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You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end… George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer was the “goat” [finished dead last in the standings] of the 1861 class of West Point but was given a commission anyway and performed, if not well, at least to the satisfaction of the “total war” generals who were not concerned with their own casualties so long as they inflicted heavier ones on the South. Remaining in the army after the war Custer was given the assignment of the military occupation of Texas.  He encountered near mutiny from the volunteer cavalry regiments who considered Custer nothing more than a  dandy – who had brought his wife along.  These “volunteers” – in fact combat troops who had seen their service “extended” –  were mustered out beginning in November 1865, and many veterans harbored deep resentments against him and several members planned to ambush Custer, but he was warned the night before and escaped. Having failed at “regular” army duty he was sent west to fight the indians.

His performance as a commander there was not stellar either and resulted in a Court Martial that was based on his performance in the 1867 campaign against the Cheyenne, Kiowa and Arapaho which reveals a lot about Custer under both professional and personal pressure. Custer was charged primarily with shooting and mistreating deserters, abandoning his post – to visit his wife –  and not moving against Indians that killed two members of a detachment from his command that allegedly killed two of his men. He wound up suspended from duty for a year. He used his year “off” to solidify his political position forming an alliance with Black Jack Logan that continued through the 1870’s when he was as heavily involved in political machinations in Washington as he was in fighting the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne in the Black Hills.

Sklenar is one of the latest historians to weigh in on the battle and has done considerable research and offers interesting conjectures. The thing that we find most interesting about Custer is the possibility that he might well have wound up on a Logan/Custer presidential ticket and, given Logan’s premature death, could very well have wound up as “President Custer”. He may be much more interesting as a battlefield martyr but it is not surprising that he has remain an evergreen topic for historians.

To hell with honor : Custer and the Little Bighorn    Norman, Okla. : University of Oklahoma Press, 2000 Larry Sklenar Custer, George A. (George Armstrong), 1839-1876, Little Bighorn, Battle of the, Mont., 1876 Hardcover.xv, 395 p. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 377-383) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

The image of the famous “last stand” of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry under General George Armstrong Custer has transmogrified into myth. We imagine the solitary Custer standing upright to the end, his troops formed into groups of wounded and dying men around him. In To Hell with Honor, Larry Sklenar analyzes and interprets the widely accepted facts underlying the popular depiction of Custer’s defeat. Approaching the subject with a fresh perspective, he offers wholly new conclusions about one of the most enduring puzzles in United States history – the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Sklenar argues that instead of charging in like some reckless glory hunter, Custer had a viable battle plan. Once he realized his force was overmatched, he then tried to save the rest of his regiment at the now-famous Last Stand. What doomed Custer were his other officers, specifically the “heavy-drinking” Major Marcus Reno and “stubborn” Captain Frederick Benteen. Yet this is not an apologist’s biography of Custer, who died, Sklenar writes, “through his own fault.”

Sklenar offers appraisals of the campaign’s other soldiers, both those who loved Custer and those, especially Benteen, who hated him. In addition to analyzing the key moves made by Custer, Benteen, Reno, and others, this book provides much insight into the testimony of survivors – military and Indian –and the motives behind their statements.

To Hell With Honor is a well-documented and compelling account of the Little Bighorn that advances some intriguing speculations about what happened there – and why.


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