George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876)
Did you know that Custer finished last in his class at the U.S. Military Academy?
Several days after graduating last in his class, he failed in his duty as officer of the guard to stop a fight between two cadets. He was court-martialed and saved from punishment only by the huge need for officers with the outbreak of the Civil War. More did you know…
Flamboyant in life, George Armstrong Custer has remained one of the best-known figures in American history and popular mythology long after his death at the hands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio, and spent much of his childhood with a half-sister in Monroe, Michigan. Immediately after high school he enrolled in West Point, where he utterly failed to distinguish himself in any positive way. Several days after graduating last in his class, he failed in his duty as officer of the guard to stop a fight between two cadets. He was court-martialed and saved from punishment only by the huge need for officers with the outbreak of the Civil War.
Custer did unexpectedly well in the Civil War. He fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, and served with panache and distinction in the Virginia and Gettysburg campaigns. Although his units suffered enormously high casualty rates — even by the standards of the bloody Civil War — his fearless aggression in battle earned him the respect of his commanding generals and increasingly put him in the public eye. His cavalry units played a critical role in forcing the retreat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces; in gratitude, General Philip Sheridan purchased and made a gift of the Appomattox surrender table to Custer and his wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer.
In July of 1866 Custer was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Seventh Cavalry. The next year he led the cavalry in a muddled campaign against the Southern Cheyenne. In late 1867 Custer was court-martialed and suspended from duty for a year for being absent from duty during the campaign. Custer maintained that he was simply being made a scapegoat for a failed campaign, and his old friend General Phil Sheridan agreed, calling Custer back to duty in 1868. In the eyes of the army, Custer redeemed himself by his November 1868 attack on Black Kettle’s band on the banks of the Washita River.
Custer was sent to the Northern Plains in 1873, where he soon participated in a few small skirmishes with the Lakota in the Yellowstone area. The following year, he lead a 1,200 person expedition to the Black Hills, whose possession the United States had guaranteed the Lakota just six years before.
In 1876, Custer was scheduled to lead part of the anti-Lakota expedition, along with Generals John Gibbon and George Crook. He almost didn’t make it, however, because his March testimony about Indian Service corruption so infuriated President Ulysses S. Grant that he relieved Custer of his command and replaced him with General Alfred Terry. Popular disgust, however, forced Grant to reverse his decision. Custer went West to meet his destiny.
The original United States plan for defeating the Lakota called for the three forces under the command of Crook, Gibbon, and Custer to trap the bulk of the Lakota and Cheyenne population between them and deal them a crushing defeat. Custer, however, advanced much more quickly than he had been ordered to do, and neared what he thought was a large Indian village on the morning of June 25, 1876. Custer’s rapid advance had put him far ahead of Gibbon’s slower-moving infantry brigades, and unbeknownst to him, General Crook’s forces had been turned back by Crazy Horse and his band at Rosebud Creek.
On the verge of what seemed to him a certain and glorious victory for both the United States and himself, Custer ordered an immediate attack on the Indian village. Contemptuous of Indian military prowess, he split his forces into three parts to ensure that fewer Indians would escape. The attack was one the greatest fiascos of the United States Army, as thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors forced Custer’s unit back onto a long, dusty ridge parallel to the Little Bighorn, surrounded them, and killed all 210 of them.
Custer’s blunders cost him his life but gained him everlasting fame. His defeat at the Little Bighorn made the life of what would have been an obscure 19th century military figure into the subject of countless songs, books and paintings. His widow, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, did what she could to further his reputation, writing laudatory accounts of his life that portrayed him as not only a military genius but also a refined and cultivated man, a patron of the arts, and a budding statesman.
Countless paintings of “Custer’s Last Stand” were made, including one mass-distributed by the Anheuser-Busch brewing company. All of these paintings — as did the misnomer “the Custer massacre” — depicted Custer as a gallant victim, surrounded by bloodthirsty savages intent upon his annihilation. Forgotten were the facts that he had started the battle by attacking the Indian village, and that most of Indians present were forced to surrender within a year of their greatest battlefield triumph.
Custer was transferred to Kansas in 1866 and was killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Custer’s body was exhumed from the battle site and reinterred at West Point in 1877.
Custer Quick Chronology
1806 – Emanuel Custer born in Cryssoptown, Md.
1807 – Maria Ward born in Burgettstown, Pa.
1836 – Emanuel and Maria wed (second marriage for both)
December 5, 1839 – George Armstrong Custer born in New Rumley, Oh.
April 8, 1842 – Elizabeth Clift Bacon born in Monroe, Mi.
1853 – George enter Alfred Stebbins’ Young Men’s Academy in Monroe
1855 – George Returns to Harrison Co, Oh. to teach at Beech Point School
1856 – George writes to Cong. John Bingham (Oh) asking for appointment to West Point. Since the 1856 candidate has already been selected, he will have to wait one year.
