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CUSTER, George Armstrong (1839-76)

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CUSTER, George Armstrong (1839-76), American soldier, whose "Last Stand" against Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at Little Big Horn, Dakota Territory, has become an enduring legend in American history. Custer was born on Dec. 5, 1839, in New Rumley, Ohio, and educated at the U.S. Military Academy. When he graduated, the American Civil War was under way; he was assigned to the Union army as a second lieutenant and arrived at the front during the First Battle of Bull Run. By June 1863, he was in command of a cavalry brigade, with the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. His brigade fought at Gettysburg, Pa., and under Gen. Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. As major general of volunteers, Custer participated in most of the actions of the last campaign (1864-65) of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. In 1866, after the war, Custer applied for a leave of absence to accept command of the Mexican cavalry under the Mexican president Benito Juárez, who opposed the rule of Emperor Maximilian. Custer's application was denied; he became lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry Regiment and was assigned to Kansas to engage in the wars against the Indians. He campaigned (1867-68) against the Cheyenne. In 1873 he was ordered to Dakota Territory to protect railway surveyors and gold miners who were crossing land owned by the Sioux. After three years of intermittent clashes with the Sioux, the U.S. Army determined to crush the Indians by a three way envelopment. Custer's regiment formed part of the forces of Gen. Alfred Howe Terry (1827-90), one of three groups participating in the movement. Ordered by Terry to scout in advance of the main force, Custer's regiment, on June 24, 1876, located an encampment of Sioux, the size of which Custer underestimated. He attacked the morning after but his regiment was hopelessly outnumbered, and the entire center column, including Custer and 264 of his men, was destroyed.

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