The Trials And Tribulations of Custer at Gettysburg

General George Armstrong Custer is perhaps one of the best known military figures of the past, in large part due to his embarrassing defeat at the hands of a large band of justifiably vengeful Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Native Americans at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Although the history-loving laymen are likely to stop there, many historians have spent exceedingly long periods of time in study of his overlooked past accomplishments. Another of his most important battles occurred during the Civil War in 1863 at Gettysburg.

Even though his last battle is the best known, it played out under a vastly inferior scale to those battles that occurred during the Civil War. While the Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought between bands of men that numbered only in the hundreds, or perhaps a couple of thousand at the very most, the Civil War pitted thousands upon tens of thousands of men against one another.

At Gettysburg alone, the Union suffered upwards of 23,000 casualties while the Confederates suffered probably a few thousand more–estimates vary greatly. Thankfully, the Union was able to win the day. Based on numbers alone, these were the battles and the harsh realities that have helped to shape the America of today–far more than those of the Indian Wars, in any case.

The bloody confrontation at Gettysburg is often considered the most important battle of the entire war. It was here that President Abraham Lincoln catapulted morale at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg with perhaps one of the most oft-quoted presidential speeches of all time.

Custer himself was on the front lines of the devastating battle, leading a skirmish during which his horse was shot out from beneath him. This eventuality was a common enough for Custer, who up until his last battle at Bighorn was known for his wealth of unending good luck. He managed to take another horse, and continued to lead. During yet another charge, he lost another horse on the very same day. Still, he carried on, famously screaming at his troops: “Come on, you Wolverines!”

Ultimately, 219 of his men were killed or injured in a span of only forty minutes–but still, the forces of Robert E. Lee were forced to retreat by the end of the battle. The Union armies won an important victory that helped stem the flow of Confederates northward, and perhaps turn the tides of the war for good.

General Custer’s Achievements During The Appomattox Campaign

When we spend enough time looking into General George Armstrong Custer’s activities during his esteemed military career, it’s a wonder that he survived for as long as he did. Even though most of us look at his end with mild disdain due to his brazen tactics and perhaps impetuous decisions, he climbed as far as he did because of what he was willing to do in the heat of battle. Consequently, that is probably why he only lived to the young age of 36. Still, Custer played a major role in the eventual Confederate surrender at the Appomattox Court House.

Prior to the Confederate defeat that ended the Civil War, Custer had been in hot pursuit of Lieutenant General Early. Custer followed Early relentlessly into the Shenandoah Valley in order to prevent him from making it to Washington D.C., which would have marked a symbolically embarrassing day for the Union. Luckily, it never happened. Custer managed to smash Early’s forces at Cedar Creek during the Valley Campaigns of 1864.

This victory marked a turning point. Not only did it end in a Confederate defeat, but it allowed Custer and the forces under his command to advance to meet the whole of the Union Army at Petersburg, where they remained in siege of the city during the harsh winter months when fighting rarely took place. Back then, it was common wartime strategy to campaign only during relatively good weather.

It was in April of 1865 that Robert E. Lee began his historic retreat. His forces ended up at the Appomattox Court House. Custer fought a series of battles at Waynesboro, Dinwiddie Court House, and Five Forks. It was these battles that allowed him to maneuver into a position to cut off Lee’s retreat for good. Custer was the first officer to receive a flag of truce from the Confederate armies during these final fateful confrontations, a fact of historical importance that is often overlooked because of his later struggles.

When the Confederate Army signed the agreement of surrender, Custer’s wife was subsequently granted the table on which the momentous event took place. Because of Custer’s actions during the Civil War, he rose through the ranks quickly, from Second Lieutenant of the 2nd Cavalry in 1861, to Captain of the 5th Cavalry in 1864, and finally to Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Cavalry in 1866, a full decade before his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

What Were Some Criticisms and Controversies of George Armstrong Custer?

There are many reasons that people become famous and well-known by their peers. Some of them are visionaries, transcending the ability or technology of their times to achieve great things and shape the future in the present. Some of them are great leaders, using their gifts in social and political situations to direct the path of their country. Some people are simply gifted enough to shape their own fame, or infamy in most cases, to build themselves up to be more than they very well might have been.

