George Armstrong Custer
George Armstrong Custer's father, Emanuel Custer, was a blacksmith by trade. HIs first wife died and he married a widow named Maria. Both brought children to the marriage. Emanuel and Maria purchased a farm near New Rumsley, Ohio and it was there that George Armstrong Custer was born on December 5, 1839. As a child he had trouble saying Armstrong and referred to himself as "Autie." It became his nickname. Armstrong's father was a Jacksonian Democrat and a member of the Methodist church. His older half sister Lydia Ann Kirkpatrick helped her mother raise the younger children and she became particularly close to Armstrong. After she married David Reed and moved to Monroe, Michigan, Armstrong at age fourteen went to live with the Reeds in Monroe where he attended Stebbins Academy. In the summers he returned to the family farm to help with the crops. In 1855 he transferred to McNeely Normal School in Hopedale, Ohio, and a year later qualified to teach grammar school.
At about the same time that he received his teaching credentials Armstrong wrote to his congressman and requested an appointment to West Point. Representative John A. Bingham, a Republican, ignored Armstrong's father's association with the Democratic Party and named him to the Academy. Bingham was probably influenced by Custer family friend, John Witt, a prominent merchant in New Rumsley and a fellow Republican Party member. Armstrong entered West Point in the class of 1857 and graduated on June 24, 1861, as a second lieutenant in the Second Regiment of United States Cavalry. He was not a good student and ranked last in his class of thirty-four, but he was a staunch believer in maintaining the Union and was eager to see action. During the first part of the war Union generals did not employ the cavalry as a separate fighting arm. In 1861 Second Lieutenant Custer was assigned to Brigadier General Philip Kearney as an aide. In 1862 he was transferred to a junior position on Brigadier General William F. (Baldy) Smith's Infantry Division staff. Later that year Major George B. McClellan, Commander of the Army of the Potomac, took notice of him and transferred him to his own staff as aide-de-camp with the rank of brevet captain.
When McClellan was removed from the Army of the Potomac, his staff was disbanded and Custer was sent home to Monroe, Michigan on leave. He stayed with the Reeds and courted Elizabeth Bacon, daughter of Judge Daniel S. Bacon, a prominent member of Monroe society. The judge did not like Custer and Elizabeth had her doubts. In April 1863 he returned to the Army of the Potomac and reverted in rank to first lieutenant in the Fifth Regular Cavalry. Major General Joseph Hooker commanded the Army of the Potomac and advocated an expanded role for it's cavalry units. Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton commanded Hooker's Cavalry Corps and Custer was assigned to his staff. When Pleasonton was promoted to major general, Custer was promoted to brevet captain. He continually distinguished himself in action, but was held back in rank because of his association with the Democratic Party and his continued support of McClellan. On June 28 Hooker was relieved of command and replaced by Major General George Gordon Meade. That same day Custer was jumped in rank from captain to brevet brigadier general on the recommendation of General Pleasonton. He was twenty-three years old and the youngest general in the Union Army.
General Pleasanton gave Custer command of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. One week later, on July 3, 1863, Custer led it into battle at Gettysburg. He played an important part in the Union victory by stalemating the Confederate cavalry attack led by Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart. It was the first time in the entire war that Jeb Sturart's Confederate Cavalry did not get it's way. During the Confederate retreat from Pennsylvania Custer continued to distinguish himself and rapidly earned the nickname "Boy General" in a long series of lauditory articles in the northern press. In September 1863 he was lightly wounded in the leg and given a fifteen day leave. A dashing war hero went to Monroe and proposed to Elizabeth (Libby) Bacon. She accepted pending her father's consent. The judge said he would have to think about it. Following his brief leave, Custer returned to Virginia and defeated Jeb Stuart at Brandy Station. Later that year the judge relented and gave his permission for Custer to marry his daughter. They were married in Monroe on February 8, 1864. Libby went with her husband to his field headquarters and from then on whenever possible accompanied him in the field.
In the spring of 1864 Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Union Armies. General Pleasonton was replaced by Major General Philip H. Sheridan. Under Sheridan the Union cavalry proved its value as an independent fighting arm and Custer continued to distinguish himself in battle. He was adjudged by superiors and subordinates alike to be one of the very best combat leaders in the Union Army. His troops idolized him. In the Battle of Yellow Tavern one of Custer's troopers killed Jeb Stuart. Major General Wade Hampton replaced Stuart, but the Confederate cavalry never again bested the Union cavalry. In September Custer was given command of the Third Cavalry Division. Custer was promoted to brevet major general during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and went on to gain even more accolades in the Appomattox Campaign. On April 9, 1865, a Confederate soldier presented a white flag to General Custer saying that General Lee wished to meet with General Grant to discuss the terms of surrender. At the end of the war Custer was a hero second only to the likes of Sheridan, Sherman, and Grant.