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  • New book: Custer's Trials

    I recently purchased "Custer's Trials, A Life on the Frontier of a New America." It's copyrighted 2015 by T. J. Styles who also wrote "The First Tycoon," on Cornelius Vanderbilt, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and also "Jesse James, Last Rebel in the Civil War.

    It's published by Knopf, ISBN 978-0-307-59264-4.

    It's a biography. The flyleaf claim is that it "radically changes our view of the man and his turbulent times." I will withhold judgment on that until I've read it. Has anyone read it yet?
    No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

  • #2
    Its junk. They try to tip-toe around his routine screw-ups, his derelictions of duty, his failure to train his men, his arrogance, and his utter failure as an officer, both tactically and in terms of leadership.
    Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
      Its junk. They try to tip-toe around his routine screw-ups, his derelictions of duty, his failure to train his men, his arrogance, and his utter failure as an officer, both tactically and in terms of leadership.
      Interesting analysis. Have you read it? As I said I'll read it before making judgements. But who is "they?" As far as I know only Styles is responsible for this book. Maybe you could elaborate on specifically what it is that Styles has wrong? I'm neither Custerphile or Custerphobe. I hope you are coming from that direction as well. But absolute terms such as "utter failure" tend to show a lack of objectivity. What have you read in the past about Custer? I've read and own a major share of what has been published, so of course I will evaluate this book in context of what has gone before and also whether the author relies on original research or is merely presenting his own take from secondary sources.

      So much has been written about Custer that I tend to write off the book jacket statement as so much sales hype. But perhaps he does have a fresh take from original research that is new. I'll wait and see.
      Last edited by MontanaKid; 27 Feb 16, 01:46.
      No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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      • #4
        No amount of "original research" is going to alter what the above poster in post 2 has already elaborated.

        I am fully prepared to change my view of Georg Armstrong as an individual, but his military record is so over-researched now, that unless he fought a major confrontation with Indians before LBH and won with only a few scratches to his command, then our interpretation of custer as a military man has got to stay the same.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Drusus Nero View Post
          No amount of "original research" is going to alter what the above poster in post 2 has already elaborated.

          I am fully prepared to change my view of Georg Armstrong as an individual, but his military record is so over-researched now, that unless he fought a major confrontation with Indians before LBH and won with only a few scratches to his command, then our interpretation of custer as a military man has got to stay the same.
          Again, interesting. But you don't really offer much basis for your opinion, either. What have you read? I like how we are having this debate without anybody reading the book yet. But, don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for the conversation.
          No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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          • #6
            Custer, though, wanted not only attention but also admiration. After his first battle, during which his regiment fled before Custer had a chance to fire a single shot, he wrote a letter to a friend that went on for 24 pages, describing in rich detail his personal bravery and the essential role he had played in the battle, claims that ranged, Stiles writes, “from flatly untrue to greatly exaggerated.” With gallantry, Custer believed, came fame, and with fame personal advancement. “My every thought was ambitious,” he admitted to his wife.
            http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/bo...iles.html?_r=0

            Reading the review sounds like Stiles treated Custer fairly and didn't add anything pertinent to my opinion of him. Without his wife's fan club books he would be little known today. An early Patton without Patton's success.
            "Ask not what your country can do for you"

            Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

            you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post
              http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/bo...iles.html?_r=0

              Reading the review sounds like Stiles treated Custer fairly and didn't add anything pertinent to my opinion of him. Without his wife's fan club books he would be little known today. An early Patton without Patton's success.
              Thanks for the review quote. I start reading today. When I took Montana History at the University of Montana in the 70s, I had the venerable K. Ross Toole. He was a noted author of the state's history. He actually spent almost no time on Custer, there being a myriad of events that shaped the state's history. But he said he once (in the 1950s) bet another historian that the bibliography on the Little Big Horn, a battle with less that 500 casualties on both sides, exceed that for Gettysburg, a battle with thousands of casualties, known as the turning point of the Civil War and of infinitely more impact on American History. Toole said he won the bet.