In the case of George Armstrong Custer, there was much in the way of criticism and controversy about his life. Taking away nothing from his ability in the American Civil War, Custer exemplified a man with a multitude of personal flaws, some of them have led to drastic mistakes. The first one is probably the most obvious to many people: his miscalculation at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Famously known also as “Custer’s Last Stand,” the Battle of Little Bighorn was, unfortunately, one of the defining moments in Custer’s military career – mainly because that was the point at which it had ended. Whether it be due to a failure of gaining proper intelligence or a simple disregard for it, Custer’s underestimation of the Sioux forces near the Little Bighorn River would prove to be his downfall. One could argue that Custer was doomed from the start as his entire regiment was made up of only about 600 men as opposed to what turned out to be roughly 2000 to 3000 opposing Native American warriors. However, the decision to split his regiment up into parts that could not strategically assist each other was probably not the wisest in his stretch as a part of the United States military (Custer only had approximately 200 men with him when he attempted to assault the Sioux village). And while the legend of “Custer’s Last Stand” lives on to this day, there are some who might suggest that Custer never even had the chance to make any stand at all, due to the overwhelming forces led by Crazy Horse.

But that is far from the only criticism of Custer’s military career. One could argue that his reputation ultimately led to his demise. Praised as an aggressive and relentless soldier, Custer had earned a name for himself in the Civil War. It was this that gave the United States military cause to pull him early from a subsequent court-martial and suspension from military duty which he was supposed to serve for a year. Historians suspect this suspension was due to erratic behavior caused by a lack of success in the wars with the Native Americans following the Civil War. Specific incidents include abandoning his post during a resupply to visit his wife on a completely different base as well as taking matters into his own hands regarding deserters as opposed to having them go to trial (ironic, upon further investigation).

Despite what some would consider a military career worthy of the annals of history, Custer’s beginnings were more humble than anything. It was said he graduated last in his class at West Point in 1861 before joining the Civil War as a second lieutenant. However, rapid success in the war led to an equally fast succession of promotions through the United States military, bolstering his reputation that led to his position within the Great Sioux Wars. An ego and a reputation for recklessness that was overlooked by a military who saw a greater need of his ability could easily be blamed for his preemptive downfall. This is not to say Custer was a bad man or even a bad military leader. However, insofar as personal flaws are concerned, it is easy to see how fame as historically documented as his might overshadow some of these personal failings.

How Did George Armstrong Custer Die

There are many myths and speculations that surround George Armstrong Custer. For one, the general opinion wavers between what his actual rank in the United States military actually was. Some sources believe he was ranked as high as a general while others place him at a rank of lieutenant colonel. Speculations of this nature make it difficult to gauge the truth on many matters regarding his life, not to mention a significant lack of public documentation compared to the days that we currently live in now. Which leaves great holes in his personal history, such as the circumstances of his death. The universally-agreed opinion is that Custer died in action against Sioux tribes. But, what were the circumstances of his death? Was there really a “Custer’s Last Stand” in the most literal meaning of the phrase?

Already known as a reckless and aggressive style of soldier, Custer had made a name for himself by acting in his own best interests for the majority of his time served in the United States military. Despite this, his success in the Civil War was well-documented and noted by his superiors, donning him a war hero, and he was sent to combat Native Americans in the northern Midwest territories of the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana.

Following a court martial in 1867, Custer had been serving a year-long suspension from rank without pay for misconduct due to abandoning his regiment at Fort Wallace (allegedly to visit his wife at Fort Riley). However, due to the military’s minimal success in combating the Native Americans, they reinstated Custer early due to his known reputation as an aggressive leader and wished to take advantage of that. He was assigned back to the 7th Cavalry at southwestern Kansas in September 1868, and would help the United States win their first military victory two months later against the Southern Cheyenne. This victory cemented Custer’s reputation as a proficient fighter against the Native Americans for years to come.

