Thursday, October 15, 2020

Booknotes: Custer

New Arrival: 
Over the past few decades, the Custer scholarship has significantly rebalanced the historiography of the Michigan officer's military career (which, of course, began during the American Civil War and ended in enduring controversy on the Montana plains in 1876). At least at my level of awareness, the wider shift toward reexamining Custer's immensely successful Civil War career began with Greg Urwin's Custer Victorious. It seems that even during this current period of peak-Grant, the Custer-related output of both popular and academic presses easily rivals (and probably still even exceeds overall) that of the greatest Union war hero. The latest military biography that looks at the Civil War and Indian Wars careers of George Armstrong Custer is Custer: From the Civil War’s Boy General to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

According to the description, the book does have a focus that sets it apart from the multitude of other recent Custer biographical studies. In Ted Behncke and Gary Bloomfield's Custer, "(t)he reader is introduced to a little-known side of Custer—a deeply personal side. George Custer grew up in an expanding young country and his early influences mirrored the times. Two aspects of this era dominate most works about him: the Civil War, and the war with the Indians, culminating in his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When mentioned, if at all, his early life and years as a cadet at West Point are brief, and then only enough to set some background for discussion of the mystery of the Little Bighorn. This is the first Custer biography to focus on these lesser-known parts of his life in great detail." In terms of source material used, "(t)he approach uses all of Custer’s known writings: letters; magazine articles; his book, My Life on the Plains; and his unfinished memoirs of the Civil War; along with materials and books by his wife, Elizabeth Custer; and reflections of others who knew him well."

In summation: "The five chapters are Early Life (growing up and as a West Point cadet), The Civil War, The Indian Fighter, The Little Bighorn, and Conclusion. The theme of the book is not so much new historical information but the depth of his character development and lesser-known influences of his life."

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