General Custer In Texas
In May 1865 after General George Armstrong Custer had completed his US Civil War duties and appeared in the Grand Review in Washington DC, he was ordered to Texas to command a division of US Cavalry. When the US Civil War ended reuniting the nation became a prime priority and Texas was an important part of the reunification effort. In addition to protecting the unpopular Reconstruction government, General Custer and his Troopers were there to protect Texas from a perceived threat from Emperor Maximilians regime in Mexico.
Accompanying General George Custer were his brother Tom, his wife Libbie, his staff and their families. General Custers father, Emanuel Henry Custer, was on the payroll as a forager. I have read conflicting reports on the size of the expedition ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 people. The first permanent stop of the expedition was Hempstead, Texas. Soon afterward General Custers command moved to Austin after the governor of Texas offered General Custer the Blind Asylum, which had been closed during the war, for his headquarters. There the Neill-Cochran House was used as a hospital for sick and wounded soldiers.
While General Custer was adored, almost worshipped by many of his US Civil War Troops, many Soldiers and Troopers in Texas disliked their leader. Most of this was brought on by General Custer strictly enforcing regulations prohibiting foraging, lawlessness, and destruction of private property by the US Army. General Custer knew that to make Reconstruction work, Texans must respect and believe in the United States government and Army. In addition the discipline was needed in case to keep the Troopers ready in case the order was given for the US Cavalry to be part of an invasion force into Mexico to topple Emperor Maximilian who did nothing to stop Confederate States of America Officers from leading their men into Mexico.
General Custer and the citizens of Texas got along grandly. Texans found the General a generous and courtly Officer. The Texans were very pleased that General Custer kept his men in check, preventing the looting and raiding of the civilian population that was allowed to flourish in other southern states. General Custers relationship with the people of Austin could be called mutual admiration. General Custers tour of duty in Texas ended when he was mustered out of the volunteers on February 1, 1866 and returned to his regular US Army rank. General Custer then asked for permission to accept from President Juarez an appointment as Chief of Mexican Cavalry in the war against Emperor Maximilian. President Johnson declined to give him the leave of absence, and General Custer accepted the promotion to Lieutenant Colonel of the US 7th Cavalry. If the General had gotten his leave to fight for the freedom of Mexico would he have just been another forgotten US Civil War hero? I think not. General Custer was at that time the most famous man in America and a media darling. When the Mexicans had driven the French out and General Custer had won once again, I think he would be even more famous than he is today, without the smearing of his service to his country as is the custom today.
Libbie Custer initially had mixed reviews of Texas early in her stay. Many Texans seemed to be violent trigger-happy men who threatened Troopers and local supporters. Worst of all despite the Union victory, some Texans were still trading slaves in 1865 when General Custers Troopers arrived. When Libbie contracted malaria she was cared for by a wealthy Texas family who won her over. Soon Libbie began to see Texas and Texans in a new light. Libbie developed a genuine fondness for Texas. Libbie foresaw the great economic potential in Texas and tried unsuccessfully to have her father in invest in land there. In Libbies book "Tenting on the Plains", published in 1887, she presents a charming picture of their stay in Texas. The curtains pictured in my Custer Vacations section, on the Custer House page, were brought from Texas by Libbie to Fort Abraham Lincoln.
Sadly the Texas Legislature was the only state legislature to send official condolences to General Custer's family following his death at the Battle of The Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. General Custer's Headquarters building in Austin, the Blind Asylum, located on the campus of the University of Texas, has been restored.