The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

by Nathaniel Philbrick

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"An engrossing and tautly written account of a critical chapter in American history." --Los Angeles Times

Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Hurricane's Eye, Pulitzer Prize finalist Mayflower, and Valiant Ambition, is a historian with a unique ability to bring history to life. The Last Stand is Philbrick's monumental reappraisal of the epochal clash at the Little Bighorn in 1876 that gave birth to the legend of Custer's Last Stand. Bringing a wealth of new information to his subject, as well as his characteristic literary flair, Philbrick details the collision between two American icons- George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull-that both parties wished to avoid, and brilliantly explains how the battle that ensued has been shaped and reshaped by national myth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101190111
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/04/2010
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 32,075
File size: 11 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Nathaniel Philbrick grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.  
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is still a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association. 

In 2000, Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book is the basis of the forthcoming Warner Bros. motion picture “Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Ben Wishaw, and Tom Holland, which is scheduled for release in March, 2015. The book also inspired a 2001 Dateline special on NBC as well as the 2010 two-hour PBS American Experience film “Into the Deep” by Ric Burns.
His next book was Sea of Glory, published in 2003, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. The New York Times Bestseller Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one the ten Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review. Mayflower is currently in development as a limited series on FX.
In 2010, he published the New York Times bestseller The Last Stand, which was named a New York Times Notable book, a 2010 Montana Book Award Honor Book, and a 2011 ALA Notable Book. Philbrick was an on-camera consultant to the two-hour PBS American Experience film “Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives. The book is currently being adapted for a ten-hour, multi-part television series. The audio book for Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011) made the ALA's Listen List in 2012 and was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.
Philbrick’s latest New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill:  A City, a Siege, a Revolution, was published in 2013 and was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award. Bunker Hill won the 2014 book award from the Society of Colonial Wars, and has been optioned by Warner Bros. for feature film adaptation with Ben Affleck attached to direct.
Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, and the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society. He was named the 2011 Cushing Orator by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and has an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he delivered the commencement address in 2009.
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife still live on Nantucket.


Nantucket, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

June 11, 1956

Place of Birth:

Boston, Massachusetts


B.A., Brown University, 1978; M.A., Duke University

Table of Contents

List of Maps xiii

Preface Custer's Smile xv

Chapter 1 At the Flood 1

Chapter 2 The Dream 27

Chapter 3 Hard Ass 36

Chapter 4 The Dance 53

Chapter 5 The Scout 71

Chapter 6 The Blue Pencil Line 88

Chapter 7 The Approach 109

Chapter 8 The Crow's Nest 128

Chapter 9 Into the Valley 151

Chapter 10 Reno's Charge 166

Chapter 11 To the Hill 188

Chapter 12 Still Point 206

Chapter 13 The Forsaken 220

Chapter 14 Grazing His Horses 237

Chapter 15 The Last Stand 257

Chapter 16 The River of Nightmares 280

Epilogue: Libbie's House 304

Appendix A The Seventh Cavalry on the Afternoon of June 25, 1876 313

Appendix B Sitting Bull's Village June 25, 1876 317

Acknowledgments 321

Notes 325

Bibliography 419

Illustration Credits 447

Index 449

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Mayflower, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History

"Vivid and remarkably fresh...Philbrick has recast the Pilgrims for our age of searching and turmoil."
The New York Times Book Review

"A signal achievement. Philbrick enlightens and even astounds."

Praise for Sea of Glory, winner of the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize

"Brilliantly told...has to be among the best nonfiction books of this or any other year."
Los Angeles Time Book Review

"A breathtaking account of one of history's greatest adventures."
Entertainment Weekly

