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Q: Who Was General Custer and Where Did He Stand Last?

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A: We all remember learning about “Custer’s Last Stand” in history class, but some of us may be a little foggy on the details. Heck, a few of us can only point out that “Custer” sounds like “custard,” and then go hunting for dessert. But if you’re one of the lucky few who can fend off your appetite, let’s find out why this so-called General Custer (actually Lieutenant General Custer) was so interested in standing.

In 1876, three U.S. commanders – General Crooks, Terry, and Gibbon – were sent to converge on the Ogallala Sioux encampment at Little Bighorn in Montana. Their task: to destroy the Sioux resistance and force them onto a reservation. Lieutenant General George Armstrong Custer was serving under Terry’s command, and unbeknownst to Custer, by the time he arrived, other Sioux tribes had more than doubled the size of the village, bringing it to 7,000 inhabitants.

After an initial skirmish, Custer was afraid the Sioux would retreat before he could attack, so he split his command of 657 men into three groups and attempted to surround them – a fatal mistake. When he finally located the village, Custer led his troops in an all-out assault, saying “Don’t worry, boys – there’s enough of them for all of us!” Indeed, there were.

As the Sioux sounded the alarm, things turned sour rather quickly. In the end, Custer made his famous “Last Stand” with about 100 men on a small hill near the village. In long-range fire against 1,500 Sioux warriors, Custer’s forces fell to the last man when they ran out of ammunition. A total of 263 U.S. soldiers died that day in what was the worst defeat ever inflicted by Native Americans on the U.S. military. And, as advertised, Custer’s standing days were definitely over.

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  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Custer, that’s that band that Mark Saleski and DJRadiohead like, right?

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Custer was an interesting character – by turns flamboyent, aggressive, egotistical, ambitious and maudlin, he was appointed the youngest general in the Union Army and distinguished himself in numerous engagements. Post-war his star fell, finding him entagled in testifying at the trial of one of then President’s UA Grant’s Secretary of War. Custer’s embroilment in politics did not endear him to either Grant for the War Office and eventually, Grant reluctantly acceded to Custer’s requests to join his troops on the expedition aimed at bringing the Sioux nation to heel.

    One of the major contributing factors behind his blatent stupidity at Little Big Horn (or Greasy Grass as the Sioux call it) was his overwhelming desire to burnish his laurels and gain himself a significant victory against what he viewed as the last possible foe with which to try himself.

  • TwoFeathers

    Im 96 year now. My great grandfather name was Short in the Moccasin and ride with Shitting Bull at the little big horn. He say that day many soldiers fall on prairie of greasy grass.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    I think I read someplace that certain people were grooming Custer for the White House. I don’t know if this is true or not, but that might have been part of his motivation for “glory” that June day.

    My grandfather used to jokingly ask, “Did you know Custer wore Arrow shirts?” Well, at least on that last day.

  • Nancy

    Custer was one of the most despicable characters in an era not known for ethics. As noted above, he was a braggart, a bully, a flaming bigot of the worst & most overt sort, overly ambitious, possessed of a towering ego & no semblence of honesty or honor to speak of, & convinced that he was God’s gift to the US, the army, and women, among others. It bothered him not the least that he would burnish his laurels against helpless women, old people, & children, in the depths of winter. If anything, it encouraged him, because he thought it would be a cheap victory & easy laurels against a foe far inferior in number who wouldn’t be able to defend themselves against his forces; THAT’S the kind of coward he was.

    For far too long he’s been accorded some sort of glory for his last ‘stand’, which was in reality the outcome of his towering ego, stupidity, arrogance, and bloodlust to attack & kill those he thought would be helpless against him. Instead, he ended up being the sitting duck. He has NEVER deserved either glory or respect. He is a source of shame & a blot on the history of the US military & US history in general. His grave should molder in obscurity & his name become a byword for malicious cowardice & arrogant idiocy.

  • Keogh

    Custer was a nationally known hero from his days during the Civil War, when he literally saved the Union at Gettysburg. He was undefeated in his military career except for his last stand at Little Bighorn. He lost his last battle because due to the fact that he was abandoned by over half of his regiment (unfortunately, was led by a coward.) Today, Custer is erroneously blamed by for the failure of the US indian policy by the corrupt Grant Adminstration, but few people recognize that Custer risked his military career testifying against the Grant administration and on behalf of the American Indians, whom he personally respected and admired.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    “His grave should molder in obscurity & his name become a byword for malicious cowardice & arrogant idiocy.”

