"Gen'ral, ya got a visitor. Says his name is Lancer, Scott Lancer." Sergeant James Bustard stepped back so that the man he had just announced could enter the living area of the large house which was
the home of Lt. Colonel and Mrs. George A. Custer.
A slim man, approximately 6' tall with longish blond hair rose from his desk to stride toward the man who stood in the doorway. "Lieutenant Lancer, it's a pleasure to see you again. Welcome to Fort Abraham Lincoln!"
Scott's cerulean eyes quickly took in the figure of the man who had risen to the rank of brevet major-general during the War. The years had been kind to the officer who had courted danger nearly every minute of his four years of service. "Colonel, I'm glad to see you are well, but I'm just Scott Lancer now. A year in a Confederate prison was enough to cure me of any desire to continue in the Army."
Custer gave the rancher a penetrating look. "Yes, I had heard from General Sheridan about your ordeal. A slight shudder seemed to flow through the man. "I cannot imagine being a prisoner. The Rebs at least had some point of honor. Our enemy now has little concern for those that are captured. Death is preferable."
"I have heard that they are fierce in defense of their land and traditions."
The lieutenant-colonel could not deny that. "Yes, they are a formidable foe, but one we must subdue, just as we did the Secesh."
The man from California shifted uncomfortably. "Colonel, I don't think you asked me to come all this way just to talk about your campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne."
Custer smiled, one much reminiscent of the kind Scott used when his brother had proposed one of his innumerable trips into town to court another lady. "Forgive me, I've forgotten my manners. Sit down. Would you care for a drink? I don't indulge myself, but I do have some fine whiskey here for visitors."
Scott Lancer took a seat in one of the chairs, taking the time to glance around the room. On the wall were photos of Custer and General Phil Sheridan. It was due to his old commander that he was here now. Scott had been visiting his grandfather in Boston when an unexpected visitor had shown up at the Garrett mansion.
Lieutenant-General Philip Sheridan did not look like a warrior, being of a small, stocky stature, but his Irish temper and his soldierly skills had been put to advantage during the years 1861-65. His courage at Missionary Ridge as well as daring in the Overland Campaign and again at Cedar Creek had left him one of the three most renowned generals in the Union Army. Now that the senior of those generals had turned to politics, only another fiery man from Ohio, William T. Sherman, held a
higher rank than "Little Phil."
"General Sheridan came to visit my grandfather while I was in Boston. He was there to honor the Cavalry Corps at a GAR meeting."
"Yes, I know. He sent me a telegram telling me that he had been asked to speak. He also mentioned that you were in Boston. That's why I sent you that wire asking if you might take the time to stop here on your way back to California."
"So I understand, but the question is why? We were hardly friends during the war."
Custer hesitated. "I wish Libbie were here to act as hostess. She has gone back to Michigan for a time. Although she has loves her life here on the frontier, she does need the comfort of family and friends at occasionally."
"Don't we all?"
The officer gave a small laugh. "Actually most of my family is already here. I made sure that Tom came with me as well as my sister and her husband. I was even able to secure a position for my brother Boston. I need people I can trust around me. There are those who do not wish me well."
Smoothly, Scott remarked, "Ah yes, I read about your problems with the court-martial."
"Those Philistines! They cost me a year of service just because I. . .I needed some time with my wife when I thought she was ill, and after all I have sacrificed and done for this country!"
"Are you referring to the Battle of the Washita, Colonel?"
Custer brushed the hair from his eyes. He had not expected his visitor to be so knowledgeable. Frostily, he replied, "I know there has been. . .criticism of that battle, but this war against the Indian
is not like the battles at Gettysburg or Spotsylvania. There are no battle lines with drummers and bugles playing. If we wish to win, we must use the tactics that will gain us victory without suffering
appalling losses of our own."
"By attacking women and children?"
"Mr. Lancer! You have admitted you are no longer a part of the Army. I do not see that it is your place to judge when you are comfortable on a large ranch which sells cattle to the Army while men
like those I have the honor to command are daily sacrificing their lives to keep trails open so that fine easterners such as yourself can feel safe to make a home on the plains!"
