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Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now Military Pictorials James S. Brust University of Oklahoma Press


28th May 2012 History Books 46 Comments

James S. Brust, M.D., a specialist in historical photographs and prints, has published frequently on these topics in journals and magazines. He resides in San Pedro, California.

Brian C. Pohanka, who passed away as this book went to press, was a military historian and author of several books. He also was senior researcher, writer, and adviser for Time-Life Books, television documentaries, and feature films.

Sandy Barnard is an independent scholar and writer specializing in the Indian wars. He is editor of Greasy Grass and resides in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

A stunning photographic record of the Little Bighorn

The Battle of the Little Bighorn has long held an eminent position among the chronicles of the mythic West. None of the men who rode with Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer to his Last Stand survived to tell the tale, but this stunning photography book provides a view of the battlefield as it must have existed in 1876.

To create Where Custer Fell, authors James S. Brust, Brian C. Pohanka, and Sandy Barnard searched for elusive documents and photographs, made countless trips to the battlefield, and scrutinized all available sources. Each chapter begins with a concise, lively description of an episode in the battle. The narratives are graphically illustrated by historical photos, which are presented alongside modern photos of the same location on the battlefield. The book also features detailed maps and photographs of battle participants and the early photographers who attempted to tell their story.

Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now

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

In this labor of love, Donovan collects the multiple threads that led to the 1876 massacre at Little Big Horn. By the 1870s various American Indian tribes ignored the American government’s edict to relocate to reservations. Growth in pioneer settlements had produced so many clashes that western commander Philip Sheridan ordered three army columns to converge on an immense Indian encampment in southern Montana Territory. Donovan’s eye-opening description of these cavalrymen contradicts the Hollywood image. These troops were untrained, inexperienced in individual combat and poorly equipped. Custer, the first to encounter the enemy encampment, split his forces before attacking. This tactical error ensured that some units would survive the fighting, here described in vivid detail. Custer’s last stand became the Indians’, too. Though the army was happy to blame the debacle on the dead Custer, the battle’s survivors banded together to ensure no reputation went tarnished in public hearings. The author makes a good case for Custer as scapegoat by portraying him as a likable Civil War hero, flamboyant publicity hound and more experienced Indian fighter than most of his men and all of his commanders,. Exhaustive research, lively prose and fresh interpretation make for a valuable addition to literature on this otherwise well-trodden historical event. (Mar. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

In June of 1876, on a hill above a winding river called “the Little Bighorn,” George Armstrong Custer and all 210 men under his direct command were annihilated by nearly 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne. This devastating loss caused an uproar, and public figures pointed 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 vital new forensic research of the past quarter century. It is also the first book to bring to light the details of the army cover-up–and unravel one of the greatest mysteries in US military history.

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










  • 46 responses to "Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now Military Pictorials James S. Brust University of Oklahoma Press"

  • O James Samson
    5:26 on May 28th, 2012
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    While visiting the Little Big Horn a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that although Custer’s marker is 15 yards below the peak of Custer Hill, the actually location of his body was on the very top of the hill. This is one of the many fascinating aspects of this book. The current marker indicates where Custer was burried, but through early historical photos, the authors do in fact locate Custer’s death site on the very top of the hill a few feet south of the present day monument. Through a series of original early photographs from various periods of time, many relatively rare or recently discovered, much is revealed about the Custer battlefield adding to the history, sometimes correcting markers, which enabled historians and superintendents over the years to relocate some of those controversial markers to their correct location (Sgt. Butler’s). Sandy Barnard, who is the editor of `Greasy Grass’ magazine, and the late Brian Pohanka, a great western and Civil War historian and preservationist, team with James Brust, a historical photographic expert to produce a book that provides a fascinating catalogue of photographs showing the battlefield in its early stages, and progressively through time through later photos and recent modern pictures. The narrative of the book looks at the Little Big Horn fight using contemporray accounts combined with witness testimonies in a straight forward up to date history and theories, while matching the various locations with these revealing photographs providing fascinating insight to this mysterious puzzle of a battle. This book compares well with Frassanito’s great book on Gettysburg that also combined historical photographs with present day photos often adding new light to the exact location of where the historical shots were taken. The Custer book studies the battle virtually as it was fought with photos staggered to show the ford at Reno Creek to the valley floor to progressively covering the entire battlefield back to Reno-Benteen Hill, Weir Point, Medicine Trail Coulee, Finkle-Finley Knoll, Calhoun Hill, the Keogh sector, Deep ravine, the Cemetery knoll and Custer Hill of course. Fascinating revelations from photos combined with relatively recent archeological data (Fox and Scott) with findings including the location of where scout Lonesome Charlie fell, the location of the morass, lone tepee, the question of where Sergeant Butler fell and identity, determining the various roles of Company C, the skirmish line on Calhoun Hill, the collapse of company I, the flight to Custer Hill, the relation of Company E in Deep Ravine, the south skirmish line, company F on Custer Hill and so on.
    The pictures zeroing in on the markers with testimonials of the Benteen-Reno Hill survivors demonstrate the role that each company made in the stand and where and also demonstrates where there was collapse and possible rout like retreats toward Calhoun Hill and Custer Hill. The photographs and contemporary history also place the theory that E troop fought as a company in and around Deep Ravine with survivors from Custer Hill making their ill fated attempt to join them certianly seem very possible as their markers appear to be a flight line, not a skirmish line. The historical testimonies also indicate that certian markers were located out of respect for survivors back home like the Sturgis family whose son’s body was never found or indentified. Very unfortunate that Cemetery Hill was not preserved initially as other archeological findings might have identified that ridge as a holding pattern as Luce did on the ridge named after him. Through photographs, even the best-read LBH historian will enjoy this book and the pictures add so much to the history. As noted previously, the actual location of where Custer fell shown by a large stake that was clearly pictured a year after the battle in a relatively unknown 1877-8 photograph is a major find. In addition, the skeletons of several horses around Custer’s death site indicate that there was a possible defense line. Combined with the modern picture, we all now know approximately where Custer’s body was found. Although this may look like a coffe table book, it is large because the photographs are large and well defined combined with a detailed historical narrative that is enough to stand on its own, bringing testimonies with photographs to a very satisfying informative level. This book is one of the most satisfying, unique studies on the LBH.

