Custer and the Michigan Wolverines
Born in Ohio, George Armstrong Custer and his family moved to Michigan when he was young. He joined West Point, but did not distinguish himself in its classes. When he graduated, the Civil War had recently broken out and he was appointed to the 2nd United States Cavalry. Now a lieutenant, Custer was the first person to capture a Confederate flag. Just before the battle of Gettysburg, Custer was promoted from captain to brigadier-general of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. He was a flashy cavalry officer, sporting a red necktie. Eventually, his cavalry brigade all sported red neckties in his honor.
On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General J.E.B Stuart determined to circle around the Union infantry, hitting them hard from behind as George Pickett’s infantry attacked them from the front. Stuart’s troopers rode to a farmhouse owned by the Rummel family, where they encountered dismounted Union cavalrymen from the 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. Stuart tried to brush them away and keep riding, but the Michigan troopers had excellent Spencer repeating carbines, which could fire 20 rounds a minute. Stuart’s men charged them and scattered the troopers, only to receive a counter-charge from George Custer. “Come on, you Wolverines!” Custer shouted as he led his men of the 7th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry into the charge. His cavalry halted the forward movement of the Confederates for a little while.
More Confederate horsemen were hurried forward to break Custer’s resistance and they succeeded. Confederate General Wade Hampton was sent forward with his cavalry to finally break the Union cavalry. Only one Union reserve was left to counter him: the 1st Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. Their colonel, Charles Town, ordered the advance. “Draw saber! Remember men be steady, be calm, be firm! Think of Michigan! Forward March!” The Union troopers attacked the center of the Confederate cavalry.
Seeing this, the New Jersey cavalry hit Hampton’s men from the left. The retreat of Hampton’s cavalry meant that J.E.B. Stuart’s original plan was impossible to carry out now. The Confederate troopers retreated and the battered Union cavalry did not chase them. The Michigan cavalry had played a decisive role in stopping—for the first time—the brilliant Southern cavalry leader.