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.