An Aide to Custer: The Civil War Letters of Lt. Edward G. Granger

An Aide to Custer: The Civil War Letters of Lt. Edward G. Granger

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In August 1862, nineteen-year-old Edward G. Granger joined the 5th Michigan Cavalry Regiment as a second lieutenant. On August 20, 1863, the newly promoted Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer appointed Granger as one of his aides, a position Granger would hold until his death in August 1864. Many of the forty-four letters the young lieutenant wrote home during those two years, introduced and annotated here by leading Custer scholar Sandy Barnard, provide a unique look into the words and actions of his legendary commander. At the same time, Granger’s correspondence offers an intimate picture of life on the picket lines of the Army of the Potomac and a staff officer’s experiences in the field.

As Custer’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Granger was in an ideal position to record the inner workings of the Michigan Brigade’s command echelon. Riding at Custer’s side, he could closely observe one of America’s most celebrated and controversial military figures during the very days that cemented his fame. With a keen eye and occasional humor, Granger describes the brigade’s operations, including numerous battles and skirmishes. His letters also show the evolution of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps from the laughingstock of the Eastern Theater to an increasingly potent, well-led force. By the time of Granger’s death at the Battle of Crooked Run, he and his comrades were on the verge of wresting mounted supremacy from their Confederate opponents.

Amply illustrated with maps and photographs, An Aide to Custer gives readers an unprecedented view of the Civil War and one of its most important commanders, and unusual insight into the experience of a staff officer who served alongside him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806161648
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 06/28/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 20 MB
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About the Author

Sandy Barnard is an independent scholar and author of numerous books on Custer and the Little Big Horn, including Photographing Custer’s Battlefield: The Images of Kenneth F. Roahen.

Thomas E. Singelyn, a retired dentist and collector of Civil War artifacts, compiled the letters in this volume.

Read an Excerpt



IN HIS FIRST SURVIVING LETTER, PROBABLY WRITTEN FROM his boarding house at 99 Fort Street West in Detroit, Edward G. Granger offered a recruitment pitch to one of his many first cousins, Alexander Carey Caskey. Granger indicated he would be going away soon. According to his military records at the National Archives and Records Administration, Edward Granger signed up two days later as a supernumerary second lieutenant in Company C, 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, or what he referred to as a third lieutenant in this letter. Fifteen days later, on August 27, 1862, he and many of his regiment's original complement of troops were formally mustered into U.S. service. For nearly seven months he served as an "extra officer" available for whatever mundane tasks might be assigned to him. He was finally mustered in as the second lieutenant of Company C on April 1, 1863.

Although they would not serve together in the Union Army, the two cousins were close. In his will probated after his own death in 1904, Caskey left a photograph of Granger to his own son Edward G. Caskey, "for whom he was named." Just prior to writing this letter, according to the Detroit city directory for 1862, Granger had been working as a law student in the firm of Walker and Kent, one of whose partners was the boys' uncle Edward Carey Walker. Caskey was a clerk at A. C. McGraw and Company, whose partners included his much older brother Samuel G. Caskey. It is unclear how a letter to a cousin ended up in the Granger family's collection after Edward's death in 1864. However, given the apparent close bond between Edward and Alex, the latter may have given this letter and another from March 1863 to the Granger family after Edward's death in 1864.

The second item in this section is not an actual letter written by him, but is included here because of its relevance. After Granger's mustering into his regiment, his many friends gathered to send him off on his military career with the presentation of a new revolver. Several of these young men will be mentioned later in Granger's letters to his family members.

At the same time we can learn a great deal about Edward himself by analyzing his friends' own backgrounds. Except for his uncle Edward Walker, almost all were youths, like Granger himself, in the beginning stages of their own careers. Documents gleaned through clearly indicate they were men of the middle class. They also confirm that in the years after his return from the Agricultural College, Granger built up a wide circle of friends. As customary for that era, the men were usually referred to by their first initials and last names. The Detroit City Directory 1862 fleshes out names and other details about almost all of them.

* * *


Detroit, August 12th 1862


I expected to answer your letter verbally but, as you have given up coming here I suppose, I must write which you know is much harder for me to do.

