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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. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    When I started the thread I thought a discussion of the Indian Wars particularly Little Bighorn would lead nowhere as too little is known about what actually occurred. This is not to say there have not been persuasive reconstructions but it is the smallest unknown detail that sometimes can change the case. In any event I limited this thread to the Civil War because that was the venue in which he earned his reputation. I feel his reputation has been unfairly taken from him. Rather than credit the Indians for the victory, Custer had to be denigrated to account for the loss. It is my understanding that Indians rarely fought when their village was attacked by the army, and that it was Custer’s plan not to have a pitched battle with them but to isolate the woman and children and thereby force the men to surrender. This worked for him at Washita but did not at Little Bighorn. Later his reputation was further sullied and he has been turned into a sort of cartoon character as the sacrificial lamb to cleanse our conscience of ills we inflicted on the Indian.
    For reason I discussed previously I believe Murat is an apt comparison. As you are aware to regain the throne of Naples, Murat met his own Little Bighorn when he tried to mimic Napoleon’s return from Elba. He took a gamble beyond what any reasonable general would do and ended up in front of a firing squad. Do we judge Murat as a Marshall of France by his failure as King of Naples? To judge civil war generals by their performance against the Indians just does not make sense to me. As you yourself have pointed out is was a much different war. I don’t know how easy it would be for any of the civil war leaders to have adjusted to this type of battle. I know Stuart as a young man did not meet with success against them, so it was a task that could elude otherwise brilliant commanders.
    One quibble I have with you is that you are not consistent in your arguments. You praise Wilson for defeating a defenseless foe at the end of the war but then attempt to belittle Custer’s accomplishments with arguments that the Confederates were by then only a shadow of their former selves. Which is it?
    One final question. You previously asked what battles Custer single handedly won. If that is the standard what battles did Upton, Wilson and Minty win single handedly? I still see you have no retort to the observation that Wilson tried to take credit for Yellow Tavern when it was Custer who made the tactical decision of how and where to attack.
     

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  3. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    Since he's been brought up again by others: When Stuart was stationed in Texas and Kansas, he was a mere lieutenant and usually a quartermaster, not a commander, brilliant or otherwise. Though it could be said he commanded a company at Solomon's Fork due to other exigencies. Whether Solomon's Fork (Stuart's only battle against Indians) can be considered a success or not is open to question. I don't think Little Bighorn can be considered a success, except for the Sioux.
     
  4. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    My point was that the rate of fire for the Springfield Traptdoor since it was prone to jam and required the cartridge to be manually extracted would have been about the same as the Sharps because of the extra time it would have taken to load the cartridge and insert the percussion caps. Custer was used to directing Sharps fire and I would suspect would have used the Springfield in the same manner if rate of fire was the issue. The larger point however was that no matter what the rate of fire you would use the Spencer and Springfield in the same way dismounted and some type of volley fire with some of the troops holding back with the mounts. Now I don’t know what tactic you think Custer could have concocted to more effectively have used the Springfield Trapdoor. He could not have them shoot while on horseback, at Little Bighorn the grass and rolling hills took the longer range and greater accuracy of the Springfield out of the equation. Please let’s stick to the CW.
     
  5. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    You missed one small detail Stuart got shot in the chest and the indians got away. Since you seemed conflicted on this issue I would say that was not a favorable outcome. My point however was that you would not define him by this experience any more than you should define Custer’s Civil War record by Little Bighorn.
     
  6. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    How could I not know this if I knew Forrest’s father was a blacksmith. I am currently reading John Allan Wyeth’s book The Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. See post # 87. The question posed about the two blacksmith dads was used as an illustration of what snippet snipers do.
     
  7. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    The one who shot him didn't get away. :smile:

    Sumner set out that summer to chastise the Cheyenne; after Solomon's Fork he ran them off from their village, and then burned it. Mission accomplished?
     
  8. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    Exactly. ...
     
  9. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    We have no idea what you know or don't know. All I've seen is selective quoting and condescending dismissal of anyone's opinion other than what matches your own, which is probably the reason so few members have chosen to post here. Currently reading Wyeth does not an expert on Forrest make, IMHO.
     
