General George Custer: A fool, or a misguided narcissist?

August 10, 2015

George Custer.

We are never short on examples of pure stupidity: people leaving their kids or pets in hot cars; also called abuse. How about those pick nickers who forget to douse the coals on their campfire or barbecues, and end up setting a forest on fire? Let’s not forget the countless first-timers who think they can ride a horse like a cowboy, or para-glide from atop a mountain, just like a pro. We already know the outcome.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this epic battle June 25, 1876 between the Native American Indians and the U.S. Army, let’s put it into perspective: Disregarding orders, General George Custer led a small regiment of soldiers into a battle with a much larger Indian force. Custer’s men were immediately on the defensive as the Native Americans staged a three prong attack. His 7th Calvary regiment was completely over-run and annihilated, leaving no survivors. Two days after the battle the corpses of Custer and his men  were found stripped, scalped and mutilated. President Ulysses Grant, who knew a thing or two about commanding an army, did not try to hide his feelings and blamed Custer for the massacre of his men.

A hero of the Civil War, Custer’s poor decision making, or perhaps his arrogance, led to what has been referred to as “worse military defeat” the U. S. has suffered. Custer had a reputation of being brave, but reckless, and was unquestionably a narcissist. He disobeyed orders as often as he wished. Many admired and loved him, but his enemies feared the worst for the soldiers under his command. A self-promoter, he had long curly hair, an ostrich plume in his hat, and a tight hussar jacket made of black velveteen with silver piping on the sleeves. He also wrote a number of magazine articles about his own daring exploits. He chronically disobeyed orders- simply because he felt he was better informed, and a better military strategist, and commander, than others. Yes, he really liked himself.

Custer had been advised by his own scouts that the size of the Native American Indian village was tremendous; they had estimated the Indian strength was as much as 11,000. Custer IGNORED the warning and decided he knew better, and it was wiser to divide his already tiny army of 600, into four units. His NOT brilliant military decision left him with only 215 soldiers. His plan was to meet up with the balance of the army as he approached the Native American Indian camp.

Custer, however, was SO anxious to attack the Native Americans that he disregarded those orders, too, and refused to wait for reinforcements. Historians have suggested that Custer was hoping his midday attack would catch the Indians off guard. You would think that Custers biggest concern would be his men, but NO, he was seriously afraid of being too late to engage the Indians. He did not want to miss the party. When he finally realized that his scouts were correct and he was wrong; it was too late.

Weeks before Little Big Horn, the army had even offered Custer a number of Gatlin guns to take along. Gatling guns are the equivalent of early machine guns, except they were the size of cannons. Custer didn’t think that he needed them; they were bulky and he felt that they would slow him down. Considering that Gatlin guns fired 1200 bullets per minute, he made a huge blunder by not taking at least one with him.

Yes, there really is a ship of\fools, and we have all been on board at some time in our lives; hopefully our own foolish experiences aren’t as severe as the ones described. There was, however, no bigger fool than the cadet who placed last in his class at West Point, George Custer.

More about Allen Cornwell

Allen Cornwell is a self-employed business owner and an adjunct American History professor at a small college. He lives in rural Virginia and enjoys history, sports, old movies and visiting all types of museums. Cornwell has had a number of American history articles published and he earned his M. A. degree in American History from Virginia Commonwealth University. He can be contacted at:

    1. In classic narcissist fashion, Custer was a flaming delusional, in bondage to his own magical thinking: If I want something to be so, it shall be so!

    1. An insightful article. Thank you very much!



    1. Traditionally, Custer’s faults have been exaggerated. He testified before Congress that the government was cheating the reservation Indians in what they promised them in the treaties. At the Battle of the Washita River, he gave orders not to kill the women and children. When he saw a sergeant disobeying this order, he had him arrested and soon gave him a dangerous job to find about 17 or so cavalrymen that pursued Indians off the battlefield and never returned.