    You realize both can’t happen, right? I mean, either his name becomes a bywords for idiocy (which I suggest it pretty much *is*, at least in my circles), or he remains obscure. He can hardly do both!

  • TwoFeathers

    nancey#5. Custard not like you say. Me have seam him as John Wayne in movies. watch movies and u learn about custard.

  • STM

    Custer’s big mistake, as has been pointed out, apart from his arrogance, was to disobey the first rule of warfare … never split your forces.

    They were all dead from that moment on. It’s virtually identical to the massacre of the British redcoats at Isandlwana by Cetshwayo’s zulu impis during the same era.

    Even the pattern of the fighting is the same … too few troops spread too thinly on extended perimeters, slowly coming inwards to a small perimeter before all being killed.

    These two battles are both taught in military colleges as classic examples of how not to.

    The Brits, too arrogant probably, had their massacre two years after Custer … and should have learned from it.

    The saving grace for them was it led to the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (from the film Zulu), which led to a small garrison repulsing the impi and the awarding of the highest number of Victoria Crosses ever from a single action. But it could all have been avoided in the first place by not splitting up the original force.

    Custer, otherwise a rather dashing fellow and the very image of the US Cavalry officer, was unfortunate in that the whole thing turned to shit, and that’s how he’s remembered.

  • http://www.lbha.org Diane

    Nancy, may I gently suggest that we cannot judge the people of 130 years ago by today’s standards. Much of what you stated is factually inaccurate, and I doubt you could back up your allegations with sources. The anger you express is amazing considering the man has been dead for 130 years! He died a terrible death; what more do you want?

  • http://blogs.epicindia.com/leapinthedark Richard Marcus

    Actually one of the worst massacres(sp) the 7th was involved in was after the death of Custer, when they killed the people capmed at Wounded Knee Creek.

    As an aside my favourite line in the novel”Little Big Man” is when the lead character suggests that Custer wasn’t scalped because the tribes respected him too much and was told it wasn’t that it was because he was balding and there wasn’t enough hair to make it worthwhile.

    cheers

    Richard

  • Nancy

    Tell you what: I cried thru most of Little Big Man, even if it WAS just a movie, because the way the Amerinds were treated was just about correct, just a little cleaned up for today’s audiences. Custer got what he richly deserved, a terrible death, yet one that was a lot shorter & kinder than what he would have meted out – and had meted out – to the native americans who were hapless enough to fall victim to his mercy & got none. I have no qualms with judging him in any way I choose to, because he was a bully & a genocide no matter WHAT standards he’s judged by.

    CSM, I’m intrigued & tickled you connected Little Big Horn & Isandhlwana; most people I mention the latter to just give me a blank stare. Zulu was a terrific movie, if considerable Hollywood latitude was taken with the circumstances. The bald facts of Rorke’s Drift are pretty electrifying in and of themselves. You must be familiar with The Washing Of The Spears?

    R.Marcus – that’s the sort of thing I refer to, which is why I can still after 130 years curse Custer’s memory.

  • Keogh

    Actually, you are mistaken Nancy. Custer was not the arrogant indian-hater you and hollywood have made him out to be. The real Custer sacrificed his military career by testifying on behalf of the native americans and the abuses they were subjected to by the Grant Administration. For his efforts, he was removed from command of the forthcoming summer expedition. Custer’s best friend was an Indian scout (Bloody Knife) who died with him at LBH. He is also reputed by the Cheyennes to have an Indian wife who remained loyal to him throughout her life, and may have even bore him his only child.

    STM makes an interesting comparison between LBH and Isandlwana, but this is not accurate. You are wrong when you say the first rule of warfare is to never split your forces. Napoleon’s victory at Marengo and Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville both illustrate the fallacy of that statement. In Indian warfare, it was essential to split your forces and surround the enemy, or you wouldnt have an enemy to fight. Custer lost that battle because he was abandoned by 2/3 of his own regiment. There are few commanders in history who can win a battle using only 1/3 of their forces. This fact was abtly noted in his biography by none other that General Nelson Miles….

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Custer wasn’t “abandoned” by 2/3 of his regiment. Reno wasn’t able to “charge through” the village (it would have been suicide) and ended up holed up on a hill. By the time Benteen and the other members of the 7th arrived, got word Custer was in trouble, they were under pressure themselves and couldn’t come up to help him. My understanding was that the court martial exonerated Benteen and the others from any dereliction of duty but the lingering talk effectively ruined Benteen.

    Custer should have pulled back the moment he saw the size of the force arrayed against him. He didn’t and it was a terminal failure in judgement.

