Custer Battlefield Museum
Backstory and Context
George Armstrong Custer was born in
Ohio in 1839. He lived with his
half-sister and brother-in-law in Michigan when he graduated from a Normal
School in 1855. After a two year stint
as a grammar school teacher, Custer entered West Point in 1857. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Custer
was graduating last in his class of thirty-four cadets. In 1862, Custer met his future wife,
Elizabeth Bacon. By 1863 he was given
the rank of Brevet Major General and then assumed the command of a cavalry brigade. At the Battle of Gettysburg, his unit
clashed with J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry and Custer’s actions helped protect the
Union rear. During the course of the Civil War, Custer always seemed to distinguish himself as an aggressive and flamboyant leader. He continually gained the respect of his men and peers with his fight from the front approach.
When the Civil War ended , Custer was demoted back to his permanent rank of Captain. Yet in 1866, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and given command of the new 7th Cavalry that would be assigned to the western United States. After a brief unauthorized visit to his wife, Custer was court-martialed and suspended from duty. General Philip Sheridan later restored Custer’s rank and returned him to duty. By the summer of 1874, gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This would be the start of the Indian uprising that culminated in 1876 in Montana. Under orders from General Alfred Terry, Custer’s division was to be part of a two-prong attack. A large native settlement was discovered prompting Custer to divide his forces into three battalions. On June 25, 1876, at Little Bighorn, Custer’s impatience cost him and two hundred sixty-five others their lives.
The Custer Battlefield Museum opened in 1995 in Garryowen, Montana. The museum is currently under the leadership of Director Christopher Kortlander. There are many exhibits and artifacts that have been excavated from the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on display. Prior to the 50th anniversary of the battle, the remains of an unidentified soldier was found and now lies in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These are the only military remains to not rest in a national cemetery. Flanking the tomb are busts of George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull called the “Peace Monument.” The museum has received the Montana Governor’s Award for Tourism.
Powers, Thomas. How the Battle of Little Bighorn Was Won. Smithsonian Magazine. November 01, 2010.