5 Things You Didn't Know About Custer And His Last Stand

On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry died at the hands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana. To mark the anniversary of this battle here are five things you didn’t know about Custer and his last stand.

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He Was Killed At Little Bighorn Only 15 Years After Leaving West Point Custer grossly miscalculated the strength and abilities of the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors before the battle occurred on June 25. Bloody Knife, his scout, told him the Seventh Cavalry didn’t have enough bullets to fight the massed crowd of natives. Custer didn’t listen, and surprise probably overtook him when he saw all the warriors riding toward him and his troops in his final battle. Around 200 soldiers died at the hands of the Native Americans on the day of the Little Bighorn battle. Among them was Henry Reed, an 18-year-old nephew of Custer, and James Calhoun, his brother-in-law. Custer’s two younger brothers, Thomas and Boston, died as well. Thomas was a recipient of the Medal of Honor twice and was a veteran of the Civil War.

Four Other Members Of The Custer Family Died At The Battle of Little Bighorn Around 200 soldiers died at the hands of the Native Americans on the day of the Little Bighorn battle. Among them was Henry Reed, an 18-year-old nephew of Custer and James Calhoun, his brother-in-law. Custer’s two younger brothers, Thomas and Boston, died as well. Thomas was a recipient of the Medal of Honor twice and was a veteran of the Civil War.

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He Graduated Last In His Class At West Point Custer placed last in his graduating class at West Point. Fellow cadets attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point referred to him as a “dare-devil” and someone who spent more energy playing pranks than studying. Custer’s voluminous record of demerits earned him extra guard duty on most Saturdays, but he did manage to graduate from West Point in 1861, albeit as the lowest-ranking cadet, now known as “the goat.”

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Custer Became a Civil War General In The Union Army at 23 Although Custer struggled in the classroom, he excelled on the battlefield. After joining the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry following his graduation, he gained notice for his daring cavalry charges, bold leadership style, and tactical brilliance. In June 1863, Custer was promoted to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 23, and he cemented his reputation as the “Boy General” days later at the Battle of Gettysburg when he repelled a pivotal Confederate assault led by J.E.B. Stuart. By the end of the Civil War, Custer had risen to the rank of major general.

His Wife Received The Civil War Surrender Table As a Gift When Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General, surrendered to General U.S. Grant, the terms were signed on a small table. General Philip Sheridan purchased the table and presented it to Custer's wife, Libbie, as a token of his appreciation for her husband's service. “Permit me to say, Madam,” Sheridan wrote to Libbie, “that there is scarcely an individual in our service who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your gallant husband.” After Libbie’s death in 1933, her will stipulated that the table be donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

Ronald Reagan Played Custer On The Big Screen In 1940, Santa Fe Trail opened at the box office with Ronald Reagan starring in the role of General Custer. Historically, the movie was wildly inaccurate, starring swashbuckler Errol Flynn as J.E.B. Stewart, as they hunted the abolitionist John Brown in pre-Civil War Kansas. A year later, Flynn played Custer himself in the highly mythologized biopic “They Died With Their Boots On.”

Buffalo Bill helped to mythologize Custer’s Last Stand After Custer’s death, his widow devoted the remaining 57 years of her life writing books and delivering lectures that cast her husband as a martyr who gallantly staged his “Last Stand.” William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who had briefly scouted for Custer, also contributed to the mythmaking. Weeks after the Battle of Little Bighorn, he killed and scalped a Cheyenne warrior named Yellow Hair and declared it “the first scalp for Custer.” Buffalo Bill replayed the scene repeatedly throughout his theatrical career and incorporated a re-enactment of “Custer’s Last Rally,” complete with several Native Americans who had actually been present at the Battle of Little Bighorn, into his famed Wild West show.