The most famous Cavalry brigade of the American Civil War was Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade. Most enlisted men wore exact copies of the regulation cavalry shell jacket with its yellow braid, but one photograph of an enlisted man in Company G shows him wearing an unusual zouave style jacket. What really marked the Michigan Brigade out was its exceptional esprit de corps reflected in the uniform accessories it was issued with by its commander Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer.
Although best remembered for his defeat at the Little Big Horn 11 years after the war, Custer had an exemplary Civil War career which catapulted him from serving on the staff of Major General George B McClellan to command of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade and then command of the Army of the Potomac's third cavalry division. Custer took command of the Michigan cavalry Brigade in the
Lieutenant William Starks, adjutant of the 1st U.S. Hussars, wore this elaborate blue hip length pelisse edged in black astrakhan. His dark blue trousers look as if they have a single gold stripe running down the seams. USAMHI/Jim Enos.
Cavalry and Artillery 83
summer of 1863 just days before the Battle of Gettysburg when Custer led the Wolverines, as his brigade become known in a decisive action against Confederate cavalry. In admiration of their leader some of Custer's men began to sport red neckties like the one he wore and before long it became fashionable in the entire brigade. 'You could always tell Custer and his men, by their long red neckties' wrote a captain.
In the way they kept their uniforms and polished their equipment, Custer's men were a cut above most standard cavalry regiments. Custer selected the most smartly dressed companies of the brigade to act as his escort and smartly dressed individual troopers were chosen to act as orderlies at Brigade headquarters.
Custer also instituted his own 'awards system' for officers of his brigade who had performed particularly well. At his own expense, he commissioned Custer Badges from the New York jewellers Tiffany and Co, which were proudly worn on the chest by recipients. Each Custer badge was a solid gold maltese cross surmounted by a single Brigadier's star. Custer's name was also inscribed on the cross and the award could only be given on his direct orders. One Custer badge recipient was Colonel James H. Kidd who was wounded at Falling Waters and Winchester. Kidd eventually succeeded Custer as commander of the iMichigan Cavalry Brigade.
Was this article helpful?