We have not heard, as yet, your reasons for changing your mind, but suppose they were sufficiently weighty.

Theodore McGraw is coming home as soon as his father sends him the money: probably he intends to get a place as assistant Surgeon in the army. He will make a good one.

Gus Buhl is 2nd Lieut. in I. W. Ingersoll's Company in the 24 Regt. and Price Quincy's Clerk is first sergeant of the same Company.

Sam Warren says he is going in the 17th but whether he has enlisted yet, I don't know.

Hunter is going if he can get his Father's consent, and Stanton says he is going.

Judge Copeland of Pontiac, late Lieut. Col. of the 1st Cavalry, has received authority from the Governor to raise a Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. Wellington Hunt of Detroit is to be Captain in said Regiment; and if he can raise men enough, E. G. Granger (also of Detroit) may get the place of 3d Lieut. in Hunt's Company. I have not seen Hunt yet and so don't know how many men he will want me to raise but C. I. was talking to him yesterday. Uncle thinks that by going out to Fowlersville and getting Ben to help me, I could raise some men in Livingston Co. so I shall probably go and try my luck. You know you promised to go when I went; if you will come up now you can get the chance as I shall go some way, even if I don't get the Lieutenancy. Don seems to have some inclination to go, though I have not yet said anything to him about my intentions.

If you know of anyone who wishes to enlist in such a Regiment just send him to me. Wonder if "Old Scott" wouldn't like to go.

By the way, I met George Davis yesterday and he wanted me to tell you to hurry up and answer his letter. He says he wrote to you six weeks ago and has not heard from you yet. I am surprised at your treatment of the poor boy.

Don had a first rate time up the lakes but poor Wenus got decidedly cut out by a handsome young Lady, who was away at a boarding school when Don was up there last, who proved so attractive that Don's stay was prolonged from two to four weeks and the hunting was entirely neglected.

Mollie and I went to one of Philbrick's concerts last night and one of the principal performers was your bashful friend Dell Beardsley. Uncle Edward just got home from down East and brought Mother a photograph of Ada for Mother.Mother says "tell Mr. Adams I want his to put with it," for a contrast I suppose. You may tell Ada for me that I should like one like the one Mother has of her, as I am going away.

Mollie sends love to Maria & Alex and Carrie sends hers to one or the other, I forgot which, & I guess she is not very particular.

Write soon to Your Cousin Ed.

* * *

[LETTER 2] Lieut. Ed. G. Granger Detroit, September 3rd 1862

Your undersigned friends and fellow gymnasts beg your acceptance of the accompanying revolver, presented as a slight mark of their esteem for you, at the same time expressing the hope that you may be as active and energetic in the cause ofUnion as you have been in the Gymnasium:

S. K. Stanton L. H. Baldwin William Stanton F. R. Hallock Hammond Hunter E. W. Hudson John Stevenson James Craig W. C. Williams E. C. Hinsdale Robt. Beveridge W. G. Pungs J. Dean A. Ives, Jr.

NINE OF GRANGER'S SURVIVING LETTERS WERE WRITTEN between February 4 and June 12, 1863. In that period, the 5th Michigan Cavalry spent most of its time in Camp Copeland finalizing training for combat and gaining field experience. Later in the spring, they manned the picket lines in the area of today's modern northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Given the rotating schedules of field duty that the various regiments and companies followed, Granger often had time to write home in this period. Several of his letters are quite lengthy. While he reveals his eye for detail, the subjects that he broaches generally are chosen for their value and interest to his family back home. He frequently comments about people, including relatives, with whom the Grangers and Walkers would be familiar. In the multiple letters to his sister, Mollie, he more often focuses on the simple chitchat between a brother and a sister about such mundane topics as the sad state of his clothing, his attempts to secure his back pay, a night at the theater, and his visit to a government greenhouse to look at plants and flowers.

