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tv   General George Armstrong Custers Trials  CSPAN  August 18, 2017 4:03am-5:06am EDT

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continental united states. live all day coverage of the solar eclipse on monday at 7:00 p.m. eastern on c-span and listen live on the free c-span radio app and this saturday we'll look at preparations for the first solar eclipse over the united states in 100 years plus programs on the nasa budget, mars exploration and more beginning at noon eastern on c-span. c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. next, from the civil war institute at gettysburg college, t.j. styles who won the pulitzer prize in history for his book "custer's trials, a life on the frontier of a new america." he describes customer's military career but also his relationship
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with his wife libby and his post civil war career. this is about an hour. >> all right, i am in the history department at gettysburg college, i'm also it will director of the civil institute. it's my pleasure to sti stiles to gg colleettysburg col. he did his graduate work in history, not u.s. history but european history at columbia. he spent time at oxford university press and i believe gabor is here today. t.j. worked with gabor on a number of the volumes, many volumes ga pour butt together the speeches were delivered here at cwi. t.j. and i had time to talk about his work and to talk about
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the craft of writing and our conversation reminded me of the fact that we have professional academic writing and popular writing, the day has come that we can move away from that and t.j. stiles, his work testifies to the fact that you can write engaging biography with ideas, with argument, with analysis and above all ems, original research, t.j. likes the archives, there are a lot of academic historians that do much of their work, i hate to say, maybe on the internet. they don't like to get dirty with the manuscripts, t.j. does just that and he has produced three very, very important books, i will quickly tell you the first is "jesse james, the last rebel of the civil war" a "new york times" notable book of the year. and "first tycoon, the epic life
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of cornelius vanderbilt." it was the winner of the pulitzer prize in 2010 and the national book award in 2009. most recently his biography of george custer, the 2016 pulitzer prize winner. seriously, t.j., i'd call it quits. two pulitzer prizes, a national book prize, this is an incredible record you have achieved in a very short time. we are very, very pleased to have you here. t.j. stiles who will be speaking to us about george custer. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. we're on c-span live so i'll keep my cursing to a minimum. if you could please, though mute your cell phones, i'd really appreciate it. i'm here to talk about somebody
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nobody's ever heard of, george armstrong custer, and i decided to write about him because obviously i hate myself. he has been so written about, some people have estimated -- and i have no idea myself -- that he may be the second-most written about figure in american history after abraham lincoln and i do not write my book because all of that work was terrible. in fact, lots of it is very good. rather, i want to understand custer in a new way. not entirely new but this has been touched on before but to really drill down on something about the man. now, academics when they write biographies they like to look at representative figures, those who tell us something about the times. the rest of us like to read books about consequential people, people who make a difference and shift the direction of history. and i think custer is a great case of someone who is both. now he's not the most important person of his times. he's not the most representative
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in some ways, he's an exaggerated figure but he tells us a lot about america and he had an impact on the times. now, for most people, their knowledge of custer begins with -- let's see if i can do this without messing it up -- their knowledge of custer begins with a moment in time when he led a charge of an outnumbered group of cavalrymen against a much larger foe, noted warriors who overwhelmed him and surrounded his men. now, for most americans, that is little bighorn. but, of course, for our very knowledgeable audience here, that's gettysburg. and i'm going to lead up to the moment at gettysburg and lead out of it to try to understand how custer became famous. this was in his lifetime the defining moment at gettysburg on the third day on the east
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cavalry field. and we want to understand how that moment defined him in the eyes of americans at the time, what it tells us about his effectiveness and his consequential nature but also we find in that moment and the moments leading up to it the seeds of the disasters and near disasters that would follow him, especially in his life after the civil war. we want to bring together his civil war career and his post-civil war career and see how they are in fact an organically unified part of one life. so let's look at gettysburg leading up to that moment, which i'll come back to. the way i look at custer is i see him as a figure on a frontier in time. that very loosely the idea of modernization in american society, in american history, going into the civil war, america has traditional society, it's very personal in nature, it's not so organizational, it's
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not so technical. it's romantic and sentimental in culture. coming out of the civil war, you begin to see more and more an organizational society, one that is technical, one in which who you are doesn't matter so much as your qualifications. a world in which realism begins to supplant that romanticism and sentimentality that all the recruits in 1861 went to war with. the interesting thing about custer, living on this frontier in time, the arrival of the modern era is that, it's a transitional time, just as the civil war is a transitional war and in some ways he grasps that moment very well and in other ways he disastrously fails to deal with the times that he is helping to make. and, for example, at west point, that's a good example, he graduated in the second class of 1861, they moved up the graduation date and they ended the five-year system that came
