Notable Black Hills People-Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer
Written by Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
March 26, 2018

George Armstrong Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio on December 5, 1839. For his entire life he would be called "Autie" by his loved ones, stemming from his own mispronunciation of his middle name. In 1855 he attended a Normal School and by the following year had his teaching certificate to instruct grammar school. It was not long before he grew tired of his profession and soon applied to attend West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. It was not long before Custer's appointment was secured.  Custer entered the academy in the fall of 1857. He graduated last in a class of 34 in June of 1861. As the Civil War broke out, Custer emerged from the academy. He chose the Cavalry as his branch of service.

In November of 1862, Custer was introduced to a sought-after young woman Elizabeth "Libbie" the daughter of a judge. Initially Libbie fended off the confident young officer's advances, but soon the two soon became sweethearts. Libbie's father, Judge Daniel Bacon, did not approve of his daughter courting someone beneath her station. Nevertheless, the two soon began to court writing letters to one another frequently.

In the two years since the war had broken out, he had been promoted several times all the way to the rank of Brigadier General of Volunteers, commanding the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. Now a General, Libbie's father began to cool his objections to the young couple. In February 1864, the two were married in Monroe.

Through the rest of the war he steadily advanced in responsibility and rank. By war's end in 1865, Custer commanded an entire Cavalry Division, holding the rank of Major General. In many cases, Generals led their troops on the battlefield by commanding movements from the rear. Custer, however, distinguished himself as a leader who commanded his troops from the front. Often times in a charge he was the very first soldier to engage the enemy. In the majority of the battles where he fought against Confederate forces he was victorious. On many occasions, he narrowly escaped harm in battle having 11 horses shot from under him. As a result he became known for his legendary "Custer Luck." After the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, the huge Volunteer Army was demobilized and Custer assumed his regular army rank as Captain. In 1866, when the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment was created at Fort Riley Kansas, Custer was promoted to the position of Lt. Colonel of the regiment.

In 1868, conflict between Cheyennes and homesteaders raged. The U.S. Army dispatched a winter campaign in response to Indian raids along the Arkansas valley. Custer was to command the 7th for the campaign which culminated with the Battle of the Washita on November 27th, 1868. At dawn, Custer's 7th attacked an unsuspecting village of Southern Cheyennes led by Chief Black Kettle. Killing all warriors, as per his orders, Custer's men spared women and children whenever possible.

In 1873, the 7th would be called into action again. This time, they were charged with protecting the Northern Pacific Railroad Survey as it moved along the Yellowstone investigating sites to lay rail. The Lakota, among other tribes, took particular issue with the construction of the railroad. Soon, the Lakotas were attacking survey sites regularly. While neither party realized it at the time, this would be the first contact between Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall and other notable Lakota figures and their famous opponent; Custer.

The following summer of 1874, the 7th was sent to survey the Lakota's Black Hills. In a time of economic depression, rumors had begun circulating that the Black Hill's were ripe with gold. The 7th was charged with finding a proper site for a fort to be built. Along for the expedition, at the behest of General Custer, were two professional miners. During the summer expedition, gold was discovered and accompanying journalists quickly sent word back east of pay dirt.

In the spring of 1876, the U.S. Army dispatched 3 massive columns comprising multiple regiments of Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery. Their objective was to clear the area of the Lakota and Cheyenne and force them onto the Great Sioux Reservation. On June 22nd Custer's 7th was sent ahead of the rest of the column in hopes that they could be the striking force for what was most assuredly a large collection of Lakotas not far ahead of them.

On the morning of June 25th, based on intelligence suggesting that the Lakotas and Cheyennes were about to flee, Custer ordered his 7th Cavalry to attack. By the end of the day, 263 soldiers and approximately 80 Lakotas and Cheyennes lay dead. Custer was among them. Less than two weeks later on July 4th, Philadelphia was bursting at the seams with pride and nationalism. On the 100th birthday of the United States people had come from all over the world to share in the theme of "100 Years of Progress." On that day, they would receive word that their famous Civil War hero had been killed along a narrow stream in the Montana Territory. Americans were confounded in shock and stricken with grief.

Credit: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
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