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Is George Armstrong Custer under appreciated as a cavalry commander.

Discussion in 'The Eastern Theater' started by Hergt, Mar 3, 2011.

  1. firefite44

    firefite44 Sergeant

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    HUH? The thread was started to debate his leadership ability in the CW not POST CW Indian wars. I think Hergt is open to hear views on CIVIL WAR leadership but you dulldrums do not seem to want to get off Little Big Horn. Now explain to me how that is going against the possible adversary with opposing views?

    He simply asked that you debate CIVIL War leadership.
     

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  3. firefite44

    firefite44 Sergeant

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    LOL I warned you Hergt that it would be an uphill battle and would not be productive. There are many here who have personal agendas and were not open for subjected debate. That is why I have stayed out of here until now. At this point, just agree to disagree and walk away.
     
  4. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    Which, I would like to state for the record, has not happened in this thread, despite the constant BS I've been politely taking.
     
  5. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Can we stay on topic and narrow the focus of General Custer's Civil War career?

    Ladies and Gentlemen;

    I hope that this thread will remain on the rails and if need be--wear horse blinkers/blinders (limiting the wider view of horses eyesight to what is in front)...and be dedicated on a very strict basis to focus only on George A. Custer's military career in the Civil War. Period of 1861 to 1866.

    View attachment 2374 My horse "Bean Bag"--I'd loan you his driving bridle if it would help:thumbsup:

    It will be difficult not to go outside this border, as we have the hindsight as to picture the whole military career. But, I would like the membership to try their best to do so, reining in their thoughts to just Custer in his Civil War career.

    M. E. Wolf
    POSTED IN THE CAPACITY OF MODERATOR
    March 24, 2011
     
  6. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Name CUSTER, George Armstrong "Autie", "Fanny", "Curly"
    Born December 5 1839, Harrison Cty OH
    Died June 25 1876, Little Big Horn MT
    Pre-War Profession Teacher, graduated West Point 1861
    War Service 1861 Lt., carried dispatches at First Bull Run, served on staffs of McClellan and Pleasonton, distinguished himself at Aldie, June 1863 appointed Brig. Gen. of Volunteers in command of 2nd Bde/3rd Divn/Cavalry Corps, Gettysburg, Yellow Tavern, commanded 3rd Cavalry Divn in the Shenandoah Valley campaign, Fisher's Hill, Five Forks, cut off the ANV's last escape route at Appomattox, April 1865 promoted Maj. Gen. of Volunteers.
    Brevet Promotions Maj. Gen. U.S.V. October 19 1864, Brig. Gen. U.S.A. March 13 1865, Maj. Gen. U.S.A. March 13 1865.
    Post War Career Army service as an Indian fighter, publicist.

    I hope Hergt will step off from here and continue the well researched life of George A. Custer in the Civil War.

    Very little is ever published about Custer's function in the 5th U.S. Cavalry and acting topographical engineer for then Brigadier-General Winfield Scott Hancock. And, the incident on how Custer burned his hands trying to put out a fire on a needed bridge during the 1862 Battle of Williamsburg. I would personally enjoy reading what you can expand on in this area.

    Just some thoughts.

    M. E. Wolf
     
  7. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    It's easier to concentrate on the mans good years I suppose than upon an entire career, which the ACW was not the whole. But if you want to guarantee him painted in the best light possible that is the only way to do it IMO. I posted the sources, almost entirely ACW, and bowed out of this thread when the reindeer games started.

    Nothing has been posted yet that would define Custer as brilliant, at any stage in his career, certainly not a Cav officer of the calibre of Murat. You can judge a lot about a man in how he dies. Custer apparently died a solider death selling himself dearly, fo that he is owed a modicum of respect.

    Custer was a soldier, by most accounts a good and brvae one. Brilliant? Hardly, by any measure. He was not as idolized or respected by his men as some would have us believe, which is a quick and accurate measure of an officer. One which is hard to get past when dealing w/ an officer of any rank.