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in under secretary of war jefferson davis. at west point he received professional training and historians used to pooh-pooh the level of military education at west point. now in looking at it in context of other training institutions around the world it really was at the forefront. he received a very thorough technical professional military education at west point. and, again, this is in an era when most americans did not go to college. 1% of white american men went to college before the civil war and he went to not only a college but an excellent engineering and technical military education institution. however he himself was a romantic sentimental figure. he was constantly playing pranks. custer graduated last in his class but first in demerits. [ laughter ] and when you go to west point and look at that demerit book,
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here's somebody like one of his classmates -- not a class ahead but i compare him to delbert ames, graduated fourth in his claf. half a page for four years. custer you're just turning the pages and the words are "boyish" "trifling." he's this youthful undisciplined fellow constantly playing pranks and getting into trouble and he gets court-martialed immediately after graduation because he was -- he didn't yet have an assignment to regiment so he was the captain of the guard at the summer encampment and two cadets started fighting and instead of arresting them both he told everyone to stand back and have a fair fight. back then you got court-martialed for that sort of thing, he was convicted. but lucky for him the civil war was breaking south they needed officers, he received no worse punishment than a letter of reprimand. so he goes off to the civil war and as we all know this is a mass mobilization war, it is a
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people's and that professional corps of the regular army, about 16,000 men, suddenly is supplemented by the u.s. volunteers. these organizations that are raised by the states whose colonels are appointed by governors, this is america under arms and it brings in this transitional moment where you have the actually very professional systematic u.s. army, i think by the 1820s mark wilson said there were at least two dozen standardized forms in the u.s. army by the 1820s. this is a very modern professional organization. it is the template for the corporate america that's going to come into being and it's also a war fought by popular organizations, these regiments that represent america under arms. becoming an officer depends on who you know. it's personal politics as well as party politics. as we know at bull run, manassas to you confederates in the
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audience that this is an untrained volunteer mass that takes time to become professional so custer goes into that war as a professional and he really begins to build his career as a junior officer in the peninsula campaign in 1862 and, again, this is a massive professional undertaking that the united states military moved t an army that was the side -- if it had been a city, the army of the potomac would have been the ninth largest city in the united states and it moves it to the peninsula. and it's moving thousands of horses, enormous amounts of supplies, just this artillery part gives you an idea, a little hint of the scale and custer is a part of the professional side of that moment. he goes off and he's assigned to the topographical engineers. again, a technical branch of the military because the maps were so terrible, they had to draw new maps.
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and what did he do in that role? he's sitting there doing -- drafting at a table behind the lines no no, he was scouting ahead of the lines and this involved not only a technological innovation. this is a new wave of technology. it's one of the first aerial military observers in human history. and he becomes good at it. i give stories about how he figures out how to estimate confederate forces through the tree cover in the warm spring when they're not lighting fires at night like he would expect them to. well, what happens is that customer again because as a topographical engineer he's sending a lot of times scouting ahead of union lines and drawing
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maps. he takes part in a raid at new bridge on the chick hamanahi river as mcclellan advances close to richmond. it's a very daring raid, they inflict a large number of casualties, they're a small force. mcclellan exaggerates it up to 50 confederate dead, they take prisoners, custer plays a daring role and you can see the hint of what's going to come for custer. . that dashing, romantic heroic figure that as a young man he sees himself as. and this is a key moment because on the one hand here's this young man who has professional education, a technical well-educated officer, what we might call in a very unprofessional way, you know, part of the wave of the future. but he also rises and he rises through merit but he also rise us there patronage and a combination of merit and knowledge and ability with
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old-fashioned patronage who you know who's watching out for you. that combination plays a key role in custer's life and his rise during the civil war. so he takes part in the battle of the peninsula campaign as right hand man to mcclellan and this involves him in another side of the civil war which doesn't spell mcclellan's doom but plays a part in the troubles he faces. and this is the question of the politics, the meaning of the civil war. we see that actually visually after fair oaks, seven pines, pretty much everyone these days when he meets an old friend now on the confederate side, lieutenant james v. washington and washington has been taken prisoner so the two were chatting and a photographer comes up, i think it was james gibson took this photo and then gibson thought something was