              At that point Toole thought "Custer's Luck," by Edgar I. Stewart," published in the 1950s, was the best out there, as far as objective research goes. But that was before the 1976 release of "Centennial Campaign" by John S. Gray and the new flood of research and books that came on after archeology studies that began in 1983 added a new dimensions to the story.

              It will be interesting to see if Stiles adds anything new to all this.
              No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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              • #8
                Scan

                A quick scan of the book shows that there is no point-by-point rehash or dissection of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The scope of the book is Custer's military career, from the Civil War to his death. There is some treatment of the Reno Court of Inquiry in an Epilogue.
                No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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                • #9
                  I have not read the book yet, I did see the author give an overview of the book on CSpan a while back. Its not about the battle so much as his different assignments of his career. But as always the Custer haters don't have to read to believe they know. Any objectivity that might disagree with any previously held belief meets with basically an auto-immune reaction of literary feces slinging. Like General Job Rimmer above Custer 60+ enemy 1.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by MontanaKid View Post
                    A quick scan of the book shows that there is no point-by-point rehash or dissection of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The scope of the book is Custer's military career, from the Civil War to his death. There is some treatment of the Reno Court of Inquiry in an Epilogue.
                    Its meager. The book glosses over Custer's minimal combat activity against Indians, his neglect of training and logistics, his self-absorption, and his unprofessionalism.

                    It should be remembered that the boy general had five year's active service when the ACW ended and he reverted to peacetime rank.

                    He abandoned his command in order to go home and see his wife, an action that led him to a court martial that nearly ended his career.

                    He fought two significant actions against Indians: the attack on Black Kettle's village, where his failure to follow up on a missing detachment his was blamed on that his command was low on ammunition, a situation created by his order to shoot captured horses. And, of the course, the LBH seven years later, where once again he suddenly became panicky about his supply of ammunition.

                    Custer was no Indian fighter; his record stands at one battle, one skirmish, and one massacre.

                    But back to the book, it breaks no new ground and offers little of import to the topic.
                    Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      However, he was good enough to be breveted to General over many other officers who were senior to him. Custer, to me, is much like Benedict Arnold. I grew up being taught that he was simply a traitor, but later learned that he was quite a bit more than that.

                      I'll put this book on my reading list. Thanks for the heads up, MK.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
                        Its meager. The book glosses over Custer's minimal combat activity against Indians, his neglect of training and logistics, his self-absorption, and his unprofessionalism.

                        It should be remembered that the boy general had five year's active service when the ACW ended and he reverted to peacetime rank.

                        He abandoned his command in order to go home and see his wife, an action that led him to a court martial that nearly ended his career.

                        He fought two significant actions against Indians: the attack on Black Kettle's village, where his failure to follow up on a missing detachment his was blamed on that his command was low on ammunition, a situation created by his order to shoot captured horses. And, of the course, the LBH seven years later, where once again he suddenly became panicky about his supply of ammunition.

                        Custer was no Indian fighter; his record stands at one battle, one skirmish, and one massacre.

                        But back to the book, it breaks no new ground and offers little of import to the topic.
                        I'll withhold comment on the book until I've finished it. I'm still in the Civil War, just passed Gettysburg. But I have and have studied a good collection of most of what has been published on Custer and the LBH. Not very many Army commanders had a lengthy list of major Indian battles in the post war west. Most Indian battles were skirmishes not large battles. As a rule, Indians did not stand still to fight large battles.

                        Among the three columns converging on the Powder River County in 1876 from Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, Custer had as much, if not more fighting experience than any officer in the three commands. By the end of the 19th century Indian wars, some commanders had more battles than Custer. But Custer did not get to live out the Indian War period. His career was cut short well before the period ended. But on the eve of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he had about as much "Indian fighting" experience as anyone else in the Army. And no officers, before or since, had faced anything like the circumstances at the Little Big Horn. Custer's experience that day is part of what got him killed.

