soil of the fertile Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia had long been considered a paradise by its fortunate residents. Stretching Southwest from Harper's Ferry in northern Virginia, nestled between the protective Allegheny Mountains on the west and the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, the Shenandoah was replete with prosperous farms, bountiful grain fields and fattened livestock.

Known fondly as "the Valley" by its occupants, many of whom were peaceable Dunkers and Quakers who had migrated from Pennsylvania to share in the Valley's prosperity. The first two years of the Civil War left the Shenandoah relatively untouched. With the exception of confederate Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson's stirring 1862 Valley campaign, most of the fighting occurred to the east, on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fighting in the Valley had been comparatively more civilized; Union generals forbade the wanton destruction of property, and Southern civilians could successfully demand payment in gold for damages done to fence rails and farmland.

That changed dramatically in 1864 when a pair of brash, bold fighters squared off in the Shenandoah--Northern Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and Confederate Partisan Ranger John Singleton Mosby. After them, the Valley would never be the same.

Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio, on December 5, 1839, to Emmanuel H. and Maria Ward Custer. Although his father was a farmer and blacksmith, soldiering had been in the family since Custer's great-grandfather, a Hessian officer, served with Burgoyne at Saratoga. Custer yearned to be a soldier as well, and after an unimpressive stint at West Point during which he displayed a fondness for pranks, he graduated at the bottom of his class on June 24, 1861.

Custer arrived at the Civil War battle lines in time to participate in the first clash at Bull Run in July 1861, and over the next two years his audacity in action brought him increasing renown. But early 1864, he had achieved the rank of brigadier general--the youngest general in the Union Army--and been favorably noticed by his commander-in-chief, President Abraham Lincoln. At an official reception, Lincoln met Custer's wife, Elizabeth, and exclaimed, "So this is the young woman whose husband goes into a charge with a whoop and a shout."

Tall, thin and agile, Custer dominated those around him with his blue eyes, long golden hair and distinctive scarlet necktie. Although he hated to be bested by a foe and could be abrupt and impetuous in the heat of battle, his friends knew him to be personable and warm. 

His opponent in the Valley was a gifted military leader in his own right, one whose perfection of guerrilla-style warfare would sorely test Custer. John Singleton Mosby was born December 6, 1833, in Edgemont, Va. An excellent student, Mosby joined the Virginia bar in 1855 after being dismissed from the University of Virginia for shooting and wounding a fellow student.

With the start of hostilities, Mosby enlisted in the cavalry and, like Custer, took part in the Bull Run campaign. After being attached to Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's staff, Mosby organized independent ranger operations in Virginia in early 1863, beginning with a unit of nine men. Mosby adapted quickly to this irregular form of warfare. After a skirmish, Mosby's men returned to their own homes rather than to camp, agreeing to meet again at a future date and place. Each man acquired his own horse, arms and uniforms, but was entitled to share in whatever public or personal property was captured. Mosby was soon the only organized military force in northern Virginia, and so firmly ruled the area that it became known as "Mosby's Confederacy."

Medium in height with sharp features, Mosby generally wore a full, light beard which accented his deep gray eyes, bronzed face and yellow-brown hair. Studious and quiet by nature, he was about to be pitted against a man who was impetuous and loud. Opposites would meet on the common ground of the Shenandoah Valley. 

A combination of hardball politics and equally toughminded military strategy brought these two men together. Lincoln faced a tough reelection campaign in 1864. The American people were tired of the long war, and there were growing indications they might take out their frustrations on election day. Lincoln sorely needed a battlefield victory to enhance his fortunes at the polls.

So far, Northern troops had been stymied in the Southern-leaning Shenandoah Valley, where a Confederate force under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early pushed to the outskirts of Washington near the end of July 1864. No matter which commander Lincoln and his new General-in-Chief, Ulysses S. Grant, sent to the Shenandoah, Union troops seemed unable to check the Confederates.

Grant realized a victorious campaign in the Valley would eliminate a major military headache. The Valley posed a constant threat to Washington because its axis ran straight at the Northern capital. Southern troops, continuously replenished by the Valley's abundant crops, could easily be shifted into the Valley from farther south through the Blue Ridge Mountains' numerous gaps. In effect, the Valley formed a Confederate highway aimed at the Northern nerve center. 

On the other hand, the Valley could not be similarly used by the North, for the Valley led away from the Confederate capital at Richmond. The farther a Northern army marched up the Valley, the farther it moved from its bases of supplies, and it would always be subject to a Confederate flank or rear attack through the gaps. Grant concluded that since the fertile Valley was useless for Northern operations while being invaluable to his adversary, he must eliminate the Valley as a factor for both sides.

