PILGRIMAGE TO CUSTER
by Jackie Jura, 2023
9.CUSTER'S GETTYSBURG ON THE PLAINS
Brigadier General Custer made a memorable debut as a commander at the Battle of Gettysburg.
In fact, the argument can be made that Custer saved the day at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863,
when he outgeneraled Jeb Stuart to change the course of that battle.
With the rallying cry of "Come on, you Wolverines!"
Custer twice led bold, bloody charges of his greatly outnumbered command
that effectively denied Stuart access to the Union rear,
which the Rebel legend had planned to attack
simultaneously with General George Pickett's charge to the front.
This one-two punch of Pickett and Stuart that had been devised by General Robert E Lee
would have placed the Union in a dire situation --
if not for the heroic actions that day of George Armstrong Custer.
The bravery and leadership skills Custer demonstrated on that day are worthy of
a prominent place in the history of the Gettysburg battle
-- perhaps even as the turning point --
as well as in the history of the Civil War.
...cont'd from 8.STATUES OF PRESIDENTS & CUSTER
Our plan after leaving Rapid City was to drive straight north then west to Alberta, above Montana, from whence we came. Readers may recall my mentioning that the trip to the Little Big Horn battlefield had been a spur of the moment plan because we were actually in the middle of moving and had things coming up we needed to be back for. Even going as far as Mount Rushmore had been a stretch and I'd been having to rack my brain at the historical Custer places we'd come upon along the way -- starting at Great Falls, Montana and ending here now in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Looking at the map trying to figure out the route home we saw that the Missouri River -- alongside which was Custer's 7th Cavalry base in North Dakota -- wasn't as far east as I'd imagined but ran through the middle of the Dakotas. So it wouldn't be too far out of our way to go east first, then north, then west after visiting Custer's last home -- Fort Abraham Lincoln. The prospect was extremely exciting and we made good time on the interstate heading that way. We'd been driving all day when we decided to pull in for the night at the next town we came to which, with Custer godcidently in lead, was "Gettysburg".
At the time, and to this day, when I think about our happening to be on a road that led to Gettysburg, it feels like a dream come true. Ever since becoming a Civil War buff, then subsequently a Custer buff, I'd hoped to one day visit the Gettysburg Battlefield. But deep down I knew this probably wouldn't happen because I no longer had any reason to travel 3,000 miles across Canada to Ontario where I used to live -- and which is just above Pennsylvania where Gettysburg is. Both my parents, who lived in Ontario, had passed on to the next stage of life -- the afterlife -- and we'd all travelled back and forth many times over the decades -- usually going one way through the States and the other way through Canada. That's how it came about that I visited Mount Rushmore when I was a child, and then took my children there -- it was during cross-country trips. But, "if Muhammad will not go to Gettysburg, then Gettysburg must come to Muhammad" and that's what godcidently happened to me. It was the next best thing to the real thing.
As mentioned many times, I'm a Civil War buff and, as buffs have sub-buffs, I'm also a battle of Gettysburg buff. Three years ago -- July 2013 -- had been the 150th anniversary and I'd added special edition magazines to my Custeriana.
I re-watched the movie GETTYSBURG that came out in 1993 on the 130th anniversary of the battle and watched the 2013 film THE GETTYSBURG STORY that shot the battlefield from above using drones and cameras attached to helicopters.
JFK was a Civil War buff too and had visited the Gettysburg Battlefield on the 100th anniversary in 1963 -- eight months before his assassination. I wrote about it in 2013 at LINCOLN & KENNEDY AT GETTYSBURG
So three years later, in 2016, details of the Battle of Gettysburg were fresh in my mind and I appreciated the gift of a night in Gettysburg even more. What specifically impressed me, while driving around town in the morning before leaving, was the street sign under which we'd hitched the horsepower while watching the Northern Plains truck loading grain from the silo.
The fact that the sign says -- E CUSTER AVE -- indicates that the Union veterans who founded the town in 1883 knew about the battle in the east of Gettysburg and that Custer had been the hero. Not everyone is aware of this fact as most Gettysburg books, movies and documentaries -- except those specifically written about Custer -- don't describe or portray the battle 3 miles east of the town. And most tourists -- of the millions who attend every year -- don't know about the battle where Custer's cavalry beat Stuart's cavalry and won the day for the Union. I didn't know much about it myself until the reading I did during the 150th anniversary.
The Official Map and Guide of the Gettysburg National Military Park (which came with a book I ordered) includes the East Cavalry Battlefield Site but recommends that visitors with less time may skip that part of the tour.
Of the many books and magazines that describe Custer's heroic role in the Cavalry battle east of Gettysburg, the following are excellent sources, excerpts of which are scanned and transcribed. You can click on the pages to enlarge for reading.
