Featured What is the deal with George Armstrong Custer?


Sergeant Major
Sep 19, 2014
I think this is a good point, but how many other Union Dandies can you name? Dandyism wasn't appreciated nearly as much in the Union Army.

Im sure there were plenty but I cannot, name any off the top of my head. But I bet you can.


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
Dec 31, 2009
Smack dab in the heart of Texas
Banks, for instance, is the single most photographed general in the Civil War- good looking man! Perhaps he kept hoping he'd look taller in the next one or was very happy with the way he looked so thought others should be, too? Rarely hear him accused of vainglory despite a few of his less than sterling moments- and his are studio shots. A lot of Custer's are in the field, meaning the photographer found him, you know? Custer and Pleasonton, Custer and his Confederate prisoner ( forget who ), etc. Banks are nearly all studio- he tromped over to sit for them. Point being there's a difference. Really am not arguing? Just think Custer takes a ton of hits not really ' his ' despite what a bone-headed, down-right careless and dismissive thing he managed to do, resulting in that tragic slaughter.

:rofl: Taller in the next one......:mstickle: Bwahahaha! That has to be the all-time best Banks comment, Annie!

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Jul 21, 2014
AKAIK, Custer entered the war as a 2ndLt and ended up as the youngest Major General in the history of the USA even to this very day. Maybe there was some jealousy from others who were bypassed by his promotions?

According to D. Mark Katz, in Custer in Photographs - page xiii, Custer "captured more armaments, more prisoners and more battle standards than any other commander North or south." More jealousy possible?

"At least 160 photographs of Douglass have been found since Dr. Trodd started her project. “General George Armstrong Custer used to be considered the most photographed American of the 1800s with around 155 known photos, following President Abraham Lincoln and the writer Walt Whitman with 130 photos each,” Dr. Trodd said to the New Haven Register."

Douglass lived much longer than Custer and more time to have photos taken but would any consider him a camera hog? Did Custer seek out photographers or did they follow him around?
View attachment 61879
Let's start a campaign to get George Armstrong Custer on the $100 bill.:nah disagree:

Oh Lord, Mike, that picture just about scared me to death! WAY too big and WAY too much Autie!:eek::eek::eek::eek:


Sergeant Major
Aug 4, 2011
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?
Just about. Custer's mistakes at the LBH are exaggerated. Custer acted in accordance with the information he had at the time. Custer had 2 big problems at the LBH:The 7th troops were not Civil War quality troops and Custer ran out of Ammunition!
Aug 25, 2013
Hannover, Germany
Thank you all for this great thread. Yesterday I had a first look and thought "well, yes, Custer ..." but upon reading all these knowledgeable comments, and especially @Eric Wittenberg 's, I now start to see him in a different light.
For all those of us who ask themselves why Libby Custer never tired to keep his memory shiny, you might like to have a look in this book:

It shows Custer as husband and hero of his loving wife. Maybe another interesting piece of the puzzle named "George Armstrong Custer"

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
For many years, my sole opinion of Custer was based on how he met his end. Over a long period of time, I have gained a grudging respect for him. I no longer dismiss him as a lightweight as I once did. The truth is that he is a very complex and deeply interesting character.

He graduated last in his West Point class by choice. He knew he wouldn't graduate first, so he figured, why not finish last? On those occasions where he came dangerously close to expulsion, he straightened up, flew right, did extra guard duty, and worked off demerits. Somewhere along the line, he contracted a social disease at Benny Haven's that rendered him sterile (which is why he and Libby never had children). He had briefly been a school teacher before attending West Point. He definitely had a serious side. He was a teetotaler, and he did not curse or swear.

