CUSTER by Jeffry D. Wert


The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer
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 An admiring and dutiful account of the military exploits of the Civil War hero and leader of the Seventh Cavalry at the ill- fated battle of the Little Bighorn. Civil War historian Wert (General James Longstreet, 1993) crafts a well-documented (at times excessively so) portrait of a boyish, vain, unfailingly heroic figure who might never have graduated from West Point had there not been a war. By 1863, however, Custer, then 23, had attained the rank of brigadier general in the Union army, winning national acclaim for his fearlessness in combat. A dashing cavalryman, Custer earned the love of his subordinates and the enmity of many fellow officers, a pattern that persisted throughout his soldiering life. While Wert's voluminously detailed recounting of Custer's tactical heroics may overwhelm nonCivil War buffs,, the author ably counters Custer's primary identification as the tragic victim of 1876. Custer's long- suffering mate, Libbie, is revealed here as a stout-hearted army wife, resigned to a childless marriage (Custer contracted gonorrhea immediately after entering West Point), uncomplainingly accompanying her husband to remote frontier posts. Custer's story, as well as Wert's writing, gets more exciting as the book approaches its inevitable climax. As the commander of the Seventh Cavalry, Custer once more proved his mettle by battling the Plains Indians, but his aggressive tactics, as Wert makes clear, finally spelled his doom, as well as the deaths of 262 other soldiers at the hands of some 2,000 Sioux warriors. Lamenting the way in which the battle has since obscured the life, Wert writes that Custer ``has become the singular symbol of the nation's guilt over its sad history of continental conquest. The loser at Little Big Horn has overshadowed the excellent Civil War general.' This accessible biography presents a much fuller historical picture of this near-mythic American hero. (maps, not seen) (Book- of-the-Month Club alternate/History Book Club main selection)

Pub Date: June 12th, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81043-3
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1996


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