Monday, February 12, 2018

The Custer Conspiracy



Marcus Reno

Frederick Benteen

    In 1954, a small book entitled Kick the Dead Lion: A Casebook of the Custer Battle appeared.  Some seventy-five years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, pro-Custer and anti-Custer partisans continued to lob incendiary charges at Reno and Benteen on the one hand and at Custer on the other.  This book repeats the standard pro-Custer line in a venomous and emotionally charged voice: Reno was a coward, a drunkard, and a man of low character whose cowardice led to the Custer disaster.  Benteen was jealous, peevish, and insubordinate.  His failure to obey Custer’s orders was criminally negligent.


     There would be little of interest in this book except that, for the first time, DuBois challenges the underlying evidence upon which anti-Custer historians such as Frederic Van De Water, E.A. Brininstool and Fred Dustin relied, namely the testimony of the first hand witnesses.  DuBois challenges the motivations of the witnesses. “Much of the testimony taken at the Reno Court of Inquiry was not, as tradition demands, ‘The whole truth and nothing but the truth.’  Especially is this true of statements made under oath by Captain Frederick W. Benteen, Major Marcus Reno and a select group of subordinate officers who felt some inexplicable obligation either to actually change their testimony or to phrase it in such a manner as to cast a different implication on Reno’s various actions.” (DuBois, 46)


    DuBois goes on to take issue with the so called “Enlisted Men’s Petition” (which lauded the actions of Reno and Benteen and called for their immediate promotion), cited so tellingly by Graham and Van De Water in vindication of Reno and Benteen.  According to DuBois, the former Superintendent of the then Custer Battlefield National Monument, Major Edward S. Luce, submitted the signatures on the petition together with a photostatic copy of a payroll of the 7th Cavalry to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a comparison of handwriting.  In a November 1954 report the FBI concluded that in the case of 79 of the 236 signatures on the petition, “…variations were noted which suggest in all probability that the signatures on the petition are forgeries.”(DuBois, 49)


    DuBois goes on to make the case that Reno and Benteen conspired to introduce exculpatory evidence into the record almost immediately after the battle.  On July 4, 1876, only nine days after the battle, Reno and Benteen concocted the Enlisted Men’s Petition.  “Only an enormous sense of guilt would compel Reno and Benteen to attempt to pre-arrange the evidence in advance of any possible inquiry, and a complete vindication by the enlisted men would weigh heavily in any decision that might be made later.” According to DuBois it was probably Benteen’s first sergeant Joseph McCurry who circulated the petition and in all probability forged signatures when necessary.  DuBois concludes, “The reader must bear in mind that these allegations are hypothetical even though they have basis in reason.” (DuBois, 54) 

  
    DuBois introduced the concepts of “cover up” and “manufactured evidence” into the story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn at precisely that time in American history when conspiracy explanations had come into vogue.  For a period of years in the early 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a series of widely publicized (but largely unsubstantiated) charges of communist infiltration into the State Department, the Truman administration, the Voice of America and the United States Army.  In response to McCarthy's initial charges with regard to alleged communists within the State Department, Democratic Senator Millard Tydings convened hearings.  The Tydings Committee concluded that the individuals on McCarthy's list were neither communists nor pro-communist, and labeled McCarthy's charges a “fraud and a hoax”.  The Committee’s report said that the result of McCarthy's actions was to “confuse and divide the American people…to a degree far beyond the hopes of the Communists themselves”. Republicans responded that Tydings was guilty of “the most brazen whitewash of treasonable conspiracy in our history”.



Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.


Gifts for Dogs and Dog Lovers


Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Custer Legend and Arlington National Cemetery

William Belknap


The legend of George Armstrong Custer began at the First Battle of Manassas.  Custer would enjoy a spectacularly successful military career until massacred by Sioux Indians in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Custer is buried at West Point but some of those involved in his legend are buried at Arlington.

William W. Belknap was a Civil War Union Brigadier General, and later served as Secretary of War during the Grant Administration.  By 1875 allegations of bribery surrounded Belknap because of his appointment of post traders who sold merchandise on military installations.  George Armstrong Custer was called to testify before Congress in the matter.

Custer accused President Grant's brother and Secretary of War Belknap of corruption. Belknap was impeached and sent to the Senate for trial.  President Grant stripped Custer of overall command of the column chosen to subdue the Sioux and placed him under the command of Brigadier General Alfred Terry.  Custer lost his life trying to regain his career.


Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.


Gifts for Dogs and Dog Lovers




Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Union Army’s Railroad Genius: Herman Haupt


Railroads in the 1860s were small scale local enterprises. The Union army wanted priority treatment, but railroad managers still had an obligation to maintain civilian traffic and make money. In January 1862, the United States Congress authorized President  Lincoln to seize control of the railroads and telegraph for military use. Operations were turned over to the new War Department agency called the U.S. Military Rail Roads (USMRR). Herman Haupt, once the chief engineer, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, became chief of construction and transportation in the Virginia theater of operations. He also eventually attained the rank of brigadier general.  Haupt’s Construction Corps emphasized speed, rather than permanence, and his well-organized trains kept the Union Army supplied, and carried thousands of Union wounded to hospitals.

Trains traveled five times faster than mule-drawn wagons, which reduced the number of supply vehicles required. Faster travel meant cargoes arrived at the front in better condition. Troops traveling by train experienced less fatigue. Railroads boosted logistical output by at least a factor of ten having a profound impact on the outcome of the Civil War.  

When defeated the Union army, an army supplied by rail, could often be reinforced before its Confederate enemies, supplied by wagons could exploit success. Confederate tactical victories seldom led to strategic gains.



A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.




Sunday, February 04, 2018

Queen Victoria's Wedding

Queen Victoria

     White did not become a popular option for wedding dresses until 1840, after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  Victoria wore a white gown for the event so that she could incorporate lace of sentimental value into the design of the dress.  Victoria’s wedding picture was widely published in America and many American brides opted to wear a similar dress. Today’s “white wedding” continues the tradition, though prior to Victorian times, a young bride was married in any color except black (the color of mourning) or red (which was connected with prostitutes).   

Why did Queen Victoria select white?  Many theories have been put forward including: (1) color symbolism,(2) to represent purity of heart and the innocence of childhood, (3) an effort by the Queen to promote lace sales, and (4) to encourage conspicuous consumption by status-conscious families. Later, it was believed that the color white symbolized virginity and should be only be worn by virgin brides.

There was a great deal of cake at Buckingham Palace in February 1840.  Queen Victoria's wedding cake weighed three hundred pounds and measured nine feet across and fourteen inches high and was adorned with roses. An ice sculpture of Britannia surrounded by cupids capped the cake. Traditional white wedding cake or bride's cake did not appear in the United States until the 1860's. Prior to this, cakes served at wedding receptions were a dark and spicy concoction. A more refined cake was created with the introduction of finely ground white flour and the manufacture of baking powder and baking soda. The heavier "fruitcake" was relegated to being the "groom's cake."

The Civil War Wedding, an entertaining look at the customs and superstitions of weddings during the Civil War era.