Elizabeth Bacon Custer.

Tenting on the plains, or, General Custer in Kansas and Texas online

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one self-made man can commend another, and a
reluctant consent given to the engagement ; re-
luctant because the Judge believed the military
profession too hazardous and uncertain to admit
of matrimony in time of war.

He returned to his command in October, and
was engaged in the action at James City and
Brandy Station (where his determined action pre-
vented the capture of his brigade), the movement
toward Centreville, the actions at Gainesville and
Buckland's Mills, the skirmish at Stevensburg and
the Mine Run operations.

In the February of 1864 he went to Monroe,
and on the th was married to Elizabeth Bacon,


They were recalled from the bridal tour by tele-
grams urging the return of the General to the front,
in order that he might take command of a portion of
the Army of the Potomac, which was to be sent in
a certain direction as a feint to attract the Confed-
erate army, while General Kilpatrick, with the
cavalry (General Ouster's brigade with them),
attempted to get into Richmond. Leaving his
bride at a farm-house at Stevensburg,Va., where his
headquarters were established almost in sight of
Confederate pickets, he started at once on his arri-
val, and made so successful a feint that the bulk of
the enemy were turned in pursuit. Soon after his
return his wife went to Washington, to remain as
near as possible during the active operations of
the summer. General Custer took part in the
Wilderness campaign. In the re-organization of
the cavalry caused by the removal of General
Pleasonton, the death of General Buford, the trans-
fer of General Kilpatrick to the West he was
transferred, with the Michigan brigade, to the
First Cavalry Division, which crossed the Rapidan
in May, the main army being toward Orange
Court House. He was engaged in the battles of
the Wilderness (where the cavalry was on the
left) and Todd's Tavern ; in General Sheridan's
cavalry raid toward Richmond by the way of
Beaver Dam Station and Ashland, during which



his brigade had the advance, and by a gallant dash
captured at Beaver Dam Station three large trains,
which were conveying rations to the Confederate
army, destroying several miles of railroad, and
releasing four hundred prisoners, who were en
route to Richmond. On the next day he assisted
in the destruction of the Ashland Station, and on
the nth of May the command was within four
miles of Richmond, on the Brook pike, with his
brigade again in the advance ; and the action of
Yellow Tavern followed, where he won the brevet
of lieutenant-colonel for gallant and meritorious
services. He was engaged in the actions at
Meadow Bridge, Mechanicsville and Hanovertown,
the battles of Hawes's Shop and Cold Harbor, and
in General Sheridan's second raid, during which
was fought the battle of Trevillian Station (where
his brigade was at one time in such great peril that
he tore the colors from the staff and concealed
them in the breast of his coat), and in the skirmish
at Newark. After a brief rest near Petersburg, his
brigade was transferred from the Army of the
Potomac to the Shenandoah Valley, and arrived
at Halltown about the 8th of August, and partici-
pated, with the First Cavalry Division, in the
skirmishes at Stone Chapel and at Newtown, the
brilliant action at Cedarville, near Front Royal,
the combats at Kearneysville, Smithfield, Berry-


ville and Opequan Creek, the battles of Winchester
and Fisher's Hill (where he rendered conspicuous
service), and the actions at Cedarville and Luray.
He was made a brevet colonel, to date from Sep-
tember 19, 1864, for gallant and meritorious serv-
ices at the battle of Winchester, and brevet
major-general of volunteers, to date from October
19, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services at
the battles of Winchester and Fisher's Hill.

He was assigned on the 26th of September to
the command of the Second Cavalry Division,
which he attempted to join at Piedmont, but the
enemy appeared in force, and he was compelled to
return to the cavalry headquarters, where he
remained until the 3oth, when he was transferred
to the Third Cavalry Division and assumed the
command at Harrisonburg, and started on the 6th
of October with the Army of the Shenandoah, on
the return march through the valley, moving on
the road nearest the Blue Ridge, and repulsed the
army that night at Turkeytown. On the next day
his rear guard was frequently engaged with the
enemy during the march toward Columbia Fur-
naces, and the next day they fought his rear guard
with so much persistency that General Sheridan
ordered his chief of cavalry to attack them, and
at daybreak on the gth of October the brilliant
cavalry action of Woodstock was begun. General


