A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West

A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West

by James Donovan

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A rousing and meticulously researched account of the notorious Battle of Little Big Horn and its unforgettable cast of characters from Sitting Bull to Custer himself.
In June of 1876, on a desolate hill above a winding river called "the Little Bighorn," George Armstrong Custer and all 210 men under his direct command were annihilated by almost 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne. The news of this devastating loss caused a public uproar, and those in positions of power promptly began to point fingers in order to avoid responsibility. Custer, who was conveniently dead, took the brunt of the blame.

The truth, however, was far more complex. A TERRIBLE GLORY is the first book to relate the entire story of this endlessly fascinating battle, and the first to call upon all the significant research and findings of the past twenty-five years--which have changed significantly how this controversial event is perceived. Furthermore, it is the first book to bring to light the details of the U.S. Army cover-up--and unravel one of the greatest mysteries in U.S. military history.

Scrupulously researched, A TERRIBLE GLORY will stand as a landmark work. Brimming with authentic detail and an unforgettable cast of characters--from Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to Ulysses Grant and Custer himself--this is history with the sweep of a great novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316029117
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 03/24/2008
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 119,639
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

As a literary agent over the past ten years James Donovan has sold several bestselling nonfiction titles; previous to that he was a bookstore chain buyer and a trade book editor. He has also written several books, the most recent of which was the coffee-table tome Custer and the Little Bighorn (Voyageur Press, 2001), a main selection of the Military Book Club. He lives in Dallas.

Read an Excerpt

A Terrible Glory

By James Donovan Little, Brown and Company
Copyright © 2008
James Donovan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-316-15578-6

Chapter One The Divine Injunction

Again, we come to the great law of right. The white race stood upon this undeveloped continent ready and willing to execute the Divine injunction, to replenish the earth and subdue it.... The Indian races were in the wrongful possession of a continent required by the superior right of the white man. Charles Bryant, HISTORY OF THE GREAT MASSACRE BY THE SIOUX INDIANS (1864)

Philip Henry Sheridan, tough, fearless, and tenacious, like the bulldog he resembled, faced a thorny problem in the fall of 1875-several thousand of them, actually. A small contingent of Plains Indians, roaming the same lands they had occupied for generations, refused to bow to the manifest destiny of the nation he had so devoutly served for more than twenty years.

Sheridan's dilemma was a multifaceted one. From his headquarters in Chicago, he commanded the Division of the Missouri, by far the largest and most problematic military region in the country. It comprised the Great Plains and more-indeed, almost half the nation's territory, from the Canadian border to the tip of Texas, from Chicago to the Rockies. That expanse included most of the western states, five territories, a growing number of whites, and approximately 175,000 Indians of many different tribes. Over the past half century, most of those Indians had been herded onto reservations set aside for their use, both to keep them away from the westering whites and to facilitate the effort to make them, as much as possible, white people. The problems stemming from these relocations were monumental, though they were perceived by most whites as more humane, and considerably less expensive, than the alternative: war.

The U.S. government soon found out that it was one thing to assign tribes to reservations and quite another to keep them there-especially when the food rations and supplies promised them by treaty were delayed, stolen, inedible, or simply never delivered. What had been presented as a policy designed to prevent bloodshed soon became yet another rationale for it.

Sheridan's dilemma was shared by his immediate superior, General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman, President Ulysses S. Grant, and several high-ranking members of Grant's administration. For years the two Generals had advocated all-out war on the Indians, with Sheridan, who had branded the uncooperative elements of the Plains tribes "hostiles," especially single-minded on the subject. But certain legal and moral niceties, which Sheridan found supremely irritating, precluded such belligerence. Grant's infernal "Peace Policy," which stressed humanitarian reforms before military intervention, was one. Treaties made with various Indian tribes were another. A third (and particularly galling) obstacle was that weakkneed portion of the eastern intelligentsia whose naive, romantic view of "Lo the poor Indian" (a phrase from a poem by Alexander Pope, which led to the use of "Lo," with heavy frontier wit, as the generic name for the Indian) was formed by such unrealistic sources as the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

But that November, at a high-level meeting at the White House, a bold solution to the Indian problem would be revealed.

