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.