George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer as cadet and general

George Armstrong Custer as cadet and general

The youngest general in the US Army, Custer graduated from West Point as a lieutenant and became a one-star general in three years.  This was partly because the Civil War was just starting when he graduated, and his wartime rank of general was later returned to the rank of lieutenant colonel.  Still, it was a record, and in comparison, without wartime promotions it usually takes twenty-something years to go from lieutenant to general, and fewer than one percent of officers get there.

Custer received the flag of truce at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.  Afterwards Custer was sent west to fight the Plains Indians, who called him “Son of the Morning Star” because he often attacked at dawn when Venus was prominent in the morning sky.

Custer was known for being impetuous, charging in when others sat back to assess the situation.  He was thus able to surprise the enemy and get the tactical advantage.  This was a strategy also used by Napoleon and Patton, and its effectiveness is summed up in a quote attributed to Napoleon: “Audacity succeeds as often as it fails; in life it has an even chance.”  For Custer, most of the time it worked, except for his last major engagement at Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, where his enemies were ready for him. On June 25, 1876, he was leading the 7th Cavalry, with the Crow as his scouts, against the Lakota and Cheyenne.  Trapped by a group led by Crazy Horse, Custer and 265 men were killed in less than an hour.  The event was remembered in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face“, the last line of which, “In the Year of a Hundred Years”, refers to America’s centennial.

This shirt was designed for the West Point Museum gift shop to commemorate one of West Point’s more colorful graduates, and shows Custer as a cadet and a general.

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