    I provided a list of titles worth reading that might be considered pertinent. Feel free to add to the reading list but leave me out the games. I come here to research and learn something and occasionaly pass on some information of my own. If one is going to make the claim that a man was brilliant and can't back it up in any way shape or form after 8 pages... something is missing.
     
  8. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    Let’s follow ME Wolf’s advice. We must first realize that when we are making comparisons between cavalry officers it somewhat like picking our brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament. Some teams look better on paper than they are, others have great records who fail in the big game, and some of the unknowns who lack reputation stun their opponents. All of the cavalry officers we are discussing like the basketball teams have accomplished enough however to be dissected for our amusement. So when I make a comparison even using the harsh words of some authors to discredit an officer I do have in the back of my mind how great they really were. To continue the exercise I think the issues under the debate should be fairly narrow so that we can focus on them one at a time. I do believe that we should stick to the CW only because this is a CW site not an Indian War site. If we get off on tangents we will surely get bogged down in endless debate which does not help our understanding of the CW. I do not dispute the fact that Little Big Horn discloses something about Custer’s character as a commander but I also believe that if we make comparison we should compare the individual’s actions in the same field of operation. A great rugby player may not translate well in football. There are of course countless variables which in the end will mean that we can never reach a consensus but we will nevertheless learn in the process.
     
  9. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    To evaluate Custer versus other cavalry officers of the Civil War perhaps we should first identify the criteria by which they are evaluated. What are the characteristics the officer should possess? Are any unique to cavalry officers? Then we can comment on how that officer performed relative to those characteristics.
     
  10. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Hergt,

    You set the criteria....or borders in which to stay inside of.

    I do though, recommend that "What ifs" be excluded. It is also unfair to compare Cavalry in the Western Theater against Eastern and Southern Theaters, as each have different conditions as well as different ground to operate in.

    Some Cavalry commands were strictly escorts for a General. So, their function was entirely different than those under a Cavalry Battalion, Regiment, Brigade, Division and Corps.

    When comparing the Confederate Cavalry to Union Cavalry, I also recommend that there is an understanding that the Union Cavalry was tardy in the evolution of it into a separate military arm. The Union Cavalry was out of date in that regard, as it was portioned to Infantry and under the command and direction of Infantry Generals...not Cavalry Generals in which the chain of command and the abilities of the Cavalry was expanded and functioned more like the Confederates had all along--as an independent military arm where Cavalry Generals who rose through the ranks knew the versatility of the Cavalry as well as numbers. (Union Cavalry was woefully lacking in numbers against CSA Cavalry until the Union unified Cavalry and put many more troopers together matching that of the Confederacy). So, I recommend to have early period and late period --or; first half, second half.

    Hertz, I also publish the duties for Cavalry. Escort, recon, cover retreat from the rear guard position, extended mounted pickets, etc. Then rate them by priority or importance as a function. Then establish effect/affect -- all horses present, great shape, rested being and well fed the highest--lowest being killed horses, starved to death, wounded next to the lowest, etc.

    Keep in mind, not all the members are familiar with horses. There will be times where it will be necessary to explain and the collateral effects/affects when it comes to horses. Then, you have folks to whom have ridden, driven, trained and managed horses in some degree or such.

    I look forward to this fresh start. It is always good to research fully with everybody's help--in my opinion.

    Just some thoughts.

    Respectfully submitted,
    M. E. Wolf
     
  11. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    This topic was initially confined to a comparison between Custer and his fellow Union cavalry officers. I did not include Confederate officers because it would encompass too many great leaders who engaged in irregular warfare [raiders and partisans.] I also thought at least in the Eastern Theater they had a large advantage over their Union Counterparts [who were hampered by ineffective organization and use of cavalry] during the first 2 or 3 years of the war. Since there are many who are interested in Confederate leaders they should be included as well so long as they are not strictly raiders or partisan cavalry such as Mosby. I think it is impossible to identify and properly control for all the variables that may affect an outcome, and even if you could do so you would not have another situation with the same set of variables upon which to make a comparison. If a comparison is made, it must be on general characteristics a cavalry commander should possess. I think it is possible to make an evaluation on general characteristics even if it is somewhat imprecise. For example, was Judson Kilpatrick a thoughtful leader who carefully considered his options before making a decision? The answer is obvious, and if we want to make a comparison using thoughtfulness and military knowledge as a criteria and compare him to Wilson we could. I think we can include the Western CW Theater on this basis. So here is some criteria I would use:
    Is the leader thoughtful or impetuous?
    Is he bold and decisive or careful and plodding?
    Does he command the respect of those he leads?
    Has he demonstrated the ability to organize and train his troops?
    What is his record in battle?
    Is he brave or timid?
    Does he lead by example?
    Is he innovative?
    Please feel free to suggest deletions or additions.
     