Until a few years previous, the Plains tribes had roamed at will. During the warmer months, they followed the buffalo, or bison, their source of food, clothing, shelter, and virtually every other material (and spiritual) need. Before the unforgiving winter swept down, they gathered up their stores of meat and then holed up in sheltered valleys along moving water to wait out the weather, as close to hibernation as a people could get. Until the new grass appeared in the spring, their ponies grew considerably thinner, surviving on the bark of riparian cottonwoods. The Indians, too, were vulnerable in winter, but they knew the wasichus (whites) were reluctant to launch any extended large-scale campaign then. A plains winter could turn deadly in a matter of hours, and heavy supply trains to feed men and mounts slowed a column even in the best of weather. The white soldiers had waged winter war once or twice, but that kind of campaign was difficult to muster and coordinate.

As emigrant travel through the heart of Sioux country increased, the monumental job of protecting incoming miners, farmers, ranchers, tradesmen, stockmen, railroad surveyors, lawmen, barbers, saloon owners, and others in an area of more than a million square miles fell to Sheridan, who commanded almost a third of the shrunken remnants of the victorious Federal army. More than two million men had served the Union during the Civil War, but more than half had mustered out a year after its end, and the regular army had gradually been trimmed to 25,000 enlisted men by the early 1870s. The nation was understandably tired of war, and a southern- controlled Congress found the idea of a large standing army distasteful. Undermanned, underpaid, undersupplied, undertrained, and underfed (a decade after Appomattox, Civil War-era hardtack was still being issued to frontier troops), the army Sheridan served faced a warrior culture that trained males from early childhood to fight, ride, and survive better than anyone else in the world. These people knew every hill and valley and water source in their wide land and eluded their pursuers with ease.

The job, Sheridan knew, had been easier, or at least simpler, a half century earlier. All that was necessary then was to push the Indians west, beyond "The Line"-wherever it was at the time.

The Line, which had existed almost since the white man had begun to penetrate the vastness to the west, was the result of more than three centuries of clashes between Europeans and the native population. Spanish conquistadors had clashed constantly with the native inhabitants of Florida during their many expeditions in search of gold and other treasures. In the epic Battle of Mabila in 1540, in the area later known as Alabama, Hernando de Soto and several hundred Spaniards had destroyed an entire army of thousands of Indians to the last man. To the north, in the swampy Tidewater region of Virginia, the two-hundred-village-strong Powhatan Confederacy had aided the ill-prepared English settlers at Jamestown since their arrival in 1607. The generous Indians had brought food to the starving colonists, given freely of their considerable agricultural knowledge, and generally made it possible for the English to survive the first few years of the settlement's existence. (They also taught the whites how to cultivate a cash crop called tobacco, which would enable the foundation and rapid rise of several more southern colonies.) Their generosity was not repaid in kind. The settlers were soon told by their superiors-who were, after all, directors of a for-profit joint-stock company-to do whatever it took to acquire all the land they could. Indian tempers grew short after a series of humiliations and attacks (no doubt aided and abetted by the Spaniards to the south), and fifteen years later they mounted a large-scale surprise assault on the colony that resulted in 347 English deaths in a matter of a few hours. The surviving colonists vowed revenge, and fifty years of almost constant eye-for-an-eye warfare followed. By 1671 the Virginia governor could report to London that "the Indians, our neighbours, are absolutely subjected, so that there is no fear in them"-in no small part because there were only a few thousand of them left in the face of 40,000 Englishmen.

Over the next century, until the American Revolution, white men wrested North American territory from the Indians by treaty, sale, or sheer force-sometimes, truth be told, in concert with tribes seeking an advantage in Indian vs. Indian warfare. From the very beginning, the Europeans, with few exceptions, had perceived America's native inhabitants as no more than savages-romantic, perhaps, in their primitiveness, and occasionally charming, or worthy of pity, but savages nonetheless. Whites had little respect for Indian cultures, their ways of life, or their concepts of government and landownership-the latter being particularly antithetical to white views. Indians did not develop the land, nor did they measure and mark what they owned; they simply did not understand land as private property. One could no more own the earth than the sky, the Indians reasoned. Rather, their land was commonly owned and used. To the ceaselessly toiling New World colonists, whose way of life was rooted in property ownership, this outlook was positively sacrilegious. This difference, more than anything else, would lead to the struggles between the two peoples.