This would not be easy, as Confederate armies were running short of supplies and could ill-afford to lose the Valley's cattle, flour, corn, fruits, poultry and dairy products. Grant also recognized that a potent Northern force in the Shenandoah would open Confederate General Robert E. Lee's left flank to attack and also threaten important Southern railroad lines. The man he needed to accomplish such daunting objectives had to be a skilled fighter, someone who could spur his men into action and put an end to the seesaw type of battles that epitomized Valley warfare. The man Grant turned to was Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, then commander of cavalry for the Army of the Potomac.

Sheridan was then only 33 years old, but he had become one of Grant's favorite officers. Sheridan was an energetic leader who possessed the rare ability to gain others' respect without apparent effort. His troops quickly rallied around him; an officer compared Sheridan to "an electric shock... The only commander I ever met whose personal appearance in the field was an immediate and positive stimulus to battle."

Grant left no doubt as to how Sheridan was to proceed. He ordered Sheridan to "Put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death." Grant wanted Sheridan to rely on cavalry rather than infantry, telling him, "Let your headquarers be in the saddle." Sheridan was to "eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they [soldiers] go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them. "

Harsh orders, indeed, and quite different from the relatively more genteel times in the early part of the war. But war breeds destruction, and the Civil War in 1864 was a changed conflict. It had become a war of attrition, and civilians and their homes were now considered fair targets.

In early August, Sheridan moved south with 36,000 men toward the section of Virginia known as "Mosby's Confederacy," prepared to lay waste to the green Valley that had caused so many problems for the North. Advancing with Sheridan was one of his close friends, the commander of the Michigan Brigade, Brig. Gen. "Autie" Custer.

Mosby did not wait long to greet the invaders. In the early morning mist of August 13, while a large Federal wagon train rested near Berryville, Va., a group of men approached out of the fog and started to set up two small cannon. None of the Northern guards paid much attention, figuring they must be friendly troops. Suddenly, the cannon blasted Federal wagons, decapitating a mule with one of the first shells and setting fire to a number of wagons. Mules still hitched to burning wagons ran in terror, dragging behind them roaring infernos.

In an instant, gray-clad cavalry swooped in, yelling and shooting as they charged. It was over in a matter of minutes, with Mosby's victorious men capturing over 200 prisoners, 700 horses and mules, 200 cattle, and 100 supply wagons. In this manner, was Mosby serving notice that Federal troops had best be on guard in his personal territory. 

Grant quickly responded to this stinging defeat by ordering Sheridan to send troops "through Loudoun County, to destroy and carry off the crops, animals, Negroes, and all men under fifty years of age capable of bearing arms. In this way, you will get many of Mosby's men." He also ordered Sheridan to hunt down the families of Mosby's men. "I think they should be taken and kept at Fort McHenry, or some other secure place, as hostages for the good conduct of Mosby's men." Grant then ominously added "When any of Mosby's men are caught, hang them without trial."

Three days later, Grant's orders were carried out when seven prisoners, thought to be Mosby's Rangers, were executed . Although Mosby denied they were his men, he was already making plans to retaliate.

Sheridan had been in the Shenandoah for less than two weeks, and already the Valley was witnessing a more vulgar form of warfare than it had ever seen.

Mosby heard reports that Custer, in particular, was pursuing his orders with a special vengeance, he blamed Custer personally for the seven executions. Mosby's men began calling Custer "Attila the Hun," and bitter feelings between Custer's men and Mosby's Confederate outfit quickly rose to a high pitch. In one action on August 18, Custer learned that a light at a local farmhouse had served as a signal for guerrillas; so Custer ordered it and all of the surrounding homes destroyed. As his men were setting fire to the elegant residences, a group of Mosby's men led by J. G. L. William Chapman charged from an overlooking ridge, splashed through the Shenandoah River, and smacked into Custer's outfit. Chapman exhorted his men to "Wipe them from the face of the earth! No quarter! No quarter! Take no prisoners!" 

Custer's squad was taken totally by surprise and fled in panic. A local woman watched as the Northern troops "hid behind the burning ruins, they crouched in the corners of fences, they begged for life, but their day of grace was past." One unfortunate young Northern soldier was taken prisoner and Chapman's men demanded he be executed for what his comrades had done. The young prisoner impressed his captors with the courage with which he faced death. One Ranger, John Scott, wrote, "It was a solemn spectacle to see this brave young soldier kneel in the solitude of the mountain and pour forth a fervent prayer to the Great Father to pardon his sins.... The young man then rose slowly to his feet and tearing open his shirt, with unquailing eye received the fatal shot."

Mosby's own report of the incident to Lee's headquarters mentioned that his men were so enraged at seeing Valley homes go up in smoke that "no quarter was shown, and about 25 of them [Custer's men] were shot to death for their villainy. About 30 horses were brought off, but no prisoners." Horses were taken, but prisoners were shown no mercy. Warfare in the beautiful Shenandoah was begetting its own form of ugliness. As a chaplain in the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry bluntly uttered, "The time had fully come to peel this land."