  12. Freddy

    Freddy 2nd Lieutenant

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    Custer was a brave, fearless soldier and a good leader. He led his troopers in battle when attacking the enemy. He won more battles than those lost. His casualties were higher compared to other US cavalry leaders. Custer had the confidence of both US Cavalry Corps Commanders, Alfred Pleasanton and Phillip Sheridan. Custer was promoted from First Lieutenant to Major General while serving under these two commanders. Custer had to be what the US Cavalry needed or he would not have advanced in both rank and responsibilities.
     
  13. prroh

    prroh Captain Honored Fallen Comrade

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    Wilson should have been dismissed after his horrible performance during the Wilderness and the rest of the Overland campaign. His supporters on this board seemed to overlook this. Lucky for Wilson he was a Grant pet, as was Sheridan.
     
  14. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    I think this is a fair assessment but I do have one question. I do not know what Custers casualty rates were compared to other Union Cavalry commanders, but I would suspect that if this is true that his were higher it might be due to the fact that he was pushing the attack such as at Gettysburg while his counterparts in other venues were not. The one thing I have attempted to dispell is the notion that he was not calculating. This issue will only be resolved by a careful analysis of the battles in which he participated. But the larger question still looms who was his better as a cavalry commander?
     
  15. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    This is now at least several historians view. In Wilson's favor however historian and author Stephen Z. Starr credits Wilson with the reorganizaion and effective tactical use of the Union Cavalry he wrote:

    "Sheridan's appointment to this post marks a turning point not merely in the history of the Union cavalry, but also of the Civil War and, indeed, in the history of tactics as well; for Sheridan's innovations not only revolutionized the accepted concepts of the proper employment of cavalry, but established a new tactical pattern which, by a process of logical and conscious growth, led eventually to the tank tactics of Guderian, Rommel and Patton.
    We cite Sheridan as the author of these changes. Actually, great as he was (53) - and we use the word advisedly - he deserves only the credit of being the first to use, and to use with consummate skill, ideas which came from the brain of one of the ablest soldiers this country has ever produced, General James H. Wilson. We here state a conclusion based on probability, for there is no single document, or series of documents, to provide direct evidence of authorship. In any case, such ideas are "in the air", as it were, for months or years before someone comes along with a synthesis in which this inchoate and incomplete material is organized into a logical, coherent, and perhaps even obvious whole. So it was in this case. Sheridan himself contributed a great deal. So did the Confederates. So did John Buford before he died in the winter of 1863. So did many others; and some portions of the whole went back to the War of 1812 and to European practice before that. But the man who ‘saw it whole’ was James Wilson." I think it would be worthwhile to research the validity of this conclusion, because so much about Wilson comes from Wilson whose "ego was only surpassed by his ability" some say.
     
  16. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Hergt,

    You wrote in part:
    I find myself unable to choose just one being 'the better/best' Cavalry commander--it is like a box of chocolate assortment candies--each are chocolate but oh, so many types of chocolates.:hmmm::sabre:

    Style of command is as important as successful missions. Some did not achieve Corps or Division command due to the size of the military arm, which was rather small compared to Infantry.