  10. The Iron Duke

    The Iron Duke First Sergeant

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    Hook, line, sinker...
     
  11. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    If that is how you will handle a discussion I don't do reindeer games and I don't play trivia. I thought a constructive and educational conversation might be had. I was wrong.

    Your lack of familiarity w/ both Stuart & Forrest speak loudly, I think, for why you are praising Custer so loudly. Your lack of knowledge of the Selma Campaign and the difficulties overcame by Wilson and his men seems rather clear. I suspect you aren't really even certain who Upton or Minty were. You wanted to use the opinions of contemporaries of Custer, I mentioned how contemporaries ,like Upton, regarded the man. I then mentioned Sherman's lack of respect for the man. Two experianced Generals, Upton a contempary who came up the ranks in a similar manner but who would become more succesful in his post war career, as well as during his wartime career (being praised by both Grant & Sherman as well as commanding Arty, Inf & finally Cav) and Sherman a man who knew figjhting men when he saw them and who could identify soldiers when he saw them as well. Sherman placed Forrest well above Custer, not I; although I am inclined to agree w/ his opinion.

    I have read a lot on the ACW and can't say that I have ever seen anything that would convince me of Custer's brilliance. Between my own library and what I've read I think I'm at well over a thousand titles on the subject of the ACW and more than 3000 letters, diaries and memoirs. I have some small knowledge of what the men of the day thought and overwhelmingly the men I've read don't rate Custer as some sort of brilliant tactical genius, in fact few even mention the man. Though when they do it hasn't been w/ great respect. One glaring example would be Col Tourtellete (sp?) who had commanded the 4th MN VI during the ACW, being severely wounded at Allatoona, post war he was ended up with the 7th Cav and worked closely w/ Custer for a time before securing a transfer to Army HQ. His impressions of Custer were far from flattering. In short some of the men who served under him, some officers that served with him, contempory general officers and the head cheese himself Sherman were not as impressed with him as others.

    Custer had great individual courage yes, brilliance no. He didn't hold a candle to Murat and putting him in the same bracket seems... like a lot of wishful thinking. When I start comparing him to other truly brilliant Cav commanders of history he comes up seriously wanting, so much so that I don't even consider him in the running. Then again I put very few ACW generals in the list of great historical generals, in fact only two compare in any way to the great Generals of history 1 CS & 1 US, Custer isn't one.

    I'm not a fan of Custer, cherry picked quotations and use of only favorable sources isn't likely to change my mind on the man. Playing gotcha trivia games on a subject sure won't do it and it makes me seek solace and cranial stimulation elsewhere.

    To quote a Lakota friend: "Custer led many brave men to their death; he should be respected because he did not leave them to die alone but died with them."
     
  12. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    Eggzactly!
     
  13. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    We are talking Civil War Cavalry here and there are very few books on the subject of Union Cavalry. So having read 1,000 books on the CW does not give you any advantage on this subject. Lefty and I first discussed Greggg and Custer at Gettysburg both made our cases and Lefty even included a quote from Custer directly to make his point. In your first post you contended that Wilson, Upton and Minty were better cavalry commanders. Rather than address all your contentions at one time I started with Wilson, perhaps that is why you don’t think I know anything about Upton and Minty. In response to your praise of Wilson I quoted from historians who directly contradicted your view of him. I then referenced a section of Starr’s book and a footnote about Yellow Tavern which demonstrates how Wilson tried to take credit for it after Custer’s death. The quotes were not taken out of context or edited and the sources were cited so that anyone interested could read them and judge for themselves. You have not provided one citation from any of the 1,000 books you have read, to support your statements. For example was Sherman’s remark about Custer before or after the war? When were they in the same field of operation? You don’t say. As you are aware Custer testified before Congress to the corruption of Grant’s brother Orville in his dealings with the Indian Agents. As a result of his testimony he was without assignment and it was Sherman who tried to get him appointed to take command of Fort Lincoln; a move blocked by Grant. You go on to contend I take it that Custer was not respected by the troops who served under him. "I have some small knowledge of what the men of the day thought and overwhelmingly the men I've read don't rate Custer as some sort of brilliant tactical genius, in fact few even mention the man. Though when they do it hasn't been w/ great respect." You make a bold claim. Let those who know more about this subject than you or I, be the judge of whether this is deceptive advocacy.
    Your final claim that I have "cherry picked" sources when you have not provided any sources is quizzical at best. Now I don’t expect you to append a whole article when making a minor point but at least provide the source with sufficient detail so that those reading can look it up and judge its value.

