A good day trip would be a visit to Fort Leavenworth, because there are a number of historical sites, memorials, and museum’s to visit on Post. One of the popular historic sites is the Commanding Officer’s residence, which is quite beautiful sitting behind cannons overlooking the Missouri River. The cannons are relics from the Fort’s early days. The Commanding Officer’s residence is where General George Custer's court-martial was held in 1867. General Custer was not stationed at Leavenworth; he was actually stationed at Fort Riley at the time.
Custer was a U.S. cavalry officer who served with distinction in the American Civil War, but is probably better known for leading more than 200 of his men to their deaths in the notorious Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876. The battle, also known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” was part of the Black Hills War against a confederation of Plains Indians, including the Cheyenne and Dakota Sioux. It remains one of the most controversial battles in U.S. history.
However, that is not what his court-martial was about in Leavenworth. Custer and the 7th Calvary participated in several Indian campaigns on the high plains of western Kansas, Nebraska, and eastern Colorado. The campaigns proved inconclusive, but resulted in Custer’s court martial and suspension from the Army for one year – in part – for returning to Fort Riley to see his wife without permission.
Custer was born back in Ohio and graduated West Point in 1861, as the “Goat,” meaning that he graduated last in his class. Not because he was stupid, in fact it’s been written that he had a brilliant mind, which is probably why he had such a hard time following orders to the tee. Throughout his career, Custer exhibited a reckless temperament that kept him in almost constant trouble with his superior officers. Yet, his courage has rarely been questioned. In life, he was a flamboyant man who attracted ardent admirers and severe critics. In death it has it has been the same.
At 23, he was the youngest brevet brigadier general in the Union Army. While on furlough he met and soon married Elizabeth Bacon, and she played a significant role in shaping his career and perpetuating his memory. Elizabeth, through her publications and lectures during the half century she survived him, did much to create the image of beau sabreur that still persists. Probably more words, pro and con, have been written about George Armstrong Custer than any of his military contemporaries of comparable rank.
In 1874, he violated a treaty by taking an expedition into the Indians’ sacred Black Hills where gold was discovered. The gold rush that followed created intense Indian hostility and precipitated the government’s decision to confine all northern Plains tribes to reservations.
In 1876, Custer led the 7th Cavalry in a three-pronged campaign against Sitting Bull’s alliance of Sioux and Cheyenne camps in Montana, because they were off of their reservation. During the morning of June 25, Custer’s scouts reported spotting smoke from cooking fires and other signs of Indians in the valley of the Little Bighorn. Disregarding orders, Custer decided to attack before other support arrived. Although scouts warned that he was facing superior numbers (perhaps 2,500 warriors), Custer divided his regiment of 647 men, ordering one battalion to scout along a ridge to the left and sending another battalion up the valley of the Little Bighorn to attack the Indian encampment. With the remainder of the regiment, Custer continued along high ground on the right side of the valley. In the resulting battle, he and about 250 of his men, outnumbered by the warriors of Crazy Horse and Gall, were surrounded and annihilated. Since that day, ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ has become an American legend.
Reference: “The Reader’s Companion to American History,” Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, editors.
• Ted W. Stillwell will speak on the history of Independence politics before the Santa Fe Trail Republican Women’s Club at 11 a.m. Saturday on Winner Road at the Hawthorn Bed and Breakfast, No. 1 Hawthorn Place.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 816-252-9909.