The Real Custer by James S Robbins

The Real Custer by James S Robbins

Author:James S Robbins [Robbins, James S.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781621572367
Publisher: Regnery Publishing



The Custers arrived at Fort Riley in late October 1866 to join the newly formed 7th Cavalry regiment. George was disappointed at not being named regimental commander; but his superior, Colonel Andrew Jackson Smith, also served as the chief of the District of the Upper Arkansas and was often on detached duty, leaving Custer in de facto command. And though he had lost his old rank, Custer and other wartime brevet officers were given the courtesy of their former titles, so Lieutenant Colonel Custer was still referred to informally as “General.”

Fort Riley, established in the 1850s, was an important Plains post after the war, particularly after the Union Pacific Railroad reached nearby Junction City. Supplies and amenities were plentiful compared to conditions in Texas or at the front during the war. In a letter written that December, Libbie said they were “living almost in luxury” at the fort. She said that the well-organized, relatively new buildings, including barracks, stables, officers’ and other houses, sutler’s store, post office, mess hall, chapel, and billiard house, “give the post the appearance of a little city.” They had “five dogs, cow & chickens—and such a nice new cow house & chicken coops. So, you see, we are comfortable. I have a carpet on my bedroom also and expect to have one on the dressing room. Eliza never did better than now. . . . I have scarcely a care.”1 There were also regular social events and periodic visits by friends and dignitaries seeking a taste of the “Wild West.”

Still, the postwar Army faced considerable challenges. The glory and sense of mission of the Civil War days was gone. Frontier duty was very much what it had been for decades—long stretches of routine activity in an unchanging landscape, with periodic outings against the elusive natives, who usually gave battle on their own terms. “There were but two kinds of Indian battles,” Major Martin Maginnis said, “one where the troops surprised and killed the Indians, and the other where the Indians surprised and killed the troops. If an Army officer failed in an expedition he was ridiculed and sneered at, and if he succeeded he was vilified as a barbarian and murderer.”2 There were few medals or incentives for the enlisted men, and no brevet promotions for the officers. John Gibbon noted dryly that glory was “a term which, upon the frontier, has long since been defined to signify being ‘shot by an Indian from behind a rock, and having your name wrongly spelled in the newspapers.’”3

In the more remote areas, amenities were few and rations substandard. At one point on campaign in 1867, Custer’s regiment was issued tack baked in 1861, “probably in honor of the year I graduated,” he quipped.4 The troops supplemented their provender by hunting, fishing, and gardening. Sickness was a constant problem, especially venereal disease, for which there was no convenient cure.5

The soldiers could not count on much sympathy from the American people. The postwar frontier force was not held in high regard.


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