His biggest problem, I think, was the fact that he jumped up the ranks without paying his dues. By that, I mean that he went directly from being a very junior staff officer to a brigadier general. Other than one raiding expedition, he had never commanded anything. He had no knowledge or understanding of regimental politics, because he never served in one before becoming a general. He did not know how to play army politics, and it nearly cost him his career after the war when he testified against Grant's Secretary of War, Belknap, thereby pissing off Grant and nearly costing Custer his entire career. There's a reason why 11 years after his promotion to lieutenant colonel in the Army, he still had the same rank.

Because he did not know how to play army politics, it made him very unpopular with most of the officers of the 7th Cavalry after the war. Other than those who were in his inner circle, they never forgave him for leaving the very popular Maj. Joel Elliott's body behind at the 1868 Battle of the Washita, and it is difficult to describe the depth of Fred Benteen's loathing of Custer for all of the reasons stated herein. Again, there is a reason why he was still an LTC 11 years after the end of the Civil War.

Also, because of the circumstances of his promotion, he had no experience with, nor any particular talent for, the traditional roles of cavalry: scouting, screening and reconnaissance. But he could fight. Make no mistake about that: he was a fighter, and in Sheridan's world, that was the primary prerequisite. At the same time, Custer's impetuosity nearly cost him his brigade on the first day (June 11, 1864) at Trevilian Station when he blindly charged into a Confederate wagon park and soon found his entire brigade completely encircled and having to fight its way out. The legendary Custer's luck was with him that day; he was struck by a spent bullet that merely bruised him, and he managed to hang on until his rival Wesley Merritt cut his way through to Custer and relieved his command of the pressure. I call it "Custer's First Last Stand", and I think it's an accurate parallel.

Part of Charles Francis Adams' description of Kilpatrick equally applies to Custer: "a brave, injudicious boy, much given to huffing, and will surely come to grief." He was full of bravado, had an immense ego, and was prone to acting without proper caution. He was a brave and inspirational leader, and the men in the ranks loved him during the Civil War--they would have followed him anywhere if he led them there. There is definitely something to be said for leading from the front, and there's no denying that Custer led from the front. Sadly, the exploits of a 23 year old boy don't translate well to a 36-year-old veteran of 15 years, which is what Custer was at the time of the Little Big Horn.

In the end, it is exceedingly difficult to argue with his record in the Civil War. His rise and accomplishments are nearly without comparison. But that's the thing about luck--when it's your primary asset, eventually it runs out, and you're left to fend for yourself. And in the case of Custer and nearly 300 men of the 7th Cavalry, the luck finally ran out on June 25, 1876.

Thanks very much- difficult to express how delightful this synopsis is without coming across as overly enthusiastic. Ok who am I fooling. The thing is so, so many of our ' main players ' either have agenda attached somewhere or like poor Mary Lincoln, their attendant William Herndon invisibly and forever shackled to an ankle. Unless one looks into this stuff it's not apparent some of these ugly shadows in our present are cast by unseen specters dragged forward all these years. Not always as simple as ' Mary Lincoln was a bipolar shrew ', ' Custer was a big jerk '. ( Still looking for an out for Sickles..... :smile: ) There's been an awful lot of brutal, bloodless murders, persist 150 years later, crazy. Just not-a lot is ever as cut and dried as popular legend, that's all, seems to be a rule of thumb.


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Feb 20, 2005
Near Kankakee
Trust me. A Brevet Brigadier General earns no more than a Cadet.

Now back to Custer. He was undoubtedly very brave, allbeit with more than a schmear of bravado. But he did his job and did it well. His job at LBH was to locate the tribes and hold them in place until Crook arrived. For various reasons, the bravado failed to carry the day. Oooooops!


Jul 14, 2010
While it seems Custer was a good soldier during the civil war his actions at LBH were reckless & ultimately cost him & his men their lives. I think in the end his ego got the better off him & he paid the ultimate price for this. Been really interesting reading some of the comments on him in this forum & learning new things about him[/Q George "headstrong" Custer. Indians: superior numbers, better weapons, better battle plan. Lucky that everyone of the whole U.S. command wasn't wiped out.
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