Friday, December 12, 2008

George Armstrong Custer: The Man, Myth, & Movies

George Armstrong Custer; just the mere name conjurs up some kind of image; peacock ego and strut, flamboyance, bravery, ambition, impetuousness, hubris....the list goes on and on. I remember visiting the museum at Little Big Horn monument and National Park, looking at his famous buckskin costume, and realizing that he was a man of very small stature, like 5'5" or shorter. Hollywood has done their part in continuing with the Custer legacy and mythos. Here are "some" of the actors who played Custer in films and television.

1. THE WILD WEST (2007) played by Toby Stephens.
2. INTO THE WEST (2005) played by Jonathan Scarfe.
3. IMAGES OF INDIANS (2003) played by Philip Carey.
4. THE WILD WEST (1998) played by Robert Paulson.
5. STOLEN WOMEN, CAPTURED HEARTS (1997) played by William Shockley.
6. CRAZY HORSE (1996) played by Peter Horton.
7. DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN (1995)played by James Leland Adams for (9) episodes.
8. BUFFALO GIRLS (1995) played by John Diehl.
9. CLASS OF '61 (1993) played by Josh Lucas.
10. SON OF THE MORNING STAR (1991) played by Gary Cole.
11. LEGEND OF THE GOLDEN GUN (1979) played by Kier Dullea.
13. DON'T TOUCH THE WHITE WOMEN (1974) played by Marcello Mastroianni.
14. LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) played by Richard Mulligan.
15. LEGEND OF CUSTER (1967) played by Wayne Mauder.
16. CUSTER OF THE WEST (1967) played by Robert Shaw.
17. THE TIME TUNNEL (1966) played by Joe Moross.
18. THE PLAINSMAN (1966) played by Leslie Nielsen.
19. BRANDED (1966) played by Robert Lansing.
20. F TROOP (1965) played by John Stephenson.
21. CHEYENNE (1961) (2) episodes played by Barry Atwater.
22. YANCY DERRINGER (1959) played by Grant Williams.
23. TONKA (1958) played by Britt Lomand.
24. BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON (1952) Sheb Wooley.
25. WARPATH (1951) played by James Milligan.
26. THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941) played by Errol Flynn.
27. BADLANDS OF DAKOTA (1941) played by Addison Richards.
28. SANTE FE TRAIL (1940) played by Ronald Reagan.
29. WYOMING (1940) played by Paul Kelly.
30. THE PLAINSMAN (1936) played by John Milson.
31. CUSTER'S LAST STAND (1936) played by Frank McGlynnet.
32. THE WORLD CHANGES (1933) played by Clay Clement.
33. THE LAST FRONTIER (1932) played by William Desmond.
34. GENERAL CUSTER AT LITTLE BIG HORN (1926) played by John Beck.
35. THE FLAMING FRONTIER (1926) played by Dustin Farnum.
36. WILD BILL HICCUP (1924) played by Al Formes.
37. BOB HAMPTON OF PLACER (1921) played by T.D. Crittensen.
38. BRITTON OF THE SEVENTH (1916) played by Ned Finley.
39. CUSTER'S LAST FIGHT (1912) played by Francis Ford.

George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. At the start of the Civil War, Custer was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and his class's graduation was accelerated so that they could enter the war. Custer graduated last in his class and served at the First Battle of Bull Run as a staff officer for Major General George B. McClellan in the Army of the Potomac's 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Early in the Gettysburg Campaign, Custer's association with cavalry commander Major General Alfred Pleasonton earned him promotion from First Lieutenant to Brigadier General of United States Volunteers at the age of 23.

By the time of Custer's expedition to the Black Hills in 1874, the level of conflict and tension between the U.S. and many plains Indians tribes (including the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne) had become exceedingly high. Americans continually broke treaty agreements and advanced further westward, resulting in violence and acts of depredation by both sides. To take possession of the Black Hills (and thus the gold deposits), and to stop Indian attacks, the U.S. decided to corral all remaining free plains Indians. The Grant government set a deadline of January 31, 1876 for all Lakota and Northern Cheyenne to report to their designated agencies (reservations) or be considered "hostile."