     
     
  14. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    I will have to give this some thought before I reply. I hope that you will also reflect on what you have said.
     
  15. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    I've reflected on what she said, to the point where I am not sure why I posted in this thread to start with. At this point I'm reading it basically to enjoy Johan's posts.
     
  16. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    Perhaps I should let the dust settle a bit, I see the officers are circling the wagons to protect their command of the subject, and cannot countenance views contrary to theirs. When it starts to be a personal attack rather than an attack using facts and authorities the result may make you feel better but it does not add to our understanding of history. You know full well why you joined this thread. I would assume it was because there were no others, people were reading, which would allow you to work in your admiration for J.E.B. Stuart.
     
  17. johan_steele

    johan_steele Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Below is a short listing of ACW pertinant Cav writing, most of it having to do w/ the US vs CS, all are good books. These are a large number of the ACW works that have garnered my opinion of Custer and the men he served w/. I include this because the charge was made that I wasn't using any kind of sources to back up my opinions.

    Here is a short list of works any interested in the subject might wish to paruse. I cannot locate the work that details Col Robert Minty and do not recall the title. Anyone who would care to provide the title and author would be greatly appreciated.

    Ambrose, Stephen E.,Upton and the Army.

    Ambrose, Stephen E., his Parallel Biography of Custer & Crazy Horse is a must read for anyone interested in the subject (I can't find my copy and don't recall the exact title.

    Bergemann, Kurt D., Brackett’s Battalion.

    Bilby, Joseph G., Civil War Firearms.

    Brown, Richard., Emory Upton the Army's Mahan.

    Carley, Kenneth., The Dakota War of 1862.

    Cist, Henry M., Campaigns of the Civil War.-VII. The Army of the Cumberland.

    Coburn, Mark, Terrible Innocence General Sherman At War.

    Coggins, Jack, Arms and Equipment of the Civil War.

    Convis, Charles L., Soldiers.

    Cox, Jacob D., Campaigns of the Civil War.-IX. Atlanta, .

    Cox, Jacob D., Campaigns of the Civil War.-X. The March to the Sea-Franklin and Nashville.

    Davis, Sidney Morris., Common Soldier-Uncommon War: Life of a Cavalryman in the Civil War.

    Desjardin, Thomas A. These Honored Dead.

    Eby, Henry H. Observations of an Illinois Boy in Battle, Camp and Prisons-1861 to 1865.

    Engle, Stephen D., The American Civil War, the War in the West 1861-July 1863.

    Evans, David., Shermans Horseman, Union Cavalry Operations during the Atlanta Campaign.

    Fitch, John., Annals of the Army of the Cumberland.

    Flood, Charles Brace, Grant & Sherman.

    Glatthaar, Joseph T., The American Civil War, The war in the West 1863-1865.

    Glatthaar, Joseph T., The March to the Sea and Beyond.

    Greene Francis V., Campaigns of the Civil War.-VIII. The Mississippi.

    Griffith, Paddy, Battle In the Civil War Generalship and Tactics in America 1861-65.

    Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Civil War.

    HUtton, Paul., The Custer Reader.

    Jones, James Pickett., Yankee Blitzkreig.

    Katcher, Philip, US Cavalry on the Plains 1850-90.

    Keenan, Jerry., Wilson's Cavalry Corps.

    Longacre, Edward, Custer and his Wolverines.

    Longacre, Edward, Lincoln's Cavalrymen.

