Today we’ll be learning about George Armstrong Custer as he was depicted in the classic 1941 film They Died with Their Boots On.
To help us separate fact from fiction in the movie, we’ll be chatting with Professor Gregory J. W. Urwin from Temple University. Gregory is a military historian and author of Custer Victorious: The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre 01:43
Let’s start with an overall look at the movie. If you were to give this movie a letter grade on how well it told Custer’s story, what would it get?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 01:53
Well, if you’re to ask that question to George Armstrong Custer, or better yet, his wife, Elizabeth bacon Custer, who, after his death became his chief, PR aide, they would say, hey, as a historian who’s willing to give Hollywood a certain amount of leeway, and dealing with the past, I give it a see, primarily because no other screen, Custer has done a better job of capturing customers more attractive qualities than Errol Flynn, his charisma, his charm, his ability to ride a horse well. So some movie customers look like a sack of potatoes on the back of a horse. But, you know, but there is an awful lot of time telescoping because you’re covering something like 19 years from 1857-1876. And there’s an awful lot of fabrication to a lot of facts get sacrificed the telephone and story.
Dan LeFebvre 02:57
Well, I were a customer that with movies. Least at least, you know, this one, it sounds like it captured his ability to ride a horse at least what you would expect for the cavalry.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 03:08
Exactly. Flynn’s Custer was was a dashing person. He knew how to inspire men in combat, especially during the Civil War at Flynn exudes that aura.
Dan LeFebvre 03:22
Well, you mentioned the date of 1857. And that is when the movie starts as cluster joins West Point. Can you give us an overview of George Custers life leading up to the point which we see him in the movies timeline?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 03:37
Sure, he was born in New Romley, Ohio. That’s a town near present day stupid ballot style in the middle of fracking country on December fifth 1839. He was the eldest son, eldest child of a second marriage his father, Emmanuel was a widower and his mother Maria Ward Kirkpatrick was was a widow. So he’s born into a family already with a bunch of half brothers and half sisters and that his parents in addition to him may Sire, three other boys and a girl. Emmanuel is a is a blacksmith, which is a skilled job but he’s not very wealthy. He is best known for being something of a big mouth. He’s a outspoken Jacksonian Democrat, and likes to get into political debates at a time when when politics were as as rollick a good sometimes as vicious as our own day and after a half sister, marries a fella living in the town of Monroe, Michigan, which was a prospering Lake Erie port. George your audience, his family called him They send him there, because the schools are better. So they’re looking to give him a better a better crack at life. So he gets an event Well, I don’t know if he’d say a better education because he wasn’t all that bookish. But he’s, he’s exposed to say, some of the higher things in life that you wouldn’t have found in New rumley. Ohio.
Dan LeFebvre 05:26
Would that be an example of the phrase, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make a drink lease, you’re gonna try to give them a good education, even if he’s nothing.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 05:35
Yeah, some of it rubbed off. The fact that he went to West Point indicates that he was looking to advance himself because most Americans didn’t go to college back then. And US Military Academy was a good engineering school. So at the very least, even if you couldn’t make a good career in the army, you might be able to find work in a country that was we are moving now with a vengeance into the into the industrial revolution. But there are two stories about how he got into West Point. One was that he developed a relationship with a young woman named Mary Holland, who came from the better side of town. And her father looked with alarm on this burgeoning relationship and wanted to get pester out of the neighborhood. So he put pressure on the local Republican Congressman Johnny Benga to get custard appointment to West Point. The other story is that Custer himself applied to Vietnam, which probably sounds more likely. And in the second half of the 1850s, Republican, Republican Party’s brand new, you know, it’s born in 1854 1856. And it’s pulling in a lot of different northerners from diverse political backgrounds, people who are, are now angry at the south over the spread of slavery. So you’ve got Democrats, and you’ve got wigs, and you’ve got a political abolitionists joining this coalition. And then you may have thought, well, this is a way to get get the Custer family into our coalition. So one way or the other. Custer gets gets that appointment to West Point. And that is a major turning point in his life, because it opens doors for him and opens his eyes to new possibilities about what he can make of his life.
Dan LeFebvre 07:37
I do like the story of just trying to get rid of him. And so to do that, we’re going to send, get it.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 07:44
Things can happen, and maybe maybe both. Both forces were at work.
Dan LeFebvre 07:50
Well, once he does get into West Point, according to the movie, we see this a long list of delinquencies, one of the men actually remarks that customer is going to make the word have the worst record of any cadet at West Point since Ulysses S Grant. And at least according to the movie, he fulfills that prediction of having a terrible record. But he still manages to graduate even though he’s the last of his class to graduate and he’s assigned to the second cavalry. How was customer customers time at West Point?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 08:21
Well, that’s a great question. And that is one part of the movie where they really adhere to historical accuracy, except for the slam on Grant grant graduated toward the center of his class. He wasn’t a great student. He excelled mainly at horsemanship, but you know, he wasn’t in danger of ever flunking out. Yeah, he’s but but Custer Custer was according to one of his his schoolmates, he said he, he had more fun, and cost his friends more anxiety than any other Cadet I’ve ever known. And that friend would later become a professor at West Point. So we do a lot of cadets Custer. He wasn’t dumb. But he told this same person, Peter, Mickey, he said, there are only two places worth having in a class number one, and the last read the go, you know, he wasn’t really that inclined to work all that hard to be number one. So he, according to Mickey, he tried to stay as close to the bottom as he could without being kicked out. Now Custer would later say, Well, you know, if the Civil War hadn’t come along, and a whole lot of my southern classmates hadn’t resigned to join the Confederacy. My class standing would have been a lot better. At the same time. He said, my career at West Point, you know, it’s not a roll my iterations should not fall off, but he was a prankster. He loved hazing underclassmen, He loved escapades one time in Spanish class. And he plotted this with his classmates ahead of time, he asked Professor, how do you say classes dismissed in Spanish? And the professor said and said the words and the condensed balled custard plan. So he, he was getting in trouble. But at the same time, the people who were the officers, the technical officers who were scoring with the berets, and liked them, because he said, you know, this is the cause I knew his classmates like them, and they follow on in these high jinks. And they said, This is the kind of leadership capabilities we’re looking for young officers, hopefully he’ll mature. But, you know, he’s got these tendencies. So at least once it looked like he exceeded the number of demerits that would have resulted in his automatic expulsion, but somebody went into his record book and erased a bunch of saved his bacon. But but he graduates last 34 in the class of June 1861, after the Civil War and broken up
Dan LeFebvre 11:09
was he not just not that interested in in a schooling side of it and more on the military side, like you mentioned, Grant,
Gregory J. W. Urwin 11:18
good horseman, he was the people. He was a good swordsman. He read a bit more often novels, romance novels about Cavaliers when the Napoleonic Wars and things like that. But, you know, he just, he was he was, he was kind of a class clown type of guy. You know, I would kind of categorize it more like that. But he didn’t just he would reach a point where it looked like he was going to be expelled for getting to a demerits and go weeks at a time without getting getting getting getting getting clipped. The same thing with his with his studies, you know, he reached a point, I got I got to get a better grade on this other next exam. And he, so he just he did, he did what he could to, to stay in, but not to distinguish himself academically.