Custer, having completed the formation for a
charge, rode to the front of his line and saluted
his former classmate, General Rosser, who com-
manded the Confederate cavalry, and then moved
his division at a trot, which in a few minutes was
changed to a gallop, and as the advancing line
iieared the enemy the charge was sounded, and
the next instant the division enveloped their flanks,
and forced them to retreat for two miles, when
General Rosser made a brilliant effort to recover
the lost ground ; but General Custer rapidly
re-formed his brigades, and again advanced in a
second charge with the other divisions, and drove
the enemy to Mount Jackson, a distance of
twenty-six miles, with the loss of everything on
wheels except one gun.

He was conspicuous at the battle of Cedar
Creek, where he confronted the enemy from the
first attack in the morning until the battle
was ended. After the first surprise he was
recalled from the right, and ^assigned to the
left, where the enemy were held in check. After
General Sheridan appeared on the field, he was
returned to the extreme right; and at quarter past
4 o'clock, p. M., when the grand advance was
made, leaving three regiments to attend to the
cavalry in his front, he moved into position with
the other regiments of his division to participate


in the movement. The divisions of cavalry,
sweeping both flanks, crossed Cedar Creek about
the same time, and, breaking the last line the
enemy attempted to form, charged upon their
artillery and trains, and continued the pursuit to
Fisher's Hill, capturing and retaking a large num-
ber of guns, colors and materials of war. He
won in this battle an enduring fame as a cavalry
leader, and was recommended by General Torbert
for promotion, which, upon several occasions, he
had justly earned. He was sent to Washington at
the end of the campaign, in charge of the captured
battle-flags, and upon his return to the valley, com-
manded, in December, an expedition to Harrison-
burg, and was attacked at Lacey Springs at day-
break of the 2oth by a superior force, and com-
pelled to retire to Winchester, where he remained
during the winter. He was promoted to a cap-
taincy in his regiment, May 8, 1864, and assigned
to duty on his brevet rank as major-general of

He participated in General Sheridan's last cav-
alry raid during the spring of 1865, marching
from Winchester to Harrisonburg, and thence to
Waynesboro, where, while in the advance, he
engaged and defeated the enemy, and captured
three guns, two hundred wagons, sixteen hundred
prisoners and seventeen battle flags.


He was a conspicuous figure in the brilliant
operations of that dashing movement until the
command (First and Third divisions), having
crossed the Peninsula and the James River, en-
camped on the 26th of March in rear of the
Army of the Potomac, which was then in front of

On the next day the two divisions were moved
to the rear of the extreme left, and encamped at
Hancock's Station, where they were joined by the
Second Division, and on the 2gth the entire cav-
alry corps moved out to raid in the rear of the
Army of Northern Virginia, cut the South Side Rail-
road, and effect a junction with General Sherman
in North Carolina ; but the plans were changed
during the night, and the cavalry corps was or-
dered to turn the enemy's right flank, which
brought on the actions at Five Forks and Dinwid-
die Court House, and the next day General Custer
won the brevet of brigadier-general, to .date from
March 13, 1865 (antedated), for gallant and meri-
torious services at the battle of Five Forks. He
was engaged in the actions at Sailor's Creek and
Appomattox Station, received the first flag of truce
from the Army of Northern Virginia, and was
present at the surrender at Appomattox Court
House, April 9, 1865, and a few days afterward
participated in the movement to Dan River, N. C.,


which marks the close of his services during the
War of the Rebellion. He was made a brevet
major-general, to date from March 13, 1865, for
gallant and meritorious services during the cam-
paign ending with the surrender of the Army of
Northern Virginia, and was appointed a major-
general of volunteers, to date from April 15, 1865.

One of his friends has said : " His perceptive
faculties, decision of character, dash and audacity
won the favor of the peculiar Kearney, the cau-
tious McClellan, the sarcastic Pleasonton and the
impetuous Sheridan ; and these generals, with
wholly different ideas and characters, trusted him
with unlimited confidence."