    Longacre, Edward., Mounted Raids of the Civil War.

    Longacre, Edward., From Union Stars to Top Hat.
    Michie, Peter Smith, Life and Letters of Emory Upton.

    Oates, Stephen B., Confederate Cavalry West of the River.

    Sherman, William T., Memoirs of William T Sherman,

    Thomas, Emory, Bold Dragoon, the Life of Stuart.

    Trudeau, Noah Andre, Southern Storm Sherman’s March to the Sea.

    Utley, Robert., Cavalier in Buckskin.

    Walker, Wallace, Emory Upton and the Officer's Creed.

    Wert, Jeffry., Custer the Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. (I'm not certain that is the correct title)

    Williams, Kenneth P., Grant Rises in the West.

    Wills, Brian Steele, A Battle From The Start The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

    US War Department. The war of the Rebellion aka the O.R.'s
     
  18. Hergt

    Hergt Private

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    Johan_Steel
    Perhaps we are speaking in tongues. I did not claim you did not have sources I wrote that you did not provide them to support your statements. I think when dealing in the finer points of an issue it is only fair to cite a source for a proposition which is in hot contention so the other party to the debate can read it. I could obviously tell by what you wrote that you were very knowledgeable about the subject but that does not mean you are always correct. In terms of pure Union cavalry books you know that very few have been written. The three volume set (one entirely on the Western Theater) by Stephen Z. Starr is one of the few on the subject of Union cavalry. Although I used him for the Yellow Tavern battle he is a huge fan of Wilson and dotes on his heroic Selma campaign. To get a taste of his writing on Selma here is a link to a presentation he made for the Cincinnati Civil War Round Table in 1959 http://www.cincinnaticwrt.org/data/ccwrt_history/talks_text/starr_cavalry_tactics.html The thinking about Wilson in some quarters is apparently changing. Upton’s career as you know was mostly infantry with artillery and a stint in the cavalry at the end when he was convalescing from his injuries. No matter how brilliant he was (my personal favorite concerning the development of tactics long before you mentioned him) in defining and shaping infantry organization and tactics, to include him as a brilliant civil war cavalry commander seems somewhat thin on the facts.
     
  19. K Hale

    K Hale Colonel Civil War Photo Contest
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    Wise words.
     
  20. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Time for a time out? Maybe a couple of days off to cool down and get back on track?
     
  21. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Colonel Retired Moderator

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    In watching this thread, I have to agree with Ole. Got many passionate individuals to whom have their defenses up and fists clenched.

    In addition, it is almost unavoidable unless it is putting a statement as a dry biography of someone, not to include other Cavalry notables in and or to compare with. This comparison with other Cavalry individuals can easily derail the original topic on the original individual being studied, if others attempt to use the "intent" of the comparison to make it into a new topic in depth and or hijack the thread, it will be viewed as such.

    Further, it should be added--this is not some competition. These Cavalry individuals fought as individuals, at times matching with excellent, good or so-so leaders of an opposing foe. In addition, where these Cavalry individuals fought, e.g. ground, location in certain battle theaters, their superiors, their equals, their subordinates --have an effect/affect on the outcome of certain engagements.

    There are many individuals to whom served in the Cavalry on both sides, to whom are overshadowed by the more "colorful" individuals and, perhaps someone will take up the task as to study these men with equal passion as to give equal appreciation to them all.

    Meanwhile, I like to see this thread take a mandatory halt. Let the horses have a rest, loosen their girths, feed and water them, check for sores, check their hooves for stones wedged in their hoof, or in between their shoe. Let horses get reshod if necessary, rest their back as well as their legs. Let them graze on grass and dream of what horses dream of.

    When this thread resumes... I have a sincere wish, that all will start anew. If the post extends beyond the capacity of one frame, perhaps use "continued" as to continue until the end of the thought, comment, observation, opinion and or statement. This should help remedy the 'snippet' should it not be intended.

    Just some thoughts.

    Respectfully submitted,
    M. E. Wolf
    POSTED IN THE CAPACITY OF MODERATOR
    March 23, 2011
     

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