I was watching a special on Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer and the relationship with his love, Libbie (Elizabeth). I’ve become a fan of letters written during wartime so I went looking for the following: I’ve shared a summary of their wedding day as well as the letter Custer wrote announcing their secret engagement–both transcript and the original.
February 9,1864–Union General George Armstrong Custer marries Elizabeth Bacon in Monroe, Michigan, while the young cavalry officer is on leave. “Libbie,” as she was known to her family, was a tireless defender of her husband’s reputation after his death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, and her work helped establish him as an American hero.
The two met in November 1862 at a party in Monroe, and courted while Custer was on winter furlough. After he retuned to service in 1863, Custer became, at 23 years old, the youngest general in the Union Army. George and Libbie continued their correspondence, and when he returned to Monroe that winter, their relationship intensified. Custer recognized that Libbie’s good judgment balanced his brash and impulsive behavior. They were engaged by Christmas.
The bride wore a white satin dress for the wedding, which was held in Monroe’s First Presbyterian Church. The couple honeymooned in New York, where they visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Custer’s alma mater. After spending time in New York City, they settled in Washington, D.C., and soon became darlings of the social scene. While her husband was in the field, Libbie worked to advance his career by hobnobbing with prominent Republican politicians. Her influence with some members of Congress was helpful, and possible crucial, for Custer’s promotion to major general on April 15, 1865.
After the Civil War, Custer became a lieutenant colonel in the downsized postwar frontier army. On June 25, 1876, he and the 210 men under his command were wiped out by Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Libbie spent the remainder of her life building Custer’s reputation and defending his actions during his final battle. The enduring legend of George Custer was due in large part to the tireless efforts of his widow.
General George Custer’s secret engagement to Elizabeth Bacon
Headquarters 3rd Div, C.C.
Dec 19th, 1863
My Dear Friend,
Circumstances unlooked for, will prevent me from visiting Monroe for a few weeks. I expect to be in Monroe in Feb. And now I will entrust you with a secret which I have communicated to no one except my own family and desire you to retainn it. I am coming home in February for the purpose of getting married. Libbie Bacon is the fortunate or unfortunate person, whichever it will be, who will unite her destinies with mine. I hope it will convenient for you to be present at the ceremony, which will take place in the evening. We will leave Monroe on the 12 o’clock train the same night. Let me here repeat my request for you to retain this little item of news to yourself.
Jim [Lt. Jim Christiancy] will accompany me home, as will most of the members of my staff. By the way, Jim has consented to transfer his pay accounts for the coming six months to me and is only to expect the amount of money I see fit to let him have, he has also almost consented to discard the use of whiskey, brandy and the other stronger drinks.
This is certainly something to produce gratification on my part – as well as yours. No news of importance. I doubt very much if Meade is removed. Write to me at your earliest convenience.