Custer’s Last Stand That Wasn’t

By Gregory Myers on Saturday, May 10, 2014
Gen._Phillip_H._Sheridan,_and_Generals_recognized.,_Gen._George_A._Custer,_Gen._Thomas_C._Devin,_Gen._James_W...._-_NARA_-_528308

In A Nutshell

The commonly held belief, largely due to propaganda after his death, states that General George Armstrong Custer (seated at right in the photo above) held a heroic last stand when he was outnumbered by attacking native forces. However, recent investigations have shown that Custer’s men were the aggressors, and still were when they died. There was no brave last stand.

The Whole Bushel

General George Armstrong Custer is a pretty polarizing figure right off the bat, most people either like him or loathe him, but like everyone else he was just a man. Albeit, a very, very eccentric man. Custer was known among his men for having very strange habits. When first starting his military career back during the battle of Gettysburg, Custer had already decided to do things in his own unique way. He fashioned his own uniform entirely out of black velvet and made sure it was all done up with gold lacing so he would really, really stand out. When he started doing battle against the Native Americans in later years, he wore white fringe, which seems like a perfect way to highlight oneself for every archer within range.

However, Custer wasn’t exactly known for having a whole lot of sense either. He was known for being loud, obnoxious, and strange. He liked to make an impression and would himself admit that most of his advancement was due to luck, although he still certainly had a lot of daring to get him there. His fighting and leadership skills were disrespected by some of his own men—he had a reputation for making strange decisions, acting without thinking clearly, and being daring to the point of extreme foolishness.

Recent investigations of the battle have shown there is no evidence of Custer and his men fighting a last stand, or even fighting hand to hand at all. In fact, as far as we have been able to tell, Custer and his men started the fight and got torn down in a hail of bullets afterward when they came up against overwhelming force. Unfortunately, this messes with the romantic notion that General Custer was a great American hero who bravely fought with his last man in defense against an unfair attack.

What historians have struggled with is why Custer chose to go marching down to a battle he had no chance of winning. Some suggest that Custer may have thought that his reputation alone would cause the enemy to flee, while others think he misinterpreted the amount of enemies he would be facing. It has also been suggested that he didn’t understand the lay of the land very well. Sadly for Custer’s reputation, all of these explanations leave him looking inexcusably inept.

While Custer wasn’t necessarily the evil native killer that some make him out to be, he was also far from the heroic, gallivanting warrior he is sometimes portrayed as. He was an eccentric, foolishly daring man who stumbled his way into military service and left us all guessing long after his death.

Show Me The Proof

NY Times: Sunday Book Review: Men on Horseback
The Independent: Custer’s heroic image collapses under investigation
NY Times: Still Pondering the Myth of Custer’s Last Stand