    You have:
    AVERELL, William Woods ; BAYARD, George Dashiell ; BLUNT, James Gillpatrick ; BRISBIN, James Sanks ; BUFORD, John (who died too early and had great promise); BUSSEY, Cyrus ; CARR, Eugene Asa ; CHAPMAN, George Henry ; CHRYSLER, Morgan Henry ; CLAYTON, Powell ; COOKE, Philip St George (famed Cavalry leader/instructor and father of CSA General Cooke, CSA Cavalry and father in law of J.E.B. Stuart..that had to be embarrassing); COPELAND, Joseph Tarr ; CROOK, George ; CROXTON, John Thomas ;
    DAVIDSON, John Wynn ; DAVIES, Henry Eugene ; DAVIS, Edmond Jackson ; DEVIN, Thomas Casimer ; DODGE, Charles Cleveland ; DUFFIŠ, Alfred Napoleon Alexander "Nattie"
    (French Cavalry officer, veteran of the Crimean War, goes to America in 1859 and resigns his French Commission in 1861 to serve in the Union Army..had to have some influence in the field, tactics, etc.) ; ELLIOT, Washington Lafayette ; EMORY, William Hemsley ;
    EWING, Thomas Jr (Former private secretary to President Tyler); FARNSWORTH, Elon John (Promising General died too early at Gettysburg) ; FARNSWORTH, John Franklin (Elon 's uncle) ; GAMBLE, William ; GARRARD, Kenner ; GIBBS, Alfred ; GRAHAM, Lawrence Pike (ill health put him then in charge of Cavalry Instruction early in the war) ; GRANGER, Gordon ; GREGG, David McMurtrie ; GRIERSON, Benjamin Henry ; HATCH, Edward ; HATCH, John Porter (unrelated to Edward) Medal of Honor -South Mountain ; HINKS, Edward Winslow ; HUNTER, David ; JACKSON, James Streshly (killed too early at Perryville) ; JOHNSON, Richard W ; KAUTZ, August Valentine (wrote many handbooks to be nuts and bolts on everything in the Army, to include "The Company Clerk," etc.; KEARNY, Philip (developed the Kearny Patch--killed too early in the war in 1862- Battle of Chantilly, Va.) ; KILPATRICK, Hugh Judson "Kill Cavalry" (West Point Grad 1861, goaded Farnsworth into a unnecessary suicide charge at Gettysburg) ; KNIPE, Joseph Farmer ;
    LEE, Albert Lindley ; LONG, Eli ; LOWELL, Charles Russell (KIA- Cedar Creek) ; LUCAS, Thomas John ; MCCOOK, Edward Moody ; MCINTOSH, John Baillie (His brother was Confederate General James McQueen McIntosh) ; MCKEAN, Thomas Jefferson ; MACKENZIE, Ranald Slidell ; MCNEIL, John ; MERRITT, Wesley (seemingly very modest but effective Cavalry Commander, second in command under Sheridan) ; PAINE, Halbert Eleazer ; PALMER, Innis Newton ; PLEASONTON, Alfred ; POWELL, William Henry (MoH - Sinking Creek) ; ROBERTS, Benjamin Stone ; SANDERS, William Price (MW 1863 Knoxsville, TN..too early) ; SEDGWICK, John (KIA - Spottsylvania, VA, 1864--loved by his men) ;
    SHACKELFORD, James Murrell ; SHERIDAN, Philip Henry ; SHERMAN, Francis Trowbridge ; SMITH, Andrew Jackson (very popular and respected) ; SMITH, Green Clay ; STANLEY, David Sloane (MoH -Franklin, TN -better known for Yellowstone's expedition); STONEMAN, George (Known more for a failed raid than successful leadership, and the compassion in housing Gen. Jno Buford, caring for him along with Maj. Miles Keogh who held Buford in his arms when passed, minutes after signing acceptance of his commission as Major General, would die at Little Big Horn with Custer and men, horse
    Comanche, lone survivor) ; THOMAS, George Henry "Pap " (Excellent commander though being Southern was viewed with suspicion, started off in Cavalry in 1861, too short of time in Cavalry to be judged as such leader in that arm, promoted to Infantry command) ; TIBBITS, William Badger ;
    TORBERT, Alfred Thomas Archimedes "Daisy" ; UPTON, Emory (probably the best commander in all three military branches with innovation to improve tactics in all three branches) ; WARREN, Fitz-Henry ; WASHBURN, Cadwallader Colden ; WATKINS, Louis Douglass ; WILSON, James Harrison ; and -- WOOD, Thomas John

    (A lot of Cavalry Generals to choose from ...just can't pick just one--LOL)

    Just my opinion.