      As for combat leadership, heled 500 cavalrymen in an attempt tp block 2,000 of JEB Stuart’s cavalry and with some help of other leasers’ cavalry he stopped them. Had Stuart’s men broke through, they might have flanked the Union right and hit them in the rear, while Pickett’s Charge attacked from the front. This could have led to a Reb victory if not for Custer and perhaps the war might have wound up different. He also led, again. about 500 cavalrymen in a charge against between 1,500 to 1,700 reb Infantry that were “entrenched” in rifle pits. He routed the rebs.

    1. In the response above, in the 2nd paragraph, I made some mistakes. In the 1st example of his leadership, I never mentioned it was at Gettysburg. Had Gettysburg wound up a reb victory, perhaps the war could have ended differently. Also in the 1st line of the 2nd paragraph “heled” should have been “he led.”

    1. I have a distant family link to that POS Custer. He and one of my X-many great grand parent shared a common ancestor in NY State on my Union side. I also had family in Virginia who rode with Mosby’s Rangers, who fought against him in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War. I can say firsthand, as a career Soldier: Custer was a clown; an arrogant, self-absorbed, tin horn, narcissist and megalomaniac, who was a disgrace, and a glaring paradoxical menace as both a reckless buffoon masquerading as a hero at times, and a low-down, yellow coward at others. He was always an insubordinate disgrace. He should have been kicked of the Army officer’s ranks out early on. His career is a case study in inevitability, when a known red flag, loose cannon is not reigned in or kicked out, but worse, allowed to flourish without consequences. His death at Little Big Horn couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. It is truly too bad that he led his own soldiers to slaughter. He should have been flagged and kicked out of the Army for insubordination, recklessness and war crimes in the Civil War, at the start of his sordid careeer. He murdered POW’s and burned out civilians in the Shenandoah and he was always protected by his then-boss, fellow war criminal GEN Phil Sheridan. Sheridan covered for him when he deserted his command in the West a decade later. He should have been hanged, especially as a Lt. Colonel, who was in command. Instead, he got a slap on the wrist; a one year suspension from the Army. That type of punishment for the offense in question and by a senior commander, was like a written warning for murder in a modern court. Karma finally caught him in his fool’s errand at Little Big Horn. Had he at least brought his Gatling Guns along, as his subordinates recommended, he may have held off the Indians until help arrived.

    1. I totally agree my friend. I also liked what you said about his being a case of inevitability. With his recklessness, it was only a matter of time, until he misjudged his own ability to pull the genie out of the lamp one too many times.

    1. Custer was not a good person.he thought he was a important person to me he was nothing but a killer and a idiot things had to be his way because he thought he was a great soldier
      He cheated on his wife he killed women and children,and many soldiers lost their lives because of his ego
      He is not someone who earned the right to be called a hero

    1. Custer is a textbook example when the military turns a deaf ear and blind eye to a reckless, arrogant, self propelled FOOL who was dangerous to his men under him leading them into an embarrassing defeat. Everything about him reeks of insubordination and required military obedience with many lives trusting in a man who fancied himself a legend in his own mind, but a blithering historic IDIOT in the minds of everyone else. This ridiculous revisionist recasting of him as a hero is beyond Ludacris. Custer could give a damn about anyone under him. He was Only about his own glory. He dressed in custom tailored pimp clothing completely unheard of and beyond inappropriate today or back then. He was a bloodthirsty racist killing women and children civilians with a crazed bloodlust that should have been grounds enough for a lengthy prison sentence and explusion from the U.S. Army. He was arrested several times and imprisoned but not permanently. A BAD mistake! Hence, much of the blame lies squarely at the feet of his Army superiors who was equally incompetent enough to allow him to continue his fools errand to make a name for himself. Well, he did that, but as a SHAMEFUL Blemish on the U.S. Calvary! I agree with the other commentators here. Custard deserves no statutes. He deliberately ignored even basic military plans at Little Big Horn. Many of the worn out young men of the 7th Calvary were poor immigrants. Their senseless slaughter was totally Custards fault. They paid the terrible price of our government allowing this moron Custard to continue in the military when they had EVERY reason to court-martial him long before the Indian Wars of the Plains.

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