General George Armstrong Custer Sterling Sterling Rollerball
A generation after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Teddy Roosevelt’s reflection on how to approach life perfectly captured the ethos of General George Armstrong Custer. Custer was and is a bigger-than-life American war hero who lost his life in one of the most famous battles in American history. He was a controversial figure in life and continues to be one in death.
On the afternoon of June 25, 1876, Custer’s 675-man US 7th Cavalry, a renowned and undefeated military unit, wildly attacked a Sioux Indian village of 10.000 people and 6000 warriors. The Sioux, led by Chief Sitting Bull, flew into battle and massacred the 176-man detachment led by Custer that had separated from the main regiment. The battle was over in twenty minutes, with Custer and his men all lying dead.
Custer and his men had been dispatched from Fort Abraham Lincoln on a search and destroy mission to find and kill Sitting Bull’s tribe. Through a combination of poor reconnaissance and hubris, he had little idea that he would be attacking the largestaggregation of Indians ever assembled on the North American continent. As the 7th Cavalry rode west into the Dakota Territory, they discovered bad omens regarding the battle to come: the decapitated head of a bluecoat infantry man mounted on a stick; a drawing of soldiers dying at the hands of the Indians that was left in a sweat lodge; and, most importantly, the remnants of a Sun Dance, which the Sioux would perform in preparation for going on the war path. The superstitious soldiers’ spirits sunk when they saw these signs of impending death.
George Armstrong Custer is a mythological figure in the history of the US military. He was indeed a brave, fierce soldier who won every battle he was ever in, save for the last one. He was a leader of men, seducer of women and lover of sport, at once charismatic and flamboyant. But his alter ego was reckless, arrogant and ruthless, with the soul of a killer. He was a relentless fighting man. In this, he had the respect of the great Indian warriors, who admired bravery in battle and took no prisoners themselves. For them, battle meant either victory or death. And for Custer at the Little Bighorn, it was death at the hands of the people he both hated and admired. The ones who had christened him Son of the Morning Star, his favorite moniker.