Mosby's increased harrassment of Northern units brought even harsher Union devastation on Shenandoah farms. A vicious cycle was thus formed in the Valley--Sheridan's men destroyed homes and farms because Mosby's guerrillas hampered communications and ambushed isolated Northern units, while Mosby's forces attacked with increasing ferocity because Sheridan's men devastated the Shenandoah.

Custer's infamy in the Valley increased when one of his cavalry charges proved to be decisive at the battle of Opequon Creek, resulting in the capture of 700 Confederates. By now Custer was so hated in the Shenandoah that Sheridan warned him against getting captured. "If the Rebs should ever lay you by the heels, they'll string you up directly."

Custer had to be constantly vigilant, for Mosby's Rangers seemed to materialize everywhere. They were lightning-fast riders who used two revolvers rather than the unwieldy saber. The North had so much trouble getting supplies and messages to the front that one colonel estimated 500 cavalry would be needed to adequately protect a supply train. Northern cavalrymen so feared Mosby's Rangers that some said they would rather charge into battle than patrol Valley roads.

The deeper Sheridan moved up the Valley, the more frequent and savage became guerrilla actions. Captain George Sanford of the 1st U.S. Cavalry said everyone was careful because "No party of less than 50 men was safe a mile from camp. The loss in men, animals and supplies was enormous. "

One of Sheridan's aides was found in a field with his throat slit. In retaliation Sheridan ordered every house, barn, and outbuilding in a five-mile radius burned. Rations were so low at times that soldiers' morale decreased. One group of 60 stunned Northern bathers was even captured nude, in the South Branch River while swimming.

Northern troops roundly condemned guerrilla actions as being cowardly and considered Mosby's men "of all created beings most despicable." Famous poet Walt Whitman luridly wrote that Mosby's men "would run a knife through the wounded, the aged, the children, without compunction."

Without moral compunctions themselves, Sheridan's men went about destroying the Valley. A newspaper correspondent who accompanied them wrote, "The atmosphere, from horizon to horizon, has been black with the smoke of a hundred conflagrations, and at night a gleam brighter and more lurid than sunset has shot from every verge.... The completeness of the devastation is awful. Hundreds of nearly starving people are going north.... not half the inhabitants of the Valley can subsist on it in its present condition." Confederate soldier Henry Douglas compared what he saw to a holocaust and tried "to restrain my bitterness (but) it is an insult to civilization and to God to pretend that the Laws of War justify such warfare."

Invariably, warfare fought in such a brutal manner will lead to horrific atrocities. That is what happened on September 22, near the town of Front Royal, midway up the Valley. A Northern ambulance train was attacked by a group of Rangers led by Captain Sam Chapman, William's brother. Chapman's force quickly realized they were outnumbered, and in an attempt to break out, rode directly at Northern troops.

After the skirmish, the mangled body of Lieutenant Charles McMaster was found in the road, riddled with bullets and trampled by horses. Northern troops swore McMaster was brutally gunned down while trying to surrender. Rangers claimed he was killed in the heat of short, intense battle after his panicky horse rode into their ranks.

Whatever the actual facts, Northern troops were boiling for revenge. Custer was in the same frame, as well, for he had been plagued by Mosby's constant harrassment long enough. Only the day before, his orderly had been captured while carrying a slaughtered sheep back to camp for Custer's meal. 

Six captive Rangers involved in the fight at Front Royal were captured and condemned to die. As a band slowly marched through Front Royal playing the dead march, the six prisoners were led to their deaths. Two Rangers, David Jones and Lucian Love, were shot in front of a church and left to die in their own blood. While that was occurring, Thomas Anderson was marched to an elm tree south of the town and shot.

A pair of horsemen next rode through Front Royal's main streets, dragging 17-year-old civilian Henry Rhodes behind them with a rope. His crying mother tried to save the nearly unconscious boy, but her pleas were ignored. Rhodes was dragged to an open field north of town, where he was shot in the face by a volunteer who "emptied his pistol upon him." His body, dumped in a wheel-barrow and covered with a sheet, was left at his mother's door.

The last two prisoners, William Overby and a man called Carter, were led off to be hanged by a huge and wrathful crowd of soldiers. Overby stood "erect, defiant" while Carter wept, listening to the band play "Love Not, the One You Love May Die." Just then Custer rode up, according to a town resident, "dressed in a splendid suit of silk velvet.... In his hand he had a large branch of damsons which he picked and ate as he rode along."

Overby and Carter were taken to a large tree outside of town and offered freedom if they disclosed the location of Mosby's headquarters. They both refused, and with hands tied behind their backs, the two prisoners were hanged. A sign was attached to Overby's body reading, "Such is the Fate of All Mosby's Gang."