However, his letter of February 4, 1863, to his uncle Edward Carey Walker differs significantly in its emphasis on harder matters, presumably more of interest to an older uncle than a teenage sister. It is full of politics and personalities, especially about individuals in the regiment competing for line or field officer command positions. Volunteer regiments were raised by politicians in their respective states under the authority of their governors until the units were accepted by the federal government for service. As Granger outlines his experiences, the 5th Michigan Cavalry Regiment was rife with the bickerings and backstabbings of citizen soldiers suddenly introduced to the highly competitive military life. In this period the 5th Michigan Cavalry and its sister cavalry regiments, the 6th and 7th Michigan, were classic examples of regiments beset with such problems.

Whether his February 4 letter was his first letter home from his wartime camps or merely the first one that survived is unclear. Inasmuch as his regiment had departed from Detroit two months earlier, he presumably would have written home before this date. As a counter to such an expectation, Granger instead reported on the 5th Michigan Cavalry Regiment's Camp Copeland in Washington, D.C., set up on East Capitol Hill near the Capitol Building. The 5th Michigan served with a provisional cavalry brigade among the troops guarding the defenses of the nation's capital.

In a letter of March 6, 1863, to his mother, Matilda, Granger commented on the poor state of his uniform, and reflected on his feelings of sadness in passing over the grounds of past battlefields, including First and Second Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia. While Granger often commented about the effects of rain and mud on the troops, such hardships seldom seemed to bother him. He also introduced his mother to his orderly, Augustus F. Corser. Of note, this is Granger's first letter, among those that have survived, to his mother. Frequently in his correspondence, he would be testy either directly in writing to her or in telling his sister about Matilda's own infrequent letters to him. Unfortunately, without her own responses to him, we cannot know the other side of the story. Thus, we can only speculate about how close the bonds may have been between mother and son.

His seventh letter, begun on April 3, 1863, and completed on April 6, to Matilda was initially misdated. In it, Edward wrote about the 5th Michigan Cavalry's camp life in the field and its permanent move from Camp Copeland, Washington, D.C., to Fairfax Court House, Virginia. The regiment would spend most of its next three months serving on picket duty on the massive network of Union lines that protected the nation's capital. Because of his busy service in the field, Granger apparently became confused about the months and dates of writing. He began this letter on April 3, but dated it originally as March 3, and concluded it on April 6, 1863.

As noted earlier, on April 1, 1863, Granger's appointment as a full-fledged second lieutenant was confirmed, ending his status as a supernumerary officer. While his uncles clearly had a hand in his success at retaining his commissioned status, one of his fellow officers also sought to claim credit for Granger's appointment. One of the candidates for the then-open colonelcy of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, Lt. Col. Ebenezer Gould, played politics behind the scenes with Granger's uncle Charles Walker. In an April 1, 1863, letter to his brother, Gould revealed, "I had a letter today from C I Walker. He said his brother had written to the Gov. for me. He had also seen Howard who had also written and would see Chandler and get him to work for me. C I has a nephew in the regiment whom I have been able to help."

Throughout the spring of 1863 the 5th Michigan Cavalry had remained on picket duty in defense of Washington, D.C. All the while, they endured raids from guerrillas under John Mosby, then a major. With the change of seasons from spring to summer, Granger and his comrades would begin to experience their most serious combat to date, beginning with the Gettysburg Campaign between June 13 and July 14, 1863.

* * *


Camp Copeland Washington D.C. Feb. 4th 1863 [Wednesday]

E. C. Walker Esq. Detroit Dear Uncle

Yours of the 21st ult., duely received enclosure of Postage Stamps for which I am obligated.

The package of books has not yet arrived and we don't know as it is likely ever to get here, but still, it may, as some packages have been delivered here after a journey of nearly a month. Our mails were equally irregular at first but have improved very much. I don't know whether Ed. Walter is to be considered fortunate or unfortunate — fortunate he certainly was in seeing one battle, and most people who have seen one, say that they never want to see another; if he feels so his discharge will not be very unwelcome to him. I never thought there was anything in him which would enable him to endure the fatigue and exposure to which a private in the Infantry is subject.

