George Armstrong Custer was a man of many talents (or lack thereof) and it seems like there was no hole too deep to dig. He gambled away the massive sum of $9,000 before his death at Little Bighorn, jumped into politics before he was ready, and bit off more than he could chew on the battlefield. And as it turns out, he may have wanted to strive for even greater heights — like the presidency of the United States.
Is it crazy to think that the man might have achieved this ambition in some bizzaro alternate reality where he didn’t die on the battlefield?
Well, after 2016 we should have all revised our expectations of what is or is not possible, even when seemingly implausible — and this is especially true when you consider that Custer was widely considered a media personality.
Custer made many political maneuvers through the military, not the least of which was defying then-President Grant’s orders to announce that gold had been found in the Dakota Black Hills. Grant considered Custer’s insubordination merely a chance to increase his own notoriety in the public eye.
Historian H.W. Brands said, “Custer had a following on his own. Members of Congress would invite him to come speak and he would persuade them. In some ways, he had political clout that Grant and Sherman didn’t. They outranked him but Custer had a following.”
There were certain stepping stones to the presidency even back then, and Brands explains that it was military operations like the Battle of Little Bighorn that were meant to propel him to the top: “Custer was a very ambitious man. He thinks if he goes out West, defeats the Indians…Everyone sees him as a great hero…and now he can position himself as the next commander and chief.”
Custer got himself killed, perhaps in pursuit of those lofty aspirations. Whoops.