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missing. so he brought in a young contraband, an escaped slave and put him between the knees of washington and this photo circulated under the title "both sides and the cause." now, there was one biography -- early biography of custer said it was custer's idea. in fact, gibson went around putting this poor boy between the knees of other people as well, as you'll see in the lower right. but, again, this actually is very interesting moment because the army of the potomac follows the lead of mcclellan. it's very conservative on emancipation. and custer is a border state fellow. he's from not southern michigan but close to the ohio river, his father is from maryland, he's a part of the border state culture zone in which those southern counties of the old northwest were settled by people from kentucky and tennessee and virginia and maryland so he has
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close cultural and political afin tease with the south even though he's firmly unionist in that clay tradition of border staters who are unionists. so he very much absorbs and agrees with mcclellan's disagreement with the addedvanc towards emancipation but he encounters contrabands again and again. he gets information from them, sees them, he writes letters home in which he voice this is deep sentiment and prejudice against them and yet he's also seeing them aid the union cause. now what happens is we know the conservative war that mcclellan wanted comes to an end after telling lincoln to his face that he wants a war without emancipation. lincoln reluctantly allows him to continue because he has no better options in the antietam campaign and, again, his failure as a -- to take aggressive
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action is what brings him down and the aftermath of the antietam campaign brings down mcclellan and that leaves custer without a patron and he's floating free and his own future is in doubt because, again of that personal politics of patronage and supplicant. again, here's antietam. but custer comes back from his own exile long leave in which he met a young lady in monroe, michigan, named libby bacon and he comes back and he manages to find a second patron. this becomes key in his life because he, again, he's got a lot of merit and he's also somebody who has really put himself out there, again playing that dashing daring role, being able to roam the battlefield as mcclellan's right hand man and
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he spent a lot of time scouting and reporting back to mcclellan with the cavalry. so he becomes close to alfred pleasanton and he comes back and pleasanton brings him on to his staff just as pleasanton becomes the commander of the cavalry core of the army of the potomac. so, again, luck, timing, something that custer himself called custer luck comes to his aid. he's got merit but also key to his rise is who he knows and who likes him. and so when he's with pleasanton, he miss out on the chancellorsville campaign but he does take part in the fighting that leads up to and involves lee's invasion of the north in 1863 and as a member of the staff of pleasanton he take part in the fighting in which pleasanton is ordered to break through the cavalry screen and get in and find out what lee is
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up to. custer takes part in a charge, engages in this close combat that tipified much of the cavalry on cavalry fighting in the civil war and, again, this is -- when they're mounted they're able to close quickly. they engage in close range combat and this brings up something else about custer. he is himself a fighter and a very talented one. at a time when -- of course long-ranged rifled muskets are -- we're not seeing world war i style warfare yet but it's beginning to bring to the fore firepower and it's driving the horse soldiers to fight more on foot. fire power is dominating the batt battlefield but when they're fighting against other horsemen they often close up quickly and personal skill matters. that custer fought with a saber and he fought with a revolver and his personal skill mattered
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and he found himself cut off and behind the confederate lines in this confused fighting and had to cut his way out. again, it's a sign of how custer himself is brave and daring and also very skilled with a saber lucky for him, it turns out lee was in fact invading the north, it was a great lucky break for custer because what happened is that hooker, who was getting fed up with pleasanton got sacked, mead replaced him, pleasanton went to mead and got permission to replace some of his brigade commanders with his own hand-picked men. he picked three officers from his own staff, including custer. now, custer had tries to get -- michigan was his adopted home state. he had tried to get an appointment as a colonel of a michigan cavalry regiment and unfortunately being a democrat and having been associated so closely with mcclellan stopped him from getting that
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appointment. again the role of politics plays an important part in this career. so what happens is he gets named brigade commander, he asks for the michigan brigade so instead of getting one regiment he gets command of four regiments and he wrotes home "i outmaneuvered the governor on that." and what happens? he shows up at hanover and this is important because this is not a sketch of hanover but it shows troops deployed in skirmish formation. his very first day in command he's in combat. the second thing is is that contrary to that image of the moment we're about to get to of the dashing leader leading a cavalry charge, he, in fact deploys his men on foot in his very first role as a brigade commander to make use of the new spencer rifle.