For the British, the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 resulted in huge additions of contested western territories ceded by the defeated French. But the excitement on the part of the colonials-who felt somewhat justifiably that they, not their distant British landlords, had "won" the new lands and should have the right to develop them-was dampened by George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763. The new law forbade settlement on "any Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West and Northwest," including the verdant Ohio Valley and all of the territory from the Ohio to the Mississippi rivers-roughly anything west of the Appalachians, from the southern limits of the province of Quebec in the north to Florida in the south. This area was referred to as "Indian territory," and all Englishmen were directed to abandon it immediately, regardless of title changes ("great Frauds and Abuses have been committed in purchasing Lands of the Indians ... to the great Dissatisfaction of the said Indians"). All Indian peoples were declared to be under the protection of the King, and provisions for royal posts along the boundary were made.

The motivations behind the King's proclamation were more practical than humanitarian. Relations between the Indians and the colonists were already poor. Most of the Indian tribes had sided with the French during the war, and by placating the natives, the proclamation would, it was hoped, reduce the costs of defending the frontier. The boundary and the Indian preserve it established were meant to be temporary, the first step in a controlled, deliberate settlement plan. Five years later, after considerable colonist lobbying, the Indian Boundary Line was established farther to the west and formally agreed to in treaties with the Indians. But later that same year, due to a change in the British ministry, the Crown discontinued maintenance of the plan. The increasingly restive colonists believed that the edict had another purpose: to keep them close to the eastern seaboard and easier to control-and away from the lucrative fur trade farther west.

The Proclamation of 1763 represented the last time that Indian sovereignty in the interior of the new land was considered important to the causes of peace and trade. Settlers and land speculators alike ignored the decree and worked to open the western frontier and claim the Indian lands. Thirteen years later, two of the many grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence addressed the Crown's protection of "the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions" and royal resistance to "new Appropriations of Lands." (A year earlier, at the dawn of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress had instituted an Indian policy, largely to maintain peaceful relations during the ensuing war, though most eastern Indian tribes predictably sided with the British.) Once independence was established, however, the young Republic's first President, George Washington, sought to apply solid moral precepts to all dealings with the Indians: "The basis of our proceedings with the Indian nations," he said, "has been, and shall be justice." The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 pledged goodwill and respect for the Indians' property, rights, and liberty. One of Washington's first acts as president was to issue the Proclamation of 1790, which forbade state or private-sector encroachments on all Indian lands guaranteed by treaty with the new country. But while Washington believed in the sovereignty of Indian nations and tried hard to prevent outright confiscation, states and individuals alike ignored the federal law in order to satisfy the enormous demand for land dictated by an everincreasing number of immigrants. As the new nation set to work exploring and settling beyond that short-lived Proclamation Line, land was acquired through bloodshed, treaty, crooked deals, or a mix of all three, and the absence of European powers meant that the Indians could not play one colonial interest against another.

The new century saw The Line move west quite a distance. After the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, when General Anthony Wayne crushed Little Turtle's previously invincible Miami Indians, the Ohio Valley was opened to settlers. Around 1803 President Thomas Jefferson decided to relocate all eastern tribes beyond a Permanent Indian Frontier, extending from Minnesota to Louisiana west of the ninety-fifth meridian-a scheme made viable with the Louisiana Purchase that year-to an "Indian Country" of their own, far away from civilization. Reports from the explorations of Lewis and Clark (1804-1806) and Zebulon Pike (1806-1807) portrayed the lands beyond the Mississippi as mostly desert and "incapable of cultivation," unfit for white people. The idea of the "Great American Desert" was reinforced by Major Stephen H. Long's 1823 report, which first used that phrase and characterized the Great Plains as "almost wholly unfit for cultivation and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence." Just two years later, in 1825, President James Monroe began forcing tribes west of the Mississippi to this designated Permanent Indian Country.

