Why Custer is ISFJ

We try to approach every typing with a ‘beginner’s mind’, disregarding what we think we know of a person’s personality based on their popular persona. Even so, it is difficult to shake all prejudice, as we learn anew whenever we type someone like General Custer who really surprises us.

As the story goes, Custer was an audacious daredevil with a gung-ho approach who ended up taking one risk too many, infamously meeting his end in the showdown known as ‘Custer’s Last Stand.’ However, it may well be that this spectacular finale to Custer’s career has overshadowed the remainder of his career and permanently branded him as the Johnny Knoxville of warfare.

When we look beyond the myth and at the actual man, we do not find evidence that Custer had ES-P preferences. In reading his book ‘My Life on the Plains’ we find that it is not an exciting pageturner so much as an exhaustively – even obligingly – detailed account of his years of interaction with the Indians on the prairie. For at least 90% of the narrative, Custer relates the specific goings-on in undiscriminating detail, recording every fact of his dramatic encounters with the Indians as conscientiously as he reports every fact of the daily logistics. The narrative is full of passages like the following:

“On the same day our train of wagons set out for Fort Wallace to obtain supplies. Colonel West with one full squadron of cavalry was ordered to escort the train to Beaver Creek, about midway, and there halt with one of his companies, while the train, under escort of one company commanded by Lieutenant Robbins, should proceed to the fort and return – Colonel West to employ the interval in scouting up and down Beaver Creek. The train was under the special management of Colonel Cooke who on this occasion was acting in the capacity of a staff officer.”

From the consistent level of detail, it would be most reasonable to assume that Si is dominant in Custer’s psyche. In fact, his offering could serve as a stock example of Si being the cognitive function that focuses on getting to know each individual tree in order that one may, from the aggregate, know the forest. This bottom-up way of understanding things is painstaking and slow, but it has the advantage that it is thorough and trustworthy and leaves little room for guesswork. Indeed at one point he explains his writing style as follows: “I am thus minute in giving these details in order that the events … may appear in their proper light.”

So far we have spoken of the manner of Custer’s expression. But there is also evidence of Si dominance in the content of Custer’s writing. Military commanders who use Se tend to find combat thrilling* (e.g. Churchill, Mussolini, Alexander) and in their memoirs (if they have them) they attribute their daring exploits to the pleasure they naturally find in taking risks and navigating danger. And conversely, they often confess to feelings of restlessness and impatience during times of peace. As the quotes provided on our website show, this thrill-seeking attitude is wholly foreign to Custer’s psyche. By a long shot, Custer prefers peace and quiet, the logistics and camp life, and when he talks of his courage, he professes that it stems from a sense of duty and a desire to serve his superiors (whereas, by contrast, Churchill’s attitude to taking orders in the military was quite different as he wrote: “I resolved that as soon as [possible] I would free myself from all discipline and authority, and set up in perfect independence … with nobody to give me orders or arouse me by bell or trumpet.”) .

Furthermore, in chapter 2 of Custer’s book, he takes up the pen to argue against a newspaper’s accusation that the army is eager for war. In his reply, Custer describes the comforts that soldiers enjoy in peacetime and which they have to give up wartime, and he also laments that a military campaign against the Native American Indians is an impossible affair for the soldier who is not a gung-ho bravado, but who “strives to win the approving smile of his countrymen”. For as Custer would have it, if the army wins a battle, they will be criticized for slaughtering the Indians, and if they lose, it is shameful – and in either case the soldier of course risks his life.

* For an example of an Se type professing to find combat thrilling, one could look, for example, at Churchill, who in 1893 wrote: “[Military training] was thrilling. It did seem such a pity that it all had to be make-believe, and that the age of wars between civilized nations had come to an end for ever. If it had only been 100 years earlier what splendid times we should have had! Fancy being nineteen in 1793 with more than twenty years of war against Napoleon in front of one!”

Finally, it is worth noting that we are not the first to challenge the perception of Custer as a daredevil. Here is a quote by Marguerite Merington, who was a friend of Custer’s wife:

This expedition Captain Custer was detailed to lead, with a view to capturing the pickets and holding the north bank. Custer accordingly waded the stream, trying out its treacherous bed up and down for the best part of a mile. This was characteristic of Custer’s method: the meticulously careful preparation, the sure, cautious approach, the sudden surprise attack. When biographers describe him as ‘dashing,’ they do scant justice to the solid basis for that spectacular climax. In warfare Custer was the perfect artist, building results on sound technique.

In this way you could say he is the Tiger Woods of warfare.


  1. As useful as Custer’s attention to detail was, it was ultimately his attention to detail and reliance on concrete facts which lead to his downfall. At the Battle of the Little Bighorn, when scouts informed him of the number of Native American warriors, he didn’t consider the possibility of the data being flawed and subject to interpretation; when his ill-informed scouts informed him there were 800 warriors (in reality they numbered at around 2,000), he didn’t act with the possibility of there being three times the number and sent his men into a slaughter, having believed his victory would be easy.

    This mistake is what caused people to perceive it as the stereotypical recklessness and “gusto” of the Se Function, and to therefore assume that Custer has Se instead of Si. And I find it ironic how a man who got as far as he had gotten in life through skill in details, organising and meticulous planning with attention to facts, would be undone by his unquestioning acceptance of data.

    But I do not intend this as criticism of the Si Function in general; I believe it is a very underrated function which gets dismissed because it’s not the sexiest of the eight functions – people would want to identify more with the inventiveness and pattern-seeking of its opposite, Ne, then they would with the “boring” Si with its meticulous structure and attention to the small stuff that other people might dismiss. My previous two paragraphs were merely commenting on a potential downfall in Dominant Si/Inferior Ne users.

    My Si function is fairly weak, I’ll admit, and sometimes I’m quite scatter-brained. But when my Si does work, I often find that I have my act together and things get done a bit more efficiently.

  2. I’ve noticed many Si writers (even the ENP ones) seem to detail unnessary parts of a whole. For example, George R.R. Martin will never say there is a buffet on the table, but he will name EVERY SINGLE item. Being Si, this is done just to paint a detailed picture. In the grand scheme, these details serve no purpose to the overall story.

    Compare this to Bret Easton Ellis (ESTP). who in the first few pages of American Psycho details the city as Timothy Price sees it.

    So it seems like Se writers are concerned with what is seen or experienced, while Si writers are more about what requires focus. A poster on the wall or what the poster is about vs the little wrinkles and tears a person has to get up close to see.

    Is this right?

  3. So, the moral of the article is… that it’s pretty dumb to type songwriters based on their lyrics, but perfectly reasonable to type people based on their autobiographical memoirs. What about typing novelists by their fiction? A happy middle ground?

    And of course, I learned that ESPs only write gripping thrillers. :D

  4. @rachelw

    I disagree.

    I don’t think it’s moral is so judgemental like “it’s pretty dumb to…” but more like “you need more than that” to validly type someone. It’s reasonable to type people based on their autobiography because it’s their personal stuff after all, like a diary. They might make up the content but we can see the context, the way they express themselves on a personal basis. It’s like you may not be able to tell whether someone is left-handed or right-handed by his written texts but you’ll be able to when you see him writing the texts.

    Back to the topic of the article, i agree with the author’s point of view. Based on General Custer’s persona, people would think his mentality is alike with General George S Patton(an ESTP)and therefore they assume their type must be similar. They seem to forgot that Custer was a commander in wartime. Anyone, regardless of type, can be seen acting like SP types with their thrill-seeking tendency because in the middle of a war, everyone’s adrenaline will be high, whoever he may be, and SP types are known to be adrenaline-junkies.

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