General George Armstrong Custer is remembered best for his "last stand" where he and 250 of his men were killed during an ambush by Sioux Indians during one of the last significant victories by American Indians.

After graduating from West Point in 1861, Custer had built a reputation as a daring cavalry officer during the American Civil War. He rost to the rank of major general.

When the Civil War ended, Custer was assigned to the Indian frontier. Following a court-martial for disobeying orders he was suspended from the U.S. Army for a year. Upon his return to active duty in 1868, Custer led the Seventh Cavalry in an attack on the Southern Cheyenne Indians in the western Indian territory. An attack on the peaceful Indian camp of Black Kettle resulted in the death of most of the Indians in the burning of the village.

The following year, Custer was assigned to the Sioux territory in the Black Hills. In the 1870s the U.S. government attempted to get the Sioux to retreat from the land because gold was rumored to be in the hills. The Sioux resisted removal from what considered sacred land and the U.S. Army was called in to force an Indian retreat. One of the Army contingents sent in to get the Indians off the land was ambushed by the Little Bighorn River on June 25, 1876. Since what goes around, comes around, General Custer commanded this star-crossed group of men.

Despite graduating last in his West Point class of 1861, Custer became one of the Union's most effective military officers. Known for his aggressive tactics and flamboyant personal manner, he served as cavalry commander in several major Civil War battles. In 1865, he led the final pusuit of Lee's army which forced the Confederate surrender. After the Civil War, he moved to the western frontier to fight in the "Indian Wars" as commander of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment.Custer's maverick behavior brought him occasional trouble with Army authorities (including an 1867 court-martial and one-year suspension) but also made him something of a folk hero among a populace fascinated by the "Wild West." Testifying before Congress in 1876, he bluntly criticized corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, leading to another brief suspension. One historian has called him "the incarnation of a certain type of American hero: impetuous, devil-may-care, and successful--until that afternoon of June 25, 1876, on the hills, gullies and bluffs bordering the Little Big Horn River." In his infamous "last stand," Custer ordered a surprise assault on a Sioux/Cheyenne encampment, but he badly undercounted their numbers and tactically miscalculated by dividing his forces. In the ensuing Indian counterattack, all 260 of Custer's soldiers died. He published his memoirs, My Life on the Plains, in 1874.


June 22, 1876

The following is the written orders Brig. General Alfred E. Terry ordered to be written on the morning of June 22, 1876. Since the diastrous defeat of George Custer at the Little Big Horn, these instructions have been at the center of an ongoing debate as to whether or not Custer disobeyed Terry's orders. In a not so confidential letter to Generals Sherman and Sheridan after the battle, Terry inferred that Custer had indeed disobeyed his orders.

These orders were written hours before Gen. Custer departed on his last campaign. The previous evening there had been a meeting of General Terry, Colonel John Gibbon, Major James Brisbin, and Custer on the steamboat, Far West. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a plan of attack against hostile Sioux known to be in the Rosebud - Little Big Horn Region.

The following text is reproduced from page 462 of the Annual Report of the Secretary of War for 1876, which is House Executive Document 1 for the second session of the Forty-fourth Congress (Serial volume 1742).


Headquarters of the Department of Dakota (In the Field)
Camp at Mouth of Rosebud River, Montana Territory June 22nd, 1876

Lieutenant-Colonel Custer,
7th Calvary

Colonel: The Brigadier-General Commanding directs that, as soon as your regiment can be made ready for the march, you will proceed up the Rosebud in pursuit of the Indians whose trail was discovered by Major Reno a few days since. It is, impossible to give you