George Armstrong Custer, affectionately known to close family members as "Autie," was born on December 5, 1839 in a small but, comfortable farmhouse in New Rumley, Harrison County, Ohio. He acquired the nickname because of the way that his first attempts at pronouncing "Armstrong" sounded. He had three brothers and a sister, all the offspring of Emanuel and Maria Custer.
He secured a nomination to attend West Point, the army military academy, from Representative John A. Bingham, and passed the entrance exams and became a member of the class of 1861. Custer's adjustment to life at the "Point" was not easy. His care free prankster lifestyle had to give way to the rigid discipline that the academy demanded. He did well in athletics and horsemanship, but struggled with the academics. At one point he had actually gained a sufficient number of demerits to be expelled from the academy, but someone mysteriously corrected his talley of demerits in the Skin Book so that he was just barely able to remain a cadet. Custer himself is quoted as having stated that"My career as a cadet had but little to recommend it to the study of those who came after me, unless as an example to be carefully avoided." Even after graduation, while he was at the Point waiting for an assignment, he almost lost his commission for failing to break up a fight among two plebes. He finally got orders and set off to Washington , D.C. to report to the War Department on July 20, 1861 for orders. Then, on to Bull Run. From the outset, Custer became known for his boundless energy and relentless pursuit of the the enemy. He easily became the favorite of his commanders, and was rewarded for his efforts by field promotions. While serving under McClellan, he was promoted to Captain by June, 1862. His continued aggressiveness in the field led to his promotion to Brigadier General in June, 1863. This proved to be an important career move, because he was then assigned to the 2nd Brigade in Kilpatrick's 3rd Division, gaining command of four units of cavalry of Michigan volunteers. Not only was he now with his hometown boys, it was this group that Custer saved the day at Gettysburg by stopping Early's cavalry under Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee from turning Meade's right flank. Just prior t the end of the war, Custer was elevated to the position of Brevet Major General of Volunteers. Although the war was all but over by that time, this promotion again proved fateful, since later, while fighting Indians in Kansas, Custer's Brevet rank allowed him to assume command of the cavalry expedition that would otherwise have go to another. "Custer's Luck " was still working.