On this date in 1863, newly promoted Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer (Brevet), aged 23, led the Michigan Calvary Brigade to victory on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg. His actions that day probably saved the Union’s Army of the Potomac and possibly the Union itself.
On the final day of battle, Custer and his badly outnumbered “wolverines” successfully turned two confederate calvary attacks led by the brilliant Major General JEB Stuart. The action took place in what is now called East Cavalry Field located on the eastern edge of the Gettysburg battlefield. Stuart, acting on General Robert E Lee’s orders, was targeting the Union army’s vulnerable right rear. This was a critical element of Lee’s overall battle plan to destroy the Army of the Potomac. Lee was a student of military history and studied Hannibal’s victory over the Romans at the battle of Cannae in 216 BC. In that battle, Hannibal achieved a double envelopment of the Roman army by first fixing the Roman front line in place with attacking infantry. Then at the critical moment, Hannibal attacked the Roman flanks and rear with cavalry and infantry and thus defeated a numerically superior force.
Confederate General Pickett’s fateful charge with 15,000 confederate troops in the Union center was intended to fix and weaken the Union line, while Stuart led his cavalry corps into the vulnerable Union rear. If it had not been for the skill and utter fearlessness of Custer and his brave Michigan troopers, Stuart might have succeeded in his attack. This would have doomed the Army of the Potomac to defeat and left Washington vulnerable to attack. So, Major General George A. Custer, the “boy general,” saved the Union army on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg and probably preserved the Union. He was exactly the right person in the right position at the right moment. Who says one person can’t make a difference?
MG GA Custer MG JEB Stuart