He was a man of many nicknames: 'Iron Ass', 'Panther in the Dawn', 'Son of the Morning Star', 'Long Hair', 'Yellow Hair'. But the nickname he had longest was simply 'Autie', given to him in his youth by a sibling who couldn't pronounce the middle name he was normally called by, 'Armstrong'. And he went from being a soldier, to a legend, to a subject of numerous books and movies to a litmus strip for historical PC. His name was George Armstrong Custer. And he died on this date with some 211 of his men on a windswept hill in Montana in 1876.
He was the basis of an old Army expression for supremely good luck, "Custer's Luck", a phrase that first gained usage in the Civil War when Custer became the youngest brevet Major General in the Union Army art the age of 24. He was one of the first U.S Army officers to 'fly', in an observation balloon during the Peninsula campaign. He was instrumental in the victory at Gettysburg, by fighting J.E.B Stuart to a standstill, then forcing him to retreat EAST of the battlefield at a place called Runnel's Farm. One of his men killed Stuart at Yellow Tavern in 1864. He was Phil Sheridan's [no slouch himself] favorite Division commander [3d Cavalry] in the Valley, and contributed significantly to the crushing of Jubal Early at Winchester and the success of the campaign.
He led well over a dozen charges as a General, and while none of his men aped this velvet, braid laden uniform jacket [used to show his men where he was in battle], they all wound up wearing his trademark red scarf. When he ascended to division command, his old brigade requested transfer, en masse to his new Division, which had already adopted the scarf on the news Custer was taking over.
In the post -war Army, he hit a rough patch, not easily adopting to either an Army of non-volunteers [although all enlistees], his demotion to Lieutenant Colonel, or war on the Plains. He was court-martialed for abandoning his men in 1867, and riding over a hundred miles to his wife, and suspended for a year. But he was recalled early to lead Sheridan's winter Campaign on the Southern Plains. Custer succeeded [the Washita], and the following Spring, made peace with the Southern Cheyenne. He lead the 1874 expedition to map the Black Hills. And in 1876, he led the Seventh to Little Big Horn and legend.
Custer has since gone on to become a weathervane for PC in this country. He went from being portrayed in print as a brave, intelligent commander, to being an arrogant psychopath, to being a buffoon, to being a bumper sticker [ Custer Died for your Sins ]. His own writings on the West are still in print, and he's enjoyed a renaissance as a historical figure with new books written about him, or his battles, every year. More books have been written on the Little Big Horn campaign than any other battle in North America, except Gettysburg [and a couple of new books about his role in that battle have been published over the last couple of years].
So who was Custer? Was he flawed? Certainly. Was he the buffoon of "Little Big Man" or the overly ambitious, callous, and arrogant soldier portrayed in a dozen books and movies? No. Was he overly reckless and foolish in his plans and actions? No. Custer was a GREAT cavalryman. He took calculated risks. And he always led from the front, facing his enemies. And when he died on this date, along with two brothers [ including a double Medal of Honor recipient, Tom Custer ], a brother-in-law and a nephew, he led from the front and died facing his enemies in the service of the United States of America. He was 37.
There's a place old cavalrymen go after they die. It's called Fiddler's Green. I figure Custer's right up front, near the fire, , with Little Phil, JEB, Crazy Horse, Temujin, George Patton, Erwin Rommel and the rest of the crew.