George Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army cavalry commander during the American Civil War and the subsequent wars against the Native Americans of the Western Plains. While he'd demonstrated an exceptional level of aggression and bravery during the Civil War, he is best remembered for his defeat and death at the hands of the Lakota Sioux in 1876 at the Battle of Little Big Horn, commonly known as "Custer's Last Stand".
George Custer in The Guns of the South
George Armstrong Custer was a brevet general in the U.S. Army during the Second American Revolution. In 1864, when Hugh Kilpatrick attempted to rescue Union prisoners of war held at Belle Isle and in Libby Prison, Custer moved his troops west toward Charlottesville to draw C.S. General Richard Ewell away from Kilpatrick's line of attack. This would have succeeded except for intelligence provided to Ewell by Andries Rhoodie of America Will Break. As it was, Fitzhugh Lee was waiting for Kilpatrick's force, smashing him in short order with his AK-47s.
George Custer in Southern Victory
George Armstrong Custer (1839-1930) was a career officer in the United States Army, eventually retiring at the rank of full general. He saw action in three wars fought between the United States and the Confederate States. In the War of Secession, he served as an aide to General George McClellan at the Army of the Potomac's headquarters; he arose as one of the few victorious U.S. commanders in the Second Mexican War; and he was in many ways the United States' military hero of the Great War.
The Second Mexican War, 1881-1882
Although he'd fought in the War of Secession, it was in the Second Mexican War that Custer rose in the national consciousness. In 1881, Custer and his cavalry regiment were based in Fort Dodge, Kansas. His duties consisted primarily of fighting off the Kiowa who raided out of Confederate States. His brother Tom was part of his regiment.
When war actually came, Custer's regiment helped pacify the first Mormon rebellion in Utah. Custer and his superior, John Pope, developed such a brutal policy against Mormons and suspected polygamists, that the hearts and minds of the citizens of Utah were forever lost to the United States. Nonetheless, Pope and Custer broke the rebellion, forcing the Mormons to quietly simmer for the next three decades. The important US Army outpost there was named Fort Custer. (It is also noted that despite Custer's demeaning views on the Mormons' practice of polygamy, he was hypocritically a notorious womanizer even when he was married.)
However, it was the fighting in Montana that put Custer's star on the rise, as he had an important role in one of the few victories the U.S. had in that war: the defeat of a British force commanded by Charles George Gordon. Custer had help from Theodore Roosevelt's Unauthorized Regiment, and Colonel Henry Welton's Seventh Infantry. The later had put the newly introduced Gatling guns to use in mowing down British infantry, despite Custer's contempt for the modern weapons.
This battle was to shape Custer's remaining career. His beloved brother Tom was killed by British forces, and this instilled in Custer a lifelong hatred for the Canadians. The fact that the war had ended just prior to the battle added salt to the wound. Further, as the facts of the battle were sorted and credit parsed, Custer found himself in competition with Roosevelt for the national limelight. The two were to remain bitter rivals for the remainder of their lives. Finally, despite the obvious success of the Gatling guns, Custer maintained a certain contempt for modernity, believing that battles could be won by sheer numbers alone, a belief he put into operation during the Great War with horrifying results.
The Great War, 1914-1917
In the Great War, Custer was given command of the US First Army in Kentucky. Many of his policies were questionable, including his insistence of sending his infantry straight at the enemy without consideration for the defensive positions allowed by trench warfare. This myopia cost many lives, despite the best efforts and advice of his adjutant, Major Abner Dowling. Dowling was quietly contemptuous of Custer's vanity. Not only did Custer continue to dye his long hair blond, he drank surreptitiously and pursued women less than half his age and, for that matter, less than a third of his age.
In spite of himself, Custer became a hero. His approach of throwing men into the lines eventually wore down the C.S. Army opposing him, with its far more limited manpower. Moreover, despite his disdain for military modernity, Custer was one of the first people to see the importance barrels could have in war. Against the stated wishes of the United States General Staff, with the aid of then-Lt. Colonel Irving Morrell, he planned and successfully executed the Barrel Roll Offensive, the breakthrough which ultimately led to U.S. victory on the Kentucky Front. He was promoted to full (four-star) general. Custer expressed the hope that the U.S. would prosecute the war until the C.S. ceased to exist, and while understanding the pragmatic concessions made by President Theodore Roosevelt, nonetheless was disappointed that the war was not an absolute victory.
Military Governor of Canada, 1918-1922
After starring in the Remembrance Day victory parade of 1918, Custer experienced a depressing stretch of menial duties at the US War Department in Philadelphia. When the US expelled the British from all of Canada and occupied the country, Custer asked his rival Theodore Roosevelt (who was elected president in 1912) to give him command of occupation forces. Roosevelt, remembering the bitter feelings after the Second Mexican War, initially refused but later relented and named Custer military governor of Canada. There, Custer tried to bring a stop to the ongoing rebellion. His success was limited, but he remained popular among Americans--and hated by Canadians.
In 1922, he was forced to retire by the first Socialist President Upton Sinclair. During a farewell tour of Canada, Arthur McGregor tried to kill him by throwing a bomb into his car. Custer, long suspicious of the prolific terrorist, caught the bomb and returned it to McGregor, killing him.
Retirement and Death
Custer did not prove very adaptable to retirement. He never quite understood that perhaps he'd lived too long after the Great War. Even Abner Dowling, by then serving under General John Pershing in Utah, the one man who knew Custer best, and probably hated him the most, was moved to tears by the sad state of Custer's life.
Custer died in 1930 and was buried in Arlington, West Virginia, where Former President Roosevelt had been buried in 1924. Jake Featherston railed against the humiliation of having two hated US leaders buried in Robert E. Lee's plantation.
Armstrong Grimes was named for Custer.
- Paul von Hindenburg, who served in Germany's military for decades and was one of its senior commanders in World War I, which began in 1914. The Southern Victory version of George Custer has much in common with Hindenburg.
- Douglas Haig, field marshal in the British Army during World War I. The fictional Custer appears to be patterned on Haig, specifically Haig's use of tactics that caused high casualties among the men under his command, and his outdated emphasis on cavalry.
- The Guns of the South, pg 78.
- Ibid., pg. 79.
- Ibid., pg. 78.
Prince Arthur Albert as Governor General,
Robert Borden as Prime Minister,
George V as King
|Military Governor of Canada