It’s very ironic and accurate how Custer had contempt for the men under his command whom deserted or went AWOL. Custer would send his best scouts to track down, capture and return these “disgusting” solders and conduct his own personal summary court martial.
Custer would quickly administer and have severe punishment delivered Anyone with knowledge of Custer’s style of punishment is very aware how It was very severe and very public.
The irony of Custer’s contempt for deserters and those whom went AWOL is that Custer himself became what he claimed he detested early in the Kansas operations against the southern plains tribes.
Custer went AWOL with a few of his close knit group and made a long ride to visit his wife Libby.
Over the years I have heard some historian Custer apologists dismiss the severity of Custer’s unauthorized absence. One historian I met up in Montana in 1983 actually rationalized Custer’s behavior and conduct as ( I wrote it down because of the disbelief of what I was hearing) :
“ Well Custer didn’t plan on staying away very long he just missed Libby”
The well known officers under his command and the enlisted men were very aware of Custer’s misconduct and double standard. Custer soon faced court martial himself and was suspended (for at least one year) with loss of rank. Although he was later reinstated his bad judgement got him in trouble again with President Grant making unwise and questionable accusations against the President (and his brother ) which is a direct violation of his commission oath after West Point graduation.
For those whom have never served in the military, desertion and AWOL both were and are serious misconduct and mal behavior even in modern times.
During war time deserters are shot. General Washington, General Grant, General Lee and General Stonewall Jackson all had deserters shot in front of all the troops.
In summary Custer was not a good soldier and he was definitely not a good leader.
A credo that we all learned in basic training during the Vietnam war was:
“ A good leader gives good orders and also obeys orders”
Custer was again suspended before the 1876 plains Indian campaign for his questionable and unwise accusations against the President.
President Grant was very much against allowing Custer being in command or even a part of the 1876 campaign. Only General Alfred Terry’s interceding with President Grant helped Custer re-join his 7th Cavalry. However Grant made it very clear Custer was NOT to be in command.
General Terry later was censored by President Grant for allowing Custer to take off in charge of the 7th. Terry indirectly was responsible for Custer’s death.
In Terry’s defense, He initially placed an ineffective Reno in the position point scout command to locate the Indian trail. At that point Terry had to reinstate Custer to command the 7th. because Benteen did not have the rank to command a regiment even on a temporary basis.
A number of officers and senior enlisted men observed that Custer seemed unusually preoccupied and distracted (with tunnel vision) prior to splinting his regiment into 4 groups.
Custer was facing a very uncertain future upon his return to Washington. Custer’s only way out was a smashing victory of the 7th Cav over the Indians. At that point Custer would have the public behind him with civil war type accolades. Custer had his personal hand picked journalist Kellogg to document his success.
BTW... Custer’s dictated hand written note to Benteen made no sense at all. Ordering Benteen to come quick and bring the packs (train).
Anybody familiar with a pack train of mules is aware you don’t go anywhere quickly with mules as your transportation. Mules have two speeds: slow and slower. Trying to get them moving faster than their accustomed speed can make them very stubborn. Just saying.
I regret giving my copy of the Stiles away. It gave, I think, a more complete picture of the man. He was actually something of a crackpot. Your interpretation of how he approached the village at LBH is... more
Custer was certainly a mixed bag. The Stile biography is revelatory as it focuses on the non-glorious aspects of the boy general's life, which included awol, get rich schemes, pandering to the affluent,... more
Custer won a lot of battles while personally not catching a Rebel bullet. However a great commander is also evaluated on winning battles while minimizing casualties ( deaths + injuries knocking solders... more
When it comes to casualties, it's unlikely that Custer had the most. Both sides produced heavy casualties. In terms of leadership and sound judgement on the battlefield, there were worse generals than... more
When you say Custer's "troops liked him" I assume you're referring to the troops whom were not dead or otherwise knocked out of action? and I assume you were not referring Custer's troops whom went... more
After the battles of the third day at Gettysburg the enlisted men of the Michigan Brigade took to wearing red scarves of of endearment for their commander and so that he would be so easily identified by... more
Considering the hundreds of books on Custer and the Little Big Horn, the movies, the revisionist histories, and the millions of opinions, the irony is that he really had little effect, if any, on history.... more
My very first history project per Custer in 1973 was not directly focused on the LBH. My project was researching why 11 years post op Civil War why Custer only had a permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel?... more
History is not governed by a specific course, it does not obey academic rules. It is an entity unto itself, independent from consensus, or fashion. The only historical moments people agree upon are perhaps... more
Evidence based research is the mechanism which defines history. It is not defined by one's opinion nor is it defined by philosophy. Yes Custer was correctly defined by Styles with the good and the bad,... more
One of my favorite analyses of Custer is the last chapter of Robert M. Utley's CAVALIER IN BUCKSKIN (1988). Utley, who has devoted more time to the plains Indian wars of the than probably any other historian,... more
All of the above appears to give a balanced view of Custer. However Custer's AWOL misconduct and later presidential suspension are the only variables which really matters. This was the summation of... more