In a general order addressed to his troops, dated
at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, Gen-
eral Custer said : " During the past six months,
though in most instances confronted by superior
numbers, you have captured from the enemy in
open battle 1 1 1 pieces of field artillery, sixty-five
battle-flags and upward of ten thousand prisoners
of war, including seven general officers. Within
the past ten days, and included in the above, you
have captured forty-six field-pieces of artillery and
thirty-seven battle-flags. You have never lost a
gun, never lost a color, and never been defeated ;
and, notwithstanding the numerous engagements
in which you have borne a prominent part, includ-


ing those memorable battles of the Shenandoah,
you have captured every piece of artillery which
the enemy has dared to open upon you."

General Custer participated in all but one of the
battles of the Army of the Potomac, had eleven
horses shot under him, received bullet-holes in his
hat, had a lock of his hair cut off by a passing
shot, was wounded in the thigh by a spent ball,
was crushed by the fall of his wounded horse
until the buttons of his jacket were almost flat-
tened, and at one time charged into the enemy's
lines, and would have been taken prisoner except
that in the melee he escaped, as he wore an over-
coat he had captured from a Confederate officer in
a former engagement. His whole four years of
service during the war was a series of narrow

After the first day's review in Washington, he
parted with his beloved Third Cavalry Division,
and started at once for Texas, where he took com-
mand of a division of Western cavalry, whose
term of service had not expired, and marched
from Alexandria, on Red River, La., to Hempstead,
in Texas. In the autumn he was made chief of
cavalry, and marched to Austin, where he sup-
ported the Governor and the new State organiza-
tion in restoring order to the demoralized country.

In March, 1866, he was mustered out of the


volunteer service, to date from February, 1866. A
proposition was made from President Juarez to
give him command of the Mexican cavalry in the
struggle against Maximilian, but President John-
son declined to give the necessary leave of
absence, and General Custer decided to remain at
home, and accepted the lieutenant-colonelcy of the
Seventh Cavalry, his appointment dating July 28,
1866. He reported for duty at Fort Riley, Kansas,
his regiment's headquarters, in November, and
remained in Kansas five years, during which time
he was on expeditions in pursuit of Indians in the
Indian Territory, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska
and Wyoming. On the 2;th of November, 1868,
he fought the battle of the Wachita, in the Indian
Territory, and inflicted such defeat on the Indians
that the entire tribe of Cheyennes were compelled
to return to their reservation. From 1871 to 1873
he was on duty with his regiment in Kentucky.
In the spring of 1873 he was ordered with the
Seventh Cavalry to Dakota, and left Fort Rice on
an expedition to the Yellowstone. On that river,
near the mouth of Tongue River, he fought the
Sioux with his regiment on August 4, and on the
i ith he had another engagement three miles below
the mouth of the Big Horn. General Custer
solicited permission to conduct an expedition into
the Black Hills, at that time unvisited by the white


man ; and in July, 1874, he left Fort Lincoln,
Dakota, and opened an unexplored country to
miners and settlers. On May 15 General Custer
left Fort Lincoln in command of his regiment,
accompanying an expedition against the confeder-
ated Sioux tribes. The pursuit of the Indians was
carried to the Little Big Horn River, a region
almost entirely unknown. It had long been the
favorite spot for their encampments, and there
was afterward ascertained to be nine thousand in
their villages stretched along the river. The Gov-
ernment expedition numbered one thousand one
hundred men. As there were no means of ascer-
taining the strength of the savages, General Custer
was sent with his regiment to pursue a trail. On
June 25 he reached the vicinity of what was sup-
posed by friendly Indian scouts, who accompanied
the column, to be the only Indian village. An
attack by a portion of the regiment, two hundred
troopers in all, was made, and followed by a
repulse, ending in a retreat from the enemy.
General Custer with two hundred and seventy-
seven of his men charged on another part of the
village, and fought against terrible odds, expect-
ing momentarily to be joined by the other portion
of the regiment, that were then in retreat. At the
end of an engagement that is supposed to have
lasted about forty-five minutes, every voice was


silenced, and General Custer lay among his
devoted followers (his brothers, Colonel Tom and
Boston Custer ; his brother-in-law, Lieutenant
James Calhoun ; his nephew, Armstrong- Reed)
in the " Bivouac of the Dead."