The movement picked up full steam after the Indian Removal Act of 1830, passed soon after Andrew Jackson became President. The War of 1812 hero had caused an international incident when he had pursued Seminole Indians into Spanish Florida in 1818, and he still thought little of Indian sovereignty, referring to "the farce of treating with Indian tribes." Jackson envisioned a confederacy of formerly southern Indians in the West that would one day take its place in the Union-after they became fully civilized, of course. Some tribes went quietly, but others, chiefly the Seminoles in Florida and the Sauks and Foxes of Illinois, resisted mightily but futilely against the relentless whites. The pressure came from all directions. It mattered not a whit, for example, that the U.S. Supreme Court found the acts of the State of Georgia against the Cherokee nation unconstitutional and in violation of legally binding treaties; Jackson simply refused to support the decision. The forced eviction of the Cherokees from their native Georgia and their march west to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma)-which reduced their population by more than 30 percent-came to be known as the Trail of Tears. They and the rest of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles) lost all their land throughout the South and ended up on reservations in Indian Territory, as did many other vanquished tribes.

"Indian Country" had been officially defined by the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 as "all that part of the United States west of the Mississippi; and not within the states of Missouri and Louisiana, or the territory of Arkansas." Congress decreed that white men were forbidden to travel beyond The Line without a license (though this and similar provisions in subsequent treaties were rarely, if ever, enforced), and a line of forts was constructed to prevent whites from passing to the west and Indians from attacking to the east. In 1835 Jackson promised the Indians that their new lands would be forever "secured and guaranteed to them." By 1840 Indian removal was largely complete.

Shortly thereafter, several nearly simultaneous events combined dramatically to change the situation. The first wagon train carrying white emigrants reached the Platte River in modern-day Nebraska in 1841, along what later became known as the Oregon Trail. Many more followed, straight through the heart of the Lakotas' favorite hunting grounds. These first migrants over the Great Plains were greeted with more curiosity than hostility. The Indians allowed them through and traded with them for goods that the tribes quickly became dependent on; the Indians sometimes even guided and aided the migrants. Until the mid-1840s, there was only one reported death involving the overland migrants, and that was an Indian. But the number of annual emigrants rapidly increased more than tenfold, from 5,000 in 1845 to 55,000 in 1850. The wagon trains, and the settlers and miners they carried, drove away the buffalo and depleted the wood and grass along the way. The constant stream of invading whites also spread epidemic diseases such as cholera, smallpox, measles, and venereal diseases to the Indians, who had developed no immunity to these illnesses. Some tribes, particularly the Cheyennes and the friendly Mandans and Arikaras along the Missouri River, were decimated. The epidemics were viewed by some Plains Indians as the white man's black magic, and in response, depredations against the invaders began to occur more frequently


Excerpted from A Terrible Glory by James Donovan Copyright © 2008 by James Donovan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Notes     xi
Prologue: A Good Day to Die     3
The Divine Injunction     9
"The Boy General of the Golden Lock"     38
Patriots     69
Outside the States     86
Belknap's Anaconda     101
"Submitt to Uncl Sam or Kill the 7 Hors"     116
"The Hide and Seek for Sitting Bull"     139
The Fruits of Insubordination     156
The Seventh Rides Out     172
The Trail to the Greasy Grass     185
On the Jump     200
The Charge     225
"The Savior of the Seventh"     250
Soldiers Falling     261
The Hill     279
"Death Was All Around Us"     285
The Rescue     300
"All the World Has Gone"     317
The Lost Captain     344
For the Honor of the Regiment     359
Ghosts Dancing     383
Acknowledgments     399
Notes     403
Bibliography     487
Index     513