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they get carbines later but first they're rifles. he appreciates this. the man who is daring himself who loves a sword fight, loves the charge, he realizes and writes this is the most effective firearm our troops can be equipped with and it gives us a great advantage and he makes use of it. he's gotten a excellent artillery commander. pennington, his artillery commander, he's got the three inch rifled a cannons and makes excellent use of firepower so we see custer the professional in this transitional war understanding the rising role of firepower and making use of it. that is his first moment as a brigade commander. not leading the charge but making use of the new firepower and technology of the civil war. but the third day comes around and he supports general greg in defying an order to join his division commander, kilpatrick, on the other end of the union
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line. because they get word a large confederate cavalry force is approaching and he agrees it's important to stay so he defies an order stays at the cavalry field and he deploy in skirmish formati formati formation he takes part in two key charges and, again, because he's a new commander, bauds he's a subordinate to his temporary superior on the field, gregg, he goes to his troops at key moments to lead a charge and find out the order to charge had been given be basically tells us his judgment was sound, that wasn't out on a limb, that he found out he was in agreement with his commander and he leads charges that are basically counterpunching, that once the confederates launch a fierce
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attack, he countercharges and the first one is muddled, the last one at the end of the day is the largest attack attempting to break through and custer takes his last reserve force, leads a charge, cuts his way right into the middle of the on coming confederate formation famously shouting to his men "come on you wolverines." it's a great dramatic moment, one of the great set piece moments of the civil war. and, again, custer fighting in the forefront with a saber. and it's important to remember that some of the aspects of custer which are often commented on reflect his program that point youthful personality. we see his uniform that's black velveteen with the gold braid. his blue sailor shirt and the red tie with which his troops imitate. this is a very dramatic and visible costume more than a uniform and one staff officer,
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one of mead's staff officers sees him in battle and says "he looks like a circus rider gone mad." [ laughter ] and yet if we remember that civil war battlefield, fire power is beginning -- longer range fire power is holding sway but you have fairly dense formations in which command-and-control is being exerted by sight and soupd so they're listening for bugles, listening for the band, looking for the flags for following direction and raleigh and looking for their commanders on the field. this is both a statement of his desire to be looked at but it's also -- it has a practical effect. his troops see him in combat. it's inspiring, it's an organizational device where they can see where he's going and it's also a statement of his own courage because, one, the confederate cans see him also and they target him and, two if he was going to lead retreats they'd notice that also and he's not leading retreats, he's
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leading attacks so again some of the most outrageous sides of custer, there is in that time and place a practical reason and it's a transitional moment, a romantic flamboyant figure that's more napoleonic. most generals who dressed like custer were confederates. there's this old chivalry idea is still at work. so as someone who was aggressive but surprisingly the more i learned about him that surprised me in writing about him that he was not foolish and rash and reckless. he took part in the intense fighting that the mounted arm took part in the aftermath of gettysburg chasing after the confederates and he was ordered by his commission commander who was in fact often foolishly
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aggressive and reckless, kilpatrick who was nickname bid his own men kill cavalry. he took part in this attack on the last, confederate infantry division holding the north bank of the river as the rest of the army went south in fortifications and they had only one regiment on hand as they made contact and kilpatrick ordered an attack so custer deploys his men on foot and says "no, i want to charge." so 100 men went in against this division that's fortified. it was so foolish that the confederates actually let the troops in over the top of their fortification because they assumed they were confederate troops coming in because it was such a ridiculous attack and once they realized their mistake they cut them to pieces and custer had to help rectify things, they ended up inflicting heavy casualties on that division but only after taking severe losses themselves. it was not an attack custer wanted to make.
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but, again, we have to think about another aspect of this which is that -- of custer's role which is that he's a cultural figure and drew gilpin faust's book "this republic of suffering" talks about the impact of all of this death on americans and the troops as well. that this is an era that it doesn't kill off the romantic and sentimental idea in america but it certainly challenges it and you see writers who are more modern and realistic, even cynical such as ambrose biers and those who did not take part in the fighting such as mark twain, they come out of the civil war with a much darker view of the world and yet custer represented to americans that he's still keeping the flame alive for the -- for heroism, for individual heroics, for the romantic chivalric ideal.
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so this image that he creates, yes there's vanity involved, absolutely, but he becomes a household name around the time of gettysburg because he represents something americans felt was slipping away at the time and they write about him in these terms, the press loved him not just because he was good press but this is the individual hero that every soldier who enlisted in 1861 thought they would be and by fighting on horse back mostly against other horsemen in clashes that involved lower numbers of troops, lower levels of firepower because, again, usually using carbines when they deploy on foot, you have horse soldiers that reduce the force by a fourth, you have less artillery involved and when they fight in mounted formations they close it quickly and so that individual heroics matter, his ability to fight well inspires
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his troops and actually has an effect in his success. and so he's in the slice of the civil war in which he's not seeing men dying so randomly as biers did in his battle and other soldiers are so much as oliver wendell holmes, jr., who gets disillusioned during the civil war as they're being severely wounded at antietam. he's fighting in the slice of the civil war that's much more in keeping with an older ideal of romantic warfare so custer himself never becomes disillusioned. . that's an important thing to remember that we first wandering the field at will as a staff officer then rising rapidly to brick gad command where he's in charge and then fighting battles that are more many keeping with this ideal he himself has his old romantic ideals that are reinforced so instead of being disillusioned he's more romantic and sentimental after the civil war so again the way the culture
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is beginning to change, he's going in the other direction which at first does not hurt him, it helps him. the other thing is that custer takes part in a very personal way in the great impact of the civil war on, of course, the great institution of -- when i say "great" i mean "massive" not good, in the massive institution of slavery and the breakdown of southern society as the war begins to erode slavery and when he went into virginia in the aftermath of the gettysburg campaign, he went to a contraband camp because as a self-indulgent young man who's now a general he wanted a personal cook and he hire this is young teenager named eliza brown. she comes into his head quarters as his cook and yet it's very interesting. we know about her especially because custer's wife wrote about her extensively and met up with her after the civil war, got her memories for a memoir.