He was buried with his comrades on the battle-
field ; but, in accordance with a request made
years previous, to his wife, he was laid with mili-
tary ceremonies at West Point in 1877. In August,
1879, hi s l as t battle-field was made a National
cemetery, and through the interest of his friend,
Major-General Meigs, then the quartermaster-gen-
eral, a monument was erected by Government to
the memory of General Custer and all who fell in
the battle of the Little Big Horn. The name of
each officer and soldier is carved in the granite,
and its shaft does sentry duty over ground en-
riched by the precious blood of the heroes who
fell there in the year of the nation's Centennial.

In personal appearance General Custer had
marked individuality. It was not due to the fact that
his dress was a costume he chose during the war,
(and was followed in some of its details by his
Third Division of Cavalry), or that he assumed a
campaigning garb of buckskin on the frontier.
Neither was it the result of the flowing locks that
his boyish freak allowed to grow during the war,
and, though his head was closely cropped in garri-


son life on the plains, he left the hair uncut while
campaigning. There was still an individuality
that marked him walking, riding, standing; ges-
tures wholly his own ; quick, impulsive move-
ments, entirely unstudied ; and indescribable
peculiarities that were so marked, it was seldom
any one saw a resemblance in any one else to
General Custer. A broad hat, navy blue shirt
with wide collar, and red neck-tie, were distinctive
features of the costume. He was not quite six
feet, though he looked it; broad shouldered, well
proportioned, and weighing as a rule 1 70 pounds.
His body was so lithe, his motions so quick, there
was no deed of the expert Indian rider that
General Custer could not execute. He was the
strongest man but one while at West Point; and
using neither liquor nor tobacco, he was able to
endure heat, cold, privation of every kind, with
no apparent recognition of the hardships. His
hair and mustache were golden in tint; his blue
eyes were deep set under eyebrows that were
older than his face. His expression was thought-
ful, and but for the sparkle of his ever youthful
eyes, the face might have remained so in conver-
sation. He was studious in his tastes. The
activity of war life interrupted all such pursuits,
but in the quiet of the winters in a frontier
garrison, he resumed his study and reading.


He contributed articles on hunting to the news-
papers devoted to out -door sports, and wrote
papers for the Galaxy that were afterward
published in book form, under the title of " My
Life on the Plains." He was engaged on a series
of papers on the war, for the Galaxy, when his
last campaign took place. He was an ardent
sportsman, and accounted more than an ordinary
shot. His domestic life, when frontier days at
last gave him a semblance of a home, during the
winter months, was one of contentment, which
was rather surprising, when it is known that
fourteen years out of the thirty-seven of his short life
were spent in the active campaigns of the war
and the frontier. He revered religion, and was so
broad that every one's belief was sacred to him.
He dearly loved the society of children when they
were able to chatter with him; his deference for the
aged was inborn, and intensified by his love for
his aged parents; he honored womankind; and he
loved animals with such devotion that he was
never without having them about him if he could
help it. Impetuous and daring as his life was, he
declared that no step was ever taken without an
instant looking upon all sides of the question. His
actions, quick as they were always, were the result
of an activity of brain that took in a situation
with marvelous speed. General Ouster's treat-


ment of his enemies was more after the manner
of a man of mature years, but it was the result
of a discipline of self by that impetuous character,
who endeavored to remember that " to forgive

is Divine."


55 West Tenth Street,

New York City.

Thanks are due Captain George F. Price, Fifth United States
Cavalry, for extracts containing dates and strictly military details,
from the excellent sketch of his comrade in his book "Across the
Continent with the Fifth Cavalry." D. Van Nostrand, Publisher.

E. B. C.

TEXAS IN 1866 AND IN l886.