Amidst the spark of a gold rush in 1874 (spurred on by reports from Custer himself), the United States government had issued that Native American tribes in the Black Hills region relocate to appropriate reservations by early 1876 or be deemed hostile. While many tribes did adhere to this decree, there were those who had begun to rise up in opposition of U.S. expansion policy, particularly Sitting Bull of the Sioux. Combining forces with Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne tribes, the Sioux began campaigning against the United States military, which ultimately led to the conflict near the Little Bighorn River, famously known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

As aggressive as he was as a soldier, Custer’s recklessness could very well be documented as the reason that he lost his life in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Whether it be due to inaccurate intelligence (sources differ on the opposing forces’ numbers, ranging anywhere from 2000 to 3000 warriors) or due to his decision to split up his own regiment into three sections that could not support each other (only about 200 soldiers had accompanied Custer in his assault on the northern reaches of the village), Custer had been overwhelmed and driven back from the Sioux village he had been targeting.

Due to the fact that there were no survivors of the conflict itself on the side of the United States military among the 200 plus in attendance with Custer, accounts are scarce on the exact circumstances of his death. It is said his body was found nude among cavalry horses with several dozen of his men who had survived long enough to take a defensive position. These accounts suggest Custer had also suffered two bullet wounds, either one fatal in and of itself. Though other accounts suggest that there may not have been any legendary “Last Stand” at all, but that the forces were overwhelmed in one swift motion by Crazy Horse’s forces. Any surviving soldiers from such an assault are speculated to have died in a ravine near the battlefield. Whatever the case may be, the death of George A. Custer and the mysterious circumstances surrounding it led the United States to mourn their war hero and increase their efforts against the Sioux, driving the majority of them to forfeit their lands and place them on reservations.

Who Was Marcus Reno?

It was called “Custer’s Last Stand.” But it could easily have been “Reno’s Retreat.”

Almost 150 years later, there is still controversy about whether Maj. Marcus Reno betrayed Gen. George Custer during the Battle at the Little Bighorn against Sioux and Cheyenne with a retreat or flat-out cowardice.

Marcus Reno became a major in the U.S. military after serving in the Civil War and then spent 10 years following the war in various parts of military justice, as an inspector general, judge advocate and in court-martial duty at Fort Hays. He joined the 7th Cavalry in South Carolina in 1871 before joining a consolidated regiment at Fort Abraham Lincoln in 1875.

Shortly thereafter, Reno became a senior officer under Gen. Custer’s command as the 7th Cavalry reached the Little Bighorn River in Montana to set up an attack on a village that housed Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Custer ordered Reno to take three companies and attack the village to the south from a wooded area, while Custer kept five companies on bluffs to the north; a third group was left to block the Indians’ escape route to the south, and a fourth had the job of protecting the horses.

When the cavalry arrived at the village, it was much larger than Custer thought (though reportedly his scouts told him accurately). Yet, Custer split up his 600 troops into four groups and Reno posted his group in the woods on the opposite side of the river from Custer. While in wait, however, a large number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors came out of hiding in the woods and attacked Reno’s detachment, killing Reno’s scout as he sat behind Reno on his horse.

Based on who was testifying, Reno either gave an order to retreat or he panicked and gave conflicting commands, leading to a chaotic retreat back to the bluffs where Custer was.  Reno essentially led the Warriors to Custer, who was eventually overrun and killed, leaving Reno in charge of the remaining soldiers the next day, though at least one-third of the cavalry was killed.

Reno was eventually court-martialed in 1879 for his efforts at the Little Bighorn, mainly after an outcry that Custer was to be blamed for the humiliating defeat. Several supporters of Custer, including Custer’s widow, pointed the finger at Reno as the one to blame. After a 26-day court-martial, Reno was exonerated of cowardice and drinking for his conduct at the Little Bighorn.

He faced a third court-martial of his career in 1880, due to drinking and “conduct unbecoming” while at Fort Meade, finally being dismissed permanently (after a previous suspension) in April of 1880. After that, he spent the rest of his life fighting for the restoration of his military reputation, which did not work out. Custer’s loyalists were able to successfully tarnish Reno forever.

Reno died in 1889, buried in an unmarked grave in Washington D.C., where his body remained until a family member in 1967 requested his body moved to the Custer National Cemetery in southern Montana, and the request was granted.