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Last Stand 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 247 reviews.
dragonsscape More than 1 year ago
Custer ~~ Sitting Bull ~~ Little Bighorn. The names evoke excitement & mystery even today. The events of 25 Jun 1876 are (& will be) shrouded in nystery & will never be known with any confidence of accuracy.All that can be said for sure is that Gen Custer & his 7th Cavalry died fighting to "the last man" in one of the greates "Last Stands" in the American west. And yet, Nathaniel Philbrick, has managed to pick through the strands of time & history to bring it to life. And he succeeds admirably. And, in doing so, he shows the simularities of Gen Custer & Sitting Bull; each had their demons, their flaws, their beliefs & their strategies.This is history at its finest as Mr Philbrick takes us along with the 7th Cavalry on its ill~fated 1876 campaign. And he follows the Sioux as they attempt to recapture tribal life as it was before the white man arrived. It is fascinating & well researched. His conclusions & placement of blame for the disaster may not be much of a surprise but they are backed up with his historian's instinctive grasp of detail & narrative. He gives us a first~hand look at the personalities of Custer & Sitting Bull & how Custer's Last Stand in effect was also the Last Stand for the Sioux & American Indian.
James_Durney More than 1 year ago
150 years after George Armstrong Custer's first appearance in the American Civil War, he still fascinates us. We might feel it is a horrific accident or a great work of art but we always look at him. He is a larger than life presence in our history, both loved and hated. There are a goodly number of books and movies on Custer, his record in the Civil War and the Battle of Little Big Horn. The range is from him being "the deranged maniac of Little Big Man" to "the noble hero . in They died with Their Boots On". A good Custer book is always a treat, always worth reading and this is a very good Custer book! Nathaniel Philbrick gives the reader a very human Custer. Older but not wiser, he is as flamboyant as ever chafing under the restrictions of military life. The author is careful to be fair to all sides, presenting a balanced portrait. My only reservation is his reliance of Benteen for so much personal information. While most of it is carefully collaborated, the glass is often half full. The Seventh Cavalry is a character in this story. The author takes a long hard look at the army during the Indian Wars, providing some surprising information. Top heavy with senior offices reduced in rank after the Civil War, Custer is a Lieutenant Colonel reduced from Brigadier General, complicated by the brevet system of rank and under staffed they soldier on. Careful preparation pays big dividends giving the reader an excellent understanding of the complex relationships within the regiment. Understanding this adds an extra dimension to Reno and Benteen's actions on the battlefield. The author fully develops Sitting Bull and his village, providing a full background of tribal politics within their warrior society. This is an extra dimension to the story and an important one. While cautioned that Native American participants guarded what they said, their statements flesh out the account of the battle. The book covers relations between "hostile" and "friendly" Indians and how this plays out during the campaign. The centerpiece of the book is the Battle of Little Big Horn. Seven maps and over 130 pages cover this in detail. The author fully captures the chaos, fear and uncertainty of battle. Weaving accounts of saviors with historical evidence produces a well-documented very readable account. The author refuses to speculate on Custer's battle. This is not a HEROIC LAST STAND account of glorious battle. This is a nasty dirty fight where one side is overrun and slaughtered. While avoiding speculation the author captures the fear and collapse of Custer's command. Footnotes have a unique presentation. They are endnotes referenced to pages. However, there are no footnote numbers. The endnotes represent a walk through the documents available to historians. I read them as a stand-alone book, finding them very informative. This is an excellent book. Interesting, well researched, well documented and a pleasure to read.
GoldenEagle50 More than 1 year ago
Nathaniel Philbrick pulls off the impressive trick of going over familiar ground in a fresh way. Read The Last Stand, then re-read Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star for a different slant -- you'll enjoy the juxtaposition. Meanwhile, I have to say that reading The Last Stand on my Nook was a disappointing experience. The maps are completely illegible, and the striking photographs that grace the hardcover edition are not only missing -- their existence is left unacknowledged. To get the full experience of reading this title, you still need to buy the printed version.
Rick63 More than 1 year ago
