Teaching Students About General Custer

Teaching the history of General George Armstrong Custer can be a challenging task for educators, especially considering his complex and controversial legacy. This article will provide expert advice and assistance on how best to approach teaching your students about General Custer, considering various perspectives and providing an accurate representation of his life and actions.

1. Contextualizing General Custer:

Start by providing your students with historical context, including information about the U.S. Civil War, westward expansion, and American-Indian relations during the 19th century. Understanding this background will help students better comprehend Custer’s rise to fame and eventual demise.

2. Exploring Different Perspectives:

In addition to presenting the facts, it is crucial to introduce your students to different perspectives on General Custer’s life – both positive and negative. Some may view him as a brave military leader, while others criticize his reckless actions during crucial battles like the Battle of Little Bighorn.

3. Humanizing General Custer:

While teaching about his military actions and legacy, it’s essential to humanize General Custer by discussing his personal life too. This helps students understand that historical figures are not just one-dimensional but have complicated lives like everyone else. Delve into his relationships, passions, and aspirations beyond his military career.

4. Incorporating Primary Sources:

Use primary sources like letters, photographs, newspaper articles, or firsthand accounts from those directly involved with General Custer whenever possible to encourage critical thinking in your students. Analyzing these sources allows them to draw their conclusions and foster a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

5. Confronting Controversy:

Address the controversies surrounding General Custer head-on by discussing contested events or actions he was involved in, such as the Sand Creek Massacre or the Battle of Little Bighorn. Encourage open discussion and debate among students to explore and appreciate the diverse historical interpretations of these events.

6. Connecting to the Present:

To make the topic more engaging for your students, draw connections between General Custer’s life and our present-day world. Discuss the lasting impact and relevance of his actions on Native American communities and the broader scope of American history. This approach makes history relatable, more meaningful, and memorable for your students.


Teaching about General Custer requires a comprehensive approach that explores multiple perspectives, contextualizes his actions within a larger historical framework, and encourages critical thinking. By following this expert advice and assistance, you will foster a productive learning environment that enables students to form educated opinions about one of America’s most renowned yet controversial military figures.

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