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A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - The Last Great Battle of the American West 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
and I'm not. Uniquely for a battlefield, at Little Big Horn stones mark the places where soldiers were found after the battle. One can stand on the terrain, among the stones, and even with little knowldge of tactics and firefights see how the battle around Custer played out. Custer lost control of the battle and his units were destroyed piecemeal. Donovan captures the disasterous mess and the afterword, and provides a good, though short, version of the 150-odd years of prologue. He does not, however, draw the unremarkable though obvious conclusions inherent in his story: Custer's and the 7th Cav's failures were due to more than hubris. Custer's experience in the mass battles of the Civil War, with virtually unlimited resources, high-quality troops, and abundant adjacent support had little application to a non-traditional foe when he had fewer resources, needed to be more self-sufficient in the field, and had lower-quality troops. He was a general in the Civil War at the age of a modern lieutenant, learned his lessons young, and didn't adapt to remarkably different circumstances. Donovan's book would be of interest not only to Old West and cavalry fans, but also to historians and strategists who would like additional chapters in the story of the US military adapting, or failing to adapt, to unconventional warfare with peoples who are just not going to adapt to American ways. Same story, different century. Unsurprisingly, these lessons were also lost on the Army at the time, and an organizational and national failure was laid on an individual. Lastly, Donovan does a fine job providing the Indian's perspective, from the sorry history of broken treaties and outright fraud, through the battle and the aftermath.
dh1000 More than 1 year ago
Another very good book that has came out in the last 10 years or so that deal with the facts and cuts through all the garbage that the US Army have thrown down since the battle. This book also helps put to rest the one sided propaganda crap that really started with the movie Little Big Man. (Good entertaining movie but its fiction and I am amazed how many people actually think this movie is a true story it is laughable) I would also like to add about the archelogical digs that fox did. First of all he used Indian testimony that there was no last stand and I have read countless books on the subject and for every Indian testimony he gives that it was a short battle I can show you 10 Indians testimonials that say just the opposite. For not finding more shell casings on last stand hill he forgot to mention up into the 1960's it was legal for people to walk the battlefiel and pick up shell casings and people did. There also has been other research of the area and these people have said themselves they have picked up shell casings. He also failed to mention there has been a road that has been put in and a monument. Most of the major Indian players from Sitting Bull on down have talked about how the soldiers put up a brave fight on Last Stand Hill. When Terry arrived they also found there was a breast work of around 40 horses killed that the soldiers layed behind to fire but this fact has seemed to be covered up over the years. the Army and especially Beenteen and Reno had to make it seem like a route to cover up their cowardice and indifference. The new evidence also points out that there was close to 200 Indians that died fighting custer which points to a hard fight. The army also made the Indian camp larger than it was they would like us to believe they were 4000 warriors Beenteen in one of his many lies even said 9000 at one time but there was 1500 warriors with the the possibility of maybe 2000 which was exactly what the Army believed they would find all along.custer had his faults but what History has done to his memory and how it has portrayed him is criminal. Beenteen and Reno are the two history should villafy and then guys like Grant, Terry and Sherman should receive their fair share of the blame for covering up. If you like to read some other good books the best one might be To Hell with Honor by Larry Skelnar.
kirkwood59 More than 1 year ago
George Armstrong Custer certainly had his personal faults, including self promotion and a huge ego. However, the writer makes a good case that the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the subsequent destruction of the Seventh Cavalry should not be blamed on his shortcomings. Rather, many mistakes by a number of partiscipants contributed to this tragic event. The book also provides some interesting insights into the post Civil War lives of President Grant, General Sherman, Sitting Bull,Crazy Horse and, of course, Custer.
glauver More than 1 year ago
This is a solid, well-written account of the Little Big Horn. The author sheds light on some aspects of the battle and aftermath that were new to me. However, I think he underplayed some of the archeological work done by the Fox-Scott team in the 1980s that suggests that the Custer battalion disintegrated under fire and his account of the Last Stand seems unconvincing in that light. I still feel that Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star is the best, most original book written about the battle and Custer. Stephen Ambrose's Crazy Horse and Custer is a good dual biography of both men and Gregory Urwin's Custer Victorious demonstrates why Custer had such a high reputation in the post Civil War Army.
StPeteBuzz More than 1 year ago
If you are interested in the history of the US west after the civil war, this book provides incredible detail. You may find the beginning somewhat slow as the backgrounds are developed, but if you really want to understand the actions of the players during this period the detail is essential. It makes it much easier to understand the interactions of Washington DC, the US Army, civilians and the native Americans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been fascinated by Little Bighorn since 1968, when I served in the 7th Infantry [Custer's old Seventh Cavalry]in Vietnam. Serving with me was Gary Medicine Bird, grandson of Kills-At-Night, a Cheyenne warrior who fought in this battle, who is mentioned in the book 'Son of the Morning Star,' and who lived to be over 100 years old. Old enough to tell his grandson firsthand about the events of that day.--Tom Reilly