Dan LeFebvre 12:11
Yeah, he was self aware. It sounds like he knew when he needed to. hunker down and focus. Yeah.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 12:17
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So afterwards, and later life when he became a success, writing magazine articles, wrote an autobiography. After he died, some of his classmates when they wrote to his, his widow, we never thought he was that smart. Write a book.
Dan LeFebvre 12:39
Gregory J. W. Urwin 12:42
Yeah. Never, never. Just because someone doesn’t get good grades, doesn’t mean that that they are bound for failure in life. And a number of people who’ve been successful in the military didn’t, you know, they weren’t what the top of the class academically but they had other qualities like Dwight, David Eisenhower, that made them successful in a later life. Yeah,
Dan LeFebvre 13:05
I’d say Eisenhower was rather successful in life. Well, you mentioned the date of 1861. And according to the movie, the first action in the civil war that we see Custer taking part in is on July 21 1861, in Manassas. And almost immediately, he does something that he shouldn’t do when he knocks down his commanding officer and orders him his men to take a bridge. How well did the movie do showing Custer during the Manassas campaign?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 13:39
It’s it’s, it’s it’s exaggerated. The depiction of custard Bull Run is exaggerated now. You know, he graduates I think June 20, June 24 1861, goes to New York orders a uniform buys a sabre and a revolver, another officer equipments, hits down to Washington. And he’s assigned to accompany to second Calvary, which is part of the army that’s going to try to capture Richmond, which is going to march on Bull Run. You know, it’s his first battle and his Civil War memoirs which he was writing before the time of his death. He just, I was there and watch this, and wondered if we got into action if I should use a saber or pistol, but he doesn’t talk about knocking out a squadron command or performing any feats of Derring do. Congressman Bingham, who got him into West Point would later claim that when the Union forces were retreating, a wagon got upset on a bridge and troops began panicking because they additions a rebel Calvary coming down on top of them, and that Custer stepped in and restored award. And he may have done that. But you know that punching, punching out a superior officer on the battlefield? Only in Hollywood could you get away?
Dan LeFebvre 15:03
It’s gonna say there’s Samaritan and West Point but I think that that might be something that you would not be able to come back from. Well, there is a scene in the movie where major Romulus tape is writing a letter to Custer to reprimand him. But then Lieutenant General Scott walks in and upon the news that Confederate General Lee is near Gettysburg, Scott orders tape to dictate a letter to appoint a new Brigadier General to command the Michigan brigade. And that letter gets written down on the it’s interesting the way the movie shows it. It gets written down on the paper that was originally addressed to customer at top where they’re going to reprimand him. And then at the bottom in the letter is this, you know, you’re appointed to being a brigadier general. And the impression I got here was that it was both rushed, a mistake. And a complete surprise to Custer himself, is that true?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 15:56
Pastor’s promotion from first lieutenant to Brigadier General, at the end of June 1863, came as a surprise to most of the rest of the army and probably to him, but it wasn’t an accident. After bowl run, he he’s a West Pointer, and even a West Point or with a poorly ingested military education. He’s been trained to be a soldier for four years, and he’s part of an army of amateurs, all the civilians who have been recruited I mean, during the first year of the war, the Union army went from 16,000 men to more than 600,000. So having officers with any kind of training. Well, they were at a premium and so he starts getting assigned to various staff positions. And by the spring of 1862, he is assigned to the staff of the most powerful soldier in the Union Army Major General George B. McClellan, who commands the army of the Potomac that was the North largest Field Army. And McClellan loves Custer. He says, This guy, his head was always clear in danger. He always brought me accurate reporting, I count on him for anything. And Custer, you know, goes from being the goat of his class, you know, the Charlie Brown a West Point to someone sitting on the footstool, at the center of power, and he’s, he’s getting he’s making connections. He’s networking, as, as we’d say today, and you know, the the command, even though most officers aren’t with pointers, they’re freshmen civilian life, the senior command, these are West partners, they look out for each other. And they look out for their for their, for their younger, younger Associates, and McClellan. He is funny customer idolized and he said he died for him. And this is an officer who was always looking for a fight. And he feels that way about a general who specialized in avoiding flights, because extra cost, but he serves with McClellan until McClellan’s roof removed from command after Indiana and November 1862. And it looks like Oh, I got to go back and serve as a platoon commander. But then another general, someone who’s not as highly placed Brigadier General Alfred Pleasanton. He commands a Calvary division. Yes, Custer does serve on his staff. And a few months later, Pleasanton becomes commander of all the union Calvary and the army of the Potomac, the Calvary corps, so he’s more important, but he likes Custer too. It’s kind of a father son. relationship. And, again, he finds customer reliable, he can always trust him to bring him clear intelligence. You know, back then, they didn’t have iPhones. If you wanted to give an order to the commander of a unit that was some distance away. You sent an eight, especially if you don’t have time to write down a long order in the ad had to count on him to remember clearly what you ramble that damn, you know, and so the amputation and Custer was good at that. And pleasant and after he becomes Commander, the Calvary Corps, the way he got the job was he was something of a backstab. And once he is in a position of power, he does away with stabbing him in the back. So he starts replacing brigade commanders with people who are loyal to him. And George Armstrong Custer is part of that pleasant and family and pleasant and right after George Gordon Mead becomes commander of the army of the Potomac in the middle of Lee’s invasion of the North, Pleasanton said, I want to give this brigade to one of my eights custard, it meets us fine. And Custer gets a letter addressed to Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer, which, according to his first biographer, who spoke to me extensively, that took him by surprise, but he was very happy to accept the appointment.
Dan LeFebvre 19:58
I liked the way the movie showed it where they were talking about General Custer. And he’s there. He’s like, don’t make fun of me. You know? Don’t call me General. Don’t make fun of me. Like that. He thought that people were mocking him there. But now Yeah, your general cluster.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 20:13
So I was posted before this was over, I’ll be a major, I’ll be a general. So people were always joshing him. And then when he thought he thought they were, they were just, you know, carrying on the joke. But, and that might have happened again, that’s that a variation on that story is in his his first biography that appeared a few months after the Little Bighorn. But, you know, as I say, he’s the youngest general in the Union Army at that time. He’s 23 years old. Some younger, appointed later, but at that time, bam, and people say, Custer.
