Revisionist study of one of the most signal defeats in the annals of America.
By Hatch’s (Glorious War: The Civil War Adventures of George Armstrong Custer, 2013, etc.) account, it is an enduring myth to think that Custer committed a mistake by splitting his forces and entering the field of battle on the grass of Little Bighorn in multiple columns. In previous engagements in the Civil War and Indian Wars, Custer had separated his command and lived to tell the tale, once at the Battle of the Washita River. Hatch does not add that at Washita it was mostly women and children who stood in Custer’s way, though the warriors managed to rub out one of those separated units, but his point stands: Viewing the lay of the land and where he thought his enemies were and how they would react, Custer was rightly engaging in a strategy that he had proven in past battles. In a library that includes work by such fine writers as Nathaniel Philbrick and Evan S. Connell, Hatch’s book is no competition in literary terms; the prose sags and strains (“the powers that be did not have to work too hard to demonize the Sioux and Cheyenne in the eyes of the average cavalryman”). As a purely military account that draws heavily on that library, though, it has its merits. Hatch does a good job of describing firearms, tactics, the minutiae of cavalry mounts and the terrible fury of a battle that might have been won had Marcus Reno's and Frederick Benteen’s columns arrived. To his detriment, though, Hatch goes on too long about “brotherhood under fire,” a sentiment the victorious Indians no doubt felt themselves. The author’s nonironic contrasting of the “civilized world” with theirs is something at home in Custer’s era but not in our own.
Custer completists will want to have a look, but there are many better books on the subject.