George Armstrong Custer — Facts and APUSH Notes

December 5, 1839 - June 25, 1876

APUSH Definition — General George Armstrong Custer (1814–1879) was an officer in the United States Army. He served in the Civil War and Indian Wars and is most well-known for his defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

George Armstrong Custer, Portrait, Civil War General

George Custer led his cavalry unit in a fearless charge that killed Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Who was United States Army officer George Armstrong Custer?

George Custer graduated from the United States Military Academy two months after the Civil War began in 1861. He immediately received a commission in the U.S. Army in time to take part in the First Battle of Bull Run.

After a  brief illness, Custer returned to active duty in time to take part in Major General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. During that campaign, he became the first Union officer to oversee the use of hot-air balloons to spy on Confederate forces. Impressed with Custer’s performance, McClellan appointed him as his aide-de-camp and promoted him to the rank of captain.

Custer commanded a cavalry division in 1862 and early 1863, taking part in the Battles of Brandy Station and Aldie. On June 29, 1863, the War Department promoted Custer to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers, making him the youngest officer to attain that rank and one of the younger generals in the Union Army.

In July 1863, Custer had two horses shot from under him while leading charges at the Battle of Gettysburg. During the Civil War, Custer had a total of eleven horses shot from under him, incurring only one wound.

In 1864, Custer served as a cavalry commander with the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, seeing action at the Battles of the Wilderness, Yellow Tavern, and Trevilian Station. During the fall, Custer accompanied Major General Philip Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley and played key roles in the battles of Opequon, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek.

Custer and his cavalry troopers also took part in Sheridan’s scorched earth campaign against Shenandoah Valley residents, locally known as “The Burning.” The widespread destruction of civilian property during the autumn of 1864 incited acts of atrocity between Custer’s soldiers and Confederate General John Mosby’s Rangers. Mosby’s men and Shenandoah Valley residents loathed Custer so much that Sheridan warned him “If the Rebs should ever lay you by the heels, they’ll string you up directly.”

Early in 1864, Custer received a brevet promotion to major general in the regular army. He then returned to eastern Virginia and took part in the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns.

When the Civil War ended and the volunteer army disbanded, Custer remained in the regular army, reverting to his rank of captain. On July 28, 1866, army officials promoted Custer to lieutenant colonel and gave him command of the newly created 7th U.S. Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas. From 1867 to 1871, the 7th Cavalry took part in several battles with Native Americans, principally against the Cheyenne Indians. Custer performed well in these conflicts.

On June 25, 1876, Custer recklessly divided his forces and attacked a Sioux village along the Little Bighorn River in the Dakota Territory. Instead of a docile Indian village, Custer soon found that he had charged into a major encampment defended by up to 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors led by notable chiefs including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The Natives quickly annihilated Custer and the 210 soldiers he led into battle. Union soldiers identified and recovered Custer’s mutilated body two days after the Battle of the Little Bighorn and interred it on the site of the battle. One year later, the army moved Custer’s body to the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he received a formal military burial.

Battle of Little Bighorn, Indian Assault, Russell
This illustration depicts the attack at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Image Source: Library of Congress.

George Armstrong Custer Facts for APUSH

Birth and Early Life

  • Full Name: His full name was George Armstrong Custer.
  • Parents: His parents were Emanuel Henry Custer and Marie Ward (Kirkpatrick) Custer.
  • Date of Birth: He was born on December 5, 1839.
  • Birthplace: He was born in New Rumley, Ohio.

Family Tree

  • Spouse: His spouse was Elizabeth Clift Benton (1864).

Death

  • Death: He died on June 25, 1876.
  • Place of Death: He died in Bighorn County, Montana.
  • Burial: He is buried at West Point Cemetery, Highlands, New York.

Education

He attended the United States Military Academy (1861).

Career

He worked as a Military officer.

Career Summary

He was a Lieutenant Colonel (USA) and Major General (USVA).

Nicknames

He was known as Boy General, Autie, and Yellow Hair.

George Armstrong Custer — Summary of His Life and Accomplishments for APUSH

  • George Custer’s father was a farmer and blacksmith.
  • As a youngster, George Custer lived with his half-sister in Monroe, Michigan.
  • After graduating from McNeely Normal School, in Hopedale, Ohio, George Custer taught school in Cadiz, Ohio.
  • George Custer received an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1857 and entered the Academy in 1858.
  • George Custer graduated last in his class of 34 cadets from the United States Military Academy on June 24, 1861.
  • George Custer’s class at the United States Military Academy graduated a year early because the Union needed officers for the Civil War.
  • George Custer was commissioned as a second lieutenant of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on June 24, 1861.
  • Major General George B. McClellan assigned George Custer as his aide-de-camp, promoting him to the rank of captain on June 5, 1862.
  • George Custer was returned to cavalry duty as a first lieutenant when Major General George B. McClellan was relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac after the Peninsula Campaign.
  • Major General Alfred Pleasonton promoted George Custer from captain to brigadier general of volunteers on June 29, 1863, three days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • At age 23, George Custer was one of the younger generals in the Union army.
  • George Custer was brevetted as a major in the regular army for his service at Gettysburg, on July 3, 1863.
  • George Custer married Elizabeth Clift Benton on February 9, 1864.
  • George Custer led his cavalry unit in a fearless charge that killed Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864.
  • George Custer suffered his most embarrassing defeat of the Civil War when Confederate raiders captured his personal baggage at the Battle of Trevilian Station on June 11 – 12, 1864.
  • George Custer played a major role in the Union victory at the Battle of Opequon (September 19, 1864) during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.
  • Some evidence suggests that George Custer was present when his soldiers executed six Rebel prisoners who refused to reveal information about the location of Confederate raider John Mosby’s headquarters on September 23, 1864.
  • George Custer played a major role in the Union victory at the Battle of Tom’s Brook (October 9, 1864) during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.
  • George Custer played a major role in the Union victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864) during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.
  • George Custer received a brevet promotion to major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865.
  • George Custer was present at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
  • George Custer received a promotion to major general of volunteers on April 15, 1865.
  • George Custer served in the Military Division of the Gulf from July 17 to November 13, 1865, and was chief of cavalry of the Department of Texas until he was mustered out of the volunteer service on February 1, 1866.
  • George Custer was placed on frontier duty at Fort Riley, Kansas, on October 16, 1866.
  • George Custer was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry on July 28, 1866.
  • In 1867, George Custer was court-martialed and suspended from duty one year for paying an unauthorized visit to his wife.
  • George Custer’s cavalry attacked a peaceful Cheyenne village, led by Chief Black Kettle, at the Battle of Washita River on November 27, 1868. Black Kettle was killed in the attack.
  • George Custer was killed along with 265 of the men in his command during the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana on June 25, 1876.
  • During the Civil War, George Custer commanded troops at the Battles of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam, and in the Peninsular, Shenandoah Valley, Overland, and Appomattox Campaigns.
  • George Custer was the first Union officer to make observations in combat in a balloon.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title George Armstrong Custer — Facts and APUSH Notes
  • Date December 5, 1839 - June 25, 1876
  • Author
  • Keywords george armstrong custer
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 19, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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