Category Archives: Custer’s Last Stand

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.

Written by Timothy Abeel Lemon Law PA

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.

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.

What Is The Horsemeat March?

One of the best known military expeditions led by General George Crook was none other than the Horsemeat March, taking place in 1876. It was sometimes known as the “Mud March” or “Starvation March” because of the treacherous conditions that weren’t limited to the grueling muddy landscape. In addition, the soldiers under Crook’s command were so poorly fed during the march that they were forced to slaughter their own horses in order to find sustenance.

It didn’t stop them from their mission, which was to hunt down a group of Sioux Native Americans who expected fierce fighting in response to the slaughter at the Battle of Little Bighorn, an embarrassing U.S. defeat. It took a full two months before the Sioux were even followed, and they had made up a lot of ground during that time. When Custer and many of his men were killed, the Native Americans took everything they could find. The U.S. army needed a win, and they were hoping that this march–the Horsemeat March–would lead them to that victory. They couldn’t slow down for a single second, or the hunted Native Americans might escape.

A surgeon of the United States Army, Dr. Bennett A. Clements, took the opportunity during the Horsemeat March and Battle of Slim Buttes to report everything he experienced by writing it all down in the form of a diary. It was through this diary that we know what the conditions were like. General Crook was considered peerless among U.S. generals, but in his quest to track down the Native American Sioux, he lost a huge number of his own troops to disease and starvation, a form of medical malpractice in NYC

The march finally ended by September 8th, when troops stumbled upon an Oglala encampment in Slim Buttes, South Dakota.

They didn’t hesitate to strike.

At daybreak on September 9th, about 150 men trampled through the encampment under the command of Captain Anson Mills. This Battle of Slim Buttes resulted in a stunning Native American rout, and resulted in the long-sought American victory.

Crook was able to resupply with an enormous amount of Native American stockpiled dried meat. In addition, about 37 Oglala warriors were either captured and killed.

It wasn’t until later that Crook and his forces finally found the supply train they so desperately needed, but even so, when they found the Lakota they opted to leave them be–the dreaded Horsemeat March had left them far too physically and mentally exhausted to continue the chase.

The Reno Attack At The Little Bighorn

The Battle at the Little Bighorn in June 1876 is known as one of the major defeats in U.S. military history and was the highest moment for American Indians in their constant battles with the U.S. military. Over more than 10 years after this, the Indians didn’t have a single victory.

We can say that Little Bighorn was the military’s wake-up call that American Indians were not going to leave their lands quietly.

This battle is infamously known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” named after Gen. George Custer, who commanded the cavalry at the Little Bighorn and was killed in battle, in which American Indians overwhelmed the military detachment of about 700 men.

Military Might

The U.S. Army was already considered the best in the world by the end of the Civil War, and after taking down a well-trained Confederate Army just a few years earlier, a renegade and ragtag group of American Indians would certainly be no match.

By the time of the Little Bighorn conflict, the military has had some trouble with larger bands of warriors, but the majority of the skirmishes involved only a couple hundred or so at a time. There was a belief that the American Indians were already on the run and it would not be long before they were led to submit, and taking about 700 men to one place would decide this conflict once and for all.

Here‘s The Miscalculation

As the military neared the Little Bighorn River, the leaders found from the scouts that it was hard to estimate how large the village was. With only about 700 men, they were possibly going to face more than 2,000 warriors – the village was much larger than anyone had seen to that point.

Custer’s attack plan was not to consolidate all his forces in one place, but instead to split up his command, with the taking the majority to the north of the village,  the other part going to the south, one group to attack a second flank and another group stationed to prevent the Indians from escaping to the south.

The Attack that Wasn’t

Major Marcus Reno was in charge of a couple hundred soldiers to the south of the village, and he was to lead the southern flank attack on the village at the Little Bighorn River. Reno worked his way through some woods near the river, approaching the village. The warriors that were hiding out the woods were being dispatched with relative ease, setting up Reno’s men to take on the village.

But Reno stopped short, as he wrote in his report to Congress, sensing that he might have been walking into a trap. He ordered his men to dismount their horses and to encounter the enemy on foot, aligning into what was known as a “skirmish line.” That turned out to be a questionable decision, as before long, Reno noted a large flurry of Indian warriors were attacking his group from the village.

Reno then led his group back into the woods for a more defensive position, but Sioux warriors soon infiltrated the woods, with one of them shooting Reno’s Crow Indian scout in the head as he sat behind Reno on his horse. Reno then ordered his troops to mount and led them on a charge out of the woods – looking like an attack but was actually serving as a retreat to a bluff on the other side of the river. Reno then assumed a defensive posture but was unprepared for when Custer’s troops needed assistance to the north after the warriors abandoned the attack on Reno and focused on Custer, ultimately killing the general and ensuring Indian victory and military embarrassment.

You can watch this movie about him here:

General Custer At Minneconjou Ford

There is Custer Hill and Custer Ridge along the Little Bighorn River, some of the landmarks of one of the more decisive U.S. military defeats. General George Custer made his last stand here, dying in battle against more than 2,000 warriors from Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes at the peak of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77.

