Featured What is the deal with George Armstrong Custer?

James N.

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A note on the Beau Sabreurs I posted above ( and Custer too ): The braid knots and galons/galoons on Union officers kepis and sleeves of frocks, greatcoats, and shell jackets was by regulation of black mohair wool cording, which usually either doesn't show or is minimalized in period black-and-white photography. ( Black against dark or Navy Blue or almost black-blue wool uniform cloth. ) It's when these volunteer officers decided to copy French ( or even Confederate! ) style by using gold braid, set against the dark blue ( or in Custer's case, black velveteen! ) material that they began to resemble ( in the words of one critical observer regarding Custer as a brand-new brigadier general ) a circus rider gone mad. Note also that all the gentlemen under consideration except Phil Kearney were cavalry officers!
 
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Northern Light

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A note on the Beau Sabreurs I posted above ( and Custer too ): The braid knots and galons/galoons on Union officers kepis and sleeves of frocks, greatcoats, and shell jackets was by regulation of black mohair wool cording, which usually either doesn't show or is minimalized in period black-and-white photography. ( Black against dark or Navy Blue or almost black-blue wool uniform cloth. ) It's when these volunteer officers decided to copy French ( or even Confederate! ) style by using gold braid, set against the dark blue ( or in Custer's case, black velveteen! ) material that they began to resemble ( in the words of one critical observer regarding Custer as a brand-new brigadier general ) a circus rider gone mad. Note also that all the gentlemen under consideration except Phil Kearney were cavalry officers!
There is something about the Cavalry and today's cavalry (armoured) that is a little bit mad, but only in the best sense of the word, of course! :wink: :roflmao:
 

28thNewYork

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Relative to Custer the Man--Never had much use for him. Many of his actions indicate serious issues with ego formulation, whether before, during, or after the CW.

Relative to Custer the Character--Always will prefer Errol Flynn (a true Tasmanian "devil"?) to Frank McGlynn Jr., Wayne Maunder, and the rest.

Relative to the Cavalry--We of the Infantry used to accept the Cavalry as very close kin. They definitely are not "tankers" in the classic sense of the word.
 

Specster

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Not quite. The most eye-opening aspect of Robert Utley's ( former NPS Historian at LBH Nat'l. Mon. and I believe later Chief Historian of the entire NPS and Custer specialist ) biography of Custer was the inordinate amount of time he spent away from the frontier in such remote backwoods places like New York City! He and Libby often spent the winters there in ( if I remember right ) the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in a rented room or suite, unfortunately living well above their means on the peacetime pay of a lieutenant colonel. Much of his time was spent at the theater attending the plays of a good friend who was a noted Shakespearean actor of the day; meanwhile, he investigated various ploys to get out of the army by involving himself in business but was never able to find a position that paid enough to satisfy him. That's the main reason the very idea of him lusting after the Presidency is so ridiculous - he simply lacked the real clout and connections necessary to enter politics on anything like parity with all the Gilded Age high-rollers and Robber Barons. Unfortunately for him personally ( though obviously not for his legacy ) he decided not to decide and remained where he was socially.

So you are saying that he stayed in the army because it was his best paying option? Im not saying you are wrong, I just want to make sure I fully understand you.
 

Specster

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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".

Any more than T. Jackson, Grant or Kilpatrick? Lets put the situation in perspective. He has become a "goat" in the last 45 years.
 

Specster

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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.


Very informative contribution. The only part I question is "Custers Luck". I dont know if such a thing, luck, even exists. The people I have know who have said "bad luck follows me", upon knowing them more intimately, I found their own actions caused their bad luck.
 

major bill

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I have been to Monroe Michigan many times and they seem to like him there. They have a great statue of him. The Monroe Historical Museum is rather nice and has some Custer items.
 

diane

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There is something about the Cavalry and today's cavalry (armoured) that is a little bit mad, but only in the best sense of the word, of course! :wink: :roflmao:

Both sides, the cavalry did seem to like their flash! A number of Jeb Stuart's men also had feathers in their caps and so on. Forrest was maybe an anomaly - he wore a really disreputable black beaver hat, all stained and shot up, and a neat but very faded and worn frock coat, beat up boots. Working clothes! In fact, Washburne, the general he tried to kidnap at Memphis, hunted up Forrest's tailor and had a new uniform made for him, which was graciously and gratefully received - it got him his pants back, at any rate! In civilian clothes, however, Forrest could have given Jeb a run for his money for fancy dress...especially if he had some gambling in mind. :tongue:
 

Northern Light

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Both sides, the cavalry did seem to like their flash! A number of Jeb Stuart's men also had feathers in their caps and so on. Forrest was maybe an anomaly - he wore a really disreputable black beaver hat, all stained and shot up, and a neat but very faded and worn frock coat, beat up boots. Working clothes! In fact, Washburne, the general he tried to kidnap at Memphis, hunted up Forrest's tailor and had a new uniform made for him, which was graciously and gratefully received - it got him his pants back, at any rate! In civilian clothes, however, Forrest could have given Jeb a run for his money for fancy dress...especially if he had some gambling in mind. :tongue:
iIthink that Forrest was a very practical man. If you aren't all gussied up, no one is going think you make a better target than the next man. :laugh:
 

Nathanb1

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Any more than T. Jackson, Grant or Kilpatrick? Lets put the situation in perspective. He has become a "goat" in the last 45 years.