"...The Boy General. This reversed glass plate is the earliest known photograph of George Amrstrong Custer as a brigadier general. He stands proudly before the camera in all the glory of his black uniform, with the gilt buttons and exorbitant gold lace and the white stars on the wide collar of his blue sailor shirt.... "Come On, You Wolverines!"...."
"...George Armstrong Custer, sporting his trademark red necktie, exhorts, "Come on, you Wolverines!". He and his Michigan brigade made their reputation at Gettysburg.... "I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry", Custer wrote later. Those who had been in the charge agreed wholeheartedly with that assessment...."
"...This thrilling and definitive biography of George Armstrong Custer's Civil War years is nothing short of a heart-pounding cavalry charge through the battlefield heroics that thrust the gallant young officer into the national spotlight in the midst of the country's darkest hours. From West Point to the daring actions that propelled him to the rank of general at age 23 to his unlikely romance with Libbie Bacon, Custer's exploits are the stuff of legend. Always leading his men from the front with a personal courage seldom seen before or since, he was a key part of nearly every major engagement in the east. Not only did Custer capture the first battle flag taken by the Union and receive the white flag of surrender at Appomattox, but his field generalship at Gettysburg against Confederate cavalry general Jeb Stuart had historic implications in changing the course of that pivotal battle...."
"...Custer joined Gregg and formed his 2,300-man brigade in a line along the intersection of Hanover and Low Dutch roads facing Gettysburg, partially on a property of farmland and forest owned by a farmer named John Rummel. The lesson learned the previous evening about the importance of reconnaissance convinced Custer to immediately send out patrols in every direction. The general was not about to be caught unaware of enemy strength or movement on this day.... Custer's vigilance about dispatching reconnaissance patrols had been rewarded. A patrol comprised of members of the 6th Michigan had observed Stuart's cavalry. The patrol commander, Major Peter Weber, returned before midday to report that at least 2 brigades of Rebel cavalry and one artillery battery had been observed moving forward through the trees one mile to the west of Cress Ridge. 'I have seen thousands of them over there', Weber related. 'The country yonder is full of the enemy'...."
Another reason Gettysburg is the most popular battlefield in America to visit (the next being the Little Big Horn for Custer's Last Stand) is because that's where President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches of all time -- the Gettysburg Address.
"...A sad, cold mist has settled over the ravaged fields that were once lush countryside... Bodies left exposed in the fields around Gettysburg were a common sight for weeks after the battle... The dead were hastily buried in shallow graves and marked in whatever way was possible. Planks ripped from a nearby barn serve as grave markers...."
"...Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in 1863 at the dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. This short, historic speech, just 240 words long, concluded the story of one of the bloodiest, most dramatic battles of the American Civil War... The Gettysburg Address was so short that the photographer didn't have time to get a shot of Lincoln. The president can just be seen as he sits down."
"...When Lincoln stood he was greeted with scattered applause from the weary audience. If the crowd's reception was lukewarm, the newspaper reviews of his speech would be icy cold. The major newspapers printed his speech in full, but did not bother to comment on what he said.... Even Lincoln doubted that his speech had been a success. Moments after the ceremony concluded, Lincoln turned to his longtime friend, Ward Lamon, and said, "Lamon, that speech is a flat failure and the people are disappointed". But Lincoln's 269-word Gettysburg Address would be repeated and thought about a great deal. Its simple words and phrases spoke deeply about a country whose Constitution stated that "all men are created equal". It was an idea worth fighting and dying for, Lincoln was telling his listeners. The soldiers buried at Gettysburg had made the ultimate sacrifice. Now it was up to the living and all of their descendants to defend the principle of equality for ALL. Lincoln waited a moment for the crowd to settle down and reminded himself to speak very slowly. Then, with a pronounced Kentucky acccent, he said, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.... We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth".
~ end quoting Long Road to Gettysburg by Murphy ~
...cont'd at 10.CUSTER & SITTING BULL NOT EQUALS
1.JOURNEY TO CUSTER'S LITTLE BIG HORN
2.CUSTER ALT-HISTORY BIG HORN VICTORY
3.LAST WORD ON CUSTER FROM FRONT
4.CUSTER MASSACRE AT GATES OF HELL
5.HOMAGE TO CUSTER AT LAST STAND
6.CUSTER ON BOZEMAN & DEADWOOD
7.CUSTER GOLD BLACK HILLS & RUSHMORE
8.STATUES OF PRESIDENTS & CUSTER
9.CUSTER'S GETTYSBURG ON THE PLAINS
10.CUSTER & SITTING BULL NOT EQUALS
11.CUSTER AT HOME AT FORT LINCOLN
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