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The whites want war and we will give it to them… Sitting Bull

In many ways the Indian wars were a continuation of the War of Northern Aggression. The same officers led many of the same troops on a campaign to clear any impediments to the railroad and the immigrant who was the product of Lincoln’s free soil and free labor movement. If Custer had not blundered into a massacre he might well have been ordered into one as part of the necessary strategic sacrifice that politicians are so often willing to make from Washington. I still think Evan S. Connell‘s book is the best but this one is very good as well.

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The last stand : Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn  Nathaniel Philbrick  New York : Viking, 2010  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxii, 466 p., 40 p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 419-446) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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The Last Stand is Philbrick’s reappraisal of the clash at the Little Bighorn in 1876 that gave birth to the legend of Custer’s Last Stand. Bringing a wealth of new information to his subject Philbrick details the collision between two American icons – George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull – that both parties wished to avoid, and brilliantly explains how the battle that ensued has been shaped and reshaped by national myth.

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This is the archetypal story of the American West. Whether it is cast as a tale of unmatched bravery in the face of impossible odds or of insane arrogance receiving its rightful comeuppance, Custer’s Last Stand continues to captivate the imagination.

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Philbrick reconstructs the build-up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn through to the final eruption of violence. Two legendary figures dominate the events: George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull. No longer the fresh-faced ‘Boy-General’ of the Civil War, Custer was now mired in financial, professional and political problems. A clear and just cause had been replaced by ambiguity and frustration by ill-fated efforts at peace treaties, treachery and compromises on both sides.

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Forced to take to the plains to feed themselves, and increasingly outraged by the government’s policies towards them, the Sioux and Cheyenne became infused with a new sense of collective identity and purpose. Between six and eight thousand people came together in the largest ever gathering of Native Americans. If the government should be foolish enough to pursue them, they would stand and fight. Sitting Bull was in his mid-forties, His charisma and political savvy had enabled him to emerge as their leader. A vision he received during a Sun Dance of soldiers falling from the sky was widely understood to presage a great victory.

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Philbrick brings to life all those involved from the Oglala Sioux warrior Crazy Horse and Major Marcus Reno who led the first attack, to Libby Custer waiting with the other army wives at Fort Lincoln. He evokes too the history, geography and beauty of the Great Plains and provides the finest account to date of what happened there and why at the end of June 1876.

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