The Battle at the Little Bighorn signifies the river around which this confrontation occurred, featuring warriors from a large Indian village and the 7th Calvary of about 700 men led by Gen. Custer. Custer and his scouts had underestimated the size of the village when the general decided to plan an attack where his five companies and more than 200 men would attack th camp from the north, while the other seven companies would split on the south, one group attacking from the south and the other stationed to the south to prevent Indians from escaping.

Custer had planned to cross the Little Bighorn River at Minneconjou Ford, which was a group of ravines, hills and bluffs just to the north of the river, but was considered advantageous high ground. But things got complicated when Major Reno and his detachment was working through the trees on its way to its southern attack position.

Reno wound up getting trapped in the trees, as he stopped his advance toward the village, thinking that he was leading his group into a trap. He kept his companies in among the trees as some warriors found their way into the woods to hold off Reno’s forces. With the soldiers pinched in, the warriors turned their attention to Custer on the ridge at Minneconjou Ford.

On his second attempt to cross the river, Custer was trapped on the ridge by warriors who were coming from the north, and those which had stalled Reno’s advance from the south and east. While Custer was at the high ground, his group of about 200 men was far outnumbered. Reno’s men who escaped the woods were able to scramble to the top of the ridge to provide some help to Custer’s forces, but it only took about 30 minutes for Custer’s Last Stand to be over. Custer was shot off his horse and died in the battle, and about 275 soldiers died – including Custer and three of his family members – and another 55 were wounded.

The actual details of the battle are still in dispute, as to whether Custer was launching an attack when he was killed, or whether he was trying to execute a retreat. Those who knew about Custer’s career suggest that he was attacking based on his aggressive nature, while some of the evidence and recollections from interviews seem to suggest that Custer was retreating because he was outnumbered and was hoping to get his men out of the area to fight another day.

In the end, Custer lost five of the 12 companies under his command, making it one of the more humiliating defeats on U.S. soil in U.S. military history. But it was the last significant win by American Indians over the next 10 years.

The Slaughter at The Battle of Little Bighorn

At the time, no one saw the massacre coming. Yet all the signs were there right from the beginning, and the seemingly unusual tactical incompetence of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer really brought the Battle of Little Bighorn to the forefront of history. Who suffered the most at the Battle of Little Bighorn? How many died, and how many were injured? What went wrong for the U.S. military? Most importantly, could the Battle of Little Bighorn been avoided?

The battle could never have been anything but a slaughter based on the size comparison alone; estimates of Native American numbers vary wildly, but most believe they ranged anywhere from 900 to 2,500. Even at the low end, they vastly outnumbered the just under 700 men under Custer.

Some historians argue that Custer was ordered to do one thing, but arrogantly defied commands given. Some argue he fell into a trap he probably should have seen coming. Some argue that the Native Americans had superior weapons that day. Others argue that perhaps the greatest blunder of the day was his own decision to divide his troops. When a military force is too small, every tactical regulation guarantees that it should never be divided. In war, this rule is fundamental. Custer was perhaps foolhardy enough to break it.

Although these might all be reasons that the massacre could have perhaps been avoided altogether, historians still can’t agree on most of them. The reality is simpler: whether few or many, it seems that mistakes were indeed made. Each mistake then or in fights past added a layer that made the U.S. force weaker, and more prone to debilitating attack. When the Native Americans forced the U.S. army to retreat at the Battle of Rosebud Creek a week prior in order to gain rest and replenish supplies, the Native American forces greatly increased in size. They pushed forward, and they found advantage after advantage. There were too many factors deciding the outcome at Bighorn, and so the battle was probably never salvageable.

During the Battle of Little Bighorn, twelve companies were in play by the U.S. 7th Cavalry. Of those, five were completely wiped out. 268 men were dead including Carter, with dozens more wounded. Of those, six died after the battle when they succumbed to injuries sustained. The forces were complemented by members of the Crow and Pawnee tribes, of which four and two died, respectively.

What made the battle particularly embarrassing wasn’t necessarily the defeat, but the extent to which the U.S. forces suffered compared to those of the force of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Native American forces out for blood. Although we’re less sure of the exact figures, low estimates suggest as many as 31 warriors died, while high estimates indicate as many as 300 (a figure that most believe extremely exaggerated).

When a vastly superior (at this point) military machine falls prey to such an unusual defeat, there usually isn’t a single reason. The slaughter at the Battle of Little Bighorn was a cascading failure. When the first part of that machine failed at the Battle of Rosebud Creek, the Native Americans were granted the time to reinforce themselves. Everything else is history.

History of Custer’s Last Stand

For you to understand the importance of Custer’s Last Stand we encourage you to watch this video from The History Channel. This site is dedicated to learning as much as we can about this heroic endeavor in Montana and the human spirit. This story shows the braveness of the Native American people and what is truly means to be American.