This Day in History… June 25, 1876

Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn

Item #20025 – Commemorative cover marking Custer’s 145th birthday.

On June 25, 1876, Civil War hero George A. Custer died at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Born on December 5, 1839 in New Rumley, Ohio, Custer graduated from West Point in June 1861, just in time to join in the Civil War. He then fought in the first major battle at Bull Run and rose quickly through the ranks.

Sierra Leone #2470-77 – Set of Civil War stamps including a Custer souvenir sheet.

Custer fought at several of the war’s most famous battles, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Petersburg, and Appomattox. In 1865, he received the first flag of truce from the Army of Northern Virginia. In a farewell speech to his men, Custer claimed the troops under his command had captured 65 battle flags, 111 pieces of artillery, and 10,000 prisoners over the course of the Civil War. For his heroism during the war, General Philip Sheridan gave Custer the desk on which the war’s peace terms were signed.

U.S. #2183 from the Great Americans series.

After the war, Custer continued his cavalry service and became famous for his role in the battles against the Native Americans. By the mid-1870s, as the U.S. sought to settle the West, they were met with intense opposition by the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians. Three attack forces were sent to take on the Lakota in 1876, with one led by Custer.

The goal was to lead them back to their reservations, peacefully if possible. Custer and his men arrived sooner than the other forces and he didn’t want to wait for them to begin fighting. On June 25, Custer split his men into three units and ordered the attack on a large Indian village near the Little Bighorn River. On the other side of the battle, chief Sitting Bull wanted peace, but Custer’s insistence on fighting forced his tribe to fight back.

U.S. #1855 was issued in Crazy Horse, South Dakota.

Though Sitting Bull didn’t fight, he’d previously had a vision of U.S. soldiers being killed as they entered the camp. His followers trusted his vision and fought back, under the leadership of Crazy Horse. Custer’s men were overwhelmed and retreated, but the tribes then launched a counter-attack. With Custer’s men split into smaller groups, they were no match for the thousands of Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors they encountered. They were surrounded and all killed within an hour.

Little Bighorn was a devastating loss for the U.S., which redoubled its efforts and quickly defeated the Lakota. However, Custer’s legacy was now set in stone and he’d forever be remembered for his “last stand.”

Click here to explore the National Park Service website for Little Bighorn, which includes maps, photos, stories, and more.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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