Custer's Academy Years at West Point

George Armstrong Custer arrived at West Point in June, 1857 with 107 other cadet candidates. After entrance examinations weeded out over a third of them, Custer marched in the gates with 67 other cadets; all accredited to a six month probationary period starting July 1st.

Reverting back to his younger school days, his grades in classes were far from exceptional, unless you deem barely passing as exceptional. Again, it wasn't that Armstrong wasn't smart enough to learn and complete the courses, he simply lacked the drive to discipline himself intellectually to achieve higher grades. As he wrote later in life, he admitted that Philosophy class interested him the least.

He easily made many friends at the academy and excelled in socialization. As with many other men from northern states, he developed many solid relationships with cadets from western and southern states. His favorite roommate was "Tex" Rosser from Texas, whom he would one day face on the battlefield. Custer acquired a few more nicknames while at West Point; "Cinnamon", owing to the cinnamon scented oils he used on his hair which he wore longer than most; "Curly", again because of his naturally but gently twisting locks; and "Fanny", which to this day has not been solidly documented.

Custer's near-downfall and the legacy in which he set down for history, was in his attitude and deportment. The academy had a system of discipline that awarded cadets demerits, or 'skins' for infractions of the rules. During any six-month term, one-hundred demerits would result in the expulsion of the cadet. Custer regularly piled up ninety to ninety-five demerits each semester. When he reached ninety or more, he would then apply himself and accumulate no more until a new semester started. His demerits were never for anything significant in relation to his studies, but in seemingly trivial offenses:

 

Sept 29, 1857 - Trifling in ranks marching from parade - 3 demerits
Dec 19th, 1857 - Calling "Corporal" in a loud & boisterous voice - 3 demerits
April 3, 1858 - Hair out of uniform at guard meeting - 2 demerits
Jan 27, 1859 - Late to supper - 1 demerit
Feb 17, 1859 - Throwing snowballs on barrack steps - 3 demerits

 

Sitting in the window wearing shirtsleeves with no coat; swinging arms while marching, making noises at the sink; the list is long but nowhere is there any reference to what could be considered a serious offense. One begins to see his emerging personality. He drank some in these years, but research suggests he drank no more than any other cadet. In any case, by his last term, Custer stilled exhibited no signs he had become more disciplined. In his last semester, he ran up ninety-seven demerits; a record for him.

Custer graduated with his class in 1861. He ranked 34th in his class of 34 graduates; dead last. While awaiting assignment orders, Custer was in charge of the guard when a fight erupted between two underclassmen. Regarding it as a soldiers fight, Custer did not interfere. Brought up on charges, Custer found himself facing a court-martial before he could get outside the walls of the academy. He was found responsible to the charges but due to the war breaking out the previous spring, the Army needed every loyal officer it could get in the field.

Autie traveled to Washington and was brought before General-In-Chief Winfield Scott. Custer was given a choice of 2 asignments; assisting the drilling of new recruits into the Army, or his original designation of 2ndLt in the Second Cavalry. Being eager for the fray, Custer set out to locate the Second Cavalry.