Last Saturday [January 31, 1863] our Regt. was ordered to report for duty. Accordingly, we got all packed up and ready to start, but our former experience made Bristol and me sufficiently cautious not to pack up our bed clothes or take down our stove. It was fortunate for us that we did not, for only two Companies marched. Company H (Capt. Purdy's) and Company D (Capt. Simonds) and they did notleave till Sunday morning [February 1]. They went to garrison Poolsville [Poolesville], Maryland. Capt. Clark's Company had left a week before, as we all supposed, to act as body-guard to Gen. Casey in an inspection of his division; but some of the men have been back since they went and it appears that the Company is at Fairfax Court House and the men are employed as bearers of dispatches.

To day the Major has ordered us to be in readiness to move to night if the Colonel, who is now down town, should bring up orders to that effect. But we give ourselves no trouble. I don't think there is any particular danger of our leaving immediately.

Lieut. Dodge has just told me that Capt. Hunt has received a letter from you, I suppose, in relation to the vacant Majority. Do you know any-thing how that is going to be decided? It is the great question of the Regiment.

Thursday February 5th — Just at this point I was interrupted by the announcement of supper and in the evening I heard that the great question was settled. Capt. Dakehad been appointed Major. The long agony was over, or rather had just culminated as far as Capt Hunt was concerned. Capt Hunt was raving mad. He cursed the "political influence" which had obtained for Dake the Majority, he was going to resign and charges would be preferred against Dake, etc. Now I believe the game is to have Dake brought up before a Board of Examiners. If this is done, he will certainly be thrown out as, like some of his brother officers, he has been so busy figuring for promotion that he knows nothing about the tactics. You would be perfectly surprised if you could see the ignorance displayed by some Commissioned Officers of this Regiment, though owing to Colonel Mann's instruction, we are said to be better posted than the Officers of some old Regiments.

Of course you remember [Henry] Starkey of Capt. Purdy's Company.

He and our First Lieut., Dodge, are considered (especially by themselves) the two best posted men in the Regt. When Starkey was here, they used to go around trying to catch every-body on some little technical point in the Tactics. They used to come in here at first, but they soon got sick of that, as they always got as good as they gave. In the course of their travels they picked up young [Walter] Stevenson,brother of the Merchant Tailor in Detroit, and finding that he knew nothing brought him over to our tent to exhibit him. There they kept him all the evening showing off his ignorance for the benefit of a whole tent full of Officers, who were laughing at him all the time and he did not know that they were laughing at him at all. Stevenson had heard Starkey explain to Lieut. Lee the manner of encamping, and when Starkey asked Stevenson what he would do if ordered to take a grand guard and relieve another officer across the river, he said he would have the men pitch their tents etc. going on to give as well as possible the process of encampment. Starkey asked him how long it would take him to get across the River. He had heard Capt. Purdy give the definition of Abbattis and he tried to give the same as the definition of Cantonment.

This morning Company E, the Company from which Capt. Dake was promoted, started for the front, it is said, to relieve Company K. I pity them, for it is freezing cold this morning.

We have had the most peculiar winter here. Last December was very mild indeed, more like May than any other month. January was equally mild but somewhat more rainy and the first five days of February have been as cold as any weather we ever saw in Michigan. It is so cold here that we can not drill or do any thing else except stay in doors and talk, study or write, and wait patiently for meal times and bed-time. We only have to go out doors to attend to the water & feed calls, and unfortunately it is my week to go to water.

Lieut. Dodge is here and consequently my letter gets along but slowly, for he is a very interesting talker indeed, and besides that, my material is about used up. Dodge says that Capt. Hunt intends to resign. I don't know whether he will or not, but if they can't throw out Dake, I shouldn't wonder if he did: for a more homesick man is seldom seen, I should say. He has been as blue as he could be ever since he came here.


Excerpted from "An Aide To Custer"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Sandy Barnard and Thomas E. Singelyn.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction 3

1 A First Letter 31

2 Camp Life and Picket Duty 39

3 A Summer and Fall of Campaigning 97

4 Camp Life, Winter 1863-1864 155

5 Campaigning in the Spring and Summer of 1864 197

Epilogue: Death on a Hot August Day 259

Bibliography 275

Index 283

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