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Headmaster's son survives Custer's last stand

Lithograph by Charles Marion Russell (1864–1926) showing the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side c1903

A senior non-commissioned officer, Frank Lloyd, was one of 53 men left behind to man the Fort 'Abraham Lincoln' at the time of the Battle of the Little Bighorn as fellow soldiers rode out to confront the troublesome local Indian tribes. In all, 259 of Frank John Lloyd's fellow soldiers were killed in the massacre that would become known as 'Custer's Last Stand'.

The source story for this article is the comprehensive website ‘Men with Custer, UK’, researched by Peter Russell. This major research project has gathered information about the men from the UK who served with Custer in the 7th US Cavalry at the time of the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

General George Armstrong Custer 1839-76 (Colourised photo)

This unlikely story associated with a village in Sussex starts when the mother of the soldier, Elizabeth Mitchell, was baptised in Cuckfield in 17 March 1816. No more is known until she married, at 26, the local schoolmaster and church organist, John Lloyd, in Cuckfield Church on 28 March 1842. The 1841 census shows John was about the same age as Elizabeth.

Just over a year later on the 2 December 1843 John and Elizabeth baptised their son also called John, in Cuckfield Holy Trinity Church.

In the following year John Snr was promoted and became the first headmaster of the newly set up National School in 1844. At the start of the year the Cuckfield school had been a Grammar School (founded in 1512), and its headmaster had been Revd Walter Kelly. But John left before the year was out and Thomas Norris took over. So maybe John was in an interim role or was keen to set up his new business in London.

So from all of this we can conclude that Frank’s father was highly regarded in the Cuckfield community, well educated and a probably a good musician.

Move to London

By October 1847 John, Elizabeth and the children had moved, although this may have happened in 1844, and now lived at 52 Blackfriars Road, in London. John had set himself up as a ‘confectioner and pastry cook’ - perhaps with some help or even following the suggestion from his father-in-law, John Mitchell, who was a baker.

The Custer Family

The Lloyds then moved to Mile End. The census of April 1861, shows John Lloyd, now 44, and described as a 'commercial clerk', Elizabeth was 45 and had four children ranging in ages from 3 to 13. Young ‘Frank John’, the future cavalryman, was 12 having been born on 28 November 1848.

Emigrates to America

When he was 21 young Frank who was described as ‘a clerk’ must have found holding down a good job difficult in the deprived East End and this almost certainly explains why he decided to emigrate to America. He set off from Gravesend in July 1869 travelling in 'steerage' and arrived in New York 22 days later.

It wasn't until February 1872 that he decided to enlist in the army. This curious occupational move suggests that he may have had difficulty getting work as a clerk but we know that the Government was very active trying to recruiting soldiers at the time. He was initially assigned to the 8th US Cavalry.

There are no photographs of Frank Lloyd and we will need to suffice with the description on his army records. He was 23, with grey eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, 5’ 6” tall, 'and formerly a clerk'.

Two weeks later he was transferred to the 7th US Cavalry and joined Company G, which was engaged on 'Reconstruction duty'.

The full story of Frank Lloyd’s army life is a long and detailed. They were essentially on policing duty to restore law and order after the Civil War - the Government used the term 'Reconstruction'. It followed the defeat of the Confederacy and also saw the abolition of slavery. One of their tasks was to round up members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organisations. Their duty also saw skirmishes with Sioux Indians.

During the course of the next 18 months they were constantly on the move around the US states: South Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, Minnesota, Dakota, Montana then finally arriving at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory on 21 September 1873

The Battle of Little Bighorn and it’s catastrophic outcome was caused by the Government ordering the Sioux to relocate to designated reservations in late 1875. When they failed to obey they were declared to be ‘hostile’.

As Peter Russell explains:

Early on the morning of Wednesday, 17 May 1876, General Terry’s Dakota Column, which included all twelve companies of the Seventh, finally moved out from Fort Lincoln with the regimental band playing over and over again ‘The Girl I left Behind Me’. No doubt many of the ‘men they left behind them’ would have been disappointed at not being on the campaign, including Frank Lloyd which in the event may well have saved his life.

A total of 53 remained to secure the Fort, eight were sick, and three had been locked up. Frank was appointed Acting Post Sergeant Major. His administrative experience will have stood him in good stead and no doubt Custer felt it would be in safe hands during his absence.

The death toll at ‘Custer’s Last Stand’, as it became known, was 209 of Custer’s men and 53 others. On the fateful days 25-26 June they were overwhelmed and wiped out by a large force of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Accounts differ as to how the engagement progressed and archaeologists and historians still debate new theories.

As for Frank, he suffered ill health and didn’t compete his five year enlistment. Around 1881 he returned to Mile End and became Collector of Rates for the South East Ward of the Hamlet of Mile End Old Town Council. His first wife, Ann Smith Lloyd, whom he married in 1885 sadly passed away ten years later at the age of 57 and he remarried Jane Agnes Cooper a 48 year old schoolteacher in 1907.

General’s widow visits the East End

Custer's Last Stand by Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852–1919)

One interesting episode would take him back to his US Army days. During his time at the Fort, Frank will have got to know General Custer very well and probably his wife too. After her husband’s death Libbie Custer was on a mission to defend his name. The outcome of the battle had embarrassed the Government and army headquarters and Custer's tactical competence was being questioned. She wrote articles, addressed meetings and wrote three books. The first was: 'Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General Custer’. Surely it must have been no coincidence that, in 1891, she made an appearance at the People’s Palace, Mile End Road?

Frank Lloyd fell ill in Liverpool and died there on 23 February 1912 from bronchitis and peritonitis. There were no children from either marriage.

This account is a much abridged and drawn from a much longer and fascinating account of Frank's experiences in the US Army. Do take the'Men with Custer' link below and read the full story.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



Men With Custer by Peter Russell:

General Custer photo (colourised by the author):

Family Group of George Armstrong Custer, Thomas Ward Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Custer. George seated on the left; Tom standing in the center; and Libbie seated on the right. George is wearing a major general uniform, hat folded on lap with right hand. His left arm is on the arm of the chair. His hand is over Libbie's lap. Tom is wearing a second Lieutenant Uniform. Libbie is wearing a white skirt; a dark top with no collar and ribbon ties. Her hair is half curled and pulled back. Photo downloaded from Wikimedia: (Colourised by the author).

Top: Lithograph by Charles Marion Russell (1864–1926) showing the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side. 1903.


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