  • DRWES
    5:40 on May 28th, 2012
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    “Come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs.” – Custer’s last communication before riding forth to a terrible glory.

    Anyone of a certain age and cultural background, born and educated in the United States, is likely to know of George Armstrong Custer’s last stand with his Seventh Cavalry against overwhelming numbers of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in June, 1876. Who among us hasn’t seen at least one of the several fanciful paintings of the event by various artists?

    The core of A TERRIBLE GLORY is James Donovan’s masterful and absorbing account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The book also includes a summary of Custer’s military career and personal life prior to 1876, the personalities of the principal Native American leaders (primarily Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse), the tense post-Civil War relationship of the federal government and the U.S. Army with the Sioux, and the battle’s aftermath, including the Army’s 1879 Court of Inquiry into the Seventh’s conduct of the engagement and Major Marcus Reno’s performance in particular, the ultimate fates of the main characters in the drama, and the Massacre at Wounded Knee, which can be argued was the Seventh Cavalry’s revenge for the Little Bighorn debacle.

    Those chapters of A TERRIBLE GLORY concerned with the 1876 encounter place it in the context of that summer’s three-pronged Army advance (Gibbon, Terry, Crook) on the tribes that were roaming the Montana and Wyoming territories outside the reservations. Then, for June 25-26, the narration comprises the three phases of the Battle: Reno’s ill-starred attack on the south end of the Indian village, the annihilation of Custer and five of the Seventh’s twelve companies, and the siege of the Reno-Benteen force dug in on their hill. In the prefatory Author’s Notes section, Donovan is careful to point out that his accounts of the first and third phases are based on primary sources. The second phase, once Custer and his 210 men rode off down Medicine Tail Coulee, is reconstructed mainly from reasonable supposition and battlefield archeology since the eyewitness testimonies of the victorious Sioux and Cheyenne warriors are “sketchy and often contradictory”. That said, the narrative of the clash as a whole flows seamlessly. Indeed, it’s riveting.

    The volume includes several useful maps, fourteen pages of photographs, and lengthy Notes and Bibliography sections.

    A couple of years back, I had the good fortune to gaze out from the summit of Last Stand Hill over the marker stones of Custer and his troopers set amidst the rippling buffalo grass. Was that a faint echo of “Garryowen”, the Seventh Cavalry’s official marching air, that I heard on the wind? Well, perhaps not, but only sounds from a radio in a car passing behind me. But, as the author closes his engrossing narrative:

    “After the tourists have gone, the ridges and ravines overlooking the river below are still and eerie. Today, if one stands there alone as the wind sighs through the buffalo grass, it is hard not to believe that the spirits of the men who died there … perform their own ghost dance: clasping hands in a circle, moving ever to the right …”

    After nearly six decades of life, I feel I’ve finally arrived at a proper understanding of what transpired on those hills in southeast Montana just to the east of Interstate 90 on two hot summer days nearly 133 years ago. A TERRIBLE GLORY is a superb volume worth the attention of any casual or serious student of the Battle of the Little Bighorn wishing to know its place in the context of that period of American history.

  • SuggestionBox
    7:52 on May 28th, 2012
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    It is a treasure to have so many of historian Brian Pohanka’s ideas on Little Big Horn incorporated into this gem of a book. It is much more than an interesting study of early photographs of the battle. It is an interpretation of these against the prevailing “models” of what happened that day in 1876. Pohanka was a Civil War historian primarily, with a great interest in the Boer War and the Little Big Horn battle. This 2005 work is as good an expression of his ideas on that later battle as we will find. Pohanka is one of those rare historians who, even without a military background, has very good instincts about military leadership, tactics, and combat effects. I believe this is a must have for any LBH fan’s shelf. It is not a primer on the battle, but after you have a couple initial histories, this gives a good synopsis of current research and theories concerning the demise of Custer’s wing of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment.

  • Jeremy Zongker
    9:15 on May 28th, 2012
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    In this very interesting large-format paperback, photos of the Little Big Horn battlefield taken (in some cases) within a year or so of the battle are compared to photos taken as nearly as possible from the same spot and with the same field of view, over the past 20 years. It is amazing how little this landscape has changed, the main differences being due to erosion, changes in the course of the river, and the springing-up of large numbers of trees in what was originally a treeless, barren waste.

    My main reservation about the book is that clearly, it lives and dies by the quality of the photo reproduction, and this quality is not high. “Serviceable” is the best I can say about it. Another problem is the huge, often nearly maddening, amount of sheer repetition in the text discussions. This is clearly done to make the commentary on each pair of photos as self-contained as possible, but nearly exactly the same comments, in almost exactly the same words, appear over and over.

