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.

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  1. What about his massacre of an Indian encampment at Washita several years earlier? Custer was a Glory Hound and it got him killed along with a couple hundred of his men. Wasn’t the Army’s worst defeat by the Native Americans. It lost three times as many men during St. Clair’s defeat in 1792 in what is now Ohio. Look it up.

  2. Agree with the above. Custer was the early version of Douglas MacArthur, vain, self-promoting, and reckless. He murdered indians as stated above, and totally ignored his orders about the Little Big Horn. he was NOT a hero at all, just a jerk. We need to stop glorifying him.

  3. Custer was a General officer during the Civil War but after the war went back to his permanent rank, that of Lt Colonel. Even so many of those permanent rank officers continued to wear their rank emblems that they had achieved on their uniforms from their temporary status; that is apparently what Custer did after seeing paintings and photos from that period of time.

  4. US #2183 features my great great great uncle who commanded the Native American side of the battle, Sitting Bull, which is an incorrect translation of his name which should actually read “Buffalo Bull who is Sitting Down,” Tatanka Iyatake of the Hunkpapa Sioux Nation. Kudos to those who posted above about the reality of the US Army vs the Native Nations in other than the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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