Dan LeFebvre 20:54
If we go back to the movie almost immediately after he’s given the Command, General Custer then defies the order to go to roundtop, just south of Gettysburg, and then they hear some gunshots in the distance, and he orders his men to ride to the sound of the guns in the distance. Meanwhile, we find out that Jeb Stuart is attacking handover from a bit of paper that’s dated, I think it was June 30 1863. And according to the movie, it kind of sets us up that all that stands between them and disaster is this Michigan brigade. And then at this point, Gerald tape realizes that Custer is the one that’s been made general and, and he’s attacking Stuart at Hanover. And this seems like a disaster because you know, Custer, you know, with all the demerits that he had in at West Point, we don’t see a lot of fighting in the movie itself, but we do see different regiments charging, being repulsed until finally the first Michigan managed to break through and for Stuart to retreat and the the end customer is named the hero of Hanover. How did the movie do showing customers first command after being made general there?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 21:58
There’s a tenuous connection to the truth in those scenes, when Robert Ely began his second invasion of the North, we headed into Pennsylvania and land up at Gettysburg. Jim Stewart, his Calvary commander cut loose with three brigades to ride around the union arm. He had done this before, it got him a lot of newspaper, praise, but it was also a good way of demoralizing the enemy and harming their logistics, et cetera. So Lee, tell Stuart Yeah, you can go on this raid, but don’t be gone long because Lee is moving in enemy territory. And he depends on Stuart for his intelligence. He depends on store to know where the enemy is, what the enemy is planning to do, where the enemy is headed. So Stuart goes off on this raid, and at first it goes well, he captures a big wagon train full of supplies, and starts heading back to join Lee. But the Union army is placed itself between Lee and Washington DC. So it means Stewart has to kind of circumvent the Union Army and the union Calvary is out. Doing the Calvary supposed to do looking for the enemy and reporting to headquarters and the division customers in the Third Cavalry Division is doing that. And on June 30 1863, Pennsylvania, town Hanover, they bump into stores through bumps into them, and they get in his way, and they find a brisk, brisk firefight. And then Stuart kind of swings North around the union Calvary and starts heading west and trying to rendezvous with Lee. So the fight at Hanover it’s a minor affair. Stuart links up with me on the night of July 2. And the following day, Lisa and Stuart with four brigades to menace the right flank of the Union Army again his customers division had orders to move from the right flank, to the left flank to move south to Little Round Top. There were two brigades and customers division, the first that already moved out. And customers guys were in camped on the right flank, which was supposed to be guarded by the union second cavalry division under Brigadier General David Gregg. Well, just as customers getting ready to ship out, Jeff Stewart makes his appearance. And Greg has two week brigades. Stuart has 6000 men. Greg has something like 3000 Guys, he says, customer, I stay here of disobey your orders to report to the left. I’ll take responsibility and customer looks and says that’s where the enemy is. Yeah, I’ll stay here. He had about 2500 men in his brigade. So it’s the biggest union unit on the field and red puts them in the center. And then Stuart you know There are all kinds of theories about what Stewart’s intentions were that he meant to, to outflank the Union Army and hit its rear in conjunction with Pickett’s Charge, which would also be staged on the afternoon of July 3 1818 63. Or he was just there to create some mischief distract the Federalist, but but you have a pretty large scale Calvary action and Custer. He starts off, he sends out one of his regiments, which is armed with seven shots Spencer repeating rifles there are novelty at this point, as skirmishers they drive the rebels back. But the trouble with repeaters is that you burn off your ammunition quickly. And so they’re out of ammunition and the rebel start crowding them. And Custer puts himself in front of another regiment, the Sabbath Michigan and leads the charge and drives the rebels back until they come over arise and they slam into into a stone wall with a rail fence on top of it. And the Rebels are on the other side firing into the Federalists, emptying saddles. So Custer has to retreat. And then about half of Stewart’s force, maybe a little less than about 2000 Guys come out, mounted to fight their way through the union. Senator Custer has two regiments now that have been dispersed. He has another one guarding his artillery that leaves him just one smaller regiment, the first Michigan Calvary 500 men, and as the rebels come down, he says, Well, there’s nothing else to do and he charges them head on. And in fact, just before his regiment makes contact with this rebel mass, he spurs his horse so all union troopers can see him just before he disappears among the rebels. He yells
Gregory J. W. Urwin 26:53
come on you overeats appealing to local pride and they give a shout and follow him in and they stymie the Confederates impetuosity at charge. By that time, so customers other dispersed troopers have gotten to the horses and they’re hitting the rebels on the flanks. Some elements from one of Greg’s brigades hit the rebels on the flanks, and so it’s like this prank train is coming down and then it just, it stops and it wavers and the rebels end up melting away. And the federal is when the day and they weren’t used to forcing the Confederates to retreat. But Custer plays an important role in that, and that’s the beginning of his rise to national hero status. Stuff sorry, his men are they say, Wow, this is great. You know, this, this guy. I mean, it’s just like, at first they don’t know who he is. Just west part, but then men are say anything he does, he’s six. And we’re so glad. During the LEAs retreat for Gettysburg on the last day, Custer leads his troops against these rearguard and they take a number of prisoners and one fellow who’s in his in his escort, right, so I saw General Custer plunges Sabre in the belly of a rebel who was trying to kill him. You can guess how soldiers fight for such a general. So he, he charms with his personal courage, and the fact that he looks to be a winner. I like that too.
Dan LeFebvre 28:28
Well, you mentioned the charging and the width movie kind of portrays it the impression I got was, Custer was supposed to play more of a defensive role, but then he charges and that’s almost again seems to imply that he’s he’s not necessarily straight up breaking orders. In this case, that was the impression I got but more like, just not maybe not the best military strategy.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 28:55
Well, yeah, the movie makes puts him in complete charge. There’s no other federal troops there. He’s serving under General Greg initially slaying defensively, he’s got dismounted skirmishers and then when that skirmish line gets in trouble then he charges with the seventh Michigan and then when the Rebels take come out to make a charge that he will counter charge because he’s got nothing else. You know, that was the only regiment available. And it was a gamble. I mean, it could have been customers Last Stand right there. Church hadn’t been successful. But but But it worked out. It worked out. Oh, yeah, the movie The movie kind of fudges things.
