…..George Armstrong Custer is one of the most misunderstood characters to have worn a military uniform for the United States. He didn’t consider the Native Americans to be “bloodthirsty, cruel, and uncivilized“, rather going back to his days at West Point, he had written in admiration of Native Americans. In 1876, just before his death, he had put his Army career in serious jeopardy for testifying before Congress of corruption …including that by the Secretary of War and President Grant’s brother, in the treatment and corruption in dealing with the Indians.
Thomas Custer 2-time Medal of Honor recipient
Whatever you study and come to believe, the focus on George A. Custer and his career in the military is open to interpretation. It is also mis-focused as the real hero in the family was Thomas W. Custer, recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor. Thomas Custer was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Army at age 18, and rose quickly to the rank of Lt. Colonel in two short years. Thomas was the first man to be awarded two Medals of Honor, both for capturing Confederate regimental flags.
The capture of a regimental battle flag may sound insignificant but such battle flags “denoted individual persons, or units, on the field of battle. The flag symbolized the honor of the regiment…In combat, with the field full of noise and smoke, the soldiers watched their regimental flag and if it advanced or retreated they followed. The names of the battles that the regiment participated in were sometimes stitched onto the flag. The loss of a regimental flag was a disgrace to the command. The citations read as follows:
Citation 1: “Capture of flag on 10 May 1863″…hardly worth the effort to write such a citation. Citation 2: “2d Lt. Custer leaped his horse over the enemy’s works and captured 2 stands of colors, having his horse shot from under him and receiving a severe wound”.
For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor twice for similar but separate acts of bravery and the citations accompanying the honor do not do his deeds justice, but to understand the courage required to cross into enemy fire to rest a regimental battle flag from an enemy combatant, all you need to know is in his second MOH feat, his was severally wounded in the face and was so determined to continue fighting that his division commander had him put under arrest just to get him to a field hospital.
For years the Congressional Medal of Honor was the only real way for the government to recognize exemplary bravery. There were no other medals and perhaps one day history will look back on some early recipients and conclude that the recognition really didn’t rise to the level of “exemplary bravery” and deserve the Medal of Honor. It is what it is, and certainly the acts that received the medal were above and beyond the normal call of duty and at risk to the life of the recipient.
In peacetime we have seen the Medal of Honor awarded for acts that today would most probably warrant a recognition along the lines of a Bronze Star not the nation’s highest award. This is not to belittle the act of the recipient, but to weigh it in context to action facing an enemy combatant. This is probably why the person receiving the medal faded quickly into history and most difficult to document the actions leading to the award………..
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