George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876)
In researching George Armstrong Custer, I am struck by the various titles that writers address him by. He was a brave national hero to some – a bloodthirsty buffoon to others – and in mentioning his deeds they rank him accordingly. If called General Custer, one finds complimentary accounts of his valor. His detractors, however, express their anger or dismay by referring instead to Colonel Custer. Yet both ranks are accurate.
Custer served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Although he graduated last in his cadet class at West Point, he proved himself on the battlefield and was made a Captain in 1864. He was brevetted to Major General the following year and was present when General Lee surrendered to General Grant (1865).
Custer then went on to fight in the Indian Wars, even though he initially reverted back to a Captain. But he soon found himself in charge of the 7th Cavalry Regiment as a Lieutenant Colonel, and unfortunately made his famous Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory, 1876.
After his death his devoted wife Libbie (Elizabeth Bacon Custer) spent much of her widowhood turning his name into a legend. His shocking defeat became the rallying point that finally culminated in the Wounded Knee Massacre, and an official end to the so-called Indian Problem.
But is he General or Colonel Custer to you?