Dan LeFebvre 29:35
The movie doesn’t actually show a lot of general customers time during the Civil War. After this we do see a montage of what I’m assuming the movie doesn’t really explain this. But what I’m assuming is these are the battles that Custer fought during the Civil War. There’s text on the screen you’ll Monterey gap, yellow tavern, Woodstock, Winchester and Cedar Creek and we see Lee surrendering and the end of the war. Can you share an overview of general culture truce campaigns during the Civil War
Gregory J. W. Urwin 30:03
after Gettysburg, as I mentioned Custers provenant in pursuing Lee’s retreating army, and then the rest of that summer as the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Robert E Lee maneuver against each other. The Calvary now is between the infantry. And so Custer sees a lot of action. sparring with with Jim Stewart and other Confederate Calvary commanders and he matures. As a general he becomes more versatile tactically and does increasingly improves his performance. So he you know, that reputation he makes it Gettysburg gets gets burnished and early 1864 There’s a shakeup in the Army of the Potomac, a general from the west. Ulysses S. Grant is made commanding general of all the Union armies and he decides he’s going to personally supervise that campaign against League. He gets rid of general Pleasanton, the commander of the Earth, atomics Calvary and installs one of his pets a gentleman named Phillip share. In command to carry this is really the first time Custer beat Sharon garden was in the class of 1853. He wasn’t superintendent of the mosaic Military Academy, he would have been the last guy to be superintendent, the military academy was hot blooded, Irishman. And he got upset with that with a superior cadet, a Southerner who was giving a hard time on the drillfield and lunged at him with his banner, and was given a year suspension that are graduating and 52. He graduated 53. And he’s a he’s a forgotten captain in the Pacific Northwest when the civil war breaks out. But once the war explodes he serving in the western theater and Kentucky and Tennessee and he is rises is pretty well, it’s meteoric, to say the least. But he’s in charge of the Calvary. This is a guy you know, he’s hard headed. He wants results. He will not tolerate anyone who fails to bring them. And Custer, you know, is you want me to jump how high you know, you got a dangerous mission, give it to me in my Wolverines, that kind of thing. And so, one of the first things that Sharon wants to do is cripple the Confederate Calvary so he raids Richmond, Virginia, hoping to draw James Stewart away from robbery, Lee’s army This is May of 1864. And at the Battle of yellow tavern, custard leads the charge that kills Stuart, and he’s prominent and other other fights in around Richmond in August of 1864 sheratons put in charge of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, which is long Danah a thorn in the Union Hi commands neck pace at the rebels used as an invasion quarter to repeatedly threatened Washington and Custer reaches his Apex as a soldier in the Shenandoah Valley, leaves a Calvary charge that turns the rebel left flank entrenched infantry at the Battle of Winchester. Calvary rarely charged unbroken infantry. But Custer does that and Sheridan is just so delighted he gives them the command of the division. The Third Cavalry Division which customer will turn into the best Calvary formation in the Union army. There are other victories in the Shenandoah, the Confederate surprise Sheridan at Cedar Creek, Custer helps to stem the union retreat there and then leads the attack that helps to break open that Confederate lie and causes the rebels to to flee.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 33:50
Sheraton will come out of the Shenandoah at early 665 and join grant in front of Richmond and destroy a big chunk of Lee’s army in a place called Five forks. Once again Custer is prominent there. And when we abandoned switch Ben and tries to flee west to get away from Grant and try and link up with Confederate forces in North Carolina. Custer is one appointment in Sheridan’s pursuit helps to cut Lee’s army in half at sailors Creek on April 6 1865. And two days later, Lee is racing to reach a place called Appomattox station, where trains are parked full of food for his famished army customer gets their first customer throws himself in front of me checks Lee’s retreat. The next morning when Lee wakes up there tons again, he’s in front of him, you know if a customer was the guy that pitched off, and Lee will surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and after the surrender, Phil Sheridan, I think $20 and gold are willing to claim for the table on which Grant had written the surrender terms for the Confederate are sent here. Custer, this is for you. He wrote wells, we recently saw your wife. And he wrote a note saying, you know, there’s a president that I give you an appreciation for the services and your gallon husband, Nolan did more to bring, bring this about. He would say to Custer during the Civil War Custer, you’re the only man who never failed. So the movie shows that a kind of a father son relationship, this older guy sees some potential in this unruly cadet. But in actuality, it was it was a it was a combat partnership, shared his dirty job customer get this dirty job.
Dan LeFebvre 35:45
Well, you mentioned never failing and the impression that I got from the movie and even from what you were saying there is Custer was perfectly okay and seem to enjoy taking a risk. But did they always work? I mean, it seems like he was
Gregory J. W. Urwin 36:03
warm up. He was he was, he was a war lover. He wrote what I think of the charges that were made, I cannot explain, but glorious war. No, not always. They’re awesome. Rebels weren’t dumb. They were capable enemy. They were there were times when he would try something and they would check him. But part of the reason for his success was that he thought and moved quickly as a Calvary command, which is kind of like pick a fighter pilot. Okay, they’re on me. I got a barrel roll out of here and then come around, and try and try and try and catch him from the flank or the rear. So yeah, yeah, there were times when he got, you know, got pushed back. But he rebounded. He rebounded high he just had that gift for and he had this tremendous relationship with the troops that, that that followed him. They just adored him during the Civil War. You know, he wore a red Corvette, along with some other ostentatious garments, so that his men will always see where he was, especially when he was leading a charge. And the Third Cavalry Division, they all adapted red, red Corvettes. They called themselves the red tie boys, you know, because we’re customers. And, you know, it’s a, it’s it stands in contrast to the relations he had with a seventh Calvary, on the Great Plains after the war, but he was leading, you know, these were volunteers who signed up to save the country. They wanted it done as quickly as possible. Any officer who would lead them as smashing the enemy and attaining that result as quickly as possible was okay in their books. So, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s Custer is one of these people, and you find them in different walks of life, who attains spectacular success, while still a kid? And and sometimes that could that could that can spot somebody, because the rest of your life may not be as great as what you were doing at age 23 to 25. In some ways, I think Guster spent the rest of his life trying to reduplicate the success and acclaim that he had joy during the Civil War.
Dan LeFebvre 38:28
Yeah, well, you mentioned after the war, and if we go back to the movie, once customers out of the military for a short period after the war, but then he’s reinstated to military active service and assigned to Fort Lincoln. And in the movie, there’s a scene where, you know, while they’re traveling there, he’s traveling there with his wife. They’re rated by the SU and Custer manages to capture crazyhorse, the SU chief, and maybe it’s just me, but it seemed like that was a little too convenient, the way that the movie portrayed that. But then there at the forks and Crazy Horse breaks outs with the help of a friend. And then as a result cluster, shuts the bar down at the forks, so the soldiers can’t drink. He also shuts down the trading posts that’s selling rifles to the Native Americans and we see a montage of Custer training the cavalry. How well did the movie do showing Custers arrival and kind of whipping people into shape there at Fort Lincoln?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 39:21
