Featured What is the deal with George Armstrong Custer?

Eric Wittenberg

1st Lieutenant
Keeper of the Scales
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Jun 2, 2013
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Columbus, OH

Awanita

Corporal
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Feb 6, 2015
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Arkansas
He was IMO was a pompus donkey out to kill Native American men, women and children after the ACW on his road to making a name for himself as Grant and looking at running for president. Didn't work out so well in the end. Talk to some of the Souix and Cheyenne whose ancestors were living during his raids.
 

MRB1863

Major
Forum Host
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Dec 6, 2014
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Lemoyne, PA (35 miles N. of Gettysburg)
Custer obviously had some redeeming qualities to be promoted into a senior officer rank. I personally don't consider Custer as one of my favorite CW Generals. If I had a choice to study Custer or Buford (or many Confederate Cavalry Officers), I would realize no further learning of details surrounding Custer.
 

PatW

Private
Joined
Jan 21, 2015
Custer is known mainly for the Little Big Horn. Oddly enough what people say about Custer seems to say more about them than about Custer. A long series of movies that deal with the Little Big Horn are all over the map. Custer has been shown as a hero, an insane egomaniac, a martinet, and a soldier whose luck ran out.

In the ACW, Custer came to command when the U.S. cavalry was becoming effective. The cavalry needed aggressive commanders and Custer fit the bill. Custer had a very good civil war record.

The situation at the Little Bighorn was complex. For that, like Eric, I recommend Terrible Glory. Actually, a novel, the court martial of George Armstrong Custer is reasonably good for an easy read.

Custer was an effective commander and he did quite a bit right in the Little Big Horn campaign. The problem was that far more Warriors were off the reservation than the Indian Agency reported. They native Americans were far better armed than anyone knew. Also, they were far more motivated to fight than expected. As it was, Custer found them and surprised them. His attack and division of his forces was fatal given the odds. But that was something he did not know.

Now do I like or admire Custer? I do not.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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Keeper of the Scales
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Jun 2, 2013
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Columbus, OH
A friend of mine likes to describe Custer as the ultimate hussar.

For those unfamiliar with hussars--particularly of the Napoleonic model, they were notoriously impetuous, and Napoleon was quoted as stating that he would be surprised for a hussar to live beyond the age of 30, due to their tendency to become reckless in battle, exposing their weaknesses in frontal assaults. The hussars of Napoleon created the tradition of sabrage, the opening of a champagne bottle with a sabre.

Hussars had a reputation for being the dashing, if unruly, adventurers of the army. The traditional image of the hussar is of a reckless, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, womanizing, moustachioed swashbuckler. Gen. Antoine-Charles-Louiu, Comte de Lasalle, an archetypal showoff hussar officer of the Napoleonic era, epitomized this attitude by his remarks, among which the most famous is: "Any hussar who is not dead by the age of thirty is a blackguard."

But for the hard-drinking, hard-swearing part, I think that the rest fairly describes Custer.
 
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His attack and division of his forces was fatal given the odds. But that was something he did not know.
This is an important point about Custer and the LBH. He did not know, but he could have and should have known. At one point from the Crow's Nest his scouts pointed to evidence of a huge pony herd. Custer claims he could not see it. A better reconnaissance would have confirmed the information. A more competent commander would have not attacked and would have waited for the supporting infantry column like he was ordered to do.
 

diane

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Jan 23, 2010
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State of Jefferson
I agree that Custer was not bad but certainly full of himself. Also, not only did his flash and dash and supreme ego leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, he had the audacity to get himself beat by a bunch of nekkid savages. :cautious: That was really embarrassing to the US Army! Especially when those same 'savages' almost made a legend of Crook's men at the Rosebud. The Lakota were on a roll. Custer was beat by warriors who were his equals and better - good generals. Custer had to be made to look like an incompetent boob who led his troops to disaster. Otherwise, it would have to be admitted that the tribes weren't all that unsophisticated and were pretty darn good soldiers.
 

Rebforever

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Yes but Custer didn't get all the attention for his Civil War actions until he got his men killed so famously post-war. He wasn't this ' name ' during the war although dressed poorly- wish I could remember the quote from one of Eric's books on what he was wearing at Gettysburg. Hysterical. The thing is, he did this bone-head thing later, we all go back and poke around the rest of his career thinking ' OH, there's that idjit, ' expect all his pre-west career to have been the same. Also too long to get into- as down-right silly as it was, getting all his men killed that day at LBH, his choice not to take that gun made a little sense. It wasn't completely insane, Custer just gambled on something and lost really, really badly that day.

He didn't do badly- I'll take him a couple million times over Kilpatrick, for sure. Have a feeling anything I say will be MUCH better said if our real Cavalry member sees this thread so do not wish to sound too inane, put a hoof in my mouth meanwhile, is the thing. Bluffing down Stuart's column with a much smaller forcer? I don't know- rode right into that one himself, too, sailor collar and all. At Gettysburg, we can't expect him to be this amazing, fully-fledged, experience cavalry general, competent to go up against the best the Confederacy threw at him. Well for one thing he couldn't- had men telling him what to do.

And really, also can't hold it against the guy, his tendency to primp a little. Pickett was known for it, God Bless Him- no one braver on the planet than Pickett of the flowing, perfumed locks.
Almost captured at Trevillian Station. He caught up and destroyed Early at Waynesboro. He had the likes with his men for sure. Our resident Historian Eric knows all the facts. Maybe he will find some time to respond.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
I always found him to be dismissive of the welfare of his command, either in Virginia or out on the Great Plains. I got the impression his men were just props in the production called "Look at Me".

