George Armstrong Custer was hailed as a fallen hero in the late 19th century. It was at a time when the West was still being tamed, and Native Americans still roamed the basins and plateaus. Toward the end of the 20th century, his reputation for brutality against the natives caused his reputation to suffer.
He entered the US Military Academy at West Point on 1 July 1857, George Armstrong Custer, and graduated in 1861.
At the academy, he was given two nicknames - Cinnamon and Curly, although the family nickname was Autie.
The normal 5-year course of study was cut to 4 years because of the outbreak of the Civil War. Custer graduated last in his class and had 726 demerits, one of the worst records in the history of the Academy history, despite the truncated course of study.
Other classmen included Felix Huston Robertson, Guy Vernor Henry, and Thomas L. "Tex" Rosser.
Custer was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant upon graduation; Custer first saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Through the course of the war, he rose in rank to brevet (temporary) major general. Due to his quick rise in rank, he was referred to as the "boy general."
After a year of serving as an officer in the post-war Reconstruction in Texas, Custer briefly considered options in the private sector. Since the best hope for an ambitious Army officer was to participate in the Indian Wars in the Wild West. Custer decided to join that effort as a cavalry officer,
In Jul 1866, he was appointed Lt. Colonel of the newly-created, Kansas-based 7th Cavalry. Never lacking for brashness, he was suspended for going AWOL to see his wife.
Later, in 1873, he provided a military escort for a railroad survey in the Black Hills through territory reserved for the Lakota in the 1851 and 1868 treaties.
The following year, he led an expedition, returning to the Black Hills. He announced the discovery of gold, boom towns like Deadwood sprung up, and the treaties were broken. And so the seeds of bitterness were sown among the tribes of the Northern Plains against the golden-haired General.
Due to his hair color, he was referred to by the Indians as "yellow hair," which was in addition to being known as the "son of the morning star."
The Indian nicknames are actually complimentary when compared to the nicknames given him by his own troops - Iron Butt, Hard Ass, and Ringlets.
Battle of Little Big Horn
At the Little Bighorn, Custer's command was part of a larger military campaign to subdue the Indians who were massing.
The Indian village was composed of seven bands of Lakotas, a few Arapaho, and a number of Cheyenne. Custer's orders were to find the Indian village and inform Generals Terry and Gibbon of the location.
What has never been made clear is whether he was ordered not to attack the camp but to wait for the arrival of the main force or if he could use his own judgment and order an early attack.
Custer did decide to attack without the main force but then made the tactical mistake of splinting his 7th Cavalry into smaller units.
As a result, two battalions of three companies each and the pack train with one company were isolated from Custer's five companies who were slain at the Last Stand.
The myth that Custer's entire command was wiped out still exists today. In truth, the five companies, consisting of about 215 troops out of the combined 7th Cavalry force of about 625, at the Last Stand were slain. Custer lost his life there.
An Army Court of Inquiry was later convened to hear the survivor's testimony of the battle. No one was ever charged with misconduct.
At least 18 troopers were awarded the Medal of Honor. The Custer family lost a number of family members in the battle. In addition to Custer, those who died were Custer's brothers Tom and Boston, brother-in-law Lt. James Calhoun, and Custer's nephew Harry "Autie" Reed.
For action during the Civil War, Tom Custer had been awarded the Medal of Honor twice.
Read Article: Famous Civil War Generals
George Armstrong Custer came from a blue-collar family. His father served in the Civil War, as did his brother.
The Custer family was decimated by the Battle of Little Big Horn. It is typically George who gets the attention since he was the "Boy General" of the Civil War, but besides his death, there were 4 other relatives who died in that battle.
His mother lost three sons, one grandson, and a son-in-law in the battle.
The Custer bloodline came through George Armstrong Custer's half-brothers and one full-brother. The others who died did not have any children.
Family Tree Chart
Emmanuel Henry Custer (1806 - 1892) - He served in the Civil War in the Maryland Infantry. He and his wife had 12 children total (They both were married previously), and he would outlive many due to the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Maria Ward (1807 - 1882) - She was married prior to Emmanuel, but her husband died in the 1830s and she remarried. She died in Michigan.
Elizabeth Clift Bacon (1842 - 1933) - She met Custer in 1862 and quickly fell in love. Her father did not want her to marry him, but she did anyway. She never remarried after his death and would become a well-known author. She never had any children.
The couple never had any children. There is some speculation that Custer may have fathered a child with a Cheyenne woman named Mo-nah-se-tah, whom he met during the Washita Campaign in 1868. However, there is no definitive proof of this claim.
David Kirkpatrick (1823 - 1901) - He was the half-brother of Custer and the oldest of Maria's children. He married and had two children.
Lydia Ann Kirkpatrick (1825 - 1906) - She was the eldest sister of Custer, and her son fought with him and was killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn. She was devastated at the loss of her son. She lived until she was 80 years of age.
Brice William Custer (1831 - 1904) - He was the Sheriff of Franklin County, Ohio, and a half-sibling to Custer. He was the son of his father's previous marriage.
Henry Custer (1832 - 1900) - He was the last half-sibling of George Custer. He married and had 7 children, with 1 dying as an infant.
James Custer (1836 - 1837) - He died just past his first birthday.
Samuel Custer (1831 - 1904) - He died shortly after his birth. He was only 2 months old.
Nevin Johnson Custer (1831 - 1904) - He married Ann North, and the two had many children. He is a primary line that comes from the Custer family.
Thomas Ward Custer (1845 - 1876) - He was a double recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War and became involved in the Indian Wars with his brother. He died at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Boston Custer (1848 - 1876) - He was the youngest brother of George Custer. He participated with his brothers in the Little Big Horn Campaign as a civilian packer. He left the pack train to join his brother's battalion of the 7th Cavalry and perished with his brothers.
Margaret Emma Custer (1852 - 1910) - She was the youngest sibling to George. She saw tragedy at Little Big Horn as well when her husband died in the battle. She remarried almost 30 years later. She did not have any children.