Scott reached down to pick up the glass of whiskey that Custer had previously placed in front of him. After taking a sip, he put down the glass then stood up to stroll over to a table in one corner of the room. Turning, the blond asked, "By any chance, is this the table which General Lee used to sign the surrender document?"
Relaxing slightly, the Indian fighter chuckled. "As a matter of fact it is. Many men have asked to see it. It was most kind of General Sheridan to present it to my wife. We shall cherish it always."
"I. . .I remember hearing about what happened at the McLean house. Of course, most of us were more concerned about going home once Libby was liberated."
"You missed being a part of history, Lancer. Those seven days during which we tracked the Army of Northern Virginia to its doom will never be forgotten in the annals of military history."
Scott rubbed one hand over the polished surface of the table before murmuring, "Of course, even you must admit that it was not the same army which faced the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg or Second Bull Run."
"No, and neither Burnside nor Pope were Grant or Sheridan. Lee would never have won his victories had there been competent leadership in command for the Union. Of course, that was eight years ago. It is too bad that General Grant saw fit to forget where his true capabilities lie and entered politics."
"You don't support the President?" Scott questioned.
Flustered for only a moment, Custer protested, "I am a good Republican, sir, but Grant is easily led astray by those under him. The corruption of some of his officials is appalling. I have no doubt that one day his name will be spoken in derision instead of praise for his ignorance in the matter."
"I only met him once. Just before I was captured. He seemed an unpretentious man."
"Undoubtedly but he trusts too easily. I have learned to trust few men. Unfortunately, when a man elects to serve in the army, he frequently is forced to deal with subordinates who are not ideal. I do the best I can with the men allotted to me, but many of them have chosen the army only because they could not find jobs in civilian life."
"I suppose even $8.00 a month and being the target for an Indian arrow is preferable to starving."
"It is a difficult, demanding life," Custer conceded, "but it is the only life for a man like me. I know there were those who scoffed at my being called 'the boy general', but I showed them that it didn't
matter that I was at the bottom of my class at West Point. Book learning proves little; it is audacity and courage that makes a soldier a success."
"But then there are men like Robert E. Lee who had both."
The slim officer smirked, "I do not doubt the man's talent, but in the end he lost because the Confederacy could not hope to defend itself against a determined effort on many fronts. It is just unfortunate that it took so long and so many lives to bring it to an end."
"It seems to me that you could say the same for your present campaigns against the Sioux and the Cheyenne."
The blond officer sighed, "We are not officially at war with the Indian at the present time which is fortunate since we are given so little to fight with and there is only so much we can do in such a large territory. Perhaps one day the Indian will make a mistake and offer battle in a place where we will have the upper hand. I can only hope to see that day because I know the 7th will do its duty and achieve everlasting glory."
"Like Pickett's Virginians?"
"A high price for immortality I grant you, but I do not intend to lose."
As silence filled the room, the only sound was the wind blowing across the Dakota landscape. Scott shivered despite the warmth of the fire in the fireplace. "It must be quite desolate here in winter. It's only October and I can feel the chill."
"You've been in California too long. It has thinned your blood. Speaking of that fair state, do you intend to stay out there or will you eventually return to Boston?"
"Lancer has become my home. Ranching is a hard life, but I enjoy it for the most part. Now that I've found my brother and father, I feel content there; however, as long as my grandfather is alive I'll always have ties to Boston. In fact, my brother Johnny calls me that sometimes, just like your own brother."
"And you don't ever find the life stifling?"
"Not really. We have our battles too, maybe not against the Indians, but against men who want to steal, lie and cheat--just like men everywhere. At least now I know what it is I'm fighting for."
"I know what I am fighting for, Mr. Lancer--this country, the flag, and our way of life. Perhaps it is regrettable that the red man must make way for another stronger people. They do have some qualities I admire, but that has been the way of history for thousands of years, distasteful as you might find it."
"And when it's our turn to be on the losing side?"
"I have no doubt that one day it will occur, however, I shall not be alive to see it. But while I am alive I intend to make my mark on history. The name of Custer shall not be forgotten."
Scott returned to sit down across from the blue-uniformed man. "Colonel, why don't you just tell me the reason you asked me to come all this way? I have a long ride back to the rail line so I can return to California."
"I apologize for bringing you so far out of your way, but there is a matter which has been on my mind since the end of the war. I. . .I suspect you may be the only man who can tell me what I need to know."