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eliza brown was not just some cook in the back kitchen. she had grown up in a world without any security in which she had to seize every opportunity she could to carve out safety and advantage for herself and as the cook to a brigade commander she sees her opportunities and makes the most of them. so she transforms herself into his household manager. so she begins to trade information with couriers from other commands. she always has baked treats ready whatever someone comes from another command and she pumps them for information. she becomes the interceder for the men with custer. they go to her first when they need a favor from their commander. she is someone who buildings her own patronage network, districting food out of the general's mess which especially irritates custer after the war when he's a lieutenant colonel and not earning so much money so she is someone who is this
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formidable person who's living with custer and he likes and respects and becomes a part of his life. so the reality of slavery and the way it's being broken down by the enslaved themselves is something that's very personal and real for him and his life. and, again, he was very conservative were the war and he's now dealing with the reality of it on a personal level. when libbie -- he marries libbie in february of 1864. when she comes during the winter, fighting has died down, she comes to virginia, she finds this other woman is already in the household running things and she's a very well educated young woman, she's very smart, she resents -- she goes along with him but resents the limitations placed on women. she talks about it. she's not a radical but she doesn't like it so the one sphere that she has that's given to her as the wife is to run the household and here's this young black woman who's running the place and so their next six years together, about five years
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together, they struggle for power in the household and she likes eliza brown, she respects her and yet the tension grows because she can never outmaneuver her. eliza brown keeps the upper hand throughout the relationship until 1869. moving along because i want to leave time for questions. again, politics plays a key role in his life. for a while his appointment as a brigadier general has not been confirmed by the senate and so he's -- he tries to build support with republican congressmen. one of them is francis kellogg, a man who spread his influence and traded favors on capitol hill. he sends the most effective political weapon he can to capitol hill, and that's libbie. she goes to washington, she's a lovely young woman with great social charm, very intelligent. she reads these senators and congressmen for what they are and she plays it up and she goes to the dances on capitol hill,
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she has drunken senators leering over her and she is building her influence with them. she says of kellogg that everyone says he's licentious and corrupt but i don't care, he's very nice to me. in other words, yeah, it's true but i can work with this guy. so she's very realistic, she's very hopeful and in the end his marriage to her, by the way, had been up in the air because there was talk that he would not be confirmed by the senate because he was a democrat and he had ties to mcclellan and her father was like "i do not want you marrying this guy if his career is going downhill" in the end it worked out. but some of that is due to libbie herself. again, custer as a brigade commander, i looked into the way in which he operated as a manager. he's an administrator and he spent much of his time not leading troops in combat but running a fairly large organization of up to 2,000 men, this occupies a lot of his time yet he also has repeated
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problems with the chain of command. we begin to see the seeds of his post-war problems in the ways in there he does things like calls truces and goes across the other side so he can have coffee and chat with his pals on the confederate side. he gets reprimanded by kilpatrick "i've told you to stop talking to the enemy. they are the enemy. you can't fraternize with them" yet custer, that romantic sentimental fellow, someone who has a lot of sympathies with the south culturally, he's spending his time on the other side. one of the great moments of peril comes before his great triumph in the civil war and that is the election of 1864 and he has to go to great pains to distance himself from his old patron mcclellan, a man he still loves, a man he still admires immensely and you see some of the uglier side of custer's personality where he goes way out of his way, flat out lying, to distance himself from mcclellan because he actually
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for all of his conservative political views, custer wants to win the war and this is one of the big differences between him and mcclellan, mcclellan wanted a limited war, he was -- he had problems with the way the war was going, he did not like the hard war that was emerging and custer wants to win at all costs and so that's one difference and he wants to keep his career going as an army officer. as he wrote once during the war "if it were up to me, the war would never end. i would love to have a battle everyday of my life." so he does not want an armistice, he does not want a truce, he wants to win the war and fight the war and so to say himself, he actually alienates his own father for a while who was a fierce democrat, he writes publicly to the dress saying he's going to vote for lincoln and that he supports emancipation, things that i think were basically not true. so we get to 1864 and, again, i'm not going to go into detail