Custer and Mosby again clashed on October 7. Lieutenant John Meigs, a young topographical engineer of whom Sheridan was particularly fond, was returning to Custer's headquarters with two orderlies in a heavy thunderstorm. They met three other riders who were wearing rubber ponchos over their uniforms, but since Meigs was behind Union lines he naively assumed that they were friendly. As Meigs approached, gunfire broke out, killing Meigs and one of the orderlies.

The second orderly got away and spread the news that Meigs had been coldly gunned down. Mosby's men vehemently denied this (the facts seem to bear them out), but once again truth had no bearing on what would follow. A frustrated Sheridan wrote Grant that "Since I came into the Valley from Harper's Ferry, every train, every small party, and every straggler has been bushwacked by people."

Sheridan ordered Custer to destroy every house within a five-mile radius of where Meigs was killed. An artist in Sheridan's camp, James Taylor, watched as Custer received his orders. "Never shall I forget the dramatic episode. Custer vaulting into the saddle, and exclaiming as he dashed away, 'Look out for smoke!' Custer rode off, declaring 'I mean to return evil for evil until these scoundrels cease their depredations.'

"In tears, Custer wept for his unfortunate orderly, who he said was, 'shot down like a dog and stripped of all but his trousers'." In a short time, Taylor noticed "the ugly columns of smoke that rose in succession from the Valley like a funeral pall, told, too well, that he had fulfilled his orders to the letter."

Mosby's guerrillas continued to pester Sheridan's forces in October. Correspondent Francis Long of the New York Herald ald wrote, "The intervening country between Harrisonburg and Winchester is literally swarming with guerrillas," Grant urged Sheridan to continue destroying whatever was useful for "if the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste."

For five days Custer tore into an 85-mile Shenandoah stretch, from Winchester to Waynesboro, burning barns and granaries, destroying bridges and ripping apart railroad track. Custer wanted "to put the fear of Hell in these people."

Mosby struck back with vengeance. On October 11, guerrillas ambushed and killed Lt. Col. Cornelius Tolles, Sheridan's chief quartermaster, and Dr. Emil Ohlenschlager, Sheridan's medical inspector.

Federal retaliation swiftly came on October 13, when Union colonel William Powell ordered the execution of Ranger A.C. "Ag" Willis. A small tree was forced over double, and a noose was put over young Willis's head. Then methodically attached to the tree, the tree was released. Willis's body shot up into the sky; he was dead before he returned to earth. Near the end of October, Mosby received word of the earlier executions of his men and decided to retaliate in kind, hoping to ensure proper treatment for any of his men captured in the future. He informed Lee that Custer hanged six of his men and "It is my purpose to hang an equal number of Custer's men whenever I capture them." Lee approved the action and so reported to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, who responded that he "cordially approved" the orders. A brutal military policy was now receiving "cordial" civilian approval.

Mosby told his men to sort through prisoners until they gathered 27 of Custer's men. Facing the captives, Mosby mentioned, "There is but one man I would rather see than you and that is your commander." When some of the prisoners declared they had nothing to do with the Front Royal executions, Mosby replied, "I can't identify the particular men that put the ropes around the necks of my Rangers, but I have a little account to settle with General Custer anyway.

"Twenty-seven pieces of paper were placed into a hat. Seven of the pieces had numbers scrawled on them, the rest were blank. Those who drew a blank would be sent to Richmond or Libby prison, while a scrap of paper bearing a number meant death. Each prisoner was forced to reach into the hat and draw out his own fate. Any man unfortunate enough to pull out a number was walked over to the side under special guard. One Ranger grotesquely greeted them by saying, "We'll give you a chance to stretch hemp."

Some soldiers begged for their lives or stared into space. Others lay their heads on the nearest shoulder and cried. One man muttered prayers until it was his turn to draw. With trembling hand, he grabbed a piece from the hat, forced himself to gaze at it, then exclaimed in relief, "By God! I knew it would be so." Another man near him, who had drawn a number, quietly asked a friend to "Tell my mother I died like a man."

Mosby learned that one of the condemed was a youthful drummer boy and ordered him spared. That meant a second death lottery for the 20 remaining prisoners to determine the last victim. Following a tortuous repeat drawing, the seventh doomed man was added to the group.

A detail of Rangers took the condemned men down the Winchester Turnpike to Berryville, as close to Custer's camp as possible. In the confusion of the dark rainy night, prisoner George Soule of the 5th Michigan Cavalry managed to escape after punching a guard. Three of Custer's men were hanged along the side of the turnpike, but it took so long that the Rangers became uneasy. In the words of Union Sergeant Charles Marvin, who also escaped, the Rangers decided "to shoot the balance of us, as 'this hanging is too damned slow work.'" The remaining three Union soldiers were systematically lined up near their lifeless cohorts, where a revolver was pointed at each from point blank range and fired. Happily for Marvin, the gun aimed at him misfired, and in the momentary confusion he knocked over his guard and disappeared into the woods. The other two, although grievously wounded also survived.