Guest More than 1 year ago
Custer split his command and stopped upon the ridge above the indian encampment to watch the other column charge toward the indians.This was reported by the surviving indians after the battle but, was ignored. Custed planned on cutting the escape off after the indians were run out of the village. He would not beleve his scouts that the encampment was that large,plus he was a glory seeker. After watching the attempted charge fail he realized his mistake and with indians charging from the revine was in no position to attack,retreat or run.Although there were attempts to run. They did the only thing left: dismount and die.
ShelbyMC More than 1 year ago
I have been to Custer National Park and after reading this interesting account will be making plans to return. The author takes a story that is very well known, and through very thorough research brings to light new and interesting conclusions of what probably happened on a long ago time in the untamed wilds of our very young country. I found myself unable to put the book down after believing that I knew the story of what transpired leading up to the battle of the Little Big Horn. But with the conclusions drawn and the information provided there is a deeper insight into the motives and emotions of those involved. During my reading I found myself with feelings and emotional ties to the main participants that surprised and delighted me. Be prepared for an unexpected thrilling ride to the conclusion!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found A Terrible Glory to be a fair and balanced portrayl of Custer, and based on extensive research. The book was neither a tired attempt to glorify Custer and gloss over his shortcomings and mistakes (there were several), nor another book devoted to laying the blame for the Little Big Horn disaster solely at Custer's feet. Rather, the author explained how the result of the battle also was the product of the mistakes and cowardice of the other officers, the soldiers' gross underestimation of the strength and skill of the Indian warriors, and the poor organization and training of the soldiers, including the officers, who accompanied Custer. I also enjoyed the author's inclusion of a human element by explaining the strengths and weaknesses of the players in the story, as well as the effect of the Little Big Horn on those who survived or were left behind (Mrs. Custer, for example). Overall, I found the book to be an easy read that should appeal to those, like me, who had little knowledge of the Little Big Horn or Custer, and Custer or Little Big Horn buffs looking for a fresh take.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not a Custerophile as others who rated this book seem to be. In fact, about all I knew about the man was that he was defeated at Little Bighorn by Sitting Bull and the Sioux tribe. I have, however stopped by the battlefield on a number of occasions whilst driving from Washington to Colorado and always found it to be a fascinating place. That having been said, I could not put this book down. I'm sure, as others are wont to point out, there might be a few factual errors in this book but I certainly didn't care. I read on with reckless abandon. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Good book - a little confusing when explaining the Terry,Gibbon,Cook marches to find the hostiles. Some stuff is new, but like the titanic, history can't be rewritten. Somewhat slow beginning but then it takes off and shows the confusion of battle. The aftermath was the sad part of the book - no one won in this scenario. Custer was dead, Reno / Benteen and the rest of the officers chose to protect the honor of the regiment. Libbie suffered and the indians never got what the originally wanted - to be left alone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A candid, objective, and refreshing look at the mystery of June 25, 1876, a blazing-hot day of thirst, terror, and tragedy for Custer and 220 troopers of his beloved Seventh Cavalry. A must for every Custer fan!
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a well researched and comprehensive history of the Battle of Little Bighorn, its back history and subsequent events. The author does a good job of providing historical perspective by providing just enough background on the key figures, without detracting from the focus of the book itself, the days immediately preceding and following the battle. It is true that the author takes a very kind view of Custer, seeking to deflect much of the blame for the event on both his superiors and his subordinates. He does not, however, completely absolve Custer and presents a relatively well organized and presented argument for his position. While much can be faulted in the performance of Terry, Reno and Benteen, the ultimate responsibility for the results of the battle must rest with Custer. It should not be forgotten, however, that while the reader, and historians, are presented with detailed maps, timelines and the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, none of these luxuries was available to Custer or the other actors in the drama. Was Custer reckless and impetuous? Certainly, but the absence of such characteristics in a cavalry officer fighting plains Indians most times resulted in a lack of results. History had highlighted few times that cavalry was able to identify and attack a massed Indian force. To wait, after locating such a force would have likely resulted in a repeat of past history; the dispersal and melting away of the targeted enemy. Unknown to Custer and his subordinates was the size, scope and fighting spirit of the Sioux at Little Bighorn. While he had received intelligence on the size of the encampment, such