Brigader General George A. Custer


George Armstrong Custer graduated at the bottom of the second Class of '61 at West Point. (As did another flambouyant George, George E. Pickett '46.) A captain of cavalry prior to Gettysburg, on 28 June 1863, Custer found himself promoted to brigadier general, thanks to Alfred Pleasonton's novel attempt to try to inject fighting spirit into the Federal cavalry.

On 1-3 July 1863, as the youngest general in the Federal army, Custer commanded the 1st Michigan Brigade in Judson Kilpatrick's Third Divison. David McM. Gregg's Second Cavalry Division and Custer's brigade took part in the cavalry battle 3 mi. (4.8 km) to the east of Gettysburg, around the Hannover Road on 3 July. The action began during the cannonade preceeding James Longstreet's assault on Cemetery Ridge and continued for about 3 hours. With Custer in the lead, the two charges of the 1st Michigan Brigade against Wade Hampton's and Fitzhugh Lee cavalrymen helped in checking the advance of J. E. B. Stuart, protecting the right flank of the Union Army and its supplies and reserves, and sealing the Union victory. Of the 300 Union casualties, 250 were from Custer's Brigade.

Captains Wesley Merritt and Elon Farnsworth were also "boy generals," promoted at the same time. Merritt and Custer survived the War; Farnsworth was killed in action on 3 July.


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Photo credit: Library of Congress
Created 26 MAY 1996; Revised 23 JUL 2014

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