- Custer, George Armstrong
born Dec. 5, 1839, New Rumley, Ohio, U.S.died June 25, 1876, Little Bighorn River, Montana TerritoryU.S. cavalry officer.He graduated from West Point and at age 23 became a brigadier general. His vigorous pursuit of Confederate troops under Gen. Robert E. Lee in retreat from Richmond hastened Lee's surrender in 1865. In 1874 he led U.S. troops to investigate rumours of gold in South Dakota's Black Hills, a sacred Indian hunting ground. The resulting gold rush led to hostile encounters with the Indians. In 1876 the 36-year-old Custer commanded one of two columns of a planned attack against Indians camped near Montana's Little Bighorn River. He rashly decided to attack without the other column, and in the Battle of the Little Bighorn he and all his troops were killed.
* * *▪ United States military officerborn Dec. 5, 1839, New Rumley, Ohio, U.S.died June 25, 1876, Little Bighorn River, Montana TerritoryU.S. cavalry officer who distinguished himself in the American Civil War (1861–65) but later led his men to death in one of the most controversial battles in U.S. history.After graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (1861), Custer served in the Civil War, attached to the staff of General George B. McClellan (McClellan, George B). At 23 he became brigadier general of volunteers in command of a Michigan cavalry brigade. He distinguished himself in numerous battles, and, during the closing days of the war, his relentless pursuit of the Confederate commander in chief, General Robert E. Lee (Lee, Robert E.), helped to hasten Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Va., on April 9, 1865.In 1866 Custer was ordered to Kansas to take part in General Winfield S. Hancock's expedition designed to awe hostile Plains Indians with the military strength of the U.S. Army. Instead of waiting for supplies to be loaded at Ft. Harker, he went to Ft. Riley to visit his wife and was court-martialled in 1867 at Ft. Leavenworth and suspended for one year without pay. Increased hostility of the Plains Indians, however, led to his reinstatement, and in September 1868 he rejoined the 7th Cavalry in Kansas. In November his command surprised and destroyed the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle's village on the Washita River.In 1874 Custer led an expedition to investigate rumours of gold deposits in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The region had been recognized by treaty as the sacred hunting ground of the Indians, primarily the Sioux and Cheyenne. The gold rush was on, however, and the U.S. government directed that all Indians move onto reservations by Jan. 31, 1876, or be deemed hostile.In their remote and scattered winter camps, it was likely that many Indian tribes did not receive these orders and could not have reached the government agencies with their women and children if they had. When the hunting season arrived in the spring, the tribes moved out to join Sitting Bull's encampment on the Little Bighorn River in Montana.Custer, now a lieutenant colonel in command of one column of a projected two-pronged attack under the command of General Alfred Terry, arrived near the Little Bighorn (Little Bighorn, Battle of the) on the night of June 24, 1876. Terry's column was to join him in two days. Instead of waiting for Terry, Custer decided to attack on June 25, possibly in the belief that his presence was known to the Indians. Of the more than 200 men who followed Custer into battle, not one lived to tell the story. A single horse, Comanche, survived and for many years thereafter appeared in 7th Cavalry parades, saddled but riderless. Custer was given a hero's burial at West Point.Additional ReadingBiographies include Robert M. Utley, Cavalier in Buckskin (1988); and Jeffrey D. Wert, Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer (1996). Louise Barnett, Touched by Fire (1996), examines Custer's life and legend. The Battle of the Little Bighorn is analyzed in John S. Gray, Custer's Last Campaign (1991); and James Welch and Paul Stekler, Killing Custer (1994). Paul Andrew Hutton (ed.), The Custer Reader (1992), collects essays by historians and contemporaries of Custer.
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