    M. E. Wolf
     
  17. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    Wolf,
    You missed Benjamin F. "Grimes" Davis; (Brandy Station, K/I/A wearing a poncho and wielding a sword)
    I would amend your bio of DUFFIE, Alfred Napoleon Alexander "Nattie" (Best uniforms and medals) We don’t need to determine who was the best cavalry commander to explore the virtues or faults of these men and compare them. I thought a comparison would draw out some passion (success) and interest in a topic which might otherwise be a bore. So don’t be afraid to pick one or two these chocolates for in the words of Forrest Gump "life is like a box of chocolates."
     
  18. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    "Better" is so egregiously subjective. What is better? The one who fights or the one who screens and sends back accurate observations?

    We're talking about a time when the US Cavalry was coming into its own -- better late than never?

    I'll agree that Custer's memory is tainted by that unfortunate, post-war incident in Montana. I'll admit to being uninformed as to how he actually performed during the USCW. I don't know whether his performance in that period compares to Kilpatrick, Hampton, Stuart, et al.

    And better is relative. Better at what? Was Grant a better general than Lee? Was Sherman a better general than Johnston? (OK. Silly question.) Better and best rely heavily on where they were and what they were to do.

    Seems that Custer functioned well up to the standards expected by Meade and Pleasonton. No graven image, but at least satisfactorily. I'm looking for "better" in there, but there are so many candidates who staggered up to that standard that I can't give the award to just one.

    Example: Imboden was a turkey, but he managed the retreat from Gettysburg in a way that deserved a Medal of Honor if the CSA had one to offer. Forrest was a highly feared raider, but he managed to cover Hood's retreat from Nashville superbly.

    Perhaps, Hergt, we might prevail upon you to list Custer's superior accomplishments without ignoring his booboos? During the War, preferably, and ignoring that last booboo. You appear to have knowledge of Custer that many of us don't have, so it would be cool if you would list the accomplishments that cause you to come to your conclusion -- and to explain away those errant moments.
     
  19. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    I know my posts make it appear that I am devoted to Custer, but my real interest is Union Cavalry. I used Custer as somewhat of a foil to spark debate, since he is a polarizing figure, not because I want to spend my time extolling his virtues. In the process of a debate I will try to take on some myths that have grown up around him but I don't want to make this a Custer Site, as there are enough of them already. The posts thus far have revived my memory on some facts, taught me something as well, and spurred my interest to research other views. That is enough to expect to accomplish and I think it is worth the effort.
    .
     
  20. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    It is worth the effort, Hergt. For one, I appreciate the exploration and your goal to dig around in the pile to find the pony.

    It is generally accepted that the Union Cavalry, in 1861, was embarrasing. It was getting later in the war when it finally began to be an equal of the Confederate Cavalry.

    But it was ever thus. Every war we get into, we seem to be unprepared. The US Cavalry at the time didn't know whether to dump or go blind. No one knew how to use it according to the new kind of war. The Confederates got the jump on the Union with its horsemen. But the Union guys were learning. The equivalence wasn't actually reached until late '63, early '64. And even then, Grant and Sherman were unaccustomed to using Cavalry effectively.

    Am currently contemplating Sherman's statement: "I know he's a ****ed fool, but he's exactly the kind of ****ed fool I want." (Or something like that.) In that, Sherman was acknowledging a role for the cavalry he took with him on the March.

    Sherman was not exactly a fan of cavalry. His use of that arm was tepid. But when he set off on The March, he selected the most egregious cavalry commander extant -- Kilpatrick. An overly bold SOB.
     
  21. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    My answer to the question posed in thread's title isn't going to change until we see this.
     

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