Before leaving, Mosby's men attached a sign to one of the bodies reading, "These men have been hung in retaliation for an equal number of Colonel Mosby's men hung by order of General Custer, at Front Royal. Measure for measure."

Mosby dispatched Scout John Russell to deliver a letter to Sheridan. The letter explained the executions were in retaliation for Custer's and Powell's acts and in the future, "any prisoners falling into my hands will be treated with the kindness due to their condition, unless some new act of barbarity shall compel me, reluctantly, to adopt a line of policy repugnant to humanity." Sheridan issued orders to leave Mosby's men alone if they did not harass Union troops, and further hangings were avoided.

Union devastation of the Shenandoah continued until Thanksgiving. Future combat shifted southward, out of the Valley, giving the battered Shenandoah time to replenish itself. But scars remained. A year later an English traveler compared the blackened Valley to a huge English moor. Years later a female resident, looking back at those days, wrote they were "indelibly photographed in my memory. I have often wished I could blot it out, for it clouded my childhood."

For years, the fall of 1864 was known by Valley residents simply as "the Burning." 
The Civil War ultimately had departed the Valley, but it left behind permanent marks, physically on the land, and mentally on Shenandoah residents. As one Michigan trooper conceded, it was a "hard war."


Samedi 14 juillet 6 14 /07 /Juil 17:26

Custer in the Civil War

To make his men proud of their unit, General George A. Custer created a medal, the "Custer Medal". A star, two crossed sabers and a cross were designed and eventually made by an industry in New York. On the cross, Custer put the latin sentence of the state of Michigan: TUEBOR ("I will defend").

Lundi 21 mai 1 21 /05 /Mai 20:13

George Armstrong Custer: Between Myth and Reality 

By Historian Jeffry D. Wert, author of "Custer, the controversial life of George A. Custer" (1996)
March/April 2006 issue of Civil War Times Magazine.
History Net

George Armstrong Custer stalks America's past with a disturbing presence. (...) Historians, novelists and screenwriters have engraved an indelible portrait of Custer upon the nation's conscience.

However, the popular Custer overshadows, if not belies, the historic Custer. During the Civil War, his exploits and youth earned him the nickname "Boy General." He earned a major generalcy when he was 25 years old, the youngest man to hold that rank in the annals of the American military. By the conflict's end, Custer had become a household name and a Northern hero. Controversy never left him, for he was a flawed and complex man encased in a compelling personality. But the measurement of the man extends beyond Front Royal, Washita and Little Bighorn to Hunterstown, Gettysburg, Yellow Tavern, Haw's Shop, Tom's Brook and Appomattox Station.

Born on December 5, 1839, in New Rumley, Ohio, Custer was the oldest surviving child of Emanuel and Maria Kirkpatrick Custer. His parents had been widowed before marrying each other and had lost two infant sons before the birth of their third boy, whom they called Armstrong. As he learned to talk, he garbled his name as "Autie," and to his family he would be Autie for the rest of his life. Eventually, three more sons and a daughter were born to the Custers, all of whom survived into adulthood.

From the outset, Autie was special in the family, spoiled by his parents and later worshipped by his siblings. He reveled in mischief. "George was a wide awake boy," recalled a schoolmate, "full of all kinds of pranks and willing to take all kinds of chances." A teacher described him as "irrepressible," while another childhood friend asserted, "He was rather a bad boy in school." Autie was bright, but he hated homework, preferring to read novels, biographies and military history. His efforts in school centered upon creating mayhem.

At the age of 10, Autie joined Lydia Ann Reed, his mother's daughter from her first marriage, in Monroe, Mich. His parents sent him there for schooling, and Monroe became his adopted hometown. He lived with his sister and brother-in-law for six years before accepting a teaching position in Ohio. He failed miserably, however, in various assignments. An acquaintance at the time remembered: "Custer was what he appeared. There was nothing hidden in his nature. He was kind and generous to his friends; bitter and implacable towards his enemies."

It seemed, however, that fate or circumstances conspired at timely moments to favor Custer. He had aspired to an appointment to West Point, but his father was a staunch Democrat in the congressional district of Republican John A. Bingham. Custer, meanwhile, had begun a fervid courtship of Mary Jane, or Mollie, Holland. Her father discovered a note to her from Custer that mentioned a rendezvous on a trundle bed. Determined to rid the family of Mollie's suitor, it would appear that Holland requested of Bingham -- an old friend -- that Custer be given the West Point appointment. Others may also have interceded with the congressman, who ended up nominating the 17-year-old Custer.

