Captain George Wilhelmus Mancius Yates

 

George Wilhelmus Mancius Yates was born in Albany, New York on February 26, 1843. George Yates was the son of Richard and Margaret Mancius Yates.

On June 20, 1861 young George Yates enlisted in the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. His duty as a Union US Civil War soldier began that same day when he was mustered into Company A. Moving up the ranks quickly, George was appointed First Lieutenant on September 26, 1862. Lieutenant Yates was wounded during the fighting at Fredericksburg in the winter of 1862. Yates traveled to Monroe, Michigan to recuperate and there he met General George Armstrong Custer.

The two George’s became good friends very quickly. George Custer used his influence to have Lieutenant George Yates assigned to Brigadier General Alfred Pleasanton’s staff. Yates served General Pleasanton from June 1863 to April 1864. A good soldier and leader, George Yates earned several brevet promotions during the US Civil War. On March 13, 1865 George Yates received a brevet promotion to Lieutenant Colonel which was the highest rank he achieved. On January 11, 1866 with the post Civil War US Army heavily downsizing, Yates was mustered out.

George Yates re-enlisted in the army three months later and was appointed Second Lieutenant in the 2nd US Cavalry and stationed at Fort McPherson, Nebraska. On June 12, 1867 Lieutenant Yates was transferred to the famed 7th US Cavalry. While serving under General (his true rank at the time was Lieutenant Colonel) George Armstrong Custer, Lieutenant Yates was a member of the "Custer Clan". The Custer Clan was a group of close-knit friends and relatives of General Custer.

George Yates was said by some to share an obsession to cleanliness with George Custer. General Custer was known to frequently wash his hands and brush his teeth. Supposedly Yates ended each day by turning the pockets of his pants inside out and scraping them with a brush to ensure there was no lint or other debris. While Yates was in charge of the 7th US Cavalry F Company it was known as the ‘Bandbox Troop’. During this era, the phrase "just stepped out of a bandbox" meant a man’s attire was very neat and precise. A bandbox was a cylindrical container of thin wood which held a man’s hat and other crushable pieces of clothing.

George Yates was promoted to Captain, the rank he held at the time of his death at the Battle Of The Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Captain Yates most likely commanded E and F Companies during the battle. Some believe Captain Yates took command after the initial fighting at Medicine Tail Coulee, believing General Custer was mortally wounded there. Regardless of what transpired during the battle, Captain Yates was found on Last Stand Hill. If you are standing at the mass grave Soldier monument and look down the hill at General Custer’s headstone, Captain Yates’ marker is just to the right of Custer’s and a few feet up the hill.

Like the rest of the fallen Cavalry Troopers, Captain Yates was initially buried on the battlefield where his body was found. In July of 1877, like most of the fallen Officers, Captain Yates’s body was exhumed and reburied elsewhere. Captain Yates now rests at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Kansas. Captain Yates is next to Captain Tom Custer in plot A1487. I visited his gravesite there in 2008.

Captain Yates left behind a wife and three children. Yates had married Annie Gibson Roberts on February 12, 1872 in New York City. Their three children were George Livingston Yates, Bessie Violet Yates, and Milnor Roberts Yates. After the US Army booted Annie Yates out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, she moved back to Monroe, Michigan. Annie was a very close friend of General George Custer’s widow, Elizabeth, more commonly as Libbie. Annie later spent many years teaching at Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Annie Yates would be crushed to death in New York City in 1914 when she fell in the path of a subway train. George Yates had a previous wife before Annie. He had married Lucretia Beaumont Irwin on January 5, 1865 and divorced her on January 31, 1867.

Captain Yates’s brother-in-law, Richard Roberts, was employed in the Custer column as a civilian herder and part-time correspondent for the New York Sun. His horse gave out seventy miles from the Battle Of The Little Big Horn and Richard Roberts dropped out, luckily sparing his life.

Francis D. Yates, George’s brother, operated one of the Indian trading posts on the Red Cloud Agency. Francis and George looked so much alike that many thought they could pass for twins. Allegedly in November 1876 an Indian man came into the store and laid down a woman’s watch for trade. Francis immediately recognized the watch as belonging to Annie Yates and rushed to the counter. Captain George Yates had carried it with him during the disastrous 1876 Campaign against the Sioux and their allies. The Indian man is supposed to have looked at Francis, became extremely startled, and fled from the store never to return. Those who believe this version of the tale think the poor Indian thought that perhaps Captain Yates had returned from Last Stand Hill. What is known, is that the watch was returned to Annie Yates, a memento of her deceased husband.

Fort Yates, then in the Dakota Territory, was named in honor of Captain Yates, as was Battery Yates at Fort Baker in Marin County, California overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Gravestone at Fort Leavenworth.

 

Gravestone on Last Stand Hill.

 

A photo of Captain George Yates in the Monroe County Historical Museum in Michigan.

George and Annie Yates attended the Trinity Episcopal Church in Monroe, Michigan.

Captain George Yates

 

 

 

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