Custer Made Last Stand without Long Hair or title of General

Custer Was Not A General For Long

Little Big Horn Battlefield Map

On this Date in History:  In 1875, the Native American nations in the western United States were in the process of being rounded up and forced onto reservations.  Needless to say, for people used to roaming the plains, this was not too well received.  So, a group of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians left their reservations in defiance.  The United States sent 3 columns to make a coordinated attack in an effort to  force the Indians back to the their reservation.   One of the columns was the 7th Cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer who was ordered not to attack without the support of the other columns.  But, on this date in 1876, he found a Sioux Indian village.  When he saw a nearby group of about 40 warriors, he decided to disobey orders and attack before the smaller group could alert the larger body of the Army’s presence.  Then he made one, if not two more mistakes.  He divided his forces into three groups with the intention of attacking from three directions in order to prevent an escape.  Beyond dividing his forces though, he failed to get a good report of the lay of the land.  The seemingly simple movement of his troops was thwarted by a series of bluffs and ravines of which Custer was unaware. 

Little Big Horn Survivors in 1886

He also was wrong about the enemy’s strength.  As it turned out, he was attacking a force that outnumbered him by about 3-1 and he was doing so with a divided army.   In the end, some of Custer’s men escaped but the column commanded by Custer himself was eventually surrounded and all the men were killed.  After the battle, the Indians stripped and mutilated the bodies because they believed that the soul of a mutilated body would be forced to wander the earth aimlessly and not get to heaven.  But, Custer’s body was stripped but otherwise not touched.  Some accounts suggest it was because the Indians respected Custer as a great warrior.  But, that seems unlikely because Custer was not in uniform. He was wearing a buckskin outfit which seems like it would be pretty hot.  So, they more than likely did not think that he was a soldier and that is why they spared him.   Another possibility is that, since Custer had cut his famous long blond locks very short for battle, that they did not bother scalping him since due to the lack of hair on the scalp.  No one really can say for certain why Custer’s body was left unmolested but it is not likely that the Indians knew that the body in question was that of George A. Custer. 

Guidon Worth 2 to 5 million dollars?

The Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana was one of the worst defeats in US Army history.  Including scouts, some 268 men were killed though 380 US soldiers survived.  One might think that this battle would be a forgettable part of US military lore but, on this date in 2010, it was announced that a momento of the Battle of Little Big Horn would be put up for auction.  The item is a flag that looks more like  pennant or a swallow-tail designed American flag.   Its real name is a guidon and it was found after the battle folded under a dead soldier.  In June 1895, the artifact was sold to the Detroit museum of Art for $54.  Today, the Detroit Museum of Art is known as the Detroit Institute of Arts and it is putting the guidon up for auction.  What was valued at $54 115 years ago is now expected to fetch somewhere between $2 million and $5 million.   After all of this time…why sell it?  Money for one and also, the museum has determined that they collect art and this battle flag is not art.  It sure wasn’t a good luck charm either for the 7th Cavalry led by Lt. Colonel Custer. 

Lt Col Custer Laying With Dog While Resting During Civil War Peninsula Campaign

You see….George Custer was not a general officer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  He was a West Point graduate and was a Captain when the Civil War began.  He had many daring and successful escapades in the Civil War with great success at places like Gettysburg, Winchester and Cedar Creek.  He was given brevet promotions for his actions. 

Custer's Crow Indian Scouts Gather in Rememberance At Little Big Horn Grave Site

Eventually, Custer was breveted to the rank of Major-General of the volunteers.  He accepted the initial flag of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia and was present at Appomattox Courthouse when General Lee formally surrendered to US Grant.  He was the youngest General to serve in the Union Army.  But, after the war, he was commissioned as a Lt. Colonel in the regular army, given his position with the US 7th Cavalry.   Thus…”General Custer” only existed from about October 1864 to March 1866 when he mustered out of the volunteer army.  He became a Lt. Colonel in the regular army in 1867 and between the time of his new commission and the end of his life, he survived a court martial and year long suspension.  If the army had instead discharged him, the name of George Custer might never have been so well recognized today, which might have suited Custer whose long list of gallant actions and brilliant success has been totally overshadowed by his big blunder at Little Big Horn.


3 Responses

  1. He used the same strategy when he attacked the Black Kettle Indians several years before that. Of course, he was facing a MUCH smaller force. Dividing your forces in the face of a superior force is not generally a good idea.

    If I’m not mistaken, it was usual custom in that day to address someone by the highest rank that they had obtained as a sign of respect. Since he was a brevet-general during the Civil War, then most addressed him as general even though he was a colonel as you rightly pointed out.

    If you haven’t read it I highly recommend Son of the Morning Star by Evan S. Connell. That is an excellent Custer Biography.

  2. Hi,

    This is a question and not a comment, but I bet you know the answer. Lt. Col Custer was not at the Battle of Olustee in Florida was he? I purchased a painting entitled “Olustee Reflection” and the prievious owner said one the soldiers in the painting is Custer, but I think it is more likely, General Truman Seymour.

    Any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated.

  3. My guess is that, since Custer was part of the Army of the Potomac and Army of the Shenandoah, in February 1864 he was most likely with the Army of the Potomac preparing for the ill fated Overland Campaign. I can’t recall if Sheridan had taken over the Shenandoah Army by that time or not. Custer was a Cavalryman and was needed for Grant’s Army. Guess here is that its not Custer in Florida and if they artist did put him in there, that he probably doesn’t belong.

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