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George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876)

George Armstrong Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio. His father was a farmer and blacksmith. Custer went to the famous military academy West Point in 1857 and graduated at the bottom of his class! The American Civil War broke out in 1861 and Custer became part of the Union army. This under-achieving second lieutenant was going to do well during wartime...

From Bull Run and Gettysburg to Appomattox

Custer was involved in many battles of the Civil War. He led from the front and was known as an aggressive commander. He impressed many of his superior officers, so much so, that by the time he was 23 he was a brigadier general of volunteers. He chose to wear flashy uniforms so he would be easily recognized by his soldiers. He was the commander of the "Wolverines" (Michigan Cavalry Brigade) and became renowned for his actions on the battlefield...

Further glory

At Gettysburg, Custer mounted a seemingly suicidal cavalry charge against Confederate troops. His brigade lost 257 men. Custer was constantly involved in action and was held in such esteem that when peace was signed between the Union and Confederacy at Appomattox Court House in 1865, Custer was rewarded with the table that the agreement had been signed on - a high honor. It was gifted to his wife, Elizabeth Clift Bacon, who he had married in 1864...

Controversy in the American Indian Wars

By 1866, Custer had been made a lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry. He had been involved in a number of skirmishes and fights with various American Indian tribes, including the Lakota. His actions at the Battle of Washita River (1868) have been questioned, as women and children were killed during the fight. He also used 53 women and children as "human shields," knowing that he would not be attacked as long as he had these captives among his force. Bloody clashes between the U.S. and American Indians grew...

Dan the Info-man
In the image, Custer is surrounded by some of his American Indian scouts. The man kneeling in front is Bloody Knife; the two men became good friends.

Little Bighorn and a Last Stand

In 1876, Custer was with his men near the Little Bighorn River in Montana. His total force numbered 647. Due to a number of mistakes (poor scouting, lack of support and artillery, Custer's belief that the 7th Cavalry could handle anything) these cavalrymen found themselves being attacked by hundreds of Plains Indians (possibly up to 2,500 in total). The Lakota, Dakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors annihilated the U.S. forces, killing 268 men, including Custer.

Dan the Info-man
This painting of Custer's Last Stand by Edgar Samuel Paxson is clearly romanticized but is a perfect snapshot of how the battle was perceived by many

Family and secrets

Custer's wife, Elizabeth, defended her husband's honor. She had been with him on some of his campaigns and knew her husband's mentality well. But there were many detractors, claiming that Custer had sacrificed his men in a vain attempt at glory. Somewhat surreally, there were rumors that Custer had married an American Indian girl called Mo-nah-se-tah, in 1868. She may have even bore him children, although this is disputed.

Legacy

Custer was very successful during the Civil War. He was famous for his appearance, bravery (or impetuousness) and for leading from the front. However, his actions during the American Indian Wars have polarized scholars and historians for decades. His death at the young age of 36 in a hopelessly desperate last stand means that his legacy will live on.

Dan the Info-man
This is a statue of Custer in New Rumley, Ohio.
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