After George Custer's death in 1876, his wife Libbie would dedicate her life to preserving, if not embellishing, the memory of his military exploits. (U.S. Army)
Custer entered the U.S. Military Academy in June 1857, a member of the class of 1862. His cadetship remains renowned in the institution's history. As he had as a boy, Custer tested boundaries and rules. In four years, he amassed a total of 726 demerits, one of the worst conduct records in the academy's annals. He told a fellow cadet that there were only two places in a class, "head and foot," and since he had no desire to be the head, he aspired to be the foot. A roommate noted, "It was all right with him whether he knew his lesson or not: he did not allow it to trouble him."

Like their fellow Americans, the cadets divided by region over the events of the 1850s. With the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and the secession of states, Southern cadets began leaving the academy in the winter and spring of 1861. The firing on Fort Sumter increased the number of resignations. Ironically for Custer, all his roommates except one had been Southerners.

The advent of war forced academy officials to graduate the class of 1861 in May. But with the demand for trained officers, the War Department compressed the class of 1862's final year into six weeks. The second class of 1861 was graduated on June 24, with Custer ranking last among the 34 members. He would be the final member to be assigned to a command, his departure delayed by his court-martial for another infraction. Weeks prior to his graduation, he had written to his sister, "If it is my lot to fall in the defence of my country's rights, I will lay down my life as freely as if I had a thousand lives at my disposal." On July 18, Custer left West Point.

Second Lieutenant Custer arrived in Washington, D.C., two days later. By happenstance or good fortune, he secured one of the last, if not the last, available government horses in the capital and carried War Department dispatches to Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell at Centreville, Va. Assigned to Company G, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Custer reached his regiment in time to participate in the First Battle of Bull Run. His regiment covered the retreat of the routed Federals. One trooper later wrote, "Though famished, exhausted, spent, Custer never let up, never slackened control."

For nearly the next two years, Custer served in various staff assignments, rising to the rank of brevet captain. He gained a reputation for fearlessness, if not recklessness. He ascended in a balloon to survey Confederate works, led reconnaissance parties and was cited for "gallant and spirited conduct." By the end of May 1862, Custer had joined the staff of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, serving under the Army of the Potomac commander during the Seven Days and Antietam campaigns. When McClellan was relieved of command in November, Custer accompanied the general and later assisted in the preparation of McClellan's reports.

Custer had written a revealing letter to a cousin on October 3, 1862, after he witnessed the terrible carnage of Antietam. "You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought," he stated, "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 would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life. Now do not misunderstand me. I speak only of my own interests and desires...but as I said before, when I think of the pain & misery produced to individuals as well as the miserable sorrow caused throughout the land I cannot but earnestly hope for peace, and at an early date." 

Since youth, Custer had read stories of past warriors and had dreamed of martial glory. While he understood war's fearful costs, he saw in it an opportunity for personal fame and advancement. His ambition was inordinate, and perhaps it impelled his fearlessness. Although he assured his family that he would not risk his life, Custer led men from the front, whether in command of a company or later of a division. Combat inflamed his soul and held incalculable opportunity for glory. Devoted to the Union cause, Custer saw the conflict as a trumpet calling.

His coveted opportunity came in June 1863, when Lincoln replaced Joseph Hooker as army commander with George G. Meade. The president granted Meade authority to replace any officers he chose. Cavalry Corps commander Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton recommended to Meade the promotion of three of his staff officers -- Custer, Wesley Merritt and Elon Farnsworth -- to brigadiers. On June 29 Custer received a general's star and command of the Michigan Brigade of cavalry, comprising the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th regiments. At 23, he was the youngest general in the Union Army.

Starting with the Overland campaign in the spring of 1864, Custer (seated, far right) served under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan (far left), along with (from left) Colonel George Forsyth, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt and Brig. Gen. Thomas Devin. (Library of Congress)
On the day of his promotion, Custer joined two of his regiments as the army marched north into Pennsylvania. To the Michiganders, he was a sight to behold. He wore a uniform of black velveteen, with gold lace that extended from his wrist to his elbow, a wide-collared blue sailor shirt with silver stars sewn on and a red necktie around his throat. He had apparently had the uniform made by a tailor at an earlier date. Custer said later that he wanted a distinctive uniform so his men could see him during combat. Superior officers and newspapermen could also see such striking attire, unlike any other in the army.

Whatever doubts the Michiganders had about their new brigadier, Custer removed them within days. At Hanover, Pa., on June 30, he directed them in dismounted fighting. Two days later, at Hunterstown, he personally led a company in an attack down a narrow road, and his horse was killed under him. Custer had been deploying skirmishers to test the Confederate position and numbers when his superior, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, ordered the mounted charge. When Custer rode to the front of the company, he evidently wanted to demonstrate his personal bravery to the men.