    That being said, I’ve never run across anything indicating that Custer was any more bigoted than anyone else in society at the time. Custer had a good deal of respect for the Sioux as a foe, even if he lacked judgement in this particular situation and got himself and his troopers carved up.

    That being noted there was Keogh at Little Big Horm – Myles Walter Keogh – one of the Custer’s captains, and one reputed to have fought well against the Sioux, so well he was one of the few that were supposedly not disfigured after the battle.

  • Keogh

    You make some interesting points deano, however I do contend that Custer was abandoned by both Reno and Benteen’s battalians (2/3’s of the Regiment). Reno may not have been able to charge the village (debateable, as the village was in a chaotic state when he had the opportunity), but Reno should never have left the timber area. It was an excellent defensive perimeter and he lost nearly 1/3 of his force in his chaotic and cowardly retreat to the bluffs. Benteen dallied on the backtrail and blatantly disobeyed a direct order from Custer to “come quick”. Both Benteen & Reno feigned deafness and sat uncontested on that hill for nearly 2 hours while Custer battled the Sioux alone with his battalian. The Court of Inquiry that exonerated Reno’s actions at LBH is agreed by many historians to be a “whitewash” and a political attempt to lay the blame for the disastrous defeat on the one man who could not defend himself any longer…Custer. Its always easy to kick a dead lion.

  • Keogh

    A few comments from a friend of mine and a serious historian of the battle regarding some of the mistatements made by “Mental Floss” on LBH:

    The author (“Mental Floss”) seems to show a limited understanding of the events and situation:

    “After an initial skirmish, Custer was afraid the Sioux would
    retreat before he could attack, so he split his command of 657 men
    into three groups and attempted to surround them – a fatal mistake.
    When he finally located the village, Custer led his troops in an all-
    out assault, saying “Don’t worry, boys – there’s enough of them for
    all of us!” Indeed, there were.”

    Splitting his troops into three was probably the most basic of
    strategies, probably number 1 in the books. Its called flanking the
    enemy. What proved fatal was that the other two parts of the three-
    pronged attack, for one reason or another (I believe the cowardice
    of Reno and the envy of Benteen) did not fulfill their critical
    roles and instead hunkered down.

    It is also ridiculous to suggest that he was attempting
    to “surround” the Indians. Gimme break! How can a few hundred men
    surround thousands?! We don’t know exactly what his plan was since
    he didn’t survive to tell us. But, based on comments recorded, it
    appears he wanted to capture the women in the village in order to
    force the warriors back to the reservations. The exact same strategy
    proved effective at the Washita battle.

  • Paul

    Anyone who thinks Custer liked his Indian foes just has to read “My Life on the Plains’ where in his own words he refers to “savages” “infesting” the plains – their own traditional hunting grounds where they had been for centuries before the arrival of whites.

  • Shitting Elk

    All you peace loving liberal environmental home builders get off my prairie. Just like the French. Lets pitch a tent and sleep out one night. This way we draw attention to the homeless. Let the homeless sleep in your homes one year and you sleep in my TP asshole. I show you arrow placement dick-head.

  • Greg Jones

    Speaking of LBH and Isandlwana, there’s a new book out about that by Paul Williams. It gives an in-depth account of the two battles and the repetition of history – makes excellent reading and has some very illuminating insights into Custer’s motives for sending Benteen off to the left.

    Greg

  • Long Knife

    The following is my opinion only, gleaned from my own research.

    Custer was shot through the ribs and dismounted, severely wounded, trying to cross the Medicine Tail coulee early in the fight that day. His objective at that point was to carry out his part to slaughter the women and children, as per the orders he had given to Reno (Reno’s group killed 12 women and 4 children before being driven out of the village). The wound, while probably mortal, does not appear to have killed him on the spot, but it did change ‘the plan’ of wholesale slaughter of a village into beating a hasty retreat. He was recovered, and in the panic retreat up ‘custer hill’ he probably gave more useless and confused orders to his troops. From what I can see, from the testimonies of eyewitnesses, is that he probably killed himself with a bullet to the head, since at the end, many of the troopers were comitting suicide upon his recommendation to not be taken alive. The only wounds the govt. admits he had were shot through the ribs and a small caliber shot through the left temple. He lost his trigger finger to someone unknown, and had his penis nailed through with an arrow. He wasn’t severely mutiliated like his command, because, of his relation to Yellowbird (his or his brother’s son via rape of a Shahiyela woman) combined with the universal disgust felt for him by his enemies, not wanting to touch him after his extermination.

