Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June 25, 1876:

Custer’s Last Stand

Never a president, in fact barely eligible for that office when he died, George Armstrong Custer nevertheless has a connection to the presidency – he managed to piss a president off and nearly miss his appointment with Death on an obscure hill in the Montana Territory, a fate that has made him better known than most 19th-century presidents.

In the spring of 1876, Lt. Col. Custer testified before Congress during an investigation of corruption in the War Department. His testimony, though not ironclad, pretty much confirmed what most people suspected: that Secretary of War William W. Belknap (pictured), and Orville Grant, the president's brother and an Indian agent, were ardent bribe-takers. Later that year, Belknap earned the dubious distinction of becoming the only cabinet member to be impeached by the US House of Representatives.

Naturally, Custer's testimony vexed President Grant, who responded by pulling Custer from his next assignment, which was to take part in a campaign against hostile Cheyennes that summer. Custer wrote to the president, asking him to reconsider: "I appeal to you as a soldier to spare me the humiliation of seeing my regiment march to meet the enemy and I not share its dangers." Perhaps to get the well-known Custer out of his hair for a while, the president relented and sent him along to "share the dangers" of the Indian Wars which, in this case, proved very dangerous indeed.

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