Which Custer brother?

Civil War soldier William Kimball, a member of the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, relates an incident involving a derailed train attacked by rebels on May 18, 1864, near Huntsville, Alabama. Kimball states, “The engineer was a brother of General Custer and was wounded in the hand,” but never names a brother.

The Civil War and the Custer Family

As a student at West Point, George Custer graduated and immediately entered the army in 1861. He made a name for himself in many Civil War battles including Gettysburg, Third Winchester, Cedar Creek and Appomattox but what about his brothers?  At the opening of the Civil War George had left three brothers at home: Nevin, Tom and Boston.  According to author Carl F. Day, Emmanuel and Maria Custer were against any of their remaining sons entering the war noting that the family was represented by George.  The Custer parents soon relented and let Nevin, the oldest of the three, leave to enlist.  Nevin would return within a week after being discharged due to a bout of rheumatism.

After two failed attempts, Tom was allowed to enlist.  On September 19, 1861, Thomas Ward Custer was inducted into the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Tom would stay with the 21st Ohio until he was mustered out as a corporal on October 23, 1864 to accept a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Michigan Cavalry.  Tom became George’s Aide-de-camp in November.  His brothers Nevin and Boston would not enter the Civil War.

Tom is the only possible brother who could have been on the derailed train in 1864.  He was never lacking in bravery.  By the end of the Civil War he would become the first soldier to be given two Medals of Honor for action scene at Namozine Church and Sayler’s Creek.  When asked about his brother, George would go on to say, “Do you want to know what I think of him? Tom should have been the General and I the Lieutenant.”


The following books included in the Custer Collection detail the life of Thomas Ward Custer:

Tom Custer: Ride to Glory by Carl Day

In His Brother’s Shadow: Thomas Ward Custer by Roy Bird

The Better Brother: Tom and George Custer and the Battle for the American West by Roy Bird

Garry Owen Tidbits VII compiled by Tom O’Neil


More about the wounds Tom Custer received during the Civil War can be found in the article:

Tom Custer’s Wounds by W. Donald Horn, Little Big Horn Associates Newsletter, April, 1996


Note: Kimball’s recollection can be found in the book Among the Enemy: A Michigan Soldier’s Civil War Journal