restricted access Custer's "Last Stand" — Trevilian Station, 1864
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CUSTER'S "LAST STAND"TREVILIAN STATION, 1864 Jay Monaghan "Again I am called on to bid you adieu for a short period," Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer wrote his bride in June, 1864. ". . . Need I repeat to my darling that while living she is my all, and if Destiny wills me to die, wills that my country needs my death, my last prayer will be for her, my last breath will speak her name and that Heaven will not be Heaven till we are joined together." He ended the letter with, "Yours through time and eternity, Autie."1 At the moment he penned this rare prose, young Custer had been married less than four months and had just been ordered to join the expedition to Trevilian Station. Having been on active service since his marriage, he carried in his field desk a packet of love letters and an ambrotype of Mrs. Custer. Along with these cherished memorabilia, two devoted civilian waifs ornamented Custer's headquarters. One was Johnnie Cisco, a white boy who washed the General's shirts, waited table, and led his extra horses during battle. Custer's other ragamuffin retainer, Eliza, was an escaped slave girl who followed him with a special cooking outfit in an antique carriage which had been "requisitioned " on some plantation, presumably because the picturesque contraption would not take an oath of allegiance to the Union. In any event the old rattletrap caused much good-natured amusement in Federal ranks and undoubtedly prompted other daring cavalry officers to forage far and wide in search of more grandiose and disreputable vehicles. Eliza thoroughly enjoyed her position in Custer's Michigan Brigade, and her chuckling quips about her erstwhile masters and war in general were often repeated by the troopers, who called her "the Queen of Sheba." Custer's bride, Libbie, had succeeded so far in making only one change in her eccentric and resplendent husband. For the wedding he Jay Monaghan, consultant for the Wyles Collection of Lincolniana at the University of California in Santa Barbara, is the author of eleven books on Lincoln and the Civil War period. His latest, a biography of George A. Custer, appeared in 1959. 1 Marguerite Merington (ed.), The Custer Story (New York, 1950), p. 103. 245 246 JAY MONAGHAN had cut off his long golden locks which had earned him the informal title of "the Boy General with the flowing yellow curls." Custer's rise in the army had been as miraculous as the nickname implied. While he was a lieutenant on the staff of General Alfred Pleasonton in 1863, that cavalryman jumped him all the way to brigadier general. Captains, majors, and colonels complained that the promotion showed rank favoritism, and when Pleasonton was transferred to theWest the following spring, some prophesied the Boy General's downfall . Custer himself feared that his good fortune—"Custer Luck" he called it—might end as tough, hard-fighting Phil Sheridan assumed Pleasonton's command in Virginia in April, 1864. Sheridan's firstact was toreorganize the cavalry corps. Custer's Michigan Brigade—which included the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th Michigan regiments —together with Colonel Tom Devin's and Brigadier General Wesley Merritt's brigades, became the new First Division. Brigadier General Alfred T. A. Torbert, a slow but competent regular army infantryman inclined to be unappreciative of Custer's reckless aggressiveness, assumed command. Brigadier General Douglas McMurtrie Gregg, under whom Custer had fought at Gettysburg, headed the Second Division. The Third was assigned to Brigadier General James H. Wilson. Like Custer, Wilson had risen rapidly. He was destined for a long and distinguished military career, but did not show it during the weeks ahead. U. S. Grant had just arrived from the West, and he and George Meade mounted the 1864 spring offensive against Richmond and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Early in May the Union troops pushed into the Wilderness , with Custer guarding the wagon trains—scarcely the place for a cavalryman to show Sheridan his mettle. Wilson, assigned an advance position, promptly led the army into a trap. During the fighting which followed, neither the Confederate nor the Federal forces won much of a victory, and the...


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