/^ ENERAL CUSTER was given scant time,
after the last gun of the war was fired, to
realize the blessings of peace. While others has-
tened to discard the well-worn uniforms, and don
again the dress of civilians, hurrying to the cars,
and groaning over the slowness of the fast-flying
trains that bore them to their homes, my husband
was almost breathlessly preparing for a long jour-
ney to Texas. He did not even see the last of
that grand review of the 23d and 24th of May,
1865. On the first day he was permitted to doff
his hat and bow low, as he proudly led that superb
body of men, the Third Division of Cavalry, in


front of the grand stand, where sat the " powers
that be." Along the line of the division, each sol-
dier straightened himself in the saddle, and felt the
proud blood fill his veins, as he realized that he
was one of those who, in six months, had taken 1 1 1
of the enemy's guns, sixty-five battle-flags, and up-
ward of 10,000 prisoners of war, while they had
never lost a flag, or failed to capture a gun for
which they fought.

In the afternoon of that memorable day General
Custer and his staff rode to the outskirts of Wash-
ington, where his beloved Third Cavalry Division
had encamped after returning from taking part in
the review. The trumpet was sounded, and the
call brought these war-worn veterans out once
more, not for a charge, not for duty, but to say
that word which we who have been compelled to
live in its mournful sound so many years, dread
even to write. Down the line rode their yellow-
haired " boy general," waving his hat, but setting
his teeth and trying to hold with iron nerve the
quivering muscles of his speaking face ; keeping
his eyes wide open, that the moisture dimming
their vision might not gather and fall. Cheer af-
ter cheer rose on that soft spring air. Some enthu-
siastic voice started up afresh, before the hurrahs
were done, " A tiger for old Curley ! " Off came
the hats again, and up went hundreds of arms,


2 9

waving the good-by and wafting innumerable
blessings after the man who was sending them
home in a blaze of glory, with a record of which
they might boast around their firesides. I began to
realize, as I watched this sad parting, the truth of
what the General had been telling me : he held
that no friendship was like that cemented by mu-
tual danger on the battle-field.

The soldiers, accustomed to suppression through
strict military discipline, now vehemently express-
ed their feelings ; and though it gladdened the
General's heart, it was still the hardest sort of
work to endure it all without show of emotion.
As he rode up to where I was waiting, he could
not, dared not, trust himself to speak to me. To
those intrepid men he was indebted for his suc-
cess. Their unfailing trust in his judgment,
their willingness to follow where he led ah ! he
knew well that one looks upon such men but once
in a lifetime. Some of the soldiers called out for
the General's wife. The staff urged me to ride
forward to the troops, as it was but a little thing
thus to respond to their good-by. I tried to do so,
but after a few steps, I begged those beside whom
I rode to take me back to where we had been stand-
ing. I was too overcome, from having seen the
suffering on my husband's face, to endure any
more sorrow.


As the officers gathered about the General and
wrung his hand in parting, to my surprise the sol-
diers gave me a cheer. Though very grateful for
the tribute to me as their acknowledged comrade,
I did not feel that I deserved it. Hardships such
as they had suffered for a principle, require a far
higher order of character than the same hardships
endured when the motive is affection.

Once more the General leaped into the saddle,
and we rode rapidly out of sight. How glad I
was, as I watched the set features of my husband's
face, saw his eyes fixed immovably in front of
him, listened in vain for one word from his over-
burdened heart, that I, being a woman, need not
tax every nerve to suppress emotion, but could
let the tears stream down my face, on all our
silent way back to the city.

Then began the gathering of our "traps," a
hasty collection of a few suitable things for a
Southern climate, orders about shipping the
horses, a wild tearing around of the improvident,
thoughtless staff good fighters, but poor pro-
viders for themselves. Most of them were young
men, for whom my husband had applied when he
was made a brigadier. His first step after his
promotion was to write home for his schoolmates,
or select aides from his early friends then in
service. It was a comfort, when I found myself


grieving over the parting with my husband's Divi-
sion, that our military family were to go with us.
At dark we were on the cars, with our faces turned
southward. To General Custer this move had
been unexpected. General Sheridan knew that
he needed little time to decide, so he sent for him
as soon as we encamped at Arlington, after our
march up from Richmond, and asked if he would
like to take command of a division of cavalry on

Online LibraryElizabeth Bacon CusterTenting on the plains, or, General Custer in Kansas and Texas → online text (page 2 of 39)