    This book makes a good companion to the recent Little Bighorn account, A TERRIBLE GLORY. It provides, based on Indian accounts and archaeological excavations, a fairly detailed discussion of the various stages of the battle involving the three companies (or whatever they were called) of cavalry who went along with Custer… details that are not present in A TERRIBLE GLORY.

    The authors make a number of very interesting points, concerning for example the later confusion between the spot where Custer’s body was found (at the top of the hill) and the spot where he was buried (about 100 feet down the hillside). It’s clear from the photos that Custer’s body was found at a spot which today is immediately in front of the later monument. Wherever Custer was buried, he might be still there, because when the graves of the officers of the 7th Cavalry were excavated so that the bodies could be reburied as the families directed (Custer was supposed to wind up at West Point), only a few scattered skeletal fragments turned up in the grave marked as his.

    Unlike many university press books I have examined in the past few decades, this one has been professionally set in type, and the text looks great.

  • Goldhammer
    10:58 on May 28th, 2012
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    Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now will be a classic before you know it. It will no doubt become a must addition to the earlier Little Big Horn chroniclers such as Kuhlman, Graham, and Luce.

    Wonderfully organized, Where Custer Fell matches many early and in some cases very rare photographs of the Custer and Reno battlefield with modern pictures taken from the same vantage point. Perhaps equally important is the fact the the photos are offered in roughly the same chronology as the battle itself. For example, Chapter four provides photos of the Crows Nest then and now as well as the famous morass. Then Chapter five deals with the Valley Fight and provides the appropriate photos. This is so far superior to the usual cluster of pictures that are lumped together in isolation of the text that deals with them and makes constant referral to them easy.

    But Where Custer Fell is much more. The authors manage to provide an informed analysis of the battle and the aftermath. Through sound research and enormous quantities of patience, Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard manage to do what so many amateurs, myself included, have not been able to do and that is visit sites recorded in early photographs and then record how those sites look today.

    Having visited the the Little Big Horn battle field as a young child, I have never been able to shake the memory of standing on last stand hill and gazing at the marble markers both near and far.

    If you’re a serious student of Custer and the Little Big Horn Battle, Where Custer Fell will be an important addition to your library.

    I highly recommend it.

  • Aaron P
    14:43 on May 28th, 2012
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    This being the first book I’ve read about Custer I can’t claim anything. Being fascinated with the histories of military generals both good and bad, their exploits and motivations,personalities and what made them tick I found myself naturally gravitating to Custer.The mystique surrounding the Big Horn battle and the whole” last stand” thing sucked me in. I began to read more and settled on this book to begin my exploratory research.I don’t read reviews before I write them to avoid bias but I do read them afterward. This book is well written and held my interest quite nicely in fact I couldn’t put it down. But in reading some other reviewers comments I see that there could be flaws in the evidence and tact of the book.The fact is that no book is perfect and there are many other books one could read that come closer to the truth but can anyone ever know the whole unbiased truth about anything?Those that did are now dust so it leaves us to put the story together.The book by Donovan is put together well and for the first timer it will give you a good base from which to start.The character of this quite pompous man is presented, his beginnings and mind set are explored as is his fateful descision that day. Why?,I kept asking myself did he not see that he was grossly overmatched. The roles of Banteen and Reno are explored but the book does make them out to be less than accomplished military men who cowered and hid to save their necks.Did Custer really believe that they were just around the corner and would come to save the day or did he know that this was it and to hell with it, let’s go out with glory.His death was painful as was the knowledge he must have had that those around him were truly going to die that day on a grassy hill in the middle of nowhere.What possessed him to attack such a large force with so little men is the lingering question on my mind.It appears that his demeanor, his tactics and his misplaced courage undid both him and his men as he was led into a slaughter and then made out to be a hero.The book explains many areas and situations prior to the battle, has many maps and photos of the various characters in play that day and those that pushed him into it. Was he set up? maybe.He wasn’t well liked that is for sure.Did he commit a major blunder on the field of battle, of this I’m sure, but then again I recuse myself from a definitive opinion in the matter due to lack of information and limited time with the subject.I don’t claim sufficient time with the scholarly material yet out there.Others have opinions and some don’t like this book.Be that as it may I found ‘ A Terrible Glory’ to be a good read and an excellent reference to the event in question.We may never know why Custer did what he did or why the outcome was a failure but for those who want to touch upon the subject of the “Battle of the Little Bighorn”,to those who want to know more about George A.Custer the man, his rather eccentric life, his time in the west, his relationship with his wife, his men and the military leadership at the time as well as a good look at the American Indian side and the crap they had to deal with,( boy did we screw them), then this is the book for you. I say to read it not because it is the final opinion on the matter but because it is well written and will keep you charging through the dusty plains into an area of fate where death at the hands of thousands of Indian warriors will make you want to hide too and may lead to the same conclusion that being, just what the hell was that damn fool Custer thinking anyway? Did he really delude himself thinking he could win, or was it deeper than that?Read it for yourself and decide.

  • educator
    16:07 on May 28th, 2012
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    It is interesting that the most celebrated events in U.S. military history are its defeats – Pearl Harbor, Bataan, The Bulge, Fredericksburg. Perhaps no military engagement has been researched and analyzed and commented upon, often erroneously, as much as the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 when Sioux and Cheyenne warriors killed George Armstrong Custer and several hundred troopers of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry. Beginning immediately after the discovery of the tragedy by the U.S. Army, players and observers began to spin events to their advantage creating an amazing cacophony of contradictory accounts, speculation, blaming, and name calling that continued for more than a century. The event gave rise to a sub species of historian, the Custer Buff, people who read everything they can about the battle, its run up, and its aftermath.