Who Was Cheif Gall?

These days, much notoriety can be gained if a person is a serial or mass killer (Charles Manson, Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner), just as much if not more than someone who does a lot of good (Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning).

Unfortunately, that reality was just as true 150 years ago, when the U.S. military continued to do battle with several defiant Indian tribes which protected their sacred lands from the white settlers to the east.

Whether he did it or not, the death of a prominent U.S. military officer by a group of Lakota warriors under his charge, put Chief Gall of the Lakota on an early Most Wanted List by the U.S. Army.

Chief Gall, or Pinzi as was more commonly known,  became a bigger name nationally than Chief Sitting Bull at one point in the 1860s and 1870s during the lengthy Indian campaigns of the time. Gall became a prominent chief of the Lakota Sioux based in the Dakotas and the Yellowstone River Valley of the northern Plains.

Achieving the rank of chief of part of the Hunkpapa tribe, Gall became known as a fierce and merciless warrior, leading his band of a couple hundred warriors into several raids on settlements and skirmishes with various military outfits. He was a prominent leader of the Indian contingent during the infamous Battle at the Little Bighorn in 1876, known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

In his early 20s, Gall became a trusted adviser for Sitting Bull, and developed a loyal group of warriors to fight the U.S. military in a series of skirmishes and raids.

Before Little Bighorn, Chief Gall made his name with the U.S. government following a raid on Fort Rice that killed two officers in Col. David Stanley’s 17th Infantry. One of the officers, however, was 2nd Lt. Lewis Adair, who is the cousin of the First Lady of the United States, Julia Grant – the wife of President Ulysses S. Grant.

There is no evidence that Gall himself took Adair’s life, but he immediately became Public Enemy No. 1 for taking out a member of the presidential family. Facing the wrath of the military, Sitting Bull decided to take his Lakotas over the international border into Canada to re-settle, which was a fierce struggle to survive. At this point, Gall departed in opinion from his long-time mentor, and he brought some of his tribe back into the United States four years later, in 1880.

At that point, Gall surrendered to the military, and a few months later he and more than 200 of his brethren were loaded on steamers and sent down the river to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where Gall remained until his death in 1894. While on the reservation, Gall became a Christian, a farmer, parted ways with Sitting Bull forever, and became a prominent judge on the Court of Indian Affairs.

Chief Gall became a model for the caricature of the Indian warrior that kept fighting the U.sS. Army in defending its sacred lands in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains, especially once he killed the president’s cousin. That turned the military’s approach to the Indians to another level – from a roundup effort to a war.

Is The 1958 Film “Tonk” Historically Accurate?

Historical fiction often suffers the criticism of its attention to actual historical detail in an effort to tell a unique story that may (or may not) have taken place in a similar time period as that of popular, real historical accounts. In the case of “Tonka,” the 1958 film produced by Disney that also went under the name “A Horse Named Comanche,” the movie attempts a telling about a cavalry horse that survives the Battle of Little Big Horn. The story itself, starring Sal Mineo as a Sioux named White Bull, is actually based on a book by David Appel called “Comanche: Story of America’s Most Heroic Horse.”

The premise of the story takes place in a time period that features Custer’s Last Stand and the Battle of Little Big Horn. The most dramatic change within the story itself seems to come from the perspective, as the movie prominently features the Sioux rather than the United States military under which Colonel Custer served. The main plot of the story circulates around White Bull developing a relationship with the wild horse (Tonka) before releasing him due to mistreatment from another Sioux named Yellow Bull. Tonka eventually is taken in and commissioned by the United States cavalry under the care of one Captain Miles Keogh. Through a series of events, White Bull hears of Tonka/Comanche’s part in the U.S. Cavalry and goes to see him, thus developing a rapport and friendship with Captain Keogh in the process. The events coincide with Custer’s attack on the Sioux village where his army and he are subsequently ambushed and defeated. White Bull and Tonka are noted survivors (on the side of the United States) and Tonka is decommissioned and retired for his duty after the battle. The epilogue reveals that Tonka and White Bull remain united, as White Bull is apparently the only one who can handle Tonka’s disposition.