Intrigued by Custer's almost pleading voice, Scott nodded. "Go on."
"Do you remember a Lieutenant Theodore Parker?"
"Parker? Yes, he was in the 83rd."
"He was. . .a close friend of mine when I was growing up in Monroe. We were inseparable at one point, but then his family moved to Massachusetts. When the war started he joined the infantry although he later transferred to the 83rd. I know he didn't . . . survive the war because I contacted his parents, but I don't know exactly what happened to him."
For a brief moment Scott debated how much to tell the man in front of him. He was a warrior, but the death of a friend was not easy for any man. Finally, he decided that only the truth would suffice. "We had been in Libby for several months and some of the men had contracted various diseases. Parker should never have attempted to escape with us since he was weak due to dysentery Lt. Cassidy tried to talk him into staying behind because he was so ill, but all he could talk about was getting home to his wife."
"Miranda. They were married in 1863. She died in childbirth. I don't even know if Theo knew of her passing."
"Anyway, the escape attempt was discovered so they laid a trap for us. Parker followed me out of the tunnel. I. . .I just remember a blaze of noise and bullets as they began to hit. I went down and. .
.and three or four bodies fell on top of me. I guess that's why I wasn't wounded a second time. After the firing stopped, they pulled the bodies, including Parker's, off me. Then the Confederates threw
me into solitary."
"Poor Theo. He wasn't the type of man to be a soldier, but he loved the Union. I. . .I have often wondered about his fate, hoping that he was not one of those unfortunates who was buried in just a trench."
"He was a brave man. They were all brave men. I was proud to serve with them."
"It is always the same in war. Those who are brave are cut down while the coward runs away to survive. My brigade lost over 500 men. I asked much of them and they never let me down. I can only hope that one day I will be able to say the same about the 7th."
"Colonel, do you really think you can subdue men like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Gall? They're faced with the loss of their way of life."
"And the Rebels weren't? No, Mr. Lancer, it can be done. We just need the will to do so. One day they will submit to the reservation or die. What is their alternative?"
"I. . .I don't know, but I'm glad that I don't have to take part in their annihilation."
Before Custer could reply there was a knock on the door. Captain Myles Keogh entered as soon as he heard his commanding officer's "Enter".
"Sorry ta bother you, Gen'ral, sure'n the bandmaster wants to practice 'n 'e asked if it'd disturb the gen'ral and his guest if 'e did it now?"
"Not at all, captain. I think Mr. Lancer would appreciate our band's music. It probably wouldn't be fit for the concert halls of Boston, but it certainly is welcome so far from home."
"Right ya are, Gen'ral. I'll tell 'im to go ahead."
Soon the sprightly tune of the 7th Cavalry's unofficial marching song, "Garryowen" filled the air and brought a smile to Custer's face. "Mr. Lancer, I'm most appreciative of your taking the time to come here and tell me about Theo. Perhaps I can repay the favor by looking into the possibility of purchasing cattle or horses from your family. The Army always needs beef."
"There's no need to trouble yourself on my behalf, Colonel. I understand what it is to lose a friend."
"Yes, well then, I'm sure you want to start back for the railhead. I'll see that you have an escort. It wouldn't do for the son of one of California's first families to have his hair lifted, now would it?"
Scott ruefully rubbed his hand through his short blond hair. "I am rather fond of it just as it is." Walking outside the door to where his horse was patiently standing, the Lancer scion shook hands with George Custer. "Goodbye, Colonel. I won't say good luck because I'm sure you make your own."
As Scott Lancer rode away from Ft. Abraham Lincoln, he could just hear the melody of "The Girl I Left Behind Me" floating in the subdued October sunlight.
*On May 17, 1876, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, in command of the 7th Cavalry, rode out from Ft. Abraham Lincoln never to return. The next day, to the tune "The Girl I Left Behind Me," he took leave of his wife and sister at a camp thirteen miles from the fort.
On June 25, 1876, Custer along with his brothers and brother-in-law were killed at the Little Bighorn. Also killed were all the soldiers of Troops C, E, F, I and L although many others of the regiment, under the command of Reno and Benteen, survived. Bustard and Keogh were among those who died with Troop I.