    Soon after the nation was stunned by the defeat, large, full-color paintings decorated barrooms showing the Civil War hero and widely-heralded Indian fighter firing his revolver as swarms of warriors overran his position on a dry hilltop in Montana. The paintings read “Custer’s Last Stand.”

    In A Terrible Glory Donovan goes back to square one in his research relying on primary sources – the statements and recollections of the participants and eyewitnesses supported by archaeological evidence. With such a famous event there were naturally inconsistent, conflicting, and even fraudulent accounts of what happened when Custer, some say against orders, split his regiment to attack a Sioux village. Even Custer’s commander said he violated orders. Donovan shows this as a classic case of CYA and blame the dead man. Others who had something to hide joined in manipulating facts.

    This is a carefully researched and very readable account of Custer’s life, U.S. Indian policy, and the campaign that shattered one of the Army’s most esteemed regiments. Donovan also follows the convoluted courses of events afterwards and the personalities who shaped and reshaped popular understanding of the battle. Where the accounts differ Donovan included in the endnotes discussions of contradictory evidence. In some cases makes his own judgment as to the likely course of events. I used two bookmarks, one for where I stopped reading the text and one for the endnotes.

    One participant held up for the most scorn was Major Marcus Reno, leader of the battalion assigned to attack the huge Indian village. The attack failed and Reno and his fellow fugitives fled into woods, across a river, and into a defensive position on some bluffs. The heavy-drinking Reno was, by most accounts, drunk and incapable of command, but when the Army held a court of inquiry, his fellow officers minimized his (and their own) failings. Drunk or sober, it doesn’t sound as if Reno could have helped Custer much.

    The reader is provided with a balanced, well organized, and credible account of a very popular historical event. Some 400,000 people a year visit the battlefield where most of the dead soldiers were buried where they died.

    For any Custer Buff, anyone interested in the history of the Old West, and any student of the historical process, A Terrible Glory is a good read.

  • Eric Hale
    17:01 on May 28th, 2012
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    With so many accolades, it is a challenge to say something to add to the fine reviews preceding my own. This book is very well-written and the quality and depth of material and insight in the end notes probably put it in a class by itself where Custer books are concerned. I read the first part of “A Terrible Glory” with a bookmark at the end so that I could switch back and forth from the text to the end notes. As this was detracting from the flow of my reading and my appreication of the fine writing, I dispensed with this practice, resorting to reading the end notes following the text for each chapter. I advise other readers to do the same.

    The best part of this book, for me, was the extensive treatment provided to the battle’s aftermath, especially the Reno Court of Inquiry. Most Little Big Horn books, understandably so, borrow extensively from the Court of Inquiry testimony and place it within the context of an author’s reconstruction of the events of June 25 and 26, 1876. Here, we are treated to an entire chapter on the Reno Court of Inquiry as a historical event in its own right. Perhaps an example of some of his new discoveries on this event will serve to highlight the quality of the book as a whole. I had long known that the Inquiry Court was held at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago where Phil Sheridan also housed his Division of the Missouri headquarters. This fact seemed to indicate that it was held there so that Sheridan could have an overpowering, unspoken presence over the proceedings, thereby reminding everyone to avoid a verdict that would embarass him or the army. Mr. Donovan’s research revealed that, yes, Sheridan’s Division of the Missouri was headquartered in Chicago but it only moved to the Palmer House a few weeks prior to the Inquiry Court when the office building where it was housed was destroyed by fire.

    Another intriguing post-battle chapter is the one entitled “The Lost Captain” which precedes and blends with the one covering the Inquiry Court. This chapter title would seem to refer to the self-proclaimed “Captain” Frederick Whittaker who never rose above the rank of lieutenant and had once published dime novels, including one with the title of “The Lost Captain.” His hagiographic biography of Custer, published less than six months after the battle, expressed strong condemnation of Reno and thus touched off the chain of events that led to the Reno Court of Inquiry. Most likely though, the title applies to Captain Thomas Weir who died six months after the battle, succumbing to alcoholism; he was the officer who, over Reno’s objections, led the movement of various 7th Cavalry companies off Reno Hill and towards the sound of Custer’s gunfire. Weir was haunted by the deaths of Custer and his five companies, which only served to exacerbate his drinking problem. His death coincided to the very day with the publication of Whittaker’s Custer biography and his thoughts found life in the book as he was interviewed by Whittaker before he passed away. The abscence of his testimony at the subsequent Reno Inquiry has always intrigued battle students, serving up yet more “what if’s?” in speculating what the lost captain might have said had he lived. Mr. Donovan references Dr. Chuck Merkel’s unpublished thesis on the life of Weir, thus adding to the huge cache of sources he has tapped for this book.

    Some reviewers have portrayed this book as a pro-Custer, down-with-Reno effort. Yes, he explores the many negative questions surrounding Reno’s battlefield performance but backs them up with primary sources (for example, three pages of end notes consisting of quotes from first-hand battle participants who claim to have seen Reno drinking and/or drunk on June 25-26). These areas of controversy are presented in a judicious, non-judgmental manner. If Mr. Donovan’s comes across as pro-Custer, it may be due to the fact that a number of books in print as well as TV “documentaries” go out of their way to portray Custer as someone that he clearly wasn’t–an incompetent egomaniac out to kill men, women and children. Mr. Donovan gives us a balanced rendering of the three Little Big Horn military commanders–Custer, Reno and Benteen–their strengths as well as their flaws.