The renown that he had sought for so long came a day later, on the John Rummel farm east of Gettysburg. In an engagement with Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate horsemen, Custer led the 7th Michigan and then the 1st Michigan in mounted counterattacks. Riding in the van of each regiment, Custer shouted to the men, "Come on, you Wolverines!" The charges blunted Stuart's thrusts, and the Yankees held the field. 


During the Southern retreat from Gettysburg, clashes occurred almost daily between the mounted opponents. Custer's Wolverines were often in the forefront of the action. On July 14, at Falling Waters, Md., Custer encountered the final contingent of the Confederate army as it prepared to cross the Potomac River. As he had done at Hunterstown, Custer deployed dismounted skirmishers. But Kilpatrick joined him and without knowledge of the enemy's strength or disposition ordered a mounted assault. Two companies of the 6th Michigan ascended a ridge and plunged into the Rebel works, held by infantrymen. In the ensuing melee, the Federals lost more than half their numbers and were routed. It had not been Custer who had acted rashly, but Kilpatrick.

After Gettysburg, a lieutenant in the 6th Michigan claimed: "The command perfectly idolized Custer. The old Michigan Brigade adored its Brigadier, and all felt as if he weighed about a ton." A private declared that Custer had put "the very devil" into the regiments. They had called him at first "the boy General of the Golden Lock." But he had shown them, in the estimation of one Wolverine, that he "was not afraid to fight like a private soldier...and that he was ever in front and would never ask them to go where he would not lead." An officer told his mother in a letter, "It is an honor to belong to Mich Cavalry."

Never camera-shy, Captain Custer posed for photographer James F. Gibson in 1862 with Confederate prisoner Lieutenant James B. Washington and his slave at Fair Oaks, Va. (Library of Congress).
Praise for Custer's bearing and leadership in action continued during the numerous cavalry clashes in the summer and fall. A captain in the 2nd New York Cavalry, after seeing Custer in an engagement, later said: "It seemed to be the general impression that he would not have the nerve to `Face the music' with his bandbox equipment, but he soon proved himself equal to the occasion....No soldier who saw him on that day...ever questioned his right to wear a star, or all the gold lace he felt inclined to wear." One of his aides confided in a letter: "To say that General Custer is a brave man is unnecessary. He has proved himself to be not only that but also a very cool and self possessed man. It is indeed difficult to disturb his mental Equilibrium." A Michigander put it bluntly to his wife, "He is a very odd man but he understand his business."

Custer's emergence as an outstanding brigade commander coincided with the increasing prowess of the Federal mounted arm. He, Merritt and others brought aggressiveness to Federal cavalry tactics. Jeb Stuart's vaunted Confederate horsemen, plagued by shortages of men and mounts, no longer dominated the battlefields. Union troopers had achieved parity, which eventually became superiority. The troopers' confidence in Custer reflected a confidence in themselves.

In February 1864, Custer secured a leave, returning to Monroe for his wedding. For much of the previous year, he and Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon had conducted a clandestine courtship through letters. Her father, Judge Daniel Bacon, had vehemently objected to Custer's attentions toward Libbie. By the fall of 1863, however, Judge Bacon had relented to her wishes, and on February 9, 1864, the couple was married. Autie and Libbie's marriage was one of love and passion. After Custer's death, Libbie devoted her remaining 57 years to molding and guarding his image as an American hero.

Custer and Libbie enjoyed a honeymoon and another extended leave together before he rejoined the army for its spring operations. By then, General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant had appointed Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan as commander of the army's Cavalry Corps. Thirty-three years old, Sheridan was a barrel-chested man with unusually short legs. Lincoln wryly described him as "a brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping." His men called him "Little Phil."

Sheridan possessed, however, a combativeness that Grant wanted instilled into the mounted arm. With Sheridan's appointment, additional leadership changes occurred, and Custer believed that he himself deserved promotion to division command. Although disappointed, Custer told his sister, "Gen Sheridan from what I learn and see is an able and good commander and I like him very much." In time, Custer became more closely identified with Sheridan than any other officer in the Cavalry Corps. Their personal and professional relationship was destined to endure until Little Bighorn. 

As the Michiganders prepared for the forthcoming campaign, their writings revealed their abiding respect for and devotion to Custer. They now called him "Old Curley" for his long, flowing blond hair. "We swear by him," asserted Major James H. Kidd of Custer in a letter to his father. "His move is our battle cry. He can get twice the fight out of this brigade than any other man can possibly do." A member of the 5th Michigan Cavalry believed "that he is the best cavalry officer left in the Army of the Potomac." Another officer in the brigade explained: "His men were always at the front, and were always on the best of terms with him. A private could talk to him as freely as an officer. If he had any complaint to make, Custer was always ready to listen."

