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  • The Boy General.

    This is my first skirmish regarding the ACW, but I know that if the knowledge here equals that to be found on the ACG generally, then I'm in good hands.
    I was recently given a pile of books on General Custer, all bar one anout his last stand, I've read 'em all, fact, myth and legend.
    The book that's really peaked my interest is the odd one out, 'Custer Victorious' by Gregory JW Urwin, it's a rollicking good read and the Boy General comes across as tactically astute as any of his peers and admired by most.
    I'd really appreciate some opinions from you ACW buffs as to this book and Custer's war record. To end on a daft question, wouldn't his early life make a bloody good Hollywood blockbuster?
    The long toll of the brave
    Is not lost in darkness
    Over the fruitful earth
    And athwart the seas
    Hath passed the light of noble deeds
    Unquenchable forever.

  • #2
    Von Richter,

    As one who has devoted a number of years and three published books to the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, I think that I can answer your question.

    First, regarding Greg Urwin's Custer Victorious, you're right--it is a rollicking good read. However, it was also Greg's master's thesis, and there has been a lot of material that has surfaced in the 30 years since it was published. Greg is also unapologetic in his support of Custer, and I think he overlooks a lot of things as a result. If you want a far more balanced and objective treatment, I wholeheartedly recommend Jeffry D. Wert's biography of Custer, which was published in 1996.

    Regarding Custer himself, he's a mixed bag. There is no doubt of his courage, and there is no doubt that the boys would have followed him into hell. However, if you carefully study his record, you find that the two charges that made him most famous--leading the 1st and 7th Michigan Cavalry in charges on East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863--you will find that he was really an afterthought. Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, the senior officer on the field, actually usurped Custer twice and directly ordered those two charges by giving orders directly to the regimental commanders. Custer went along for the ride and the glory, but he had nothing to do with ordering the charges.

    Custer also demonstrated the recklessness that nearly cost him his life again and again during the Civil War, and Greg does a good job of documenting that. If you need an example, look at the charge of the Wolverines into what amounted to a blind trap at Trevilian Station on June 11, 1864, which I call Custer's First Last Stand. Why, you ask? Because the parallels are shocking. Custer pitched in without reconnoitering, got his command completely encircled by the enemy, which badly outnumbered him, and then had to fight alone. The only real difference is that at Trevilian, relief got to him before it was too late. For more on this, please see my Glory Enough for All: Sheridan's Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. There are other examples of this sort of recklessness; at Hunterstown on July 2, 1863, he had his horse shot out from under him and was nearly killed while leading a charge of a single company, a place where a general officer had no business being.

    What's most striking, in my humble opinion, is that Custer had no experience in commanding anything when he was promoted to general, and his lack of experience at the regimental level plagued his post-war career terribly. I can certainly understand why some of the old hands, like John Buford, were miffed when this young puppy was jumped over more experienced soldiers.

    Given a choice between one of the other Boy Generals, Wesley Merritt, and Custer, I would choose Merritt every time. Merritt spent 43 years in the Regular Army and was its second-ranking officer when he retired in 1904. Again, if you carefully examine the record, after Trevilian, where Custer pretty much wrecked the Michigan Brigade, Merritt became Sheridan's go-to guy and remained that way for the balance of the war. There's a good reason why Merritt was the last commander of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps, and not Custer--he'd earned it.

    Eric
    Last edited by Eric Wittenberg; 01 Nov 07, 09:59.
    "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

    Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

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    • #3
      A few questions for you sir.

      Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, the senior officer on the field, actually usurped Custer twice and directly ordered those two charges by giving orders directly to the regimental commanders. Custer went along for the ride and the glory, but he had nothing to do with ordering the charges.
      Did Custer fail to order these charges? If so, is that why Gregg had to usurp him?

      What's most striking, in my humble opinion, is that Custer had no experience in commanding anything when he was promoted to general, and his lack of experience at the regimental level plagued his post-war career terribly. I can certainly understand why some of the old hands, like John Buford, were miffed when this young puppy was jumped over more experienced soldiers.
      Ive always wanted to know how he got the promotion to General over more qualified officers. I know it was only a berevet{spelling?}, but he still had the rank. Did he have connections through his wife or someone else?

      Custer was a racist when it came to the Indians, but ive always admired his wreckless courage on the battlefield. He should of been killed so many times during the Civil War, but yet it never happened.
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      Kampfgruppe - A Wargaming Clan Since 1998

      NorbertSnyderJr.com

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      • #4
        Kent,

        To answer your questions...

        Regarding Gregg ordering the charges, and not Custer: in both instances, Gregg issued the orders directly to the regimental colonels. Custer then rode up and ordered the charges himself, after preparations were already under way. I believe Gregg usurped him because Custer was an unknown commodity, it was a crisis, and Gregg felt he had to act.

        As for why he was promoted: First, it was not a brevet rank. He was promoted to full-rank brigadier general of volunteers, which is not the same thing as a Regular Army commission. He remained a first lieutenant in the Regular Army until he received his commission as lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry.

        Second, Custer didn't marry Libby until the winter of 1864, so she was not a factor. The truth is that Pleasonton wanted guys who would be loyal to him in positions of influence, and Custer had impressed Pleasonton while serving on his staff. Consequently, Pleasonton arranged the promotion based on the fact that Custer was aggressive, which Pleasonton felt was lacking, and because of the loyalty factor.