                        Faulting specific decisions Custer made is one thing. But it is a false premise to claim that he had some relative inexperience, compared to his contemporaries, that led to the results at the Little Big Horn.
                        No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by MontanaKid View Post
                          I'll withhold comment on the book until I've finished it. I'm still in the Civil War, just passed Gettysburg. But I have and have studied a good collection of most of what has been published on Custer and the LBH. Not very many Army commanders had a lengthy list of major Indian battles in the post war west. Most Indian battles were skirmishes not large battles. As a rule, Indians did not stand still to fight large battles.

                          Among the three columns converging on the Powder River County in 1876 from Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, Custer had as much, if not more fighting experience than any officer in the three commands. By the end of the 19th century Indian wars, some commanders had more battles than Custer. But Custer did not get to live out the Indian War period. His career was cut short well before the period ended. But on the eve of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he had about as much "Indian fighting" experience as anyone else in the Army. And no officers, before or since, had faced anything like the circumstances at the Little Big Horn. Custer's experience that day is part of what got him killed.

                          Faulting specific decisions Custer made is one thing. But it is a false premise to claim that he had some relative inexperience, compared to his contemporaries, that led to the results at the Little Big Horn.
                          His record in the ACW stands equal to any, but in the West he had very little experience: one badly handled attack on a village and one exchange of gunfire at a distance. Whereas Crook had fought Indians for years before the ACW, for four years in the Snake War, and in the Tonto campaign. His credentials are massively superior to Custer's in every regard.

                          Ranald Mackenzie, a name Plains tribes will never forget, came West much later than Custer (1871)and cut a swathe through the Plains tribes that has yet to be forgotten. Custer was an unknown on the Plains when he died, but Mackenzie was a name of dread to Indians even before the LBH. It was years before they accepted that he was really gone-the persistent rumor was that the whites were lying in order to keep the tribes guessing as to where Mackenzie was stationed.

                          As to the size of Indian engagements, Red Cloud's War was marked by large-scale (by the West's standards) battles, and Crook fought the Rosebud action not long before the LBH.

                          Nor did he fall 'well short of' the Indian wars on the Plains. The LBH was the last tragic act of the Plains Indians; within 24 months they would be broken and either in Canada or on the Rez. In fact, the reason for that large gathering on the LBH was a council to discuss what to do in their worsening situation.

                          Custer ignored his scouts' warnings that there too many Indians. He didn't scout the actual terrain before attacking, he divided his regiment and spread the detachment out too far to be mutually supporting, and he attacked with horses and men who were tired and thirsty from the excessive march to arrive early. Too many in his regiment were not well trained, and he failed to issue more than one unit of fire, a mistake emphasized by his last message to Benteen.

                          Being an Indian fighter, which Custer was not in any case, had little to do with it; he broke fundamental rules of field tactics: the two maneuver elements were too far apart and attacking an unknown force over unscouted ground. Had Reno pushed his attack as planned his battalion would have encountered a ditch or linear depression hidden in tall grass (which actually caused some problems for a group of Arapaho coming to attack his unit).

                          He also attacked in defiance of his orders.

                          He had fought better in the ACW, but at the LBH he acted like a green lieutenant. Had Reno and Benteen, the heroes of the day, not had the foresight the did, the entire 7th might have been lost.

                          As it was the bungling idiot managed to lose 40% of the regiment.

                          The first rule when fighting Indians, the writings of those who were actually good at assure us, was always to expect the unexpected. Custer assumed that they would always outnumber the Indians and that the Indians would always scatter, and this just a few years after Red Cloud's War showed the opposite was very possible.

                          And just like Fetterman he ran into a bandsaw.
                          Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

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                          • #14
                            I could rebut this point by point. But previous threads have debated this ad nauseum (at least to most, I never get tired of it) But rather than get off on that tangent, and turning this into just another Custer good/Custer bad thread. I would like to keep the topic on the book. Have you read it? Are there specific things in there that you take issue with?
                            No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by MontanaKid View Post
                              I could rebut this point by point. But previous threads have debated this ad nauseum (at least to most, I never get tired of it) But rather than get off on that tangent, and turning this into just another Custer good/Custer bad thread. I would like to keep the topic on the book. Have you read it? Are there specific things in there that you take issue with?
                              I listed them several posts ago. 3-26-16.
                              Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

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