    Custer was scum. The only end more fitting for him than what he got would have been to be dismembered, spitted and slow roasted under a pelt of dung from relatives of his victims. The glorification of this egomaniacle mass murderer is a blot on our history. I wonder if his devoted wife would have remained devoted had she known the truth of him, too bad the social mechanisms of the time forbade the truth reaching her ears. There is some consolation in the fact that the bones in his grave are probably not all his, and that his remains fertilized the Greasy Grass, providing food for grazing animals, that was in turn shit out onto hopefully the very spot of his final attempted atrocity.

  • faty man

    I have be ritiquled all my life by custer no I say HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH To HIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • JLowery

    Custer died because he was to ambitious,he wanted to be a national hero. Had Custer stayed with the original plan, joining up with the other two armies, the Little Big Horn probably would not have occured. Reno was sent in as a diversion and Benteen was sent on a wild goose chase, because he and Custer did not get along and Custer did not want him to share the credit of a victory. Sure Reno did not assist Custer, Reno’s men were being slaughtered. And as for Benteen, I am sure he took his time because Custer mistreated him and his men. Custer loved only himself, and therefore he was hated by everyone else. Custer was not a hero. I believe he intended to attempt to capture the Elders, children and women in order to force the surrender of the warriors. But he underestimated the warriors that day. It is sad that the Native Americans and the Troopers of the 7th paid a very high price that day because of Custer’s Ambitions.

  • Will

    Three things strike me when I read these posts.

    1. The loudest voices against bigotry and closedmindedness are often raised by closedminded bigots.

    2. Who knew that Custer could inform the policy of the U.S. government regarding the “hostiles.” Hmmmm…imagine the press that would get today “President’s closest advisor on military policy a disgraced FORMER general who was recently court martialed.”
    3. Relativism is alive and well. unfortunately.

  • Mike

    For all of you who would call Custer dispicable you seem to blame all the Governement’s dispicable acts on Custer. Custer was a solidier following orders. Custer actually disagreed with the Government’s Indian Policies in principle but Custer was a solidier and who was he to question such policies. Did Custer view Natives American as a lower status? No more so than the rest of the country at that time. The ultimate blame for the Little Big Horn Defeat lies with the U.S. Governement. Custer’s ultimate mistake was going into battle with faulty intelligence, failing to see what could go wrong, and failing to plan for the worst possible scenario. All that lead to splitting his troops and the ultimate massacre. In my mind Custer was neither hero nor villain. He was a soldier carring out a brutal Indian Policy supported by a Government who seemed to not see or care about nothing but manifest destiny. If the Indians Stood in the way of Manifest Destiny than by God they had to go. The whole nation felt the same way at the time. Stop blaming Custer for the shame of a nation.

  • Mike

    In my above comment I don’t support Custer. I simply am stating the entire nation was flawed at that time. Custer is just a reflection of that flaw. It is no doubt Custer was arrogant but most Military Officers are. it is also true that in the true since of military orders Custer failed. He followed orders on his terms. Which in some cases meant he did not follow orders at all. However the orders were to rein in the Indians and put them on reservations and in this cause Custer succeeded beyond belief though he would never live to see it. Because the greatest victory in Native American History also was their greatest defeat. The arrogance and poor decisions of Custer ultimately defeated the Indian uprising. Never again would such an uprising take place. From that day forward the Native Americans were destined for the reservation and have remained there since. So in closing I sadly state that the ultimate losers at the Battle Of The Little Big Horn were the Native Americans and the winners were the U.S. Government. So in that sense Custer did indeed win. Good Day.

  • Leslie

    I have read about Custer for the last 50 years. I agree with Ms. Nancy’s above assessment:
    Custer was one of the most despicable characters in an era not known for ethics. As noted above, he was a braggart, a bully, a flaming bigot of the worst & most overt sort, overly ambitious, possessed of a towering ego & no semblence of honesty or honor to speak of, & convinced that he was God’s gift to the US, the army, and women, among others. It bothered him not the least that he would burnish his laurels against helpless women, old people, & children, in the depths of winter. If anything, it encouraged him, because he thought it would be a cheap victory & easy laurels against a foe far inferior in number who wouldn’t be able to defend themselves against his forces; THAT’S the kind of coward he was.

  • SantaAna

    Nope, Little Big Horn is not the largest defeat of the U.S. Army by native Americans.

    St. Clair’s Defeat also known as the Battle of the Wabash, the Battle of Wabash River or the Battle of a Thousand Slain, was fought on November 4, 1791 in the Northwest Territory between the United States and the Western Confederacy of American Indians, as part of the Northwest Indian War. It was a major American Indian victory and remains the greatest defeat of the United States Army by American Indians.