Custer, George Armstrong (18391876), a United States army officer. Noted for his flamboyance and reckless bravery, Custer became a national hero during the Civil War. His career, which ended on June 25,1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (the famous "Last Stand"), was filled with controversy and has been the subject of much debate among historians. To some, Custer was arrogant and rash, a man driven by ambition; to others, he was a daring and brilliant soldier and leader.George Custer rose to fame during the American Civil War.
Custer was born in New Rumley, Harrison County, Ohio. He graduated from West Point in 1861, at the bottom of his class of 34. His daring actions as a young cavalry officer in the Union Army at First Bull Run and other battles early in the Civil War attracted the attention of his superiors. In 1863, at the age of 23, Custer was promoted to brigadier general. Commanding a brigade in the Gettysburg campaign, he played a prominent role in checking "Jeb" Stuart's Confederate cavalry when it tried to attack the Union rear while Pickett charged the front. Custer served with distinction in the Shenandoah Valley campaigns under Sheridan, and helped cut off Lee's retreat at Appomattox Court House. At the end of the war, he was a major generalthe youngest two-star general in the Union Army.
When the army was reduced in size at the war's end, Custer reverted to his permanent rank of captain. Soon after he became lieutenant colonel of the Seventh Cavalry. He was in the Indian campaign of 186869, leading a controversial raid that destroyed Black Kettle's camp on the Washita, in what is now Oklahoma.
In 1874, Custer's expedition into the Dakota Black Hills discovered gold. In the gold rush that followed, trouble developed with the Sioux. Although originally chosen to lead an expedition against the Sioux and Cheyennes early in 1876, Custer was detained for a time by President Grant, who was annoyed at testimony given by Custer concerning frauds in the Indian service. However, popular disapproval of Grant's action, coupled with General A. H. Terry's request for his services, led to Custer's being permitted to accompany the expedition as commander of his Seventh Cavalry regiment.
In June, 1876, the Indians were reported in the vicinity of the Yellowstone and Rosebud rivers. Custer and 600 troopers of the Seventh Cavalry were detached to locate the Sioux and Cheyennes led by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall, and others. He discovered the Indian encampmentlater estimated to consist of more than 7,000 persons, including great numbers of warriorsnear the Little Bighorn River.
Custer, disregarding General Terry's orders to exercise caution, engaged the Indians in battle. He sent Captain Frederick W. Benteen and about 115 troopers to the left and Major Marcus A. Reno with some 140 troopers directly ahead. Custer himself moved to the right with 5 of his 12 companies (about 210 men).
The Indian force was much larger and better armed than Custer had realized. Reno and Benteen met superior numbers and were pinned down along the river. Custer was surrounded and attacked by a force of 1,500 to 2,000 braves. He and his men fought to the end, all being killed. Indian fatalities totaled about 100. Benteen and Reno were saved by the arrival of Terry's main force. The site of the fatal "Last Stand" has been preserved as Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Custer wrote My Life on the Plains (1874). His wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wrote Boots and Saddles (1885), Tenting on the Plains (1887), and Following the Guidon (1890).