(1839 - 1876)
Home State: Michigan
Education: US Military Academy, West Point, NY, Class of 1861;Class Rank: last
Command Billet: Aide-de-camp
Branch of Service: Cavalry
Unit: Army of the Potomac
"He was graduated at the U. S. military academy in June, 1861, and reported for duty at Washington. General Winfield Scott gave him dispatches to carry to General Irwin McDowell, then in command of the Army of the Potomac, he was assigned to duty as lieutenant in the 5th cavalry, and participated, on the day of his arrival at tile front, in the first battle of Bull Run. General Philip Kearny selected him as his first aide-de-camp, and he afterward served on the staff of General William F. Smith. While on this duty he was given charge of the balloon ascensions, to make reconnaissances."
"In May, 1862, General George B. McClellan was so impressed with the energy and perseverance that he [Lt. Custer] showed in wading the Chickahominy alone, to ascertain what would be a safe ford for the army to cross, and with his courage in reconnoitering the enemy's position while on the other side, that he was appointed aide-de-camp, with the rank of Captain, to date from 15 June, 1862."
(quoted from Appleton's)
On the Campaign
Capt Custer was mentioned by Gen Pleasonton (in his report), with whom he was serving September 14-16 in the "pursuit" of the Confederates from South Mountain to Sharpsburg, and Custer accompanied Pleasonton to the vicinity of the Middle Bridge over the Antietam on the morning of the 17th.
The rest of the War
After General McClellan's retirement from command of the army, Capt. Custer was aide-de-camp to General Pleasonton (May 1863). For gallantry at Aldie, Brandy Station, and the Rappahannock campaign he was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers, dating from 29 June, 1863, and assigned to duty as commander of the Michigan brigade.
He led the Brigade at Gettysburg and through Sheridan's Cavalry campaigns of 1864. He was put in command of the 3d Division in October 1864, and fought with Sheridan through Appomattox. He was appointed Major General of volunteers 15 April, 1865.
After the War
"After the War he was ordered to Texas, to command a division of cavalry. In November, 1865, he was made chief of cavalry, and remained on this duty until March, 1866, when he was mustered out of the volunteer service, to date from February, 1866.
He then applied to the government for permission to accept from President Juarez the place of chief of Mexican cavalry in the struggle against Maximilian. President Johnson declined to give the necessary leave of absence, and General Custer decided to accept the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 7th cavalry, his appointment dating from 28 July, 1866. He joined his regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas, in November, 1866, and served on the plains until 1871. On 27 November he fought the battle of the Washita, in Indian Territory, and inflicted such a defeat upon the Indians that the entire tribe of Cheyennes were compelled to return to their reservation.
He was ordered, with his regiment, to Kentucky, in 1871, where he remained until 1873. In the spring of that year he was sent, with the 7th, to Fort Rice, Dakota, and from there accompanied an expedition to the Yellowstone. On 4 Aug. he fought the Sioux, with his regiment, on the Yellowstone, near the mouth of Tongue River, and on the 11th had another engagement three miles below the mouth of the Big Horn.
In July, 1874, the government ordered an expedition, commanded by General Custer, into the Black Hills, which resulted in an unexplored region being opened to miners and frontiersmen.
On 15 May, 1876, General Custer commanded his regiment in a campaign against the confederated Sioux tribes. The Indians were discovered encamped on the Little Big Horn River, in a region almost unknown. Eleven tribes, numbering nearly 9,000, had their villages on and in the vicinity of the Little Big Horn. The government expedition consisted of 1,100 men. The strength of the enemy not being known, General Custer was ordered to take his regiment and pursue a trail. He arrived at what was supposed to be the only Indian village on 25 June, and an attack was made by a portion of the regiment numbering fewer than 200 cavalry, while General Custer, with 277 troopers, charged on the village from another direction. Overwhelming numbers met them, and General Custer, with his entire command, was slain."
(quoted from Appleton's)
References & notes
Sources: Heitman, Francis Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army 1789-1903, Washington, US Government Printing Office, 1903.;
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889;
More on the Web
There are many online sites about this famous officer. The best are:
A nice biographical summary at Wikipedia;
A piece about his 1867 Court Martial [site locked -"access denied by access control list" - 2/2006]
The text of his wife Elizabeth's memoir, Boots and Saddles (1885) is online;
and GarryOwen, a comprehensive site about Custer's career in the West.
12/5/1839; New Rumley, OH
6/25/1876; Little Big Horn, MT; burial in USMA (West Point) Cemetery, NY