Part of the Great General series, this biography of George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876) provides about as much information as the average reader needs to know about the flamboyant general.
For centuries before tanks drove horses from the battlefield, cavalry leaders were often viewed as brave but stupid, and histories have long portrayed Custer, who led his 220-man troupe to annihilation at Little Big Horn, as a prime example. Military historian Schulz (Crossing the Rapido: A Tragedy of World War II, 2010, etc.) disagrees modestly in this slim volume, which summarizes Custer’s short, eventful life as well as the controversy that followed his death. He graduated from West Point in 1861 last in his class, first in demerits and probably the leader in charm because he quickly inveigled a cavalry command and impressed superiors during the rout after Bull Run. Charismatic, extremely aggressive in battle but also popular with reporters who followed the Army, he ended the war as the Union’s youngest general. Glory was in short supply after the war when Custer participated in several brutal Indian campaigns, but he remained a popular media icon. Consequently, news of Little Big Horn in 1876 produced a national horror similar to that after 9/11. During the inevitable postmortem analysis, survivors worked hard to avoid blame, so Custer, unable to defend himself, became the scapegoat. Modern scholars such as James Donovan and Nathaniel Philbrick suggest that he’s had a bad rap, and Schultz delivers a sympathetic account of the debate.
A competent overview, but readers in search of a rich character study or thoughtful analysis of military leadership should look elsewhere.