Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Could George Armstrong Custer Have Been President?

George Armstrong Custer

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.  An enraged President Grant stripped Custer of overall command of a column chosen to subdue the Sioux and placed him under the command of Brigadier General Alfred Terry. 

Before Custer became the mythic figure we know today, he was a lieutenant colonel desperate to find a way to salvage his reputation after this run-in with President Grant.  Custer was on the brink of professional and financial ruin, having run up massive gambling debts (which took years for his widow to pay off) and then having alienated the President of the United States.

Only one thing could save Custer, victory on the battlefield.  If Custer could win a smashing victory over Indians in the West, all would be well again. In his most hopeful fantasies Custer imagined a draft Custer for President Movement at the Democratic convention which was to open in St. Louis on June 27, 1876.  Custer had spent part of his trip East jawboning with political “King Makers”.  More realistically he could expect accolades at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and big box office receipts for a lecture tour for which he was already booked.

Instead of being swept into the White House in a wave of martial euphoria, George Armstrong Custer met his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876.  Custer’s death was immediately politicized.  Enemies of the administration …pointed accusing fingers at President Grant, blaming him for Custer’s death, urging voters to settle with Grant and the Republican Party in the fall elections.  Grant’s partisans struck back vilifying Custer.  Grant weighed in personally claiming that Custer overextended himself and his men to deprive fellow officers of their share of victory.

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