There’s so much to unpack here. Let me begin by saying Custer in the seven Calvary did not arrive in Fort Abraham Lincoln until 1873. So you know, you’ve got it’s basically 73 That just gets skipped over the Civil War ends. This large temporary army that had been raised to defeat the Confederacy is demobilized costume had a temporary rank of Major General By the war’s end, reverts to his his permanent rank of captain. Now there was he may have briefly considered leaving the Army because but you RFS who was fighting to drive the French and the Austrian puppet Emperor out of Mexico, Maximilian, offered him command of the Mexican cavalry. That the army the US Army would not give them a leave of absence. You know, he take this post and you’re out of the army customer didn’t want to separate from the army. Well, 1866 While there, they’re getting rid of all these citizen soldiers. They’re they’re reorganizing the regular permanent army, they expanded a bit, and they create four new cavalry regiments. They have the first through six during the Civil War, first through sixth us Calvary, well, they now create the seventh through the 10th. And Custer becomes lieutenant colonel of the newly re seventh Calvary in 1866. And the guy who’s there two people service Colonel during the rest of customer’s life. They’re given desk jobs. So that Custer is the acting commander of the seventh. And he starts out he has regiment style fighting Indians, not up in the Dakotas. But in the southern plains, in Kansas, so when is the day Oklahoma, and he does not get off to a good start. Because fighting Indians was a lot different than fighting Confederates who would form up and you know, beat you face to face Indians. If they saw a lot of white soldiers, they’d say, Well, we’ve got a limited population, we’re just going to leave these guys alone, we’re gonna melt away. We can. Our horses are quicker and we know where to hide, and will attack small attachments. So we’ll attack stagecoach stations and things like that. So customers first summer on the plains 1867. He is just going hither and yon and the men he is leading. These aren’t guys who have you know, this definite mission, we’ve got to save the country, a lot of work. I need a job within the Army’s hard or if I join the army, I’ll get a free trip out to the West that I can desert. You know, I go to Colorado where there’s silver and gold peels and things like that. So Custer has his trouble with the seventh Calvary. You know, it’s it’s not? Well, there’s a motivation prop, as they say, he’s got this desertion problem, a lot of the officers to they’re kind of surly, because like customer, they were all reduced in rank. Someone from Brigadier General, the captain, you know, the customer was lucky go and do tech Colonel. And they know this army so small, could be 20 years before I get promoted, etc. So why should I kill myself? But customers gotten home you got to do this got to do this. And he’s pushing, pushing, pushing. And a lot of people decide they just don’t like and he kind of reacts to those negative vibes, he becomes this really heartless smart net. I mean, you don’t follow orders that I’m going to do we administer all kinds of punishments and things like that tie you up by your thumbs, make you stand on a barrel, he ordered dessert or shot without trial, and what were the problems it got so chronic. And then finally he suffers kind of breakdown. He deserts his own command. To spend time with his wife. He hears that she’s at a post where there might be a cholera epidemic, and just goes bananas. And he’s arrested and court martialed and found guilty and suspended from the from Rankin pay for a year and returns to Monroe, to live out his probation. But other army commanders aren’t doing any back against the Indians on the southern plains and Phil shared and gets put in charge of the army in the West. He succeeds in shortening customers sentenced by two months and brings it back and gives customer a chance to redeem himself and customer will do that he will lead a winter campaign in western Oklahoma. down into the Washita River Valley he’ll attack a Cheyenne Village at DOD on November 27 1868. kill most of the warriors capture about 50 women and children it’s the Army’s first victory
Gregory J. W. Urwin 44:23
over the Plains Indians since the end of the Civil War. So the early makes a big big advocate say we are we really know what we’re doing and establishes customer customer’s reputation, rightly or wrongly, because there are other officers who want more victories. But it establishes reputation as America’s premier Indian fighter. And afterwards he pursues different bands and resorts. The Diplomacy talks their leaders into coming back to their agencies because he’s a celebrity. rich, rich people from the States and Great Britain come out and they watch him to take them on buffalo hunts and things like that, which is a way of making for the Army making points with American movers and shakers. Good diplomacy with friendly, friendly powers. But while this is going on, of course, the nation isn’t in the thick of reconstruction. After the Civil War, the Radical Republicans tried to. Well, they tried to implement regime change. The defeated Confederate states, more or less placed them under Republican state governments, supported by the votes of former slaves, and former Confederates resorted to widespread political terrorism, to fight that an estimated 50,000 politically active blacks will be murdered between 1865 and 1877. And things get so bad that Congress passes some what they call force acts, which permits the inauguration of martial law in certain areas that are under control out of control where the local sheriffs and and judges either can’t or won’t try to control the Klan. So the southern Calvary, from 1871 to 73. It scattered to the south, an anti terrorists duty, which Custer didn’t like he was he was a Democrat, like his father, and he was kind of sympathetic to the former Confederates. But they’re down there until 73. That is 73. Their their their problems are mounting now with the Lakota or the Sioux with the Northern Plains. And so the seven Calvary is set to Fort Abraham like
Dan LeFebvre 46:42
yeah, that’s, that’s very different. The impression I got from the movie was just like, okay, the war’s over. And so he’s kind of waiting around until he gets something else. Yeah, well, as I was watching the movie, of course, this movie from 1941, and I couldn’t help it get the sense that there was a racial side to this whole story that the movie doesn’t really address. The closest that I saw. The movie kind of admitting race as a driver of what the cowboy was doing was a bit of Texas says, and I’ll read this off his quote, and so was born the immortal seventh US Cavalry, which cleared the plains for a ruthlessly advancing civilization that spelled Doom to the red race and quote, and the way the movie explained what the Seventh Cavalry was supposed to be doing was protecting, and I’ll put that in quotes, some 100,000 square miles of territory. And it doesn’t really mention this, but by protecting, they’re really protecting the white settlers, we’re moving into Native American territory. So can you give a little more historical context around the role of the cavalry and the racial tensions of the time?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 47:47
Yeah, the way the way that phase of customers life is depicted, it’s like the Battle of head over its customer by itself. And now, same in the Union, and now its customer set with Calvary, protecting 100,000 square miles? Well, it wasn’t. There was. There are a number of army regiments out there on frontier duty. And, of course, they were there to protect white interests, the interests of the United States government, the interests of certain stakeholders, who had an important voice in the economy, and you know, these are the people would be the big donors, et cetera, especially the railroads. And so, you know, yeah, I mean, the army, although it’s interesting. The army will fight Indians, of Indians leave their reservations, you know, if they if they break the rules, but a lot of army officers are sympathetic to the Indian saying, you know, if these people were treated decently, they wouldn’t go on the warpath, and we wouldn’t have to go out and kill a bunch of them, and also risk our own necks. Custer in his autobiography, My Life on the plains, which he published in 1974. I’m paraphrasing, but he said, If I were an indie, I would far rather, you know, live the free life in the plains, I’d far rather resist then submit to life on a reservation where the government cheats you doesn’t give you the food and other amenities, the other annuities that have been promised you in treating so there’s, you know, there’s this this this contradiction there but I mean, when customer was told to fight that fight, he did say I’m a conscientious objector. I want to sit this one. sit this one out. So yeah, you know, it’s the Army’s job is to protect American interests all in the movie, you know, they reach a point where Crazy Horses will fight, no more will be good. All we ask is that you let us have the Black Hills and Custer says yes okay, that’s fine. And so you know it’s Indians are betrayed right you know their their their final resistance that claims customers life customer doesn’t blame them in effect you know he’s he sees it they’re they’re being exploited they’re being betrayed after the war, the army tried to open a road into western Montana where they were goldfields that led through lands at the Sioux considered dares and sue under Red Cloud resisted that and they ended up massacring Army Detachment 80 men outside of Fort Phil Kearney, and the army decided, gee, we just can’t cope with these people. We don’t have enough enough enough men. So they negotiate the Treaty of Fort Fort Laramie, which more or less says that certain lands belong belonged to the soup, and that would have included the Black Hills. So that makes the agreement was made. But then in 1874, gold, at least, the claims are made that there’s gold in the Black Hills, and then the gold rush, the Gold Rush opens up, and the people that the person that was responsible for those claims was George Armstrong customer.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 51:20