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about custer's career but starting at third winchester he becomes a household name and the favorite of his new patron, after grant, the new commander of the cavalry corps which is phillip sheridan and sheridan is someone who really takes a shine to custer and also someone who really wants to use the mounted arm in a decisive way in battle and is much more effective than pleasanton was as a commander. so when he goes to the valley in 1864 he brings custer with him and custer plays a key role at third winchester when the battle was dragging on, when kirk led a flanking attack that has still not broken the confederate line and custer had fought his way around on the right flank of the union army and he'd run up against infantrymen behind a stone wall. so he pulled his troops back behind the reverse slope of the
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hill and he received orders to lead a charge because it was late in the day and sheridan wanted decisive action. and he sent back word, he said "obviously general sheridan doesn't know that there are infantrymen behind a stone wall, suicide for cavalry to attack" because a mounted charge against prepared infantrymen always led to disaster in the civil war. but those rifled muskets for all their limitations were too effective against mounted troops so he said "but they're gradually redeploying their troops toward the main battle front against union infantry, i think they'll redeploy, let me time the charge." so he gets permission to time the union charge so he's watching and once he sees the confederate troops stand up and begin to move that's when he charges and they only have time to fire one volley before they're in among them and this goes to why duster is loved by his men. an eyewitness describes a man
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aiming his rifle at custer, literally pulling back on the reins, the bullet misses and custer comes down with his saber. he's an action hero, very good at what he does and the troops love him for it and they love the fact they win. a confederate officer at third winchester said it's the only time he'd seen a mounted charge effective in a general engagement with infantry. and he follows it up again with an effective role helping to spark panic at cedar creek and he has a starring role throughout the shenandoah valley campaign of 1864. he plays a major role in the appomatox campaign as well. finally at appomattox courthouse, sheridan buys from mclean the table at which grant wrote out his terms and gives it to libbie custer and says "no man has done more to bring about this result than your husband." sheridan loves him. he has played a not dominant role but a key division level
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role and he's one of i would say -- it's hard to find a division commander in the union army who is more well known than custer is. he's a household name at the end of the civil war so the question is then what happens? . he goes off after the civil war and runs into trouble almost literally the moment that the grand review of the armies begins. i'm going to take a few minutes so we have time for questions. first he goes off -- i'll leave out the story of his seizing don juan for his own benefit which if you've red my book or the excerpt in the smithsonian you know about it. he goes off to texas. in texas he gets involved in complications with the local slaveholders and planters who want his support and he actually takes part in a -- adjudicates
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the case of the murder of an eight-year-old african-american girl who had been held in slavery after juneteenth after emancipation was declared in texas. he struggled with it. the girl was murdered because he had go -- she had gone to join her mother. he arrests the boy and then decides the military shouldn't be doing these things even though martial law is declared in texas. where custer inspired immense loyalty when his troops saw him in combat, when he's with new troops who have never seen him in combat, his youthful insecurity comes to the fore and he retaliates against even the most minor infractions outrageously and he has troops flogged, which is illegal, he has their heads shaved, he has terrible rations, the army has done a terrible job with logistics and custer still harshly punishes any troops who
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even trade let alone seize food among civilians. he sees the peace coming, he wants a mcclellan style peace though he does come around and believe slavery is evil, he's glad it's gone but other than that he wants conservative restoration. he gets involved with andrew johnson when he goes on his swing around the circle in 1866, probably the most important midterm year in american history and when he goes on this campaign against the republican vision for reconstruction he brings along a few officers including grant and custer. grant assigned custer in the post-war army to the black 9th cavalry, this is one of the first black enlisted men, black regiments in the u.s. army, the congress set aside these regiments saying the army has to take black troops and custer
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goes over grant's head and writes to johnson "i want to serve with white troops only." so we see his conservatism is still there. johnson who wants, again, a conservative union without slavery sees an ally and grant gets dragooned into into going around the swing around the circle, he stays out of public view and leaves early. custer is on the platform next to johnson campaigning and as a result many of the union -- northern newspapers who loved custer as a union hero now castigate him and so when he goes west in 1866 to ft. riley to take command of the white 7th cavalry, he gets his reward, a white regiment, he's the field commander, not overall commander but basically field commander, he's under a cloud, he's under pressure. all the attention which he loved is now contaminated by his own actions, he had brought opprobrium down upon himself by getting involved in politics. and also he had problems.
