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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published August 17 2013

Did you know that: Excessive drinking, PTSD plagued Thomas Weir

Not all of the fatalities of the Battle of the Little Big Horn took place on the battlefield.

After the defeat of George Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, Lt. Thomas Weir went into a deep depression (now defined as post-traumatic stress disorder) and died Sept. 28, three months after the battle.

Weir had a serious drinking problem before the battle, and it only got worse after Custer’s defeat.

There is deep division on how people judge Weir’s action at that decisive battle. After hearing gunfire in the direction of Custer’s location, Weir and his company moved to a closer position so they could observe some of the fighting, but soon were repulsed.

Some people call him a hero for attempting to rush to Custer’s aid, and others call him a fool and/or an insubordinate for disobeying a direct order from Marcus Reno to remain in support of his troops.

Because of the conflicting rumors after the battle, all of this controversy appears to be conjecture, depending on a person’s bias.

It is not clear what Weir’s feelings were for Colonel Custer, but there is little doubt that he had great affection for the colonel’s wife, Libbie Custer. It was rumored that, at one time, Weir and Libbie were engaged in an affair.

Thomas Benton Weir was born Sept. 28, 1838, in Nashville, Ohio, to William and Martha (Stewart) Weir.

When Thomas was a young child, the family moved to Albion, on Michigan’s northern peninsula. Thomas enrolled at the University of Michigan, and because of his superior intelligence, he graduated in June 1861 after three years.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Weir enlisted on Aug. 27, three days after the 3rd Michigan Volunteer Cavalry was organized, and he was assigned to Company B.

He quickly was promoted to first sergeant and, on Oct. 13, was commissioned as second lieutenant.

During the spring of 1862, Weir was involved in the Battle of New Madrid on the Mississippi River, the Siege of Corinth, and the Battle of Farmington in Mississippi. For his action, Weir was promoted to first lieutenant on June 19, and a week later, while on his way to the village of Blackland, he was captured by Confederate soldiers.

While still held by rebel forces, Weir was promoted to captain Nov. 1. He was released from prison on Jan. 8, 1863, and returned to his unit. Dec. 7, 1864, Weir was promoted to major. July 4, 1865, he became lieutenant colonel and was assigned to reconstruction duty in Texas under the command of George Armstrong Custer.

He was mustered out of the Union Army on Feb. 12, 1866, in San Antonio, and came back into the reconstructed U.S. Army as a first lieutenant on July 28.

Weir rejoined Col. Custer on Feb. 19, 1867, at Fort Riley, Kan., when he was appointed as “regimental commissary” of the 7th Cavalry. In March, he was appointed acting assistant adjutant general and named regimental quartermaster, replacing Tom Custer, the younger brother of his commander.

Weir was promoted to first lieutenant July 31 and soon found himself to be a key witness in the court-martial hearing of George Custer.

Custer was accused of being absent from duty in July during his campaign against the Cheyenne Indians.

At the September hearing in Fort Leavenworth, Weir testified that, as adjutant general, he found “no record of any leave of absence for Custer in July.”

Nevertheless, Custer was found guilty and suspended from duty for a year. In gratitude, Custer asked Weir to be Libbie’s escort when he was away. Libbie later wrote that she enjoyed Weir’s “quick mind and wit.”

One thing about Weir that she and other officers’ wives objected to was his “excessive drinking.”

The closeness of Weir and Libbie, during the times her husband was absent, generated talk. According to historian Robert Utley, Capt. Frederick Benteen “asserted that Libbie had had an affair with Thomas Benton Weir.”

It should be noted that Benteen’s comments occurred long after the supposed incident when he and George Custer were bitter enemies.

Upon his promotion to first lieutenant, Weir was assigned commander of Company D until the Battle of Washita on Nov. 28, 1868. During the battle (or as many call it, a massacre), Capt. Louis Hamilton, the commander of Company A and grandson of Alexander Hamilton, was killed. Weir then temporarily took command of Hamilton’s company.

March 3, 1869, the U.S. Congress passed an act to greatly reduce the size of the army.

A number of officers were well aware of Weir’s drinking problem and pushed to have him discharged. However, “he was given a reprieve and remained commander of D troop.”

From 1871 through 1873, the 7th Cavalry was assigned constabulary duties over the former Confederate states.

Company D, under the command of Weir, carried out their duties in SouthCarolina and Alabama. In early April 1873, the company left Alabama bound for Fort Snelling in Minnesota, where new orders awaited them.

Congress had created the Northern Boundary Commission in 1872 to oversee the survey of the boundary between the U.S. and Canada. Since much of the area of northern Dakota Territory and Montana was occupied by Native Americans, some of who were hostile to the whites, protection needed to be provided to the survey parties. Company D, commanded by Weir, was one of the companies selected to provide that protection.

(We will conclude our story about Thomas B. Weir next week.)

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net