When the Seventh Cavalry moved to Fort Lincoln, the first job was to protect a survey party from the Northern Pacific Railroad. So big business interest, it’s building across the northern part of the country to the Pacific Northwest. But the Indians are objecting and trying to stop them from deciding where to place the rails and bridges, etc. So the seventh Calvary goes out in summer 73. And the SU oppose this expedition and force, Custer fights to engagements with the zoo and be successful in driving them off. And I think that success caused him to believe Well, I understand the Lakota I understand the zoo, I know their bag of tricks. So they don’t really they don’t intimidate me, and he may have paid for that three years later. But the army is is is, you know, thinks that that the Lakota, you know, they will be the most powerful coalition of native peoples and the northern plains that they’re just, well, they need to be taken out. So Custer sent out 74, to look for a site to establish a fort in the midst of suit country. They’re geologists in this in this expedition, and the geologists claim that they found gold and customer rights and anonymous newspaper dispense, it says gold is to be found at the very grassroots, you know, it’s right on top, you have the dignity. Now, the country had plunged into a major depression in 1873. So the cries of gold, you know, elicit a massive response they would have anyway, initially, the Army is used to try to intercept these people who are trespassing. unseeded land, the armies used as peacekeepers, but they’re just so many, and the Interlopers are white. And if they can’t vote, because they’re living out of established states, like our friends and relatives who want to make sure that they’re safe. And in the end, the granite ministration decides to force the SU into war. In the winter of 1875 76, an ultimatum is set out saying that any any native people, so Lakota, and also their allies, Cheyenne, who are off their reservations by a certain date, they will be considered hostile. In other words, the army will have permission to kill them. And this ultimatum is set out so late in the year that it can’t even reach these villages before the deadline expires. So they set up this thing, and and we have the Great Sioux War of 1876 1877 as a result, and the army organizes three columns, converging columns commit the Indians from three different directions at once, hopefully, one or more will bump into Indians, that Dakota column mainly the Seventh Cavalry, but some other troops under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, the Montana column under Colonel John Gibbon, and then the Wyoming column coming out of the south, under General George brooder. General George Crook. So that set up the customer gets into trouble Hulu’s command with the decoder column, which gets alluded to in the movie,
Dan LeFebvre 54:39
from what you were saying, it sounds like the movie fabricated basically, that the as the state of the impression I got from the movie was that Custer was blameless in breaking this treaty, like there’s there’s a scene where I think he’s on on a train and he’s heading back to Washington, and he realizes, Oh, what’s going on? But oh, there’s this goal goal has been found he realized it was going to happen and he Start tries to expose the plan but nobody listens to him and you know, he ends up seeming pretty blameless. I think the name of the sharps like a father, son, you know, business that we’re trying to, to push this to keep their business. They were the ones that were running that trading post.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 55:18
And this plotline would appeal to Americans who have come through the Great Depression. Right? Because who do you blame for the Great Depression, all those stinking selfish capitalists that destroyed the economy, right? So the bad guys aren’t going to be Custer. It’s gonna be these business guys who are willing to sacrifice people, you’ll learn these people in the Black Hills where they’ll be murdered by the Indians, just so they create more business opportunities for themselves.
Dan LeFebvre 55:43
According in the movie, his with his career is kind of a customer’s career is kind of in jeopardy there. And he takes it he pleat makes a plea to now President Grant to try to get reinstated and try to join his regiment to fight the SU on. What’s looking to be a suicide mission. Is the movie right to imply that Custer knew that he would going to die a little bit warm, but he still went out of his way to try to make sure that he would be there with his men
Gregory J. W. Urwin 56:12
accustomed and have a suicide wish. What happens is that Custer, he sticks his nose in politics when he shouldn’t, you know, he’s a Democrat. And that’s one reason why he remained a lieutenant colonel for the last 10 years of his life. That was part of it. But the Grant administration, you listen since grant administration, it’s famous for for widespread corruption. President Grant himself, there’s no evidence he was dishonest, but he had a bad a bad habit of appointing people to high office Cabinet posts, who turned out to be crooks, and his Secretary of War belt, bap, is in trouble because he was in charge of awarding posts, subtler ships, you know, the sharps store, where the chips could buy liquor and other things. Well, you know, there was corruption there. And you know, if you paid Secretary both map, a certain premium, and then given game kickbacks, you get that contract. And the truths are told you could only shop in the stores, you can’t go into nearby Bismarck, and get things you know, a cheaper price. And because the the these the these crooked settlers were, you know, paying extra money to get their licenses, they were hiking their prices. So both maps being investigated. There’s a congressional probe that was known as the climber commission. And Custer is heard saying some things about this corruption. And so he gets subpoenaed to do it on the record. And so he is criticizing the Grant administration. I mean, Grant was honest. But he, he stood by dishonest trends longer than he should have, you know, going after them. He’d go after the whistleblowers. But Custer also implicated his brother, Orville Orville grant, in some of these dealings. So he’s not only not only summing the reputation of grants administration, but he’s also going after member grants family. So Grant says Custer can’t go after the suit, put him under arrest, keep up. And that creates something of a fear of the Democratic press. The court says he’s persecuting us soldier and letters, the coding of the west to the White House. How can you keep Custer, our greatest Indian fighter out of what’s going to be the biggest Indian wherever customers department commander Alford, Terry intercedes on customer’s behalf shared and does to a certain extent. And customer writes a letter to grant he doesn’t burst in into the White House. But he sends Brad a letter that pretty much expresses what Errol Flynn says to grant at the movie. He said, you know, spare me the humiliation of seeing my regiment ride out against the enemy and mean not to share their privations and dangers. And so grants It’s okay though, but not in command. Terry, you gotta leave your comfortable headquarters in St. Paul. You’re in charge of the Dakota column and make sure we keep customer on a tight leash. So Custer goes into a second in command of that X of that expedition under General tear.
Dan LeFebvre 59:34
Okay, okay. A letter makes a lot more sense than in the movie. We see Custer basically walking into the office and
Gregory J. W. Urwin 59:42
you know, it’s like punching out us superior officer. Exciting filmmaking perhaps but no, yeah.