    In conclusion, in my opinion, this book is destined to join other Custer classics–Custer’s Luck, The Custer Myth, Custer’s Last Campaign, Lakota Noon, Son of the Morning Star (Terrible Glory is much better) and Where Custer Fell. It is the best book you could give someone who asks “Why do you keep reading about this battle?”

  • Jeff Brodhead
    18:35 on May 28th, 2012
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    Good reference book for visiting the battle field… a must for those ‘THEN & NOW’ types…. like me… :)

  • Chrisbay
    20:10 on May 28th, 2012
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    ( I did not buy from Amazon. Review is based on hard-cover library edition. )

    A well researched historical account dragged down by inadequate editing, writing and even proofreading.

    “A Terrible Glory” is full of details about the actions of the participants in the Battle of Little Bighorn, aka “Custer’s Last Stand”. Despite the wealth of detail, I was almost continually confused about when things were happening. Mr. Donovan seldom mentioned dates and (during the battle) times for events. I also just didn’t understand how the 7th Cavalry forces were organized that day; who commanded who. The author usually described what the various companies in the regiment were doing, and that they were undermanned, but I had no real idea how many soldiers were involved at many stages of the story.

    Not to give away the main theme but Custer: good, Reno: bad.

    As to the editing and proofreading…. One event is said to have occurred on June 31st. A soldier is said to have been nicknamed “Dry Martini” after the cocktail which was invented about 30 years later. And — this is kind of sad — Mr Donovan concluded with a whimsical vision of Indian and soldier’s ghosts “in a brotherhood that reaches past race and religion and greed.” Yep, no one noticed the obvious typo of “greed” instead of “creed”. (He should have said “tribe” in the first place.)

    I haven’t studied this battle at the sub-atomic level like some of the reviewers, but I was disappointed that Mr Donovan’s work suffered from editorial carelessness his research did not deserve.

  • pizzleini
    21:56 on May 28th, 2012
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    When I saw a new book listed for publication on the topic of the Little Bighorn Battle a few months ago I was enthused. Let’s face it, for those of us committed to this historical event, there’s never enough to read. A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn-The Last Great Battle of the America West doesn’t disappoint either.

    James Donovan’s treatment is fair and detailed. As pointed out in other reviews, there is a lot of information included. Donovan also avoids the traps sprung on so many modern historians when they attempt to moralize the battle, Custer, and the U.S. Army. It has been well established after the digs of the 1980′s that, contrary to so many theories, the 7th Cavalry was not well armed, and from modern analysis of the battle field did not conduct themselves as a well trained unit would have. Donovan uses this information, and also guardingly includes the accounts of the Indians present at the battle.

    I also have to compliment Donovan on his ability to provide context to the battle itself and to the United States at the time. His ability to provide strong narrative also makes the book read like a novel at times. In places, A Terrible Glory is a real page turner.

    The copious and well organized notes will also be of interest to the serious student of the battle. A Terrible Glory isn’t for the casual reader though it is written in an easy style. Well researched and even handed, A Terrible Glory is highly recommended.

  • counterpoint
    22:52 on May 28th, 2012
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    Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the men of the Seventh U.S. Calvary have long ago entered western legend with their hard fought demise at the Battle of Little Bighorn against overwhelming Native American forces in 1876. Interest in Custer and his ‘last stand’ have been the subject of countless books, articles, and films. Now the team of James S. Brust (a specialist in historical photographs and prints), Brian C. Pohanka (an accomplished military historian), and Sandy Barnard (an independent scholar specializing in the Indian wars) have collaborated to produce “Where Custer Fell: Photographs Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield Then And Now”. An informed and informative text is accompanied by 217 black and white historic photographs and illustrations, plus fifteen maps associated with the battle and the landscape. The product of years of painstaking research, meticulous scholarship, countless trips to the battlefield site, and drawing upon both common and uncommon source material, “Where Custer Fell: Photographs Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield Then And Now” is essential reading for anyone studying the 19th century Indian wars in general, and the life and times of Custer in particular.

  • Stephani
    0:31 on May 29th, 2012
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    Having recently read two books on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, I decided to continue (and, I think, finish) my education on that event by reading, and viewing, WHERE CUSTER FELL. Earlier, my understanding and “feel” for the Civil War battles of Antietam and Gettysburg was enhanced considerably by William Frassanito’s books, which made extensive use of historical photographs. I hoped that this book would do the same for my understanding and feel for LBH. To a certain extent it did, but ultimately it is more suited for the specialist on the LBH than for a generalist and ultimately it is not as satisfactory for the generalist as are Frassanito’s Civil War books.

    Basically, what the triumvirate of author/photographers did was accumulate a large number of “historical” photographs of the LBH battlefield that were taken beginning one year after the battle and continuing on through about 1950. They then searched for the precise spot at which each of these historical photos had been taken and, shooting in the same direction and replicating the perspective as much as possible, they took a “contemporary” photograph (mostly from the 1990s). Comparing the two, they often were able to draw reasonably sound conclusions about various matters that have long and hotly been debated by LBH students, both amateur and professional, relating to the battle itself, the marking of spots where 7th Cavalry soldiers had died, the topography of the battlefield and its environs, and the extent to which the integrity of the battlefield has been preserved. Incidentally, their conclusion on this last point is that “the Little Bighorn Battlefield is in an excellent state of preservation.” (The biggest changes have been wrought by nature, through such things as flooding of the Little Bighorn River and alteration of its course.)