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he was a ladies man even though he had this beautiful intelligent wife, that wasn't enough for him. whether he was having an affair or dangerous flirtations it's hard to say so he's got all of these problems, he goes off on his first campaign, among other things he rides away from his column, shooting his own horse, he's lucky to get rescued. he's hoodwinked by the cheyennes and lakotas again and again. this is a sketch by an artist on the scene for "harper's" of the kitter massacre in which a detachment bring him orders, it was wiped out and custer finally just gives up, he leaves his men, rides hundreds of miles with from the detachment to see his wife so he can at least save his marriage. he does save his marriage but he gets court-martialed on a number of charges and he gets convicted and it's a very interesti ining moment because now custer is no
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longer the heroic combat leader. for the most part after the civil war he's not a leader so much as a manager. a vast percentage of the -- i don't have the numbers in front of me but a huge percentage of the officers who are commissioned in 1865 in the regular army continue and a huge percentage of all the officers between 1865 and 1898 who are commissioned are commissioned within two years of the civil war, this is abarmy that is steadily shrinking, in which has very little pitched combat. the army men are deserting in double digits every year. it requires real tact in management and personnel skill which is custer does not have. wherever he's challenged he turns into a martinette and at the same time he wants attention, he dresses in cost e costume, as you can see there and so the army -- he has fans but also the army as an institution sees him as a loose
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cannon and that's an ongoing theme in his life after the civil war. real problems with the way the institution of the army sees him. and what happens is is that he saves himself again and again because he's still a good combat commander so in 1868 he takes part in sheridan's planned winter campaign against the southern cheyennes. he fights a controversial battle at the washita. in military terms he handles it well yet it's controversial because women and children get killed and also he brings back no male prisoners alive as ordered. any cheyenne men that fell into their hands did not survive. he goes on to build up a frontiersman image, he very consciously becomes a -- reinvents himself in american eyes as the great indian fighter and frontiersman and he uses that image to go to wall street where he has an interest in a silver mine in colorado. and the fact that he has this
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public image as a frontiersman he uses for authority to get investors in the silver mine so, again, custer -- he's interested in this new world, the new corporate world, the new financial world and the worldover the media as well. he writes a series of articles in which he very seriously looks at the west and writes an adventure tale of his early life in the west called "my life in the plains." yet he fails on wall street. his prose, though he's still fairly popular, is not the prose of the new writers, it's not henry adams who says "strike out every unnecessary word especially adjectives," advice editors give to their writers today. custer never saw an adjective he didn't like. [ laughter ] his prose is so antebellum, his first sentence seems like it must have been started before the war because it takes so long to get to the end. some of it is fun to believe but it's still an old-fashioned
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romantic sensibility, long winding sentences so he's taking part in the new world. he saves himself from other problems in 1873. he has two battles with the sioux in which he does very well. still knows how to fight but then in 1874 the democrats win the house of representatives and custer, who hates reconstruction, he'd been hunting the klan in kentucky and he didn't want to do it. and he doesn't like grant's administration as president and so he gets involved very publicly as a foe of grant, goes to capitol hill, writes anonymous articles for the new york herald criticizing grant, he testifies in congress, he walks around capitol hill with the democratic leadership if an army officer today so openly allied himself with the commander and chief his or her career would be over immediately. grant is justifiably upset.
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so custer's life is nearly saved because grant pulls him off of command. and he has to plead to be allowed to go with his men and because he can still fight, his departmental commander terry asks please, we really feed him. boy now sheridan is fed up with him. sherman, the plolitically conservative sherman is his last patron and he writes this fatherly letter to terry saying "please tell custer his actions make it very difficult for his friends to help him. don't take any reporters, please, please don't talk to the press." so he gets his fatherly advice, he has one last chance to save himself and it leads to disaster and in some ways for historians, for biographers, that's the best thing that could have happened. it's given us someone who's played this fascinating role in america going through great
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transformations at this time and it took someone who probably would have otherwise become a another nelson miles, someone that only people with interest in the period remember. instead, little bighorn made custer into a national icon, someone everyone has an opinion about and yet we have to remember that custer was famous and notorious going into the battle and as a friend of mine said, if another officer of his rank and level in the army, wesley merritt or nelson miles, if they had gone to the exact same disaster at little bighorn instead of custer today instead of being a national monument it would probably be a state park. thank you very much. [ applause ] i'm sorry i didn't leave more time for questions but i'm very happy to answer. excuse me. yes, sir? >> do you think custer had
