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George Armstrong Custer

Read about the early life and court martial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

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B-1923 Gen. George A. Custer and Wife.
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George Armstrong Custer was born on 5 December 1839, in New Rumley, OH, to Emanuel Henry and Maria Ward Kirkpatrick Custer. His mother having been married previously, he grew up with step- and full siblings, including brothers Thomas and Boston. The 1850 census of North Township, Harrison County, OH, shows George, Nevin, Thomas and Boston living with their parents and two half-brothers, David and John Kirkpatrick. He also spent much of his time living with his half-sister and her husband in Monroe, MI. According to Wikipedia, local legend has it that Custer obtained an appointment to West Point Military Academy by being sponsored by a prominent resident of Monroe who wanted to keep young George away from his daughter. Apparently, George's personality was becoming quite evident!

The 1860 census of West Point in the town of Cornwall, Orange County, NY, shows 20 year old George Custer as a cadet. He graduated the following year - last in his class of 34 cadets - very nearly having been expelled every year he attended. By then, the Civil War had broken out and he made himself noticeable by his daring and flamboyancy. He rose quickly through the ranks (being promoted to the rank of general 3 days before the Battle of Gettysburg) and participated in several major battles prior to Gettysburg in July 1863. There he prevented the troops of J.E.B. Stuart from encircling the Union army, although his brigade lost 257 men at Gettysburg - the highest loss of any Union cavalry brigade. An indication of his personality is given when you realize that there are only a handful of portraits of Abraham Lincoln and U. S. Grant in the Brady Collection of Civil War photographs, and 21 of George Armstrong Custer!

In February 1864, he returned to Monroe, MI, to marry Elizabeth C. Bacon whose father, Daniel, was a wealthy probate judge and miller. Could Elizabeth have been the daughter whose father got Custer his appointment in the first place? Perhaps, having proven himself in battle, George thought the father would no longer object! The young couple never had any children. The 1870 census shows them living with his parents (who had moved to Monroe), Boston and Margaret (his brother and sister) and a niece, Emma.

An interesting photo of President Lincoln with the Generals of the Army of the Potomac is available on Footnote. Custer is identified as the person on the far right in a similar photo on Wikipedia; however, the Wikipedia photo does not include a person that the Brady photo does. In the Brady photo, Custer stands second to the right.

At the close of the Civil War, the table upon which the surrender was signed was given to Custer as a gift for his gallantry. Then he was mustered out of volunteer service and reduced to the rank of captain in the regular army. He accepted the lieutenant colonelcy of the 7th U.S. Cavalry and was assigned to Fort Leavenworth, KS. It was here that he went AWOL to return to his wife, and was court-martialed for desertion. After being suspended a year (which he spent with his wife at Fort Leavenworth), he returned to the army. You can read the hand-written minutes and proceedings of the whole trial on Footnote.

In the summer of 1876, Custer led the 7th Cavalry from Fort Lincoln against three major Indian tribes who resisted confinement on the designated reservations. Much has been written about the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, so we will not review it here. Maj. Marcus Reno, who was in charge of one of the forces at the Battle and whose retreat is thought by some to be the reason Custer and the men with him were killed, was later the subject of a Court of Inquiry. Among the dead on that fateful day in June 1876 was not only Custer but also his brothers, Thomas and Boston, a brother-in-law, and a nephew.

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