Published on March 7, 2011 by Alice
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George Armstrong Custer
George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. Today he is most remembered for a disastrous military engagement known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Raised in Michigan and Ohio, Custer was admitted to West Point in 1858, where he graduated last in his class. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War, all potential officers were needed, and Custer was called to serve with the Union Army.
Custer acquired a solid reputation during the Civil War. He fought in the first major engagement, the First Battle of Bull Run. His association with several important officers helped his career, as did his performance as an aggressive commander. Before war’s end, Custer was promoted to the temporary rank (brevet) of major general. (At war’s end, this was reduced to his permanent rank of captain). At the conclusion of the Appomattox Campaign, in which he and his troops played a decisive role, Custer was on hand at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.
After the Civil War, Custer was dispatched to the West to fight in the Indian Wars. The overwhelming defeat in his final battle overshadowed his achievements in the Civil War. Custer was defeated and killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, fighting against a coalition of Native American tribes in a battle that has come to be popularly known in American history as Custer’s Last Stand.
Custer spent much of his boyhood living with his half-sister and brother-in-law in Monroe, Michigan, where he attended school. Before entering the United States Military Academy, Custer attended the McNeely Normal School, later known as Hopedale Normal College, in Hopedale, Ohio. While attending Hopedale, Custer, together with classmate William Enos Emery, was known to have carried coal to help pay for their room and board. After graduating from McNeely Normal School in 1856, Custer taught school in Cadiz, Ohio.
Custer graduated as the last of 34 cadetsin the Class of June 1861 from the United States Military Academy, just after the start of the Civil War. Custer’s West Point class (originally the Class of 1862) was graduated a year early to meet the Army’s pressing need for trained officers. Ordinarily, Custer’s low class rank would be a ticket to an obscure posting, but Custer had the fortune to graduate just as the Civil War broke out. Custer’s tenure at the Academy had been rocky, as he came close to expulsion in each of his four years due to excessive demerits, many from pulling pranks on fellow cadets.