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political ambitions beyond what he was trying to achieve in the united states army? >> this is a very interesting question. many people have said, steven ambrose actually claimed this, taking a very slender piece of evidence, that custer wanted to be president and he was hoping to stampede the democratic convention in 1876. two problems with that scenario specifically. one is, politics didn't work that way. because a lot of the democratic leaders including tilden are men who were close to vanderbilt, my last subject, i've read their papers and i looked through them carefully in 1876 and the democratic king makers in 1876 weren't even talking about custer so that's something that didn't happen. even a dark horse like lincoln in 1860 had an organization, a plan, he was a player. the other thing is that libbie hated his involvement in politics because she knew it
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alienated much of the country. he'd been asked to run for congress and libbie put the kibosh on that. so i think libbie would have kept him out of politics. >> john. >> i was wondering why you didn't draw parallels from some other -- some of custer's other battles between them and little bing horn. i understand one speaker described custer's first stand, washita could have turned into his last stand and one writer has suggested that what custer was trying to do at little bighorn was repeat his success at whashita. >> this is an interesting question. i think travailian station is an interesting question because i think custer made mistakes going into that. the best book about it by whitenberg, i believe, he talks about how the union command --
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sheridan didn't understand there was a large confederate force there. custer himself had an early clash and i don't think he properly reported it. it'll leave experts on the battle. but once he got into that situation he showed his cool and damn luck. this is somebody who should have died long before little bighorn. but again little bighorn is a big topic but it's an extraordinary circumstance. washita, he was in a similar circumstance. and yet he had the time and space to be able to collect his troops and he had a very clever tactic to get out of that situation without losing supply wagons which were vulnerable and to be
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i mean there's a certain degree in which, you know, i wish i had an answer. it is terrible to say nobody knows, and yet somehow -- i mean, you know, maybe it was his charm. maybe like again that ability that show edit self on the battlefield, and even as a subordinate junior officer. his commanders really liked him. he was a great staff officer. s so maybe there was something about him that translates personally that got him some slack and got -- so quite frankly i'm not sure, that's my guess, but i don't have any documentary evidence of that. his roommate, you know, wrote
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about, you know, he's too clever for his own good. like nobody thought he could survive but he did. so there's kind of a mystery surrounding that, i'm not really sure. it may be that his personal charisma and evident ability showed over his antics. he was a very smart guy. he was -- you know, he was a good writer. he was a good thinker, even though, you know, i had problems with some of his thoughts, especially in politics. he disagreed with a lot of people who helped to create civil rights in america. he was a smart guy. so, you know, he got some slack. maybe some day someone will come out with a better answer, i hope so, but that's the best i can do right now. >> thank you. >> thank you very much. i really appreciate it. >> coming thup week owned on american history tv on c-span3, saturday at 10:00 p.m. eastern
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on real america, the 1944 u.s. office of war film "why we fight, the battle of china." >> facts must never be forgotten. china is history. china is land. china is peace. >> on sunday at 11:30 a.m. eastern, political economy professor and author robert wright on alexander hamilton's view of the national debt. >> hamilton advised the creation of an energetic, efficient government, one that did one thing well with as little money as possible, and that one thing was to protect american lives, liberty and property from tyrants, foreign and domestic. >> then at 7:00 p.m. eastern, new jersey residents and activists discuss the 1967 newark rebellion. >> there were 268 reports of
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sniper fire. zero snipers were ever found. no evidence of any snipers. no gun shells other than the police gun shells. no footprints, no fingerprints, nothing was found, and yet 26 people were killed, one policeman, one fireman, the rest citizens, by the police force operating. >> american history tv, all weekend, every weekend only on c-span3. sunday night on q n& a, "rel clear politics" bureau chief carl cannon recounts events that happened throughout the years. >> he had gone through for repairs and he has a secret mission. what's the secret mission? there's a thing loaded on to it,
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it is very heavy. it is the components of the at only bomb that will be dropped in japan in world war ii, obviously top secret. so top secret the navy doesn't do the normal things they do, and this ship after it delivers its cargo, it heads out. >> hope to rendezvous with what may be the battle for japan, but with an escort, there's no destroyer escort. not enough people are where it is missing. it is sent into submarine infested waters and it is sunk with a submarine and 900 guys go into the water and the story is nobody is looking for them. what happens? they drown, they die of dehydration, sharks eat them. it is a horrible story. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's q & a. next from the get ease burg
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college civil war institute, a look at the influence of cartoonist. fiona deans hal loron shows his work. she talks about how the war transformed the political cartoonist. this is an hour. >> good afternoon. i'm peter carmichael, a member of the history department here at gettysburg college, also the director of the civil war institute. it is my pleasure to welcome fiona deans halloran. prior to her arrival at roland hall she spent four years teaching 19th century american history at eastern kentucky university as well as several ar


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