What Was George Armstrong Custer’s Role During Sheridan’s Civil War Campaign?

Custer was well known for his flamboyant actions and flare for the melodrama. After losing more men in a Union cavalry brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War — 257, to be exact — he stated: “I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry.” He was awarded a promotion for his role in the battle, but you already know how much of the rest of his career went — at least at the end. 

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was a pivotal site for the Civil War, and many battles were fought there — including a few led by Custer himself. 

Philip Sheridan was a cavalry commander for the Army of the Potomac, and commanded many of the forces that took part in the regional battles within the valley. Much of his military command during this time was subdued because of the presidential election of 1864, where a defeat might then lead to the end of Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Custer, however, ravaged the area with his “Wolverines” in the 3rd Division, defeating Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early.

After a number of fierce battles, Custer joined Sheridan to chase Robert E. Lee, who was in the process of fleeing to the renowned Appomattox Court House. Custer was successful in blocking Lee on the day the Confederate forces finally surrendered — and, in fact, Custer was the one to accept the first flag of truce.

Custer was reported to have said, “In the name of General Sheridan I demand the unconditional surrender of this army.”

Longstreet noted that he did not have the authority to make such a surrender, and that he certainly wouldn’t parley with Sheridan even if he were. Regardless of the antics at that particular battlefield, Custer joined the others where the surrender was finally signed (the aforementioned Appomattox Court House) — and he was even gifted the table on which the signing took place.