The First Iowa Cavalry's Regimental History contains perfect examples of this. They came under his command in Summer 1865 and they hated him. Custer's orders on the (illegal) whipping of soldiers and marching orders detrimental to the welfare of man and beast are described.

There's a quote in the text from a soldier, referring to Custer's treatment, "If this be peace, give us war."
 

ole

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Near Kankakee
I agree that Custer was not bad but certainly full of himself. Also, not only did his flash and dash and supreme ego leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, he had the audacity to get himself beat by a bunch of nekkid savages. :cautious: That was really embarrassing to the US Army! Especially when those same 'savages' almost made a legend of Crook's men at the Rosebud. The Lakota were on a roll. Custer was beat by warriors who were his equals and better - good generals. Custer had to be made to look like an incompetent boob who led his troops to disaster. Otherwise, it would have to be admitted that the tribes weren't all that unsophisticated and were pretty darn good soldiers.
He led a regiment against a division. Big and fatal mistake. But, dividing his regiment into three without knowing what he was facing was his fatal mistake. And, another but, it appears that his drive for personal aggrandizement led him to that decisision.

The Lakota were known to move rather than fight. What he tried to do was to impede their move and herd them back to the Rez. That kinda ****** them off.
 

cash

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Right here.
I agree very much with what Eric said. To that I'll add this. The men who followed him during the Civil War loved him. Here's how one of them described him:

"Brave but not reckless; self-confident, yet modest; ambitious, but regulating his conduct at all times by a high sense of honor and duty; eager for laurels, but scorning to wear them unworthily; ready and willing to act, but regardful of human life; quick in emergencies, cool and self-possessed, his courage was of the highest moral type, his perceptions were intuitions. Showy like Murat, fiery like Farnsworth, yet calm and self-reliant like Sheridan, he was the most brilliant and successful cavalry officer of his time. Such a man had appeared upon the scene, and soon we learned to utter with pride the name of -- Custer." [James H. Kidd, Personal Reflections of a Cavalryman, p. 130]

"Stars of the first magnitude did not appear often in the galaxy of military heroes. Custer was one of the few. The popular idea of Custer is a misconception. He was not a reckless commander. He was not regardless of human life. No man could have been more careful of the comfort and lives of his men. His heart was tender as that of a woman. He was kind to his subordinates, tolerant of their weaknesses, always ready to help and encourage them. He was brave as a lion, fought as few men fought, but it was from no love of it. Fighting was his business; and he knew that by that means alone could peace be conquered. He was brave, alert, untiring, a hero in battle, relentless in the pursuit of a beaten enemy, stubborn and full of resources on the retreat. His tragic death at the Little Big Horn crowned his career with a tragic interest that will not wane while history or tradition endure. Hundreds of brave men shed tears when they heard of it--men who had served under and learned to love him in the trying times of civil war. I have always believed that some of the real facts of the battle of the Little Big Horn were unknown. Probably the true version of the massacre will remain a sealed book until the dead are called upon to give up their secrets, though there are those who profess to believe that one man at least is still living who knows the real story and that some day he will tell it. Certain it is that Custer never would have rushed deliberately on destruction. If, for any reason, he had desired to end his own life, and that is inconceivable, he would not have involved his friends and those whose lives had been entrusted to his care in the final and terrible catastrophe. He was not a reckless commander or one who would plunge into battle with his eyes shut. He was cautious and wary, accustomed to reconnoiter carefully and measure the strength of an enemy as accurately as possible before attacking. More than once the Michigan brigade was saved from disaster by Custer's caution. This may seem to many a novel--to some an erroneous estimate of Custer's characteristics as a military man. But it is a true one. It is an opinion formed by one who had good opportunity to judge of him correctly. In one sense only is it a prejudiced view. It is the judgment of a friend and a loyal one; it is not that of an enemy or a rival. As such it is appreciative and it is just." [Ibid., pp. 131-132]

Custer was an outstanding cavalry commander.

In the 1870s things were a bit different.

He allowed the 7th Cavalry to be fractured under his command. There were those he liked and to whom he gave preferential treatment. Others, like Frederick Benteen, resented it.

A good case can be made that responsibility for Custer's demise at the Little Big Horn can be placed on the cowardice of Marcus Reno and the outright hatred of him by Benteen.
 

hanna260

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 1, 2015
Location
Just Around the Riverbend
Almost captured at Trevillian Station. He caught up and destroyed Early at Waynesboro. He had the likes with his men for sure. Our resident Historian Eric knows all the facts. Maybe he will find some time to respond.

Don't worry. Mr. Wittenberg responded. It's on page one. :smile:

So in summation: Custer was a very brave, very lucky, rather reckless boy who never grew up, who ticked off Grant, never could navigate army politics, had the love of his men- at least during the ACW, ultimately got defeated by a very good army and some very good leaders- after he made some mistakes of debated magnitude, and who may or may have not posed for a heck of a lot of photographs as opposed to photographers just finding him. Do I have that right?
 
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theoldman

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 22, 2013
Location
upper mid-west
I have read many books on Custer. I Keep hoping the next one I read will be the one where he wins and the Indians lose.:giggle:
Oh you are in luck. There is an alternative history novel that does just that. I picked it up as a 'beach book' one summer but it was so bad I put it down rather quickly. Sometimes alternative histories can be fun, but that was not one of them. I cannot recall the title but if you are interested I am sure a search at Amazon or B&N will bring it up.:thumbsup:
 
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