    In the first chapter, the authors provide a good brief summary of the battle, without going deeply into explanations for the actions of the principal figures and whether or not they deserve to be praised or censured. But neither that first chapter, nor the book as a whole, makes for good introductory reading for the uninitiated to the LBH. The principal audience for this book most definitely is serious students of the Battle. Inasmuch as I don’t count myself among their number, I found far too arcane and detailed many of the points addressed – for example, whether or not an iron pipe should have been used in marking the spot where First Sergeant James Butler had died. A secondary audience for the book would consist of those interested in how historical photographs can be used in corroborating or revising the best contemporary understanding of an historical event.

    Given the complexity and detailed nature of the matters covered in the book, the organization and presentation is very good. My one significant criticism has to do with the fact that many of the topographical features discussed in the book are not located on any map. To cite several examples, Greasy Grass Ridge, Deep Ravine, Calhoun Coulee, and Henryville are oft-mentioned in the text, but they are not located on any of the book’s 15 maps.

    Conclusion: For the generalist, this is a three-star book. For the avid or serious scholar of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, it is a five-star book. Taking the average, I give the book four stars.

  • Al Yiatch
    2:05 on May 29th, 2012
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    As an avid interestologist regarding Army v. Native American battles of the “Indian Wars”, I appreciate the expertise of the writing….the history that hasn’t ended regarding the Battle of the Little Bighorn…..however let me use the big word ‘BUT” I was disappointed in the few photos in the book. Having other works of similar idea (ex: The Black Hills. Then and now.) I expected to see more “then and now” comparisons. The writngs are, more or less, a rehash of other historical printings. Though well written, the title eludes to the “photographic composites” that aren’t there. These authors, one of which I knew well, are capable of more.

  • Mars Attack
    3:46 on May 29th, 2012
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    This is the best Custer/Little Big Horn book in years, maybe the best ever. It delves deeply into the critical issues of the Sioux Campaign of 1876, but not with the volumes of trivia that put a reader to sleep. It is a lively, enjoyable read, factual, and balanced as far as fairness to the indians and U.S. Cavalry. Its strength comes from the incredible research done by the author, as the 83-page bibliography attests to. It includes new and indepth findings about Custer and the Seventh Cavalry, Frederick Whittaker (Custer’s first biographer), and about the 1879 Reno Court of Inquiry where the Army tried to minimize the disastrous defeat and loss of military personnel at the hands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The battle coverage is exciting, uncontrived, and certainly educational. The aftermath of the battle is extremely well-covered, underscoring the dranatic effect the battle’s outcome had for Native Americans, U.S. military capabilities, and American history in general. Every reader will learn new things, even the most serious students of the Little Big Horn battle. Its fun to be so entertained while being educated as well. Thanks, Mr. Donovan.

  • Carl Megill
    4:50 on May 29th, 2012
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    A terrific book on a popular subject. Very concise, with a bent against Reno but we’ll never really know what happened. Story really flies when it gets to the actual last stand and its aftermath. Worth the read, along with THE LAST STAND that came out this year. Both definitely worth the time if this subject interests you.

  • It's official!
    5:29 on May 29th, 2012
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    For nearly a century and a half, the Battle of Little Bighorn has been a part of our nation`s collective knowledge and language, an event used as a metaphor for everything from foolhardy determination to one last, heroic quest. Even those who don’t know of Custer’s achievements in the Civil War or his desire for political office know that he was front and center in the most famous massacre in American history.

    Although many accounts of the battle exist, James Donovan`s “A Terrible Glory” claims to be the first book to relate the entire story, and the first to include new findings which significantly alter the perception of this battle, the military response to the events and the attraction the public has had for the great mystery of what happened in Custer’s final hours.

    Donovan weaves overwhelming research and detail into his narration, often pausing and backing up to paint the full picture of the events as they develop. His characters, from Custer to Crazy Horse and General Grant, are presented with the depth of a Larry McMurtry novel, a monumental achievement in recreating men who died over a hundred years ago. He approaches the battle from all angles, allowing the different stories to slowly build toward their inevitable clash.

    The marriage of captivating story with enchanted researcher/writer often proves to be an incendiary combination. Donavon’s meticulous approach and seemingly total immersion into writing this story create the feeling that the author rode alongside the subject of his life’s work. With “A Terrible Glory”, we ride with him.

  • MatchMate
    5:43 on May 29th, 2012
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    This was somewhat of a disappointment despite being a “good read”. The story is compelling and the characters well-developed (especially Custer, Benteen, Reno, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse). But, there seems to be so much supposition and a major assumption that Little Bighorn was Reno’s and Benteen’s big mistake–historically inaccurately blamed on a somewhat impetuous Custer. Apparently, Benteen and Reno hated Custer. I have no idea whether that’s accurate or not–but I don’t see much evidence for that view except for opinion.
    The book is very empathetic to Custer even while displaying some of his less enviable qualities, impetuousness and a need to control just two of those.

  • New Guy
    7:50 on May 29th, 2012
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    After being to the battlefield the book expresses a realistic interpretation of the actual events that took place. Research of archives and photos are extemely well done. Recommend.

