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A TERRIBLE GLORY by James Donovan Kirkus Star


Custer and the Little Bighorn--The Last Great Battle of the American West

by James Donovan

Pub Date: March 24th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-316-15578-6
Publisher: Little, Brown

Comprehensive account of George Custer’s career.

Dallas-based literary agent Donovan does much kind service to Custer, who has long been without champions. We think of Custer as vainglorious and foolhardy, thanks in great measure to Arthur Penn’s 1970 film Little Big Man; only a vain man would have dressed like a longhaired gypsy dandy and gone galloping off to fight every Indian in the West, right? Donovan finds the upside: Custer dressed colorfully and wore his hair long in the interest of conspicuousness, reasoning that “if his men saw their commanding officer share the danger, they would fight even harder.” He always made a point to be at the head of the action, golden locks and bright red scarf gleaming. There was a reason that Custer was the youngest general in the Union Army. At places such as Gettysburg, he distinguished himself by brave action against heavy odds, and his Michigan horsemen “quickly earned a reputation as the best brigade in the cavalry corps.” Yet something seems to have happened to Custer out West. He shared the general disdain of the white soldiers for their Indian opponents, hubris that cost a young captain named William Fetterman and his men their lives and set in motion the events that would culminate in Little Bighorn—and later, Wounded Knee. But Donovan is no agenda-laden, blind defender of Custer; he carefully notes the results of the inquiry that followed the famed slaughter, when Custer’s commanding general damned him for “negligence and outright insubordination.” His thoroughgoing account lends considerable humanity to all involved, from the Hunkpapa warrior Rain-in-the-Face to the ordinary privates who died with Custer on that hot June day in Montana.

A worthy companion to Jay Monahan’s Custer, Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star and other standard studies of the famed cavalryman.