Battle of Little Bighorn: 39 – Custer Blasts Grant and Belknap

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

Washington D. C.

When George Armstrong Custer returned to Washington he was entertained by many Democrats. Surely he enjoyed being the toast of Washington, but he was anxious to return west. At Belknap’s impeachment trial that began on April 17, Custer gave his testimony against Belknap that linked Orvil Grant with the corruption. His words were blasted in the press by the Republicans and praised by the Democrats. He wrote to Libbie:

Do not be anxious. I seek to follow a moderate and prudent course, avoiding prominence. Nevertheless, everything I do, however simple and unimportant, is noticed and commented on.

For Custer to follow moderation and prudence, and avoid prominence, if he really did, only goes to say that miracles do happen. I can not help wonder at Libbie’s thoughts when she read her husband’s words. Defend him to the death, and beyond, she would and did, but Elizabeth Bacon Custer was no one’s fool. But such is love.

President Grant

And still Custer waited for President Grant to give him clearance to leave Washington and return west. The Army was planning a three-pronged attack against the hostiles out in the unceded Indian Territory. The plan was for one column to start from Fort Abraham Lincoln. It would eventually follow the Yellowstone River. Another column, led by General George Crook, would head north from Fort Fetterman, moving towards the Little Bighorn River. Crook had previously attempted a winter campaign against the hostiles but it had been a failure.

Major General John Gibbon

A third column, with Major General John Gibbon at its head, would follow the Yellowstone River downstream from Fort Ellis in Montana. The idea was to catch the Sioux, as well as any Cheyenne or other tribes that were with the Sioux, in a three-way squeeze.

Custer was assigned to command the column coming from Fort Abraham Lincoln. This is why he was so anxious to get back to the Dakotas. And still he waited for Grant to see him and release him.

The fact of the matter was that President Grant flatly refused to see Custer. Finally, Custer did a very Custerish thing. Without official release, on May 2, he got on a train to Chicago.