it really happened and could be proven, many would find the irony
irresistibly delicious. Did George Armstrong Custer visit the
Alamo when he was stationed in Texas? Yes, that George Armstrong
In August 1865, only a few months after the end of the Civil War,
then brevet Maj. Gen. Custer led a large occupation force of U.S.
volunteer soldiers into Texas via Louisiana. A little more than
a decade later, he and 209 of his fellow 7th Cavalry soldiers would
die in the Battle of Little Big Horn, far better known as Custer's
Custer and his troops maintained a camp near Hempstead,
in East Texas, before marching into Austin
early that November. His soldiers bivouacked along Shoal Creek,
at that time just west of town, and Custer and his wife Libby settled
into the temporarily empty Texas State Blind Asylum. The building
served as his headquarters and residence. (The 1857 limestone building
still stands on the University of Texas campus.)
When Custer arrived in Texas, it had been less than 30 years since
siege of the old Spanish mission known as the Alamo had ended
in the deaths of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William B. Travis
and 180-plus other Texas defenders. Many knew the story, but many
did not. The Alamo got a name-recognition boost on March 5, 1866
when the New York Times carried a front-page article on Texas, a
long dispatch from an unnamed visitor that contained several paragraphs
on San Antonio.
"It is the largest and most delightful, as well as the most interesting
city in Texas, and contains about 15,000 people, a larger number
of whom are Germans, Mexicans and Indians," the article noted. "Among
the attractions of this city are….," the piece continued, "Fortress
Alamo…where, in 1836, Santa
Anna, after a successful siege, butchered 188 Americans…"
Only 10 years after the battle, the U.S. opened a quartermaster
supply depot in the Alamo.
(At the same time adding the iconic hump on its front.) Though federal
troops vacated San Antonio
and the state at the beginning of the Civil War, roughly concurrent
with Custer's arrival the military reopened the facility. As the
ranking officer in Texas, Custer unquestionably knew of the old
mission's present use.
As for the battle, if Custer had not learned about the Alamo in
his history lectures at West Point, he most certainly saw the limestone
and concrete monument commemorating the Alamo defenders that then
stood in the center of the state capitol. The piece made the outcome
of the battle quite clear. Too, in studying military tactics he
had learned that sieges usually do not end well for the besieged.
But, as would Gen. George S. Patton in a future war, had Custer
felt called to visit the scene of a famous battle? Now a war-hardened
young cavalry officer, Custer found action more interesting than
intellectual reflection. He enjoyed the outdoors, especially hunting.
And he liked to drink, having developed a reputation as a boozer
while a cadet at the military academy. That's what gives rise to
at least the possibility that Custer spent some time in San
Antonio, which means he could not have missed seeing and probably
looking over the Alamo.
The perception that Custer did visit San
Antonio came in late December 1865 or early in January 1866
when the National Republican published a letter accusing Custer
of having been drunk in public in the town not yet known as the
Alamo City. Worse, the letter writer said the young officer had
spoken at a gathering of ex-rebel soldiers there and that he had
"expressed disloyal sentiments" that bordered on treasonous.
Clearly, the unfavorable national exposure hit a nerve with the
general. "There are several facts and reasons why the imputation
is unjust, untrue and inapplicable," Custer wrote in the March 3,
1866 issue of the Army-Navy Journal. "First I have never been nearer
San Antonio than
I am at the present moment (eighty miles). Second the charge of
drunkenness is wholly unfounded, whether at San Antonio or elsewhere,
as I have abstained from the use of spiritous liquors for several
That said, was Custer telling the truth? Stagecoaches made regular
runs between Austin and
San Antonio, and
the trip would have taken a seasoned horse soldier and his entourage
no more than three days. Given that Custer often took long rides
from his headquarters, and was an adventurous type, it's hard to
picture why did he had not gone to San
Antonio at least once while posted in Central Texas. He certainly
could have had business at the Army depot in what the military referred
to as the Alamo Building. But Custer's wife, who later wrote a book
on their experiences in Texas and Kansas called "Tenting on the
Plains," makes no mention of their having visited Bexar
In late January 1866, Congress ordered the disbanding of the nation's
volunteer forces and cashiered the generals who led those commands,
including Custer. By March, he was gone from Texas.
One thing is indisputable. On June 25, 1876, Custer learned first-hand
what it was like for soldiers facing overwhelmingly superior numbers.
And, like the defenders of the Alamo who also had gone down fighting,
the so-called boy general would not be forgotten.