  • it works
    8:26 on May 29th, 2012
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    This book is a good read of the battle. I enjoyed it. The interpretation of the Reno component is interesting, though borders potentially a bit on bias. The Reno/Benteen/Custer relationship was clearly complex, and it is hard for any of us to judge any of these people too harshly without knowing them. Custer was probably a highly competent jerk. Most people in leadership roles have elements of this characteristic. In his role as commanding officer of the 7th, the behavior and psyche of his officers was probably in part self-fulfilling to his own behavior toward them. Many authors focus on the strengths or failings of the main actors in this drama, as Donovan has done with Reno, but few look for a deeper analysis of the dynamic aspects of the relationships. Did Custer create a relationship environment in which neither Reno or Benteen felt they owed him that much, and perhaps not enough to take a risk to rescue him? Perhaps both Reno and Benteen had a pretty good feeling Custer was in trouble? This came to mind in reading Donovan’s account. I probably don’t agree with the proposed sequence of action on the final ridge action from Calhoun Hill to Custer Hill. It seems to me to possibly be at odds with the archeological evidence. What troubled me about this authors’ account of the battle were the somewhat fictionalized parts for the aspects that for which we don’t have records, testimony, or scientific data. I would have preferred that the author, rather than try to ‘tell a story’, instead informed the reader where speculation is being made and where not. Those who are not students of the battle may assume that some of the book’s battle interpretation is fact, when it isn’t. I probably couldn’t bring myself to write like this, but I respect the total package the author has put together, albeit in his style. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

  • Russell White
    10:42 on May 29th, 2012
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    The authors’ goal in this publication is to resolve some historical questions and cast perspectives regarding both the battle, battlefield, and historical photographs of the battlefield. This is not a picture book for tourists. The text is well written and more for the student of the battle. Even those who are well read on the topic will find some gems of interesting information in here. I think some contextual photographs would have been helpful, such as of the Crow’s nest, the present likely lines of Reno’s valley action, etc.. I think the thing I most miss is precise GPS coordinates of the camera locations. This would have been extremely helpful to do direct by eye comparisons when visiting the battlefield. This alone also might have made the book more popular for the casual tourists. Hopefully a future edition will have this data. I would recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the battle.

  • Trevor Adheen
    11:34 on May 29th, 2012
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    The basic arguments over what actually happened at the Little Bighorn, why and who should be blamed haven’t really changed much since 1876. If you like movies, is Custer the man from They Died with their Boots On? or the egomanical madman from Little Big Man? This tends to go with Custer as flawed hero and paints a very well drawn picture of Custer during the Civil War in which he was one of the great heros of the war, with cause. It’s reasonably clear that no one from Custer on up through his chain of command believed that there was any real possibility of total disaster. After all,the largest military disaster prior to Custer’s Last Stand was the Fetterman massacre involving some 80 men, and Fetterman had no reputation to speak of. So, everyone in the campaign was far more concerned that the Sioux would simply melt away before they could be engaged, much like the similar contemporary campaign and disaster against the Zulu in South Africa. In both cases, the locals were eager to fight it out, on their own terms, of course.

    The basic arguments are very well presented, and the author provides very reasonable arguments as to why Custer did what he did and what he was trying to accomplish. Could Custer’s 2nd in command, Major Reno have turned the tide by pressing the attack on the Sioux from a different direction, and/or Captain Benteen? Why did Reno fail to act? The author has very strong opinions on those questions, but they should be taken with a least a grain of salt. There has never been a definitive answer and there never will be one as we can’t know what Reno saw when he approached the village. We do know that all of Custer’s command died and most of Reno’s men survived. However, regardless of what you think of his arguments, the book is well written and provides excellent context.

  • James Lucas
    11:46 on May 29th, 2012
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    I love history, and in particular, the newer wave of books documenting the history of famous incidents through the lens of research and original documents. They often paint a very different picture of the events than what many of us have grown up believing. To read all the reviews of this book, I thought I was going to learn a lot about G. A. Custer that I didn’t know and would be enlightened by the story of Custer and the 7th Cavalry. While the promise of new facts and a different spin on the story than that of what I had grown up believing were there, this book was just too darn full of trivia (in my mind, at least) to make for an interesting read. As the story unfolds, the author takes the time to tell us how virtually every soldier was killed; when, where, how and there was so many little details like this, that I felt the real story of the Little Bighorn was muddied by it. Compared to David Hackett Fischer’s “Washington’s Crossing”, for example, where the same level of detail fills the book, but the story is told in such a way that I couldn’t put the book down until I’d read it cover-to-cover. I can’t say that happened with “A Terrible Glory”…

    I did find the details surrounding the Native American players in the story to be informative and compelling. That part was worth the price of the book.

  • Jason R..
    13:54 on May 29th, 2012
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    The heart of this large-format volume is the collection of old photographs (on dating back to within a year of the famous battle of the Little Bighorn battlefield, amny of them paired with modern photographs taken from the same spot, to show changes between then and now — and to answer questions about where the original photographs were taken. It is a technique very much in the tradition of William Frassanito with his work in American Civil War photography, and in some cases the photographic detective work provides new evidence towards solving old mysteries.

    Besides the photographs, the book offers solid, insightful text, discussing both the photographs and the battle itself.

    One of the co-authors — Brian Prohanka — recently died. A well-known expert in the Civil War as well the Little Big Horn, the present volume makes a valuable,lasting, and appropriate memorial to someone who was truly a gentleman and a scholar.