Dan LeFebvre 59:48
Well, in the movie, we don’t really see Custer dying at Little Bighorn, but it’s definitely talked about and it’s clear that he does, along with everyone in his command. And as I was watching the movie, the thing that came to mind as how we saw Davy Crockett, keep, just keep fighting until the end of the 1955 Disney movie, you know, King of the wild frontier. This time, it’s Custer, who seems to be the last one alive while everyone around him is dying. How well did the movie do showing customers last stand?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:00:14
Well, you know, it simplifies things. I mean, Custer and his regiment go right around and they see the Indians, they go riding toward the but then they realize, boy, they’re a heck of a lot of Indians. So we’ve got to get off our horses just kind of form a shapeless mob and shoot it the Indians and, and die fighting. In reality, Custer with about 650 soldiers, scouts. They are following a trail starting on June 22, that will eventually lead them to the Little Bighorn Valley. The fall the intelligence available to the army and clients Custer to believe in fact, he tells his officers on the night of the 22nd, we can expect 800 to 1000 Indians, and surely our regiment can handle that many. But the trail gets wider as they follow that because we’re Indians are coming in and joining Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, but at least a little bit hard and customer decides well, he had separated from Terry Terry’s coming down to the northeast supposed to be swinging Custer south of the Indians. On wait a day, I’ll wait to the morning of the 26th and attack the Indians, then that will give Terry time to come in from the north with five troops of Calvary and about seven companies of infantry into Gatling guns. But on the morning of the 25th, he is informed that his regiment has been spotted by some soo goo, we’re just out probably hunting or something like that. And he says, Well, they’re going to ride to the village. And they’re going to inform their friends that there are a lot of white soldiers. And what the Indians do when there are a lot of white soldiers that they take off. We don’t want to suffer heavy casualties even when we have a chance of winning. We want to you know, live to fight another day and do it in terms of our own choosing. So he rides into the valley of the Little Bighorn. He has 12 companies of Calvary, he sends three companies to the south to make sure the Indians aren’t trying to escape in that direction. And then one of his interpreters sees about 40 Indians rotting away from customers column the approaches there go your Indians running like devils. So customer orders major Marcus read only three companies to cross the river and charge the village, wherever it is not quite sure. But you know, they’re in that area somewhere so cross the river head north and when you see Indians charge him, and then customer instead of following Reno. He will swing north on the other side of the Little Bighorn East Side Little Bighorn. And people think well he was just trying to find a way to flank the Indians. But everything falls apart, Reno runs into tons of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who are not in the mood to run. They reached this point these people even pushed around so much that they thought this is our last year of freedom. This is our last year we could be real Indians that have run away to fighting it another day. The Battle Cry is it’s a good day to die. If you kind of go out go out like a real India. And also the whites had surprise them those those Indians and spotted customers regiment early on didn’t report back to the village. So there’s this village with 1000s of women and children. And these Indians. We’re not gonna let these white soldiers hurt our loved ones. We’re gonna let them out. So they route Reno and they kill about a quarter of his men but he’s able to by leading a panicky retreat, get to the other side of the river. Custer, though has continued northward. And we’re not exactly sure what he tried to do. He probably tried to stay on the offensive too long. He was hoping that Captain Ben team would come up with a reserve ammunition and set a couple of couriers to Ben team, but Ben team did move that quickly. And in the course of a two hour engagement, Custer and his five companies are whittled down by Indians fighting from cover, not riding around in circles, like, look, we’ve got a good target, I have to be white man. You know, there’s piping, and then the overrun decimated segments of customers command and they destroy customer and the 210. officers and men under his immediate command cluster is found at the top of a Hogback Ridge, which was probably one of the last positions that the soldiers held. They found Yeah, instead of an army issue rifle, he had a Remington hunting rifle and they found some of the cartridges from that rifle under his body so he was alive when he got there and how long he remained alive. We don’t know. But you know, we don’t know who the last one is to fall. The idiots weren’t standing standing up. So who could identify and our, you know, making good targets of themselves, they wouldn’t have known him anyway.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:05:09
If they’d seen it, especially since economic in the field had a beard, you know, and just covered with dust etc. But, you know, he, he was probably, you know, probably the last the most of the bow before before he went before I went down he was hit with a bullet, I believe the breast and one in the temple, either one of them one could have killed
Dan LeFebvre 1:05:35
was something I saw in the movie that kind of threw me off a little bit. Because one of the first things that we see Custer do is to tell his men to fight on foot. But then earlier in the movie, he had said that, you know, the cavalry has a much better chance than the infantry. So why would the cavalry just immediately get off their horses? Doesn’t that basically
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:05:53
Oh, who knows? It’s a cavalry job, though. So here’s the Indians will be infantry. And again, they’re not deployed in any military formation. They’re just this mass. And they’re all firing at once. I mean, they’re guys close to Custer. And this this circle is like maybe 20 Guys deep. So how do you miss the guys that are between you and the Indians while you’re placing away? What we do now from the archaeological evidence is that in certain places, clusters, troopers form skirmish lines. These were these were open order lines and, and blazed away at the Indians until those positions were compromised, and overrun, but yeah, I mean, if it was a it’s a calorie job because Calvary has a better chance of pursuing and catching mounted Indians. But you know that but I mean, they end it’s all run away. And he knows about running away according to the script scenario, they’re there for their to their last dad. So yeah, there’s a disconnect there between what the script says and military tactics.
Dan LeFebvre 1:07:07
According to journal Sheraton in the movie, if it weren’t for customers, Seventh Cavalry, sacrificing themselves, then Terry’s forest would have been wiped out. Squatters massacred and the entire frontier overrun. And as for Custer himself, he sent a letter A dying man’s declaration that proves the whole peace treaty conspiracy was true. Tape is forced to resign and the company is dissolved and so on. How well does the movie do showing the aftermath of customers death?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:07:35
Pure pure affection, pure affection. The seventh Calvary lost about 265 personnel killed at the Little Bighorn. So there are people killed in addition to the 210 men who died with Custer. Most most the other dead were with Reno. Indian casualties were dead, at least we’re about at least 50. But I mean, it wasn’t like the Indians suffered. It wasn’t a fear of victory for them. And what happened afterwards, though, is that the Indians decided we can’t feed this mass of people if we stay together. You know, there are no seven elevens out there, you had to hunt your own food. And so they will, they will break away, they’ll they will splendor and that will make it easier for the army which will flood the area with troops to hunt them down. So I mean, the Grant administration and the the business interests that the great administration was serving they’re not held responsible well grubbing grandiose because he’s president but it’s the the main reaction was avenge Custer you know, Indians get the Indians there. They’re there to kill those savages, you know, city ball and all his his friends. So, you know, the Indians there. Their victory makes enhances their their status as targets. And the army will keep after them crook and Terry chase after them. Not that much success, but other Abler commanders like Nelson miles, and they’ll keep doing it in the wintertime, which is rough on the Indians because their horses or ponies are grass fed. And when when snow and ice covers the grass, which, if there’s any grass left at the end of summer, it’s burned out. It’s not that nutritious, they really can’t, they can’t feed them in wintertime is when they they kind of hold off and they live off the dried buffalo meat that they’ve gathered in the warmer months, etc. But they’re not allowed to do that because the soldiers are after them. The Buffalo codes as they call them. They just tramping through the winter wastes and so you these Indians either get tracked down and attacked, and then the survivors surrender or other people say, our kids are dying. Our old people are dying. We can’t keep this up better to live on the reservation than to watch the slow death of our families. So, Sitting Bull flees into into into Canada, and he’ll come back later to live on a reservation, even Crazy Horse ends up surrendering. And then he is killed in an altercation against the bayonet through a kidney because the army thinks he’s plotting a revolt. So it’s, you know, these people are beaten into the ground so Anthony Quinn maybe wasn’t as dramatic as he conveyed it. But yeah, it was. Customers defeat was also also ensured the conquest was Indian patriots.
Dan LeFebvre 1:10:58
The movie doesn’t really mention this, but I was always under the impression that it was was Custers wife who kind of helped secure his legacy after death. What you’re seeing here almost sounds like there were there may have been some other parts of it too. As far as military is concerned.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:11:13
She will write three books about their life together in the West. And in those books, he is the 19th century American of a knight errant. He’s good galette brave his motives are always the purest. He’s you know, he’s a considerate and a loving husband all things and just being in his, in his presence is is is a pleasure. I mean, you get some glimpses of Victorian sexuality, she’ll comment about narrow wastes and broad shoulders and things like that. So she dug his body with the cross in their private correspondence. They, they had a pretty healthy sex life. But yeah, Libby will, will become his press agent. And so the customer you see and they die with their boots on that that’s her vision of George Armstrong Custer. She also went after the two senior officers in the seventh Calvary major arena, and kept inventing claiming that they deliberately abandoned drugs that they was rescuing the army will hold a court of inquiry, in which those officers will be found it will be clear, but it’s interesting. Within a few years, each one gets kicked out of the army on morals charges. Marino is accused of being a peeping Tom looking through the window at his colonels daughter as she’s getting dressed. And Ben team is accused of getting drunk and exposing himself to urinate outside of a subtler store so I get this sense that the RV just waited until the hole was looking in there to kind of handle the situation.
