Tenting on the Plains, or, General Custer in Kansas and Texas (1893) [SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED EDITION]

by Elizabeth Bacon Custer

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GENERAL CUSTER was given scant time, after the last gun of the war was fired, to realize the blessings of peace. While others hastened to discard the well-worn uniforms, and don again the dress of civilians, hurrying to the cars, and groaning over the slowness of the fast-flying trains that bore them to their homes, my husband was almost breathlessly preparing for a long journey to Texas. He did not even see the last of that grand review of the 23d and 24th of May, 1865. On the first day he was permitted to doff his hat and bow low, as he proudly led that superb body of men, the Third Division of Cavalry, in front of the grand stand, where sat the " powers that be." Along the line of the division, each soldier straightened himself in the saddle, and felt the proud blood fill his veins, as he realized that he was one of those who, in six months, had taken 111 of the enemy's guns, sixty-five battle-flags, and upward of 10,000 prisoners of war, while they had never lost a flag, or failed to capture a gun for which they fought.

In the afternoon of that memorable day General Custerand his staff rode to the outskirts of Washington, where his beloved Third Cavalry Division had encamped after returning from taking part in the review. The trumpet was sounded, and the call brought these war-worn veterans out once more, not for a charge, not for duty, but to say that word which we, who have been compelled to live in its mournful sound so many years, dread even to write. Down the line rode their yellow-haired " boy general," waving his hat, but setting his teeth and trying to hold with iron nerve tlje quivering muscles of his speaking face; keeping his eyes wide open, that the moisture dimming their vision might not gather and fall. Cheer after cheer rose on that soft spring air. Some enthusiastic voice started up afresh, before the hurrahs were done, " A tiger for old Curley! " Off came the hats again, and up went hundreds of arms, waving the good-by and wafting innumerable blessings after the man who was sending them home in a blaze of glory, with a record of which they might boast around their firesides. I began to realize, as I watched this sad parting, the truth of what the General had been telling me; he held that no friendship was like that cemented by mutual danger on the battle-field.

The soldiers, accustomed to suppression through strict military discipline, now vehemently expressed their feelings; and though it gladdened the General's heart, it was still the hardest sort of work to endure it all without show of emotion. As he rode up to where I was waiting, he could not, dared not, trust himself to speak to me. To those intrepid men he was indebted for his success. Their unfailing trust in his judgment, their willingness to follow where he led— ah! he knew well that one looks upon such men but once in a lifetime. Some of the soldiers called out for the General's wife. The staff urged me to ride forward to the troops, as it was but a little thing thus to respond to their good-by. I tried to do so, but after a few steps, I begged those beside whom I rode to take me back to where we had been standing. I was too overcome, from having seen the suffering on my husband's face, to endure any more sorrow.

As the officers gathered about the General and wrung his hand in parting, to my surprise the soldiers gave me a cheer. Though very grateful for the tribute to me as their acknowledged comrade, I did not feel that I deserved it. Hardshipssuch as they had suffered for a principle require a far higher order of character than the same hardships endured when the motive is devotion individualized.

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