It has been a while since I have read Son of Morning Star so it was good to read another account of the famous General Custer and be refreshed of the famous battle. There was nothing new in this last book except in the way it was written. The chronology of events and positioning of Reno and Benteen's troops was helpful in visualizing the events. What was annoying and jarring was the flashback style of the characters that did not really help in the flow of those events as they happened. Philbrick treated both the Indian and the army fairly although there seemed to some political correctness laced throughout. Benteen and Reno were the focus and bear much responsibility while Custer's actions can only be told through speculation. While Custer's character flaws are brought out, there seems to be a lack of speculation on the responsibilities of those in the high command and their actions that may have prevented this massacre. Is it possible that Custer was a pawn and that those that gave the vague orders to Custer, Benteen and Reno knowing Custer and his character? At the end of the book, Philbrick says that Sitting Bull's victory over the army was really a loss for the Indian nations. This is very true when the reservation system and the conditions of the American Indian today. They are kept in line by making them dependent on the government the same way as in the later 1800s. It is a policy that needs to be examined force the Indian to become more self-reliant. There is no pride that the Indian once had in living free and self-sustaining. The question that has yet to be answered is, what brought about the gathering of all the tribes some of whom were enemies? The fear of the U.S. Army because of the massacres at Sand Creek and the Minnesota uprising, is a root, however, there had to be another reason for this gathering of largest force of Indian warriors ever. After the Battle at LBH, they went their separate ways. Had they stayed together the army would have had a difficult time subduing them. I would recommend this book to any one who has not read much on Custer.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
This history does what every nonfiction title aspires to do: makes the reader want to run out and read as much as they can on the subject. That is exactly what I found myself doing today--looking in my public library for more. The Last Stand doesn't so much slake your thirst as inflame it. When I looked over the books on similar subject matter, I can see why. It was clear Philbrick used primary sources, but also built on what had come before: he consolidated information and didn't impede the forward momentum of the story. He added maps in the right places to clarify movements, and included photos which flesh out the characters. This book is about the last stand of the Indians in America. Although the Battle of Little Bighorn was ostensibly a rout of the uniformed troops sent by the American government to move the Lakota off their given land to make way for gold rush settlers, it was also the end of Lakota way of life and was the last concerted attempt to save it. The story is mired in myth, due to the death of all in Custer's party, though there were other battalions there led by surviving commanders. Due to the personalities involved, and the necessarily self-serving nature of their reports, these "truths" can be difficult to reconcile, one with the other. At the same time, the American government in Washington also had reason to interpret the facts so as to preserve the notion of manifest destiny, westward expansion, and the heroics (rather than the possible disgrace) of their fighting force. Surviving warriors from the Indians tribes were interviewed extensively in the years following the Battle, and much richness of detail (and contradiction with evidentiary evidence) can be gleaned from their accounts. What does come clear from the story as told by Philbrick is the great-man nature of Chief Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader and warrior of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux. Many wise words are attributed to the man from reports at the time, and Sitting Bull's attention always seemed to focus on the safety and welfare of his people, rather than on revenge or rage at betrayals. Later, after the battle recounted in such detail here, we learn that Sitting Bull did finally lay down his arms, and was shuttled to a reservation, where he was killed in 1890 by a Lakota policeman. The apparently first-hand testimonies of survivors of The Battle of Little Bighorn do not paint complimentary portraitures of their commanding officers. The sound, smell, heat, and intensity of the battlefield come to life in this account, and we squirm with the uncomfortable knowledge of the end even as we begin reading. Learning the details of any military engagement brings its own horrors, but the facts of this devastation is particularly poignant when realizing that troops were being led by one commander deranged with drink, and another who felt no sense of urgency. All fought bravely in the end, to the end.
atomsplitter More than 1 year ago
I have been reading stories about the old west ever since I read Dee Brown's excellent "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee". This book belongs on the shelf right beside Brown's book. It is that good. I didn't think that Custer was a nice guy but after reading this book and finding out that he indulged in callously raping and murdering helpless native women and children I am convinced my earlier feelings were correct.
earthwind More than 1 year ago
Finally after a lifetime study of the Lakota, a writer who helpfully illustrates places and people within numerous first person narrative of events. Much appreciated are the maps showing locations of agencies which are usually overlooked in books about the Plains Indians. There are also depicted details of Indian travels, troop movements, time elements. Many excellent photographs of soldiers and even a few new photos of Indians. Excerpts of written accounts on interactions between leaders in months and days leading up to event. No matter if you are for or against Custer, his own words tell us much, and there are many of them as he was a constant correspondent to his wife, friends, newspapers.
