George Armstrong Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio on December 5, 1839. He spent his boyfriend between Ohio and Monroe, Michigan. He entered West Point in June of 1857 and graduated last in his class on June 24, 1861. While at West Point, Custer was very popular with other cadets. Among his best friends were Wesley Merritt and Henry DuPont who served in the Union Army and Thomas Rosser, Stephen Ramseur, John Pelham, and John Lea who returned South to serve the Confederacy.
Upon graduation he reported to the War Department in Washington City for assignment. He was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. General Winfield Scott entrusted Custer to deliver the written orders to General McDowell which started the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. Custer was cited for gallantry during this battle.
During the Peninsula Campaign, Custer served as an aide-de-camp to General McClellan. It was during this campaign that the famous incident on the Chickahominy River occurred. General John Bernard, U.S. Engineers, was trying to learn how deep the river was before Union troops crossed. Custer rode his horse into the middle of the river under fire, turned to Bernard and said this is how deep it is. He was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Williamsport. He also served in the Antietam Campaign.
In the spring of 1863 he was transferred to the staff of General Pleasanton, Commander of the Army of the Potomac Cavalry. He lead cavalry charges at the battles of Brandy Station and Aldie.
Prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, he was promoted from Captain to Brigadier General along with Wesley Merritt and Elon Farnsworth. He fought at Hanover and Hunterstown. On July 3, 1863, Custer’s Michigan Brigade defeated Confederate General JEB Stuart’s Cavalry preventing them from getting in the Union rear.
He fought at Todd’s Tavern, Cold Harbor, Yellow Tavern, and Trevilian Station during General Grant’s Overland Campaign. He served under General Philip Sheridan in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. His cavalry captured hundreds of prisoners, as well as a number of artillery pieces and Battle flags. He was promoted to Major General for his actions in this campaign and took command of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah. During General Jubal Early’s surprise attack at Cedar Creek, Custer’s 3rd Cavalry Division, Merritt’s 1st Cavalry Brigades and Getty’s infantry units held the rebels back until Sheridan arrived and reorganized the troops for the counter-offensive.
During the Appomattox Campaign, his Cavalry fought at Five Forks, Namezine Church, Beaver Creek Pond, Saylor’s Creek, and Appomattox Station.
During the course of the war, Custer personally lead over 50 Cavalry charges and had 11 horses shot out from under him. He was only wounded once. General Sheridan thought so highly of him that he bought the table Generals Grant and Lee signed the surrender on from Wilbur McLean and gave it to Custer’s wife, Libbie. He also enclosed a note telling her that no one contributed more to the defeat of Lee that her husband.
After the war he was reduced to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the regular army. He was assigned to the 7th Cavalry and served with this unit in several campaigns until his death at the Battle of Little Big Horn in June of 1876.
Today, most people know of Custer from the last day of his life. However, during the Civil War, George Custer was one of the most popular and famous officers to the Northern public. He was behind only Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan in fame. It is not widely known that he appeared before the U.S. Congress to speak in favor of the Indians. He testified how they were be treated poorly on the reservations angering many politicians and high ranking Army officers..
During his lifetime, George Custer was a warrior admired by his friends and enemies, both Confederate and Indian.
Thomas has been a civil war buff for many years. He is a member of the Wyoming Valley Civil War Round Table, The Lackawanna County Civil War Round Table, and The Luzerne Historical Society. Thomas has ancestors who served with both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. Thomas’ great, great uncle served under Wesley Merritt and George Custer in the Shenandoah Valley and Appomattox Campaigns.
Tom can be contacted at George.Custer@uniongenerals.org.