While the movie itself receives praise for some of its historical accuracies, there is also wide criticism regarding the shallow approach to the events leading up to the attack on the Sioux village as well as the base of the overall conflict regarding the Sioux and the U.S. Cavalry altogether. TCM.com notes that several different critics were concerned with issues such as “the causes of the Little Big Horn conflict and for romanticizing the Sioux” as well as making “no attempt to explore the rights and wrongs of the situation between the Redskins and whites in the 1870’s” says Christian Science Monitor. The New York Times and other law professionals also weighed in, critiquing that the movie failed to explore any reasoning as well for the friction or root cause of conflict between the two peoples. While it was a touching story that united two fictional characters in one of the most unlikely of ways, it is also fairly obvious to say that the movie failed to explore much if any of the significance behind the historically true portions within it.

Is the 1936 Serial ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ Historically Accurate?

As is the case with many pieces of historical fiction, the argument comes into play as to just how accurate the portrayal of real historical events that occur within the piece actually are. Despite what might prove to be excellent cinematography or acting or even a compelling story to supplement whatever events are plugged into the narrative, the debate often comes back to focus on just how much detail was paid to the true history that might have been happening in the background that would either give or take away from the credibility of the film, TV show or otherwise. In the case of the serial from 1936, “Custer’s Last Stand,” the historical accuracy surprisingly saves this piece from utter obscurity as the result of a low-budget project from Stage and Screen Productions.

Despite criticisms of the rather weak and dilapidated story line that came about from the writing of Eddie Granneman and William Lively, the material was compensated for and complimented by the additions put forth by George Arthur Durlam, who would later go on to write, produce and direct short films that provided glimpses into American history for a company called “Academic Film Company.” The menagerie of cast members filling all sorts of roles was actually a testament to Durlam’s historical accuracy in the making of this serial. Whereas many might take the opportunity to incorporate fictional characters into real historical situations, Durlam appeared to remain true to the historical figures who were actually associated with Custer’s Last (historical) Stand or at least the contemporary time period surrounding the event.

Such characters to make it into the film included Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, both notorious historical figures who were gunfighters and lived off the frontier. While historical accounts of Wild Bill’s exploits remain foggy at best, it is undeniable that he was at least a figure of considerable notoriety at the time of Custer’s Last Stand, whether or not he was actually directly involved.

Other characters include notable officers that participated in the Midwestern Indian Wars, such as Nelson A. Miles and George Crook. Even Custer himself was accurately portrayed as a colonel as opposed to a general.

Certain events within the serial also appear to be more historically accurate than not. Pertaining to the empty Native village, the details are argued to be historically on point. The division of Custer’s forces, as well as the details surrounding the escape of Curley, a Native scout, also ring true to actual history. Even references to events outside the scope of the actual story lend themselves well to the historical accuracy of the serial as a whole, particularly with the addition of Custer’s mention of service with the Michigan cavalry at Gettysburg.

While the serial appears to suffer dramatically from the back-and-forth narrative between historical events and the fictional portion of the telling that involves characters such as Young Wolf and Red Fawn, it would also appear that the part concerning the real-to-life historical events suffer much less criticism than one might think in regard to a poorly-done project. Some might say that Durlam was the saving grace to this serial that stood to be overly theatrical with a deluge of poor cinematography and even poorer consistency to the narrative itself. But, at least they were able to incorporate some actual history into the background of their otherwise failed storytelling.

Who Was Comanche The Horse?

HoWhen the small force led by General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was completely decimated by a surprise attack led by a combination of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Native Americans, it was a miracle anyone on the side of the U.S. Army made it away from the battlefield still breathing. It was even more of a miracle that Comanche the horse managed to survive the encounter. He was a mixed-breed within the 7th Cavalry that day in June, 1876.

He was purchased by the army in 1868, eight years before the battle took place. Immediately, he was ridden to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and he subsequently took part in a battle with the Comanche tribe of the Great Plains (part of eastern New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas). During that battle, he was struck by an arrow in the hindquarters (also known as horse-butt). Even after he was struck, he rode with his owner, Captain Myles Keogh, into battle. Thereafter he was known as Comanche. Although he would continue the habit of getting wounded in battle, he would continue to tough it out.