        Eric
        "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

        Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

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        • #5
          Custer was really bad when it came to brains. He nearly got bagged at Trevalian Station in 1864 because he decided to lax his guard during a pitch battle.

          Gregg saw what Custer was. A glory hog. Custer had particular competetion against Wessily Merrit, another boy general. Merrit would capture a few guns, then Custer would always have to outdue him. Merrit got so mad that Custer would never let him have some well (and hard)-earned glory, that he personally went to Sheridan about it in 1864. Sheridan would have had a duel on his hands had he not seperated the two, by at least twenty miles.

          Then, during the Grand Parade of the Army of the Potomac in 1865, Custer couldn't wait to show up Merrit. So he charged down the road, screaming and hollering, and waving his hat. People didn't even notice Merrit.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by Iron Brigade View Post
            Custer was really bad when it came to brains. He nearly got bagged at Trevalian Station in 1864 because he decided to lax his guard during a pitch battle.

            Gregg saw what Custer was. A glory hog. Custer had particular competetion against Wessily Merrit, another boy general. Merrit would capture a few guns, then Custer would always have to outdue him. Merrit got so mad that Custer would never let him have some well (and hard)-earned glory, that he personally went to Sheridan about it in 1864. Sheridan would have had a duel on his hands had he not seperated the two, by at least twenty miles.

            Then, during the Grand Parade of the Army of the Potomac in 1865, Custer couldn't wait to show up Merrit. So he charged down the road, screaming and hollering, and waving his hat. People didn't even notice Merrit.
            If it was really that bad, and i have no reason to doubt you, then i would of sent Custer packing somewhere else. Somewhere where he would of had no contact with Merrit.
            http://i225.photobucket.com/albums/d...200pixwide.jpg

            Kampfgruppe - A Wargaming Clan Since 1998

            NorbertSnyderJr.com

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            • #7
              Originally posted by EricWittenberg View Post
              Kent,

              To answer your questions...

              Regarding Gregg ordering the charges, and not Custer: in both instances, Gregg issued the orders directly to the regimental colonels. Custer then rode up and ordered the charges himself, after preparations were already under way. I believe Gregg usurped him because Custer was an unknown commodity, it was a crisis, and Gregg felt he had to act.

              As for why he was promoted: First, it was not a brevet rank. He was promoted to full-rank brigadier general of volunteers, which is not the same thing as a Regular Army commission. He remained a first lieutenant in the Regular Army until he received his commission as lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry.

              Second, Custer didn't marry Libby until the winter of 1864, so she was not a factor. The truth is that Pleasonton wanted guys who would be loyal to him in positions of influence, and Custer had impressed Pleasonton while serving on his staff. Consequently, Pleasonton arranged the promotion based on the fact that Custer was aggressive, which Pleasonton felt was lacking, and because of the loyalty factor.

              Eric
              Thank you for your answers sir.
              http://i225.photobucket.com/albums/d...200pixwide.jpg

              Kampfgruppe - A Wargaming Clan Since 1998

              NorbertSnyderJr.com

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              • #8
                Kent,

                You're very welcome.

                Eric
                "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

                Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

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                • #9
                  The other Boy General

                  Speaking of Boy Generals,

                  I believe that the youngest in US History to hold the title of Brigadier General in the US ARMY was Galusha Pennypacker, who was related to George Custer. Pennypacker attained his rank at the age of 20 during the ACW. He was also a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
                  Flag: USA / Location: West Coast

                  Prayers.

                  BoRG

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                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PtsX_Z3CMU

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                  • #10
                    Salinator,

                    You're correct about Pennypacker. I tried to answer your PM, but it was rejected because your mailbox is too full. Go to google, enter "Martial deeds of Pennsylvania" as your search command, then scroll down, and you will find an excellent biography of Pennypacker there.

                    Eric
                    "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

                    Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by EricWittenberg View Post
                      Salinator,

                      You're correct about Pennypacker. I tried to answer your PM, but it was rejected because your mailbox is too full. Go to google, enter "Martial deeds of Pennsylvania" as your search command, then scroll down, and you will find an excellent biography of Pennypacker there.

                      Eric
                      Eric,

                      Thank you very much for your reply and recommendation. Thank you also for alerting me about my mailbox; I will clean it.

                      Thanks,

                      Sal
                      Flag: USA / Location: West Coast

                      Prayers.

                      BoRG

                      http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/8757/snap1ws8.jpg

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PtsX_Z3CMU

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                      • #12
                        Physically brave and a specimen but not very bright. His record of academic achievement at West Point illustrates that. Of course, academic smarts aren't everything or little Mac would hav won the war in about 6 weeks rather than trying to give it away.

                        I think Custer's greatest failing was in his own inability to discipline himself. His number of demerits was a record at West Point for a long time. IIRC he also banned many things for his men at least from time to time that he engaged in himself. Card playing and drinking come to mind.
                        If stupid was a criminal offense Sea Lion believers would be doing life.

                        Shouting out to Half Pint for bringing back the big mugs!

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                        • #13
                          I read Pennybacker being 19 when he got it.

                          Anyways, self-disciplini (lack of it) lead to his demise. He couldn't follow orders, he couldn't follow advice, he couldn't follow the rules, he couldn't follow common sense. I read the Custer was nearly court marshalled at West Point for letting two cadets fight, and even stopping people from breaking up the fight. The Battle of Bull Run saved him, because the Army needed every avalible man.
                          History of War Podcast

                          Episode 1: Why Study Military History?

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