CAVALIER IN BUCKSKIN: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier by Robert M. Utley

CAVALIER IN BUCKSKIN: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier

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A ground-breaking biography of Custer, by a former Chief Historian of the National Park Service and author of many books and articles on the West, including Frontier Regulars (1974). Utley performs a stupendous job of research here. The bibliography of Custer (and, of course, of the Battle of the Little Big Horn) is one of the most extensive in American history, yet the author manages to highlight some unnoticed (or little-noticed) factors in Custer's life. For example, here Custer is reported to have had an unhealthy obsession with money that led him into some shady business deals and fraudulent kickback schemes. Similarly, Utley manages to unearth marital infidelities overlooked by previous authors. But, as usual, it is on the Battle of the Little Big Horn that Custer's reputation stands or falls (many forget that Custer came out of the Civil War with a sound reputation: ""Had Confederate shrapnel: struck him dead at Appomattox Station on April 8, 1865, he would be remembered as the great cavalry general that he was, second in the Union Army only to Sheridan""). And, despite Utley's more unsavory findings, he is supportive of Custer's military skills, even in defeat. He finds much of the later criticisms of Custer's strategy to be based on Monday-morning quarter backing, criticizing Custer for over looking facts he could not possibly have known at the time. Utley is clear: "". . .Custer does not deserve the indictment that history has imposed on him. . .given what he knew at each decision point and what he had every reason to expect of his subordinates, one is hard pressed to say what he ought to have done differently."" Sure to stir controversy amid historians, but Utley is to be commended for taking an unpopular opinion and standing firm. A fine, well-balanced biography of a complex character.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma Press