George Custer was born on 5 December 1839 in New Rumley, Ohio. While a teacher in Ohio he was appointed to West Point in 1857. Graduating last in his class of 1861, he was then assigned as a staff officer in the Army of the Potomac. He distinguished himself several times while holding the brevet rank of captain on the staffs of George B.McClellan and Alfred Pleasonton, and at the age of only 23 was appointed a brigadier-general of volunteers on 29 June 1863. He was assigned to command a brigade of Michigan cavalry in Judson Kilpatrick's division, first leading it at Gettysburg a few days later. Colonel J.H.Kidd, 6th Michigan Cavalry, later described the new brigadier:
"George A.Custer was, as all agree, the most picturesque figure of the civil war... Brave but not reckless; self-confident, yet modest; ambitious, but regulating his conduct at all times by a high sense of honor and duty; eager for laurels, but scorning to wear them unworthily; ready and willing to act... quick in emergencies, cool and self-possessed, his courage was of the highest moral type, his perceptions were intuitions... He was not a reckless commander. He was not regardless of human life... He was kind to his subordinates, tolerant of their weaknesses, always ready to help and encourage them. He was brave as a lion, fought as few men fought, but it was from no love of it."
Kicld also described his appearance: "An officer superbly mounted who sat his charger as if to the manor born. Tall, lithe, active, muscular, straight as an Indian and as quick in his movements, he had the fair complexion of a school girl. He was clad in a suit of black velvet, elaborately trimmed with gold lace, which ran down the outer seams of his trousers, and almost covered the sleeves of his cavalry jacket. The wide collar of a blue navy shirt was turned down over the collar of his velvet jacket, and a necktie of brilliant crimson was tied in a graceful knot at the throat, the long ends falling carelessly in front. The double rows of buttons on his breast were arranged in groups of twos, indicating the rank of brigadier-general. A soft, black hat with wide brim adorned with a gilt cord, and rosette encircling a silver star, was worn turned down on one side giving him a rakish air. His golden hair fell in
Custer in the saddle, wearing his trademark flowing cravat, but an otherwise subdued uniform. The "boy general" had plenty of physical courage and was admired by his men, serving well when under direct supervision; he distinguished himself at the head of the Michigan cavalry brigade at Gettysburg, and in the later Shenandoah Valley campaign. His talent for independent command would be demonstrated at Little Big Horn in 1876, however.
graceful luxuriance nearly or quite to his shoulders, and his upper lip was garnished with a blonde mustache. A sword and belt, gilt spurs and top boots completed his unique outfit." He further admitted that "Custer with flashing eye and flowing hair, charging at the head of his men, was a grand and picturesque figure, the more so by reason of his fantastic uniform, which made him a conspicuous mark for the enemy's bullets, but a coward in Custer's uniform would have become the laughingstock of the army."
Made a major-general of volunteers after Appomattox, he reverted to lieutenant-colonel on the regular army list after the war, assigned to the 7th Cavalry. Court-martialed for being absent without leave, and unwise in his public pronouncements, he was nevertheless restored to duty and took part in the 1867 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne; the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873; the expedition into the Black Hills in 1874; and the Cheyenne and Sioux campaign of 1876. It was during a detached march in this latter campaign that he divided his regiment in the face of a much larger Indian force at the Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876, in which action he and all the men under his personal command lost their lives.
William Buel Franklin as a major-general - a Harper's Weekly engraving after a Brady photograph. Academically one of the most distinguished of all Union general officers, he graduated top of his class at West Point and became a celebrated engineer. His high reputation saved his career when his outspoken criticism of superiors brought him into serious disfavor.
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