Gregory Downs is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis. A specialist in post–Civil War history, he is the author most recently of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (2015), which considers the use of the U.S. Army in occupying the South to create new forms of freedom, and a companion website Mapping Occupation, created with Scott Nesbit. Downs is also the author of Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (2011) and has written on the interaction between the U.S. Civil War and the Mexican wars of the 1860s. He is a coeditor, with Kate Masur, of The World the Civil War Made (2015), and is currently working a book on the American Civil War in a period of global revolution. Also a prizewinning fiction writer, he is the author of the short-story collection Spit Baths (2006).
Prior to his infamous and ill-fated "Last Stand" on the Plains in the mid-1870s, George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were based in central Kentucky for nearly two years. Except for one period where they were sent to Chicago to police the city after the great fire, they spent most of their time trying to put down Ku Klux Klan-style terrorists who assaulted African-Americans and tried to prevent them from voting. Using Custer's time in 1870s Kentucky and 1865 Texas, this essay explores the Army's efforts to impose order upon violent white southerners, and examines the interconnections between its role in the West and in the South.