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General George Armstrong Custer was a cavalry leader who is perhaps best known for leading his men into death at the Battle of Little Bighorn, a seminal event in the Indian Wars which tore apart the American frontier in the late 1800s. At the time, his contemporaries viewed General Custer as a tragic hero, and his wife and others worked to cultivate this image. More modern interpretations of General Custer are a bit less favorable, reflecting a shift in ideas about Native American policy and diplomacy in the early United States.
Custer was born in 1839 in Ohio. After completing his basic education, he attended West Point, where he managed to come out at the bottom of his class. Typically, a student with a graduating rank that low would be sent to a fairly obscure posting, but Custer happened to graduate when the military desperately needed officers for the Civil War, so he found himself in command in the South. He distinguished himself during the Civil War, setting the stage for his role in the Indian Wars.
General Custer was known for being extremely flamboyant, bold, and aggressive. He fearlessly lead his men into dangerous situations, and wasn't afraid to use unconventional means to accomplish his goals. Several times, he was humiliated and criticized by his superiors, but as a general rule, General Custer came to be viewed as an innovative, bold, and useful member of the military.
In 1876, Custer was involved in the Black Sioux War, the result of encroachment on Native American territory in the West. Despite the fact that his scouts warned him about a large body of Indians lying in wait, General Custer decided to charge forward into the Battle of Little Bighorn, meeting a ferocious group of Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne Indians, who proceeded to slaughter Custer and his cavalry. This event came to be known as “Custer's Last Stand,” and it was immortalized in numerous imaginative paintings, poems, sculptures, and books.
Elizabeth Clift Bacon, Custer's wife, popularized the idea of Custer as a hero after his death at the Battle of Little Bighorn. She wrote several books about General Custer, and supported the construction of memorials and statues all over the West; some of these memorials can still be seen today. Some historians suggest that Custer's legacy also lives on in the flesh, as evidence seems to indicate that he had several affairs with Native American women which may have resulted in children.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was General Custer and why is he a significant figure in American history?
General George Armstrong Custer was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars. He gained fame for his bold and aggressive tactics during the Civil War. However, he is most infamously known for his last stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, where he and his troops were defeated by a coalition of Native American tribes. This event, often referred to as "Custer's Last Stand," has become a symbol of the tragic clash between indigenous cultures and the expansionist policies of the United States.
What were General Custer's early life and military career like?
George Armstrong Custer was born on December 5, 1839, in New Rumley, Ohio. He graduated from West Point in 1861, at the bottom of his class, but quickly rose to prominence during the Civil War. Custer was known for his daring cavalry charges, playing a key role in battles such as Gettysburg. His leadership earned him the rank of brigadier general at the age of 23 and major general by age 25, making him one of the youngest generals in the Union Army.
What was the Battle of the Little Bighorn and its significance?
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought on June 25-26, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, was a significant conflict between the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry, led by General Custer, and an alliance of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The Native American forces, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, resisted government efforts to confine them to reservations. Custer's defeat shocked the nation and led to a harsher military policy towards Native Americans, ultimately resulting in their forced relocation and the loss of their traditional way of life.
How has General Custer's legacy been viewed over time?
General Custer's legacy has been heavily debated and has evolved over time. Initially, he was memorialized as a heroic martyr who sacrificed his life for his country. However, as perspectives on the treatment of Native Americans have shifted, Custer's actions and decisions have come under scrutiny. He is now often seen as a controversial figure, with some viewing him as a symbol of American expansionism and the mistreatment of indigenous peoples, while others still honor his military service and bravery.
Are there any notable books or films about General Custer?
General Custer's life and the Battle of the Little Bighorn have inspired numerous books and films. Notable works include "Custer's Last Stand" by Nathaniel Philbrick, which provides a detailed account of Custer's life and the famous battle. In film, "They Died with Their Boots On" (1941) starring Errol Flynn romanticizes Custer's life, while "Little Big Man" (1970) offers a revisionist view through the eyes of a fictional survivor. These portrayals reflect the changing perceptions of Custer through American culture.