Sunday, July 10, 2016

American Biography: George Armstrong Custer

Having come upon the camps of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, Custer but have thought he was headed to a great victory.  Custer had a strategy he had used before.  He planned to get behind the encampment, capture women and children and elderly and use them as negotiating collateral or at least human shields.  This strategy had worked for him before.  Native American warriors were very protective of their women and children.  He split his 800 men into three columns.  Captain Reno was to attack from the South, forcing the encampment to respond.  He would then swoop down out of the mountains in the rear with his larger force.  He knew he was out numbered.  It wasn't until later he realized the actual size of the encampment.  Captain Reno's attack was repelled.  They only made it to within a mile of the encampment, and turned around and retreated, suffering many losses.  Worse for Custer was the the Native Americans guessed his strategy, and were waiting for him when he initiated his attack.  Custer's men did not retreat, but penetrated the Native American forces, until they were completely engulfed and their fate inevitable.  Neither Captain Reno nor Captain Benteen who had been called back from a scouting mission came to his aid.  They remained dug in on Reno Hill.
When hearing of the battle President Grant would say, "I regards Custer's Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself; that was wholly unnecessary--wholly unnecessary."

Before these events Custer had a significant military career.  He was still a struggling student at West Point when the Civil War commenced.  He was from the lower part of the class, and often received demerits.  However they were rushed through, and Custer was with the troops at First Big Run, having found his own mount.  He became a part of General McClellan's staff.  He was also brash and aggressive, and a bit impulsive.  He was also criticized for his pursuit of praise.
Custer and his cavalry had a major role at Gettysburg.  He had been promoted to brigadier general just before the battle, and at 23 the youngest general.  His troops charged into Jeb Stuart's calvary, and repulsed their attack.  He thus protected the Union line from Stuart's flanking moves.  Stuart was forced to withdraw, the first time in the war his calvary had been stopped.
He fought with General Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.  At the end of the war, his cavalry got in front of Lee, and prevented his escape, and thus forced his surrender at Appomattox.
Custer came out of the Civil War as a national hero.  During the war he he also married.  His wife would go with him to his outposts throughout his career rather than be left behind.  However he still wanted to fight, and used his influence to become Lieutenant Colonel of the Seventh Calvary fighting the Plains Indians.  However he discovered the same tactics would not work.  The Indians would attack and then dissipate, and they were hard to find.  At one point Custer became discouraged, and left the field of battle returning to his wife.  He was court-martialed and found guilty of desertion, and suspended for a year.  However he was recalled more quickly than this because of the need.  The Indians were becoming more bold.  He was ordered to destroy villages and kill warriors.  In pursuit of a group that had been attacking settlers, he cam upon a village of Cheyenne.  Rather than wait for his scouts intelligence he attacked, and killed Black Kettle and many of his men.  Black Kettle was a peaceful Indian and was displaying a white flag of truce.
Custer's was involved in the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, or at least protecting the prospectoers.  This was significant as this area was holy ground to the Sioux.
Custer's rush to fame would prove fatal to he and his men at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  Custer would always wear buckskin into battle.  He said this was so his men could easily identify him and gather around him.  That Custer was failed by Benteen and Reno is true.  When Benteen arrived on the scene he reinforced Reno rather than Custer.  This was an order from Reno, his commanding officer.  Reno was accused of incompetence or drunkenness. This was not substantiated.

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