Monday, March 20, 2006

The Custer Myth

Jeffrey Wert has written an excellent summary of George Armstrong Custer's life:

Custer had written a revealing letter to a cousin on October 3, 1862, after he witnessed the terrible carnage of Antietam. "You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought," he stated, "so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end. I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life. Now do not misunderstand me. I speak only of my own interests and desires…but as I said before, when I think of the pain & misery produced to individuals as well as the miserable sorrow caused throughout the land I cannot but earnestly hope for peace, and at an early date."

Since youth, Custer had read stories of past warriors and had dreamed of martial glory. While he understood war's fearful costs, he saw in it an opportunity for personal fame and advancement. His ambition was inordinate, and perhaps it impelled his fearlessness. Although he assured his family that he would not risk his life, Custer led men from the front, whether in command of a company or later of a division. Combat inflamed his soul and held incalculable opportunity for glory. Devoted to the Union cause, Custer saw the conflict as a trumpet calling.

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