rjnFL More than 1 year ago
A hard hitting, well-balanced look at arrogance and jealousy in the U.S. military. As history shows, this was not the "Last Stand" for only General Custer and his men, but, also, for Native Americans. A book that's hard to put down.
glauver More than 1 year ago
I still think Connell's Son of the Morning Star is the best book on the Little Big Horn, but Philbrick has nothing to be ashamed of. Like Connell, he understands that part of the battle's power lies in its mystery. He has used many sources and his notes are first rate, giving credit to the many who laid the groundwork for modern Custer scholarship. He is evenhanded, showing the Sioux as victims as much as winners of the battle. Native Americans are treated with respect and as real persons who made poor and wise choices in their struggle to survive the onrushing white tide. Philbrick reminds us that all side suffer in warfare and the price of victory and defeat can be costly indeed. He is an excellent storyteller.
Shahge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is about the battle of "Little Bighorn" also known as "Custer's Last Stand", fought between combined forces of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army of which George Armstrong Custer was an integral part. The book details the account in such a way that it seemed to me as if i was there watching the battle unfold infront of my own eyes. As far as the authenticity of the book is concerned, or whether the writer is biased or not, or who should be considered as a hero (Custer or Sitting Bull) is not for me to decide. I think it should be left to you or to some serious researcher. But writer's narrative style is excellent and he touches each and every aspect of the battle. Like how the soldiers were really frightened and yet at the same time some of them were very brave, how some of the officers like Reno were drinking during height of skirmish and how some of the soldiers were really coward, how cruel were sometimes both sides including Indian warriors and 7th cavalry soldiers, how Custer's lust for gaining or attaining the Glory all by himself led to incorrect decision of dividing the soldiers into small groups, and how personal conflicts between two persons, especially during war/fight can create difficulties for the rest of group. Overall it was an excellent book. I enjoyed it a lot and really recommend this book. It is certainly going to be one of the best books you will read.
phyllis01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this after reading The Bounty, and the stories truly parallel one another. Just as we have only a partial knowing of Fletcher Christian and why he did what he did, so is the case with Custer. A flamboyant, distracted man (would probably be labeled ADD in this day & age, along with narcissistic personality disorder), there is no way to know what Custer's last thoughts and actions were. Philbrick provides both a character study and a well-defined history in this attempt to unlock Custer's Last Stand.
maneekuhi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A rare 5 star rating. Focuses on the days immediately prior to the Battle of the Little Bighorn (river), the battle(s), relationships between key players, Sitting Bull (his death is both shocking and hugely disappointing), letters between Custer and wife Libbie, travel for each side immediately before battle. There was also mention of previous battles and key events and decisions which led to the Battle, as well as themes of vengeance and career advancement. The book includes many, many very helpful maps, good photos, and a very good index. Even though I intended to just read this "straight-through", I found myself skipping all over the book, re-reading passages, re-checking maps, photos, skipping ahead to see what happens to certain characters - in short, studying the book instead of just reading it. I also went to Flickr and YouTube to get a better idea of the topography of the battlefield, very key to this event, and I will be visiting the battlefield soon. Like most Americans I came to this book with only a smattering of the facts, most of which were wrong. Some major aha's for me - everyone on the US side did not get wiped out, Custer's regiment was divided into 3 major battalions, and he commanded one, approximately 215 men all of whom were killed. But while the other battalions suffered key losses there many survivors. There is some controversy as to where and when Custer was killed. All three of the 7th Cavalry battalions hesitated instead of following the battle plan, and that contributed greatly to the outcome. The size of the Indian camp was humongous, 1000 lodges, 8000 Indians including women and children, spread near the winding river over a campsite 1/4 mile by 2 miles. Charges against much smaller such camps had been effective in 18 previous attacks by US troops, even though the troops were still typically outnumbered by 4-5 times. A few key officers (not Custer) were drunk during the course of battle and that caused many lost lives. I was also amazed to realize once again that at the time of battle (1876) one could ride trains from New York to San Francisco, and that this battle occurred the same number of years before my birth as the years I have lived (67)- not so long ago from my perspective. Finally, both Custer (my Life on the Plains) and his wife (Saddles and Boots) have written books, and I intend to read Libbie's about life at home during those years sometime very soon.
