From 1858 to 1861, George Custer was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which was and remains a premier service academy in the United States. Located 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, West Point provides military training combined with academic coursework. Upon graduation, most cadets become officers in the U.S. Army.
Custer was far from a model student. His time at West Point is renowned in the academy's history, as he frequently tested rules and boundaries. He was known for his remarkably poor conduct record, and he amassed an astounding 726 demerits during his three years there. An example of Custer's delinquency can be found in his December 13, 1859, letter to his cousin Augusta Frary, in which he proudly admits to sneaking out of his barracks in order to attend a holiday party.
Originally intending to graduate with the class of 1862, Custer and his classmates graduated one year early due to the outbreak of the Civil War. Because he finished last in his class, Custer would likely have earned an obscure posting under normal circumstances. However, he was the beneficiary of the ironic fortune of graduating at the start of the war, when the Union Army was in need of officers. With his early graduation, Custer was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.