Let's stop and think about Joel Elliott for a moment. And the men with him. I just can't get past that. Maybe having been in a blizzard up on those plains puts it in better perspective.
 

James N.

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Let's stop and think about Joel Elliott for a moment. And the men with him. I just can't get past that. Maybe having been in a blizzard up on those plains puts it in better perspective.

Nate, don't get too misty-eyed over Elliott. While it's true he and a dozen - twenty men died and were abandoned by Custer - in that order, most importantly! - Elliott had committed the cardinal blunder of charging off entirely on his own and without orders or bothering to tell anyone where he was going. He was the only major accompanying the 7th, and was Custer's second-in-command. As a major, he was also a field officer and not the commander of his own company like Benteen was, so he had no specific responsibility over any particular subordinate group. When he saw a group of Indians bolt and flee to the east, he shouted for men to follow him, which the regimental sergeant-major ( another staff member not attached to a particular company ) and a handful of men from various companies did. This impromptu force wasn't even missed until after likely all of them had been killed.

Once Custer was informed, he was busy with the rounding up of prisoners ( mostly women and children ) and seeing to the destruction of the captured pony herd. ( Cruel perhaps, but necessary to immobilize what were thought to be hostiles and a practice followed later by such admired commanders as Ranald Mackenzie. ) It had become obvious there were additional Indians of unknown numbers gathering in the direction Elliott had disappeared. Custer mounted up the command and moved in their general direction, going maybe a mile, scattering Indian onlookers on the way before he veered off to the north back in the direction they had come. Had he gone maybe another mile or so, he might've found the probably already butchered bodies of Elliott and his command. In this case, Custer as commander of several hundred men facing unknown odds and running low on ammunition put their security over the unknown fate of a handful who might've been justifiably accused of skylarking.
 
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Nathanb1

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Nate, don't get too misty-eyed over Elliott. While it's true he and a dozen - twenty men died and were abandoned by Custer - in that order, most importantly! - Elliott had committed the cardinal blunder of charging off entirely on his own and without orders or bothering to tell anyone where he was going. He was the only major accompanying the 7th, and was Custer's second-in-command. As a major, he was also a field officer and not the commander of his own company like Benteen was, so he had no specific responsibility over any particular subordinate group. When he saw a group of Indians bolt and flee to the east, he shouted for men to follow him, which the regimental sergeant-major ( another staff member not attached to a particular company ) and a handful of men from various companies did. This impromptu force wasn't even missed until after likely all of them had been killed.

Once Custer was informed, he was busy with the rounding up of prisoners ( mostly women and children ) and seeing to the destruction of the captured pony herd. ( Cruel perhaps, but necessary to immobilize what were thought to be hostiles and a practice followed later by such admired commanders as Ranald Mackenzie. ) It had become obvious there were additional Indians of unknown numbers gathering in the direction Elliott had disappeared. Custer mounted up the command and moved in their general direction, going maybe a mile, scattering Indian onlookers on the way before he veered off to the north back in the direction they had come. Had he gone maybe another mile or so, he might've found the probably already butchered bodies of Elliott and his command. In this case, Custer as commander of several hundred men facing unknown odds and running low on ammunition put their security over the unknown fate of a handful who might've been justifiably accused of skylarking.

Ummmm. Yeah. Maybe I just don't like him?
 

James N.

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So you are saying that he stayed in the army because it was his best paying option? Im not saying you are wrong, I just want to make sure I fully understand you.

That appears to be the opinion of Utley and other reputable biographers of Custer. If you think about it, what other profession was he suited for? He was graduated early ( and almost not at all! ) because of the war and prospered. Immediately while still a general he was sent to take charge of the Department of Texas during Reconstruction, where he performed pretty poorly and was soon relieved. He considered himself lucky to be retained in service, especially when he received the lieutenant colonelcy of the new 7th Cavalry. He remained in that rank ( not unusual in either the pre- or post-war Regular Army ) for the rest of his life, with no foreseeable chance of advancement or promotion. I don't think this is in any way more critical of Custer's career than most of the other professionals of the Old Army, but by 1876, it's easy to imagine he had grown tired of it all and might've liked a change.
 
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