intelligence was conflicting and not usually completely reliable. Virtually no one, not in the Seventh Cavalry, not in the Army in general, and certainly not in the country at large, could possibly conceive of an Indian force capable of defeating Custer's army. While the performance of Reno and Benteen can be faulted, and the later inquiry was certainly a stage managed farce, it is difficult to argue that alternate actions by the forces under their command could have done anything but expand the scope of the slaughter. Reno, a confirmed alcoholic who likely was drunk throughout the battle could have done little to improve the performance of the troops under his command once overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers. While his retreat and repositioning could have been more orderly and better executed, it did at least manage to save many of the soldiers in his command. Benteen, on the other hand, in command of a fresh regiment and in possession of orders to advance and provide support for Custer's forces, somehow escaped as the hero of the battle. No explanation was ever provided as to why these orders were disregarded. In any event, Custer's last stand and the Battle of Little Bighorn have become historical legend and provided the last gasp of the Lakota Sioux in the long effort of the United States government to subjogate the plains Indians and settle the Dakota Territory. This book is a very good overview of the events leading to and following that legendary clash.
noblechicken on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A thorough and engaging book about the Battle of Little Bighorn, Custer, Sitting Bull and most all the parties involved in the Spring / Summer of 1876. Donovan does a wonderful job of setting up the political environment, the plight of the Native Americans, and the greed of the United States, all of these factors leading up to the Battle, which is covered with equal meticulousness, and finally the aftermath. Donovan's point of view seems to place fault on a lot of factors, not just the traditional Custer's ego; Officers Reno and Benteen's behaviors toward their superior officer, the lack of communications, the sheer numbers involved. Really a terrific read and perhaps the best book about the subject available without necessarily taking sides.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I knew very little about the battle before I read this book. It was a gift from a friend and I ended up really getting into it. It was the opposite of dull -- the characters came alive and I could imagine the scenes. I'm usually more of a movie person, but this book made me want to read more. I'm going to pick up another book by the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is subtitled Custer and the Little Bighorn the Last Great Battle of the American West.   It is one of the most interesting history books I have ever read.  The author held my interest throughout the book and made me want to continue to read late into the evening.  The history was well balanced with biographical information on the members of the U.S. Army as well as the Native Americans that were involved in the battle.  The book was extremely well researched with extensive notes and quite a few pictures and maps to bring things into vibrant perspective. I always say that I enjoy a book when I learn something by reading it.  Naturally this was a history book so I expected to learn things, and I learned more than I imagined I would.  Because the author starts by giving background information on the participants I learned some very interesting things about the American military during the Civil War and the way the military and government interacted.  I was also quite surprised to learn of how young some of the generals were during the Civil War.  George Armstrong Custer was a cut up at West Point and graduated at the bottom of his class.  He graduated in the “second class” of 1861.  The course of studies was compressed so that the last year (normally the fifth) was accomplished in one month due to the Civil War starting. Custer served as a Lieutenant and was promoted quickly through the ranks through “brevet” promotions.  A brevet rank was an honorary promotion given for gallantry or meritorious service and usually imparted little authority and no extra pay.  Custer made it all the way to Major General at the ripe old age of 23 during the Civil War.  His final regular rank was Lt Col. This book also gave good background on the Sioux and explained how they lived and organized their tribes.  The largest groups of Sioux were the Lakota, then the Dakota and the Nakota.  Donovan wrote about Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and the Indian culture.  Donovan tells very interesting stories about their early lives and how they became the great leaders of their people. The battle of the Little Big Horn is detailed with maps and firsthand accounts so it jumps off the pages and becomes visual as you read it.  There is a lot more to the battle than just a “massacre” by Indians.   Donovan finishes the book by relating the fallout from the battle and the court of inquiry into it.  He also gives the reader a feel for the mood of the general population as they found out about it.   Excellent book.
UDT-Sailor More than 1 year ago
A Terrible Glory was fantastically written. My previous impression on the Battle of Little Bighorn was changed drastically. Having Custer taking the majority of the blame for the masacre (as most people would understand it) is simply unjust. This book is a great read. You get a more compelling sense in what actually happened at the Little Bighorn.
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derbyboyjr More than 1 year ago
This was a great book, i read it cover to cover in day. I would read it again, its that good.
Solitaireyqueen More than 1 year ago
I just recently got interested in the civil war era and found this book to be very good. It dragged a bit in certain parts, but James Donovan really paints a vivid picture of Little Bighorn and the men who were there.
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