Unkletom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As he did previously to the Pilgrims in 'Mayflower' and to Moby Dick, 'In the Heart of the Sea', Philbrick has once again taken one of our cherished national legends and exposed it to the harsh glare of truth. Whether you believe that Custer was a national hero or a vain, strutting popinjay whose actions doomed those in command, you are probably largely ill-informed. He also ably points out that the title 'The Last Stand' applies equally to those who fought on both sides of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. This is an excellent study of one of the most famous battles in our nation's history.
queencersei on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Last Stand is an utterly engaging historical novel about the battle of the Little Big Horn. What is fascinating about this work is that the focus is not entirely on George Custer, but instead the other commanders, such as Reno and Benteen are also given much scrutiny. Also analyzed at length are the actions and history of the Indian leaders, such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and others.Historical events leading up to the infamous battle are examined along with how the major participants on both sides interacted with their comrades. This analysis helped to humanize people who have become larger than life over the decades. History buffs will not be disappointed with this highly readable, well researched book.
mikewick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading 'The Last Stand' I can appreciate why Nathaniel Philbrick's works have all won prestigious recognitions. While it remains to be seen if his newest work will garner the same praise, I wouldn't be surprised if this eminently readable and researched book produces another feather for Philbrick's cap. Describing the egotistical personality of Custer is one thing, but it's quite another feat to get a grasp on the facts--and retell them so well--that were lost to time, the fog of battle, and the fact that all of the US military participants were slaughtered in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. While reading it I really began to regret not taking the time to visit the area while traveling through on our way to and from Yellowstone National Park this past year--but I would hardly begrudge a reason to make another trip out there.
pt1208 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good! I've read Elizabeth Custer's memoirs, and enjoyed them. The Last Stand gave a very different perspective. I'm saving the book to give to my brother for Christmas.
witchyrichy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well told tale with interesting digressions about the different characters and a comparison of Sitting Bull and Custer that is new; other than that Son of the Morning Star is the book about the battle.
thronm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The New Yorker said Philbrick gave Sitting Bull short shrift but, on the contrary, by having him always in the background as the judge of Custer and his incompetent superiors, he made Sitting Bull the judge of us all.
theageofsilt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting, well written account of the events we know as "Custer's Last Stand". Philbrick does an excellent job of presenting the diverging views of the participants of the battle who survived -- including the Native American combatants, scouts and many innocent civilians who are caught up in the conflict. He makes it clear that the actual events immediate to Custer's death are unknown and our understanding of this, like many other critical moments in history, is limited.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Last Stand is not only comprehensive well rounded study of The Battle of Little Big Horn, but author Nathaniel Philbrick also gives a near exhaustive study of the context surrounding the infamous battle. I was drawn to the novel due to my enjoyment of Philbrick's other works, but the subject matter itself was so engaging that I was surprised at how it held my interest. Deftly told in his characteristically gripping style, the details of the story never become tedious or overwhelming, but instead the story is engrossing throughout. Readers are treated to eye witness accounts and analysis, photos, appendices, and maps. The only complaint is that the sheer volume of information leaves little hope of any quality of retention. Many soldiers¿ lives and battle roles are detailed, the ripple effects of the battles conclusions are thoroughly examined, and we get personal and details of the main player's lives and personalities, etc... However, in my opinion the author shrewdly balanced both sides of the battle without caving to opinion or sacrificing his narrative. Anyone interested in Custer, Sitting Bull or the Battle itself will not finish the book disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best read on The Little Big Horn
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. The first-hand battle accounts from both sides were vivid and interesting. Brought the story to life.
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