Friday, July 15, 2022

Captain Weir: Custer’s Would be Rescuer

 Thomas Benton Weir first served under General George Armstrong Custer during the American Civil War, enlisting in the Michigan Cavalry. He quickly earned promotion to first sergeant and later received brevet promotions to majorlieutenant colonel, and colonel in recognition of his superior performance during the war.

 In May 1866, Custer was lieutenant colonel of the new 7th U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where the regiment was to be organized and trained.  Joining Custer and his wife Libbie were a diverse group of officers, including Captain Thomas Weir, the charming but hard-drinking Michigan officer who had served with Custer before.

Captain Weir

The 7th Cavalry was ordered west in March 1867 to overawe the Cheyennes and Sioux.  Custer fruitlessly pursued an elusive foe. By summer he was surly and morose and on July 15 decided to abandon his command and lead a small detachment on a dangerous forced march to Fort Harker, Kansas where he expected to find Libbie.  He discovered that she was still at Fort Riley.

Custer had received an anonymous letter urging that Custer should “look after his wife a little closer.” Lieutenant Edward Mathey later confirmed that Thomas Weir was “the reason why Custer left his command without permission.” Weir had indeed been very attentive to Libbie during Custer’s long absence, rescuing her from a flood, escorting her on long evening strolls and proving himself utterly charming. A serious flirtation seemed to be in progress. Confirmation for this comes from Custer himself when he later wrote to Libbie, “The more I see of him…the more I am surprised that a woman of your perceptive faculties and moral training could have entertained the opinion of him you have.”

Libbie Custer

Custer boarded a train for Fort Riley and surprised Libbie that summer of 1867 with what Libbie described as one long, perfect day, which would always be hers for time and eternity.  The romantic gesture resulted in a court-martial and a humiliating suspension from rank and pay for Custer, who only recouped his name by leading the 7th Cavalry to victory at the Battle of the Washita.

On June 25, 1876, during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer ordered Captain Frederick Benteen to “come quick, bring packs (that is the spare ammunition that was lagging behind).   Benteen, came upon Reno’s beleaguered force and halted. 

At this point, Captain Thomas Weir, considered a part of the Custer clique, disobeyed Benteen’s orders to remain with Reno’s command, and rode to the sounds of battle in an attempt to support Custer.  He made it as far as what is now known as Weir Point, about three miles south of Last Stand Hill and about one and a half miles north of Reno Hill. Here, Weir was later joined by Benteen and Reno. 

The would-be rescuers were set upon by a large party of Sioux warriors and made a fighting retreat back to Reno’s original entrenched position, where they were besieged for a day and a half before being relieved by General Terry.  

After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Weir’s mental health declined rapidly. Assigned to recruiting duty in New York City, Weir wrote letters to Libbie Custer hinting at untold secrets regarding her husband's death.  He repeatedly wrote promising to come to her side in Monroe, Michigan.  He never made it. 

Thomas Weir died on December 9, 1876. In the final months of his life, he refused to go outside, began to drink heavily and in his last days was said to be extremely nervous, to the point of being unable to swallow.  Doctors informed Libbie Custer that the 38 -year- old captain, in the advanced stages of alcoholism, had died of “melancholia.”