Last week, we focused our attention on a famous military spouse–Martha Washington. This week, let’s move ahead a few years in history.
The next day the general thought I might rather not go with him than run the risk of such frights; but I well knew there was something far worse than fears for my own personal safety. It is infinitely worse to be left behind, a prey to all the horrors of imagining what may be happening to one we love. You eat your heart slowly out with such anxiety, and to endure such suspense is simply the hardest of all trials that come to the soldier’s wife.”
— Elizabeth ‘Libbie’ Custer, from her first book Boots and Saddles, on her life and adventures with her husband. (via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Bacon_Custer)
Elizabeth Bacon Custer was the wife of George Armstrong Custer. Whatever you may think about Custer himself, Elizabeth “Libbie” Custer was a devoted Army wife who was known for her determination to follow her husband wherever he went, regardless of the circumstances in which she might find herself.
(Photo courtesy of Kansapedia)
Here are a few fun facts about Elizabeth as a military wife:
- Although she was from a well-to-do family (her father was an influential judge in Michigan) and was considered slender, delicate, and well-educated (she graduated from a women’s seminary), she seemed to do just fine in the “tenting” lifestyle that was the Army housing on the frontier. I loved this quote about her:
Shortly after Libbie joined her husband on Big Creek near Old Fort Hays, a nighttime squall blew down their “rag house” and drenched her possessions. She borrowed her husband’s dry underclothes to wear beneath a wet dress and donned a pair of cavalry boots. ‘The tent might go down nightly for all I cared then,’ she wrote in Tenting on the Plains. ‘Every thought of separation departed, and I gave myself up to the happiest hours, clamping about the tent in those old troop boots, indifferent whether my shoes ever dried.’
- Her attitude towards the crude conditions and frequent moves appears to have stayed on the positive side. Though, from her writings, she didn’t care much for the “barren” plains and missed the flowers and greenery of the East.
- When her husband was stationed at Fort Lincoln, Nebraska, Elizabeth participated in a book club that had been established for the wives. Books were sent from the East and the ladies would meet to discuss them.
- When Army “higher-ups” complained about the presence of wives on the frontier posts, Elizabeth spoke up as to why they were beneficial.
- After the death of her husband, Elizabeth launched a “one-woman campaign” to protect and defend her husband’s reputation. Knowing that he was criticized for his involvement in the campaign that led to his death (and the deaths of the men in 5 companies of the Seventh Cavalry) she tirelessly wrote, lectured, and lobbied in order to shape his image in a positive light for the public.
One has to admire her courage, tenacity, and steadfast belief in her husband. She never remarried, and her one big disappointment was that she never had a son to carry on her husband’s name.