During the Overland campaign in May-June 1864, under the leadership of Custer and his regimental commanders, the Michiganders -- fighting mounted and dismounted -- showed time and again that they were arguably the finest cavalry brigade in the Union Army. On May 11 at Yellow Tavern, a Wolverine mortally wounded Jeb Stuart. Seventeen days later at Haw's Shop, the brigade routed a Confederate force. Writing after the engagement, Major Kidd declared: "For all this Brigade has accomplished all praise is due to Gen Custer. So brave a man I never saw and as competent as brave. Under him a man is ashamed to be cowardly. Under him our men can achieve wonders." 

A fierce test came for the Michiganders on June 11 at Trevilian Station. When the 5th Michigan surged ahead into a Rebel wagon train, Southern horsemen counterattacked. Custer hurried forward the rest of the brigade as additional Confederate regiments charged. The Federals were trapped "on the inside of a living triangle," according to a scout from Merritt's division who witnessed the fight from a distance. For three hours the Wolverines repulsed enemy attacks from three directions. "Custer was everywhere present," recalled Kidd, "giving directions to his subordinate commanders." Finally, their comrades in the other brigades punched through the Rebel lines and relieved the Michiganders.

The Confederates had captured 309 members of the Michigan Brigade and Custer's headquarters wagon, which contained his personal belongings and letters from Libbie. A Richmond newspaper received the letters and published them, embarrassing the Custers. At the campaign's end, the War Department promoted Custer to a brevet lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army. "Custer," one of Sheridan's aides contended, "was a man of boundless confidence in himself and great faith in his lucky star."

In August Grant assigned Sheridan to command of the Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. By midmonth, two cavalry divisions from the Army of the Potomac, including the Michigan Brigade, joined the command in the region. Sheridan's Federals opposed Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early's Confederate Army of the Valley in a campaign that resulted in four Union battlefield victories and the destruction of hundreds of barns, mills and stockpiles of supplies and foodstuffs.

Custer distinguished himself throughout the operations. On September 26, with the transfer of Brig. Gen. James Harrison Wilson to the West, Custer assumed command of the 3rd Cavalry Division. His successor in command of the Michigan Brigade stated in his report that with Custer's promotion the four regiments "suffered the most severe loss of the campaign." A Vermonter in the division claimed that its members "welcomed the change, though they knew it meant mounted charges, instead of dismounted skirmishes, and a foremost place in every fight."

Custer led the division in the cavalry engagement at Tom's Brook and in the Battle of Cedar Creek. At 25 he was promoted to brevet major general, to date from Cedar Creek, October 19. In a ceremony at the War Department, Custer and a detail of troopers presented captured battle flags to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. One of the cavalrymen told Stanton, "the 3rd Division wouldn't be worth a cent if it wasn't for [Custer]." 

Sheridan and the two cavalry divisions spent the winter of 1865 in the Shenandoah Valley before marching south in late February. On March 2 at Waynesborough, the 3rd Cavalry Division routed the remnants of Early's Army of the Valley. By the end of the month, Sheridan's command had rejoined the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. When the Federals broke through General Robert E. Lee's defensive works on April 2, the Union cavalry led the pursuit of Lee's retreating army. It was Custer's men on the evening of April 8 who interdicted the Confederate flight at Appomattox Station and cut off the Rebel army's retreat route. During that final week, Custer's men captured more than 30 enemy flags. His brother, Tom, seized a pair and received two Medals of Honor.

The end came at Appomattox on April 9. During a truce between the armies, before Grant and Lee met, Custer rode into the Confederate lines and demanded the surrender of the army from Lee's senior officer, James Longstreet. It was a brazen act, and Longstreet evidently berated the young Union general. After the surrender ceremony, however, Sheridan confiscated the table Grant had used and had it delivered to Libbie Custer. In an accompanying note, Sheridan wrote in part, "permit me to say, Madam, that there is scarcely an individual in our service who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your gallant husband."

On May 23, the Army of the Potomac marched through the streets of Washington in the Grand Review. Earlier in the morning as Custer joined his command, every member of the 3rd Cavalry Division was wearing a red necktie in his honor. The Michigan Brigade had adopted it as its badge, and now so had the 3rd Division. During the review, a woman stepped from the crowd and tossed a wreath of flowers and evergreens at Custer. His horse bolted toward the reviewing stand, and he lost his sword and hat. Whether deliberately or not, Custer had dramatically seized the moment.

Sheridan later wrote of Custer, "If there ever was poetry or romance in war, he could develop it." He was perhaps the Civil War's last knight. He had dreamed of glory and had found it in the terrible confines of combat. The words of the men he led testified to his abilities, bravery and leadership. He had been a superb cavalry commander. But ahead of him lay a rendezvous on a Montana ridge that has darkened his achievements as the Union's Boy General. He craved greatness for himself, and this ambition earned him immortality.  


Custer's Last Stand

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