Lasting from 1861 to 1865, the Civil War was a pivotal period in American history. More than a million lives were lost during the conflict, roughly adding up to the number of casualties in all other U.S. wars combined.
The war was also a pivotal period in George Custer's life. Recently graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Custer was thrown into the fighting at the First Battle of Bull Run. After the battle, Custer served as a staff officer under General George B. McClellan, and later, under Major General Alfred Pleasanton of the Army of the Potomac. Pleasanton promoted Custer to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 23, and it was in this position that Custer thrived.
As the Civil War waged on, Custer became renowned for his fearlessness and aggressiveness in battle. He won the loyalty of his troops through his consistent readiness to lead attacks from the front. Custer emerged victorious and unscathed after numerous cavalry charges, due in large part to what he described as one of his greatest attributes during the war: luck. Nonetheless, his continuous success in battle, paired with his self-promotion and political maneuvering, made Custer a well-known military leader by the war’s end.
Custer describes his feelings about the war and his experiences at his encampment in letters written to his cousin Augusta Frary on July 26 and October 3, 1862.