When Captain Keogh and Comanche rode together into the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the entire detachment was slaughtered. Comanche was not discovered for a full two days after the battle had culminated with the destruction of Custer’s forces, and he was very badly hurt–but alive. The U.S. Army rewarded his bravery by nursing him back to health and retiring him from service.

Because the army so respected the survival of Comanche and the subsequent recovery, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis issued the order in April 1878 that his health and wellbeing be kept in high esteem for as long as possible. Within the order were specifications that he never be ridden or allowed to work–he was retired in the full sense of the word.

Comanche became a symbol from then on until his death at the age of about 29 in 1891. During special ceremonies to honor the special circumstances, reporters were sent to formally interview the horse. It was acknowledged that he answered in a typical horse-like way: he stamped and tossed about.

He was also eventually granted the honorary title of “Second Commanding Officer” of the cavalry from which he had ridden. When he died, he was granted a full military funeral. To this day, he is only the third horse to be granted such an honor. His treatment is a reminder of the sacrifice not only of our men and women, but the animals who have served also. We remember and respect them all. On top of that, we also respect the superstitions they help pass down.

10 Surprising Facts About Custer

The Battle of the Little Bighorn was an especially trying time for the United States Army, and after it took place we took every opportunity to make up for the dramatic defeat. Although the military was eventually successful (and committed many atrocities along the way), we never did quite forget about this tumultuous battle of the supposedly arrogant, foolhardy man who led his men to the slaughter. Even so, there may be a number of things you probably don’t know about General George Armstrong Custer. Here are the top ten that might just surprise you!

  1. He was educated at West Point, and he managed to achieve the pinnacle of non-success: he graduated last in his class. That’s right, he was a moron long before he was granted the same title for different reasons.
  2. They called him “Autie” because he couldn’t pronounce his own middle name. Even his wife knew him by this nickname. All right–we submit he couldn’t pronounce it as a child, and it just sort of stuck throughout his later years.
  3. For all his shortcomings, he adopted at least one remarkable record: the youngest Civil War general. If Custer’s track record isn’t a great reason why we shouldn’t promote them young, then we don’t know what is.
  4. After surrender terms were drafted for the Civil War, they sent his wife the table on which they had been written. Good thing he fought for the Union, or this might be yet another embarrassment.
  5. He was court-martialed for neglecting his duties after a pair of aggressive cadets got into a scuffle. He was then court-martialed again for “prejudice of good order and military discipline” which is a catch-all phrase that accounts for any offenses against the aforementioned order. Always one to go big or go home, he was convicted on eight separate counts.
  6. One of the more interesting yet lesser known facts is this: he was one of five Custer family members who died during that fateful battle. His nephew Henry Reed (at age 18), his two younger brothers Thomas and Boston, and brother-in-law James Calhoun were all among the dead. Because he couldn’t just get himself killed. That wouldn’t be enough of a family fiasco.
  7. He was well-known for his flamboyance. He scented his golden hair with cinnamon oil. If that weren’t enough, he also wore a red scarf and broad sombrero, which accentuated already noteworthily embarrassing clothing.
  8. You won’t guess who played Custer during a 1940s western called “Santa Fe Trail” that messed up just about every historically relevant fact pertaining to the battle: future president Ronald Reagan. It wouldn’t be acknowledged how much of a failure Custer’s off-screen counterpart Ronald Reagan was until many decades after that. Then again, most of us still don’t get it.
  9. “Buffalo Bill” spent the weeks after the Battle of the Little Bighorn looking for revenge. He found and killed–and scalped–a Cheyenne warrior after a short time. He said it was “the first scalp for Custer.” Afterward, he repeatedly replayed the same event during his career in theater, which helped catapult Custer to lasting fame–for better or worse.
  10. Even though almost everything around him seemed to burst into flame, he was known for having good luck. He was never injured during his part in the Civil War, even though he had no fewer than eleven horses shot out from underneath him. This string was known as “Custer’s luck,” but even that doesn’t make much sense when we put it into historical context. Whoops!

It turns out there’s always more to know about the people we idolize, and Custer is definitely a good example.