The 7th Cavalry departed from Fort Lincoln on May 17, 1876, part of a larger army force planning to round up remaining free Indians. Meanwhile, in the spring and summer of 1876, the Hunkpapa Lakota holy man Sitting Bull had called together the largest ever gathering of plains Indians at Ash Creek, Montana (later moved to the Little Bighorn River) to discuss what to do about the whites. It was this united encampment of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians that the 7th met at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

On June 25, some of Custer's Crow Indian scouts identified what they claimed was a large Indian encampment along the Little Bighorn River. Custer divided his forces into three battalions: one led by Major Marcus Reno, one by Captain Frederick Benteen, and one by himself. Captain Thomas M. McDougall and Company B were with the pack train. Benteen was sent south and west, to cut off any attempted escape by the Indians, Reno was sent north to charge the southern end of the encampment, and Custer rode north, hidden to the east of the encampment by bluffs, and planning to circle around and attack from the north.

Reno began a charge on the southern end of the village, but halted midway and had his men dismount and form a skirmish line. They were soon overcome by mounted Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who counterattacked en masse against Reno's exposed left flank forcing Reno and his men to take cover in the trees along the river. Eventually, however, this position became untenable and the troopers were forced into a bloody retreat up onto the bluffs above the river, where they made their own stand. This, the opening action of the battle, cost Reno a quarter of his command.

Meanwhile, unaware of Reno's failure, Custer had his command to the northern end of the main encampment, where he apparently planned to sandwich the Indians between his attacking troopers and Reno's command in a "hammer-and-anvil" maneuver. According to Grinnell's account, based on the testimony of the Cheyenne warriors who survived the fight, at least part of Custer's command attempted to ford the river at the north end of the camp but were driven off by stiff resistance from the Indians and were pursued by hundreds of warriors onto a ridge north of the encampment. There, Custer was prevented from digging in by Crazy Horse, whose warriors had outflanked him and were now to his north, at the crest of the ridge. Traditional white accounts attribute to Gall the attack that drove Custer up onto the ridge, but Indian witnesses have disputed that account.

For a time, Custer's men were deployed by company, in standard cavalry fighting formation—the skirmish line, with every fourth man holding the horses. This arrangement, however, robbed Custer of a quarter of his firepower, and as the fight intensified, many soldiers took to holding their own horses or hobbling them, further reducing their effective fire. When Crazy Horse and White Bull mounted the charge that broke through the center of Custer's lines, pandemonium broke out among the men of Calhoun's command, though Myles Keogh's men seem to have fought and died where they stood. Many of the panicking soldiers threw down their weapons and either rode or ran towards the knoll where Custer the other officers and about 40 men were making a stand. Along the way, the Indians rode them down, counting coup by whacking the fleeing troopers with their quirts or lances.

Initially, Custer had 208 officers and men under his command, with an additional 142 under Reno, just over a hundred under Benteen, 50 soldiers with Captain McDougall's rearguard, and 84 soldiers under Lieutenant Mathey with the pack train. The Indians fielded over 1800 warriors. As the troopers were cut down, the Indians stripped the dead of their firearms and ammunition, with the result that the return fire from the cavalry steadily decreased, while the fire from the Indians steadily increased. With Custer and the survivors shooting the remaining horses to use them as breastworks and making a final stand on the knoll at the north end of the ridge, the Indians closed in for the final attack and killed all in Custer's command. As a result, the Battle of the Little Bighorn has come to be popularly known as "Custer's Last Stand."

When the cavalry's main column did arrive three days later, they found most of the soldiers' corpses stripped, scalped, and mutilated. Custer’s body had two bullet holes, one in the left temple and one just above the heart. Following the recovery of Custer's body, he was given a funeral with full military honors and buried on the battlefield. He was reinterred in the West Point Cemetery on October 10, 1877. The battle site was designated a National Cemetery in 1876.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahh general George A Custer...
His yellow hair had luster...
But the general doesn't ride well anymore.
To some he was a hero...
But to me his story's zero...
And the general doesn't ride well anymore.

"Bitter Tears"

..................Johnny Cash,