1857 – George enters West Point
1860 – Lincoln elected President and Southern States begin to secede
April 12, 1861 – Confederate fire upon Fort Sumpter becomes the first engagement of the Civil War
June 1861 – Custer graduates from West Point and in July is assigned to G Company of the Second U.S. Cavalry
1862 – Elizabeth (Libbie) graduates from Boyd’s Seminary in Monroe as valedictorian of her class
June 29, 1863 – Custer promoted to rank of Brigadier General and to command Michigan Cavalry Brigade
July 1 – 3, 1863 – Battle of Gettysburg
February 9, 1864 – George A. Custer and Elizabeth C. Bacon wed at Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Mi.
April 9, 1865 – Civil War ends as General Lee surrenders to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va.
July 1866 – Custer receives his appointment as Lieutenant-Colonel of the newly formed Seventh Cavalry
1867 – Kidder Massacre
November 27, 1868 – Battle of Washita
March 1873 – Custer and the 7th Cavalry ordered to the Plains and stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota
June 1874 – Start of the Black Hills Expedition
January 1876 – Start of the Sioux Campaign
March 1876 – Custer testifies against William Belknap, Secretary of war under President Grant, involving the sale of post traderships
May 2, 1876 – Custer ordered to remain in Chicago
May 8, 1876 – President Grant withdraws objections and allows General Alfred Terry to order Custer to join Seventh Cavalry
May 17, 1876 – Expedition leaves Fort Abraham Lincoln under command of General Terry
June 10, 1876 – Major Marcus Reno and detachment of Seventh Cavalry discover fresh Indian trail heading for the Little Big Horn River
June 17, 1876 – General Crook’s troops attacked by a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne on the upper Rosebud Creek.
June 22, 1876 – Custer and men begin move south along Rosebud Creek
June 24, 1876 – Custer, with more than 600 cavalrymen, 55 Indian scouts, and 20 others camp 25 miles east of the Little Big Horn. Sioux and Cheyenne from the Rosebud battle join tribesmen at the Little Big Horn Camp.
June 25, 1876 – Battle of the Little Big Horn
1877 – Custer’s body exhumed from the battle site and reinterred at West Point
1886 – The battle site becomes a National Cemetery
June 4, 1910 – Custer statue “Sighting the Enemy”" dedicated in Monroe
April 4, 1933 – Elizabeth Bacon Custer dies and is buried beside George at West Point
1946 – Battle site is renamed Custer Battlefield National Monument
1991 – Battle site is renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
A Letter from the General:
HEADQUARTERS THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION
Appomattox Court-House, Va. April 9,1865
Soldiers of the Third Cavalry Division:
With profound gratitude toward the God of battles, by whose blessings our enemies have been humbled and our arms rendered triumphant, your commanding general avails himself of this his first opportunity to express to you his admiration for the heroic manner in which you have passed through the series of battles which today resulted in the surrender of the enemy’s entire army. The record established by your indomitable courage is unparalleled in the annals of war. Your prowess has won for you even the respect and admiration of your enemies.
During the past six months, although in most instances confronted by superior numbers, you have captured from the enemy in open battle 111 pieces of field artillery, 65 battle-flags, and upward of 10,000 prisoners of war, including 7 general officers. Within the past ten days, and included in the above, you have captured 46 pieces of field artillery and 37 battle-flags. You have never lost a gun, never lost a color, and have never been defeated, and notwithstanding the numerous engagements in which you have borne a prominent part, including those memorable battles of the Shenandoah, you have captured every piece of artillery which the enemy has dared to open upon you.
The near approach of peace renders it improbable that you will again be called upon to undergo the fatigues of the toilsome march, or the exposure of the battlefield, but should the assistance of keen blades, wielded by your sturdy arms, be required to hasten the coming of that glorious peace for which we have been long contending, the general commanding is proudly confident that in the future, as in the past, every demand will meet with a hearty and willing response. Let us hope that our work is done, and that, blessed with the comforts of peace, we may soon be permitted to enjoy the pleasures of home and friends.
For our comrades who have fallen, let us ever cherish a grateful remembrance. To the wounded and to those who languish in Southern prisons, let our heart felt sympathies be tendered.
And now, speaking for myself alone, when the war is ended and the task of the historian begins; when those deeds of daring which have rendered the name and fame of the Third Cavalry Division imperishable, are inscribed upon the bright pages of our country’s history, I only ask that my name be written as that of the commander of the Third Cavalry Division.
G. A. Custer
Brevet Major General
Custer Lives – This website is intended to examine General Custer’s career and deeds through out his entire life.
Custer’s Last Stand History Portal – 500 pages in English, 25 specialists and 120 videos to relate the history of General Custer, the Seventh Cavalry and Custer’s Last Stand – Outstanding site! I can direct you nowhere else! Take a stand for historical accuracy!