Dan LeFebvre 1:12:53
Yeah, especially what you’re saying. I mean, granted a different scenario but what you’re saying earlier when customer was at West points a lot having a lot of things just kind of shoved under the rug, but then here it sounds like okay, well now we can we could come up with excuses to get rid of some people. Almost the opposite.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:13:09
Yeah, well, you know, it’s in institutions whether whether someone’s right or wrong if if if having them around causes trouble then you get rid of certain people are sacrificed for the the institution’s needs.
Dan LeFebvre 1:13:25
The movie seems to make a point to mention a song called Garryowen. Was that actually a song that the Seventh Cavalry performed like we see them doing the movie?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:13:36
Definitely Gary all it was an Irish drinking song originated in the 1780s I think Gary Island is a suburb of Dublin. It’s about you know, just going out and drunk and beating people up and smashing Windows having instead of sparkling water will drink brown ale and pay the reckoning on the now and but it was a rocking tune and became popular with Wellington’s British regiments during the Napoleonic Wars. And it pops up then on in the banned books of union army, regimental back during the Civil War, so Custer undoubtedly heard it. During the Civil War. It’s interesting during the Civil War, his favorites is fighting son was Yankee Doodle. One of his officers wrote whatever old brigade bandsaw to Yankee Doodle, every man’s hand went to his saber, because it was always a signal for a charge but he he picks a new one for the seven Calvary and when he won his first big Indian victory at the Battle of Washington, attacking a dawn he had the seventh counter measurement will be with him. And the signal the charge that of a bugle blowing the charge. The band master was told sound Gary Oh, and so they’re playing Gary on these brass instruments. They didn’t play that much of it because the band bands man saliva froze. But they kind of knock notes out to get the attack going. And Arthur pen in Little Big Man will show a Fife and Drum they’re playing Gary. Oh, and when Custer attacks, the Indians at the washer,
Dan LeFebvre 1:15:16
today we are talking about a movie that was made in 1941. But if a movie about customers made today in 2022, what do you think some of the differences would be in how his life is portrayed?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:15:29
Well, you know it, there’ll be greater consciousness. Regarding the Indian side of the story. In the early 1990s of the 1991, ABC did a two part miniseries called Son of the Morning Star, which was based on a best selling book by Evan canal. And that movie attempted to well, it’s sympathetic to the sympathetic to the Indians. Custer, in fact, comes across as kind of a surly kind of guy just driven by his ambition. Just care a bit about his family is in love with his wife, etc. But he’s, he’s not as attractive a character as the other being lead. crazyhorse played by Rodney a grant. And I imagine that even today that if a film was made about the Little Bighorn, or about customer’s life, Custer wouldn’t fare fair, as well as some Indian Indian figures, which is too bad because there were two sides. There were people who were willing to go to their death with him, and there were other people, again, Seventh Cavalry, but you read memoirs and diaries and letters, about half the people surrender and love and half hate and being able to try to capture that. And finally, an actor who could show you both sides of a man who can who can inspire those diametrically opposed reactions, that would be a challenge for a scriptwriter. And that would be a challenge for an actor.
Dan LeFebvre 1:17:02
Well, let’s say that you were in charge of that, what would be one of the things that you would like one of those be one of the things that you would change about that?
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:17:13
Well, well, as I say, I would try to see if we could, if we could capture that, that seeming contradiction kind of thing. But also, you know, casters in Indian fighter, that’s how he’s cast. But he also fought for Indians. The Lakota one reason that they were powerful was because they were able to take land and resources from their neighbors. And the whites whenever they went into battle, they had a large number of Indians fighting on their side, the tribes that had been vanquished by the Indians, they were fighting. I mean, they were able to constantly do a kind of divide and conquer strategy throughout the Indian wars. But when Custer goes into the valley, little bigger, he has 35 Indian scouts, and their job is to say, look, there are other Indians fight. Most of them were recorrer, or Reis, as the whites call them, and the others were crow. And it’s interesting, the land on which the battle a little bit more was fought that was traditionally crow territory. In fact, today, that’s the crow agents. They have these big customers Last Stand reenactments each year, and they bring in white cavalry and actors and they use local Indian talent. The local Indian talent, though, are the descendants of the Indians who fought on Custer side. But in the reenactment, they’re playing the SU because it’s good business and that kind of thing. But you know, trying to bring in that kind of subtlety that there’s this, it’s not just white versus red. I think that would that would be I think that would be helpful as well. A more complex story. Yeah, more complex story.
Dan LeFebvre 1:19:06
Thank you so much for coming on to chat about they died with their boots on for someone listening to this who wants to learn more about your work he shared a bit about your books in wedding in
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:19:13
this film, as much as anything is the reason why I became historian and so it’s no coincidence that my first book costume victorious the Civil War battles of General George Armstrong Custer, you know, that that was my first look. See that very well, but because I had this, that this customer fascination and stuff was still in print, still selling in paperback so people can find firstname.lastname@example.org or wherever else. books are sold. And other books about Custer that are out of print, but I you know, kind of maintain this interest in last stance. It’s one of the things that led me to wake I wrote couple of books about the the marine standard awake in 1941. The one about the battle is called facing fearful lots. It’s kind of interesting because the script for Wake Island resembles they died with their boots. At the end. The Marines are all showing are showing the Marines were shown fighting to the death. And they’re being wiped out by hordes of Japanese just like custard. The seven were wiped out by hordes of Lakota and, and the movies were cast that way to inspire patronages. And you’ll inspire Americans to step forward and put on your country’s uniform and make the sacrifices necessary for victory. In fact, the guy with their boots on came out, oh, I think 34 Seven years after the book that turned customers image inside out, was published Frederick Vander water published a book called glory honor, which depicted Custer as an unprincipled and mission driven, self absorbed villain, who was willing to sacrifice Friend or foe, to move up in rank to get more attention, et cetera. And that book was a best seller. And it was affecting the way people looked at Custer. But when Warner Brothers decided to make this movie, they said, Well, you know, we got to work coming on with the unpatriotic, you know, to make any army officer look bad, bad. So the Libby customer version was presented to the public in that film, and it helped to perpetuate for a while, the positive vision of customer but that would soon that would soon fade and the 50s and the 60s,
Dan LeFebvre 1:21:47
I like the comparison that you made of Wake Island, which of course, you know, we talked about that movie too, which came out and I think Wake Island came out in 1942, right, which would have been, you know, right after this. So very heavy on both very heavy on the propaganda side with World War Two.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:22:03
And Americans willingly sacrifice themselves to buy time, so that their countrymen will be ready to be ready to prevail. So I saw that this last stand theme. It’s been a powerful current in Western literature going back to the bottom row. And I imagine well, we still see that we see films about doomed outposts or patrols in Afghanistan or Iraq and it’s there’s still that last damn quality there.
Dan LeFebvre 1:22:37
Thank you again so much for your time and chatting about this. I had a lot of fun.
Gregory J. W. Urwin 1:22:42
The same here Always a pleasure.