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.

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