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George Armstrong Custer

By John T. Marck

George Armstrong Custer was born in Harrison County, Ohio on December 5, 1839. Although Custer is famous and remembered especially in folklore as a hero at the "last stand" at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he did in fact achieve great fame during the Civil War.

Custer was a great soldier and leader, but never conformed to army regulations, being condescending at best toward these regulations well as military leaders. Having gone to West Point, he graduated last in his class in 1861. This position in his class was contributory more to his nonconformance to regulations rather than a reflection on his educational worth. Three days after he graduated, he found himself at the First Battle of Bull Run. This led to a military career during the war that carried him into every major battle of the war to Appomattox Court House.

George Custer was quite hardheaded and reckless, always looking for that impending glory. Through his actions he made more enemies than friends, but was idolized by millions in the North for his courage and impertinence in leading his many cavalry battles. Totally acting without fear in battle, he had eleven horses shot under him during the war, escaping injury many times, having been wounded only twice. In consideration of his demeanor, that was an amazing fact. In addition to his cavalry achievements, he was the first Union officer to make observations in combat in a balloon.

Now a captain, he continued to attract attention to himself on the field of battle. He got the attention of his commanding officers, Major General William Smith, Major General Philip Kearney, Major General George B. McClellan and Major General Alfred Pleasonton. Following Custer's courageous cavalry charge at the Battle of Aldie, Virginia, General Pleasonton took closer notice and promoted Captain Custer to the rank of brigadier general on June 29, 1863. Now at the young age of twenty-three, Custer had become the youngest general in the Union army. Consequently, he was placed in command of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division, and went on to achieve greater success for bravery at the battle of Gettysburg a few days later.

Through his continued performances on the field, he became friends and an admirer of Major General Philip H. Sheridan, and was one of Sheridan's favorite leaders in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Custer continued his fame at Yellow Tavern where he led his cavalry unit in a fearless charge that killed Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, and further success at the Third Battle of Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Five Forks. At the end of the war, Custer was promoted to major general on April 15, 1865.

Soon after the war, General Custer was as well known for his unconventional uniforms of a huzzar jacket and tight trousers of faded black velvet trimmed with gold lace, and long blond curly hair, as he was for his fearless actions on the battlefield. In 1867, General Custer was accused of being absent without leave from his command at Fort Wallace, Kansas. He survived the court-martial hearings and at the request of his friend, Philip Sheridan, was reinstated, going on to further prominence as an Indian fighter.

On June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and his entire command of the Seventh Cavalry were massacred by combined Sioux and Cheyenne Indian forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. George's brother Thomas Ward Custer, who was serving as an aide to his brother, was also killed. Thomas Custer was the only soldier to have won two Congressional Medals of Honor during the Civil War.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.