  • Chris Sorel
    15:11 on May 29th, 2012
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    Because I am working on a related project, I’ve read quite a bit of the Custer literature lately, both scholarly works and more popular treatments. I hasten to clarify that I am not a Custer enthusiast or expert, and that the existing literature is sprawling at least. I was skeptical of yet another general treatment of the battle, but Donovan’s writing makes the scene come alive in almost cinematic fashion. Reading this book enabled me to clearly visualize how events unfolded, which is no small task. As a scholar with a general working knowledge, I’m impressed with his diligent mining of primary sources, old and new, and by his artful use of obscure but telling details to bring events and people-mainly U.S. Army soldiers- to life. The bibliography leaves little to be desired, but the book reads like a novel. While personalities come vividly to light, Donovan does not dwell on the persona of Custer, and he rejects the notion that Custer’s actions doomed the Seventh cavalry. Rather, by linking together unfolding circumstances and decisions as if a clock is ticking, he makes the battle seem almost like a “perfect storm” of errors colliding to ensnare Custer and his men-perhaps this was Sitting Bull’s medicine? He also makes a strong case for Custer having been scapegoated after the battle in order to obscure the conduct and decisions of others, including his superiors and, of course, Reno. In other words, an informed and nuanced reading, narrated with remarkable clarity and verve.

  • Sanitary iPad
    16:41 on May 29th, 2012
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    This ably written popular history of the U. S. Army’s 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne clearly targets the general reader more than readers familiar with the wars against the Plains Indians. This is shown by the author’s provision of considerable background material designed to familiarize the reader with the situation facing the combatants in 1876. This includes summaries of the careers of the main personalities on both sides, the history of the unceasing pressure on the Sioux and other tribes from the 1860′s on, the Indian way of life and method of fighting (and the US military’s contemptuous lack of understanding of the same), the lack of training and experience among US soldiers, the frequently poor quality of the soldiers themselves, the often bitter dislikes and rivalries among the Army’s officers and the high degree of racism and greed that fueled the Plains wars. Much of this can only be sketched because a single volume of 401 pages of text prevents detailed exposition of this general background (interested readers can find more detailed information on these subjects relatively easily). All of this material and more will be familiar to readers knowledgeable about the destruction of the Plains tribes.

    The book is a narrative of the facts much more than an analysis of the events, although Donovan does comment on some factors such as Reno’s failures both in the valley and on the hill and Custer’s repeated splitting of his 660 man force in the face of greatly superior numbers. Donovan does a good job of evaluating the often conflicting factual evidence. In the end, he cannot fully solve the mystery of why Custer did what he did for the simple reason that neither Custer nor any of the key officers who accompanied him on his last foray were around to explain their actions. Donovan does occasionally make some educated guesses on the “whys” that are reasonably insightful and he is good at providing information and letting the reader draw his own conclusions. For example he discusses the success that US foces had enjoyed against Plains tribes although often fighting greatly superior numbers, notes the Army’s lack of understanding of how the Indians fought (particularly their reluctance to “stand and fight” to the end with the heavy losses entailed thereby, a tactic that demographics made impossible for the tribes but that the soldiers often mistook for cowardice) and explains the elementary tactics that had so often brought the Army success.

    Donovan is particularly good in discussing Reno’s conduct during his badly handled attack in the valley and later in the makeshift position on the hill. He carefully weighs the evidence but, aside from showing that Reno was probably drinking heavily throughout the engagements, pretty much lets the reader evaluate the facts for himself. These fights had plenty of survivors, many of whom had strong opinions (mostly hostile to Reno and laudatory of Benteen). Most were willing to share them with fiends and Army cronies but were not willing to speak frankly for official purposes. Some were concerned about their own conduct, some feared making professional enemies and all were concerned about the image of the regiment and the Army generally. The Army brass also wanted to look good. All concerned were only too willing to participate in a whitewash at the Reno Court of Inquiry, although they continued to blister Reno privately for many years after. The Army set up the dead Custer as the scapegoat, calling him rash, overly aggressive, a glory hunter and accusing him of failing to follow orders. Custer certainly made mistakes (plenty) but so did many others, including his superiors. None of the senior campaign leaders (Crook, Gibbon and Terry) performed particularly well in the campaign and much could arguably be laid at their respective doors. In context, Custer’s blunders are understandable if, in the end, perhaps not forgivable.

    The book then traces the aftermath in summary form to and including the 7th Cav’s Wounded Knee attack on surrendering Indians and the events surrounding it. This part of the book again covers a lot of ground, including Libbie Custer’s efforts to remedy what she saw as the injustices to her dead husband and the subsequent careers of some of the main survivors. Again this is done briefly, probably again for reasons of space.

    In short, James Donovan tries to provide the general reader with all he needs to know about the 1876 campaign, its culminating disaster and its aftermath. Overall he does a good job. He has pursued the evidence and evaluated it well with no unfair axes to grind. He is especially good at using the evidence of lower ranking officers, common soldiers and Indian witnesses (including those serving with the US Army). His writing is clear and readable. This is an excellent overview for anyone wanting basic facts and knowledge and it provides an excellent start for those interested enough to want to pursue the issues themselves.

  • simpleuser
    17:55 on May 29th, 2012
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    Having been to the Little Bighorn Battle site twice, I found this book wonderfully fascinatng… to compare the old photos with the new ones.
    The authors took great pains to point out specific distances or spots by using people to stand in various places or by the use of “arrows”. I especially liked the use of maps of the areas with details showing which way the camera was pointed for each of the individual shots.
    Well done! I’m very glad to have this book in my collection.

  • Steven Daniels
    18:53 on May 29th, 2012
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    “A Terrible Glory” is one of the few books I’ve read on 1800′s era history. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the claims or facts presented in this book.

    However, I can comment on the book’s “readability” and apparent credibility…and ATG is an enjoyable work!! My prior opinion on Custer was one of a vain fop. However, the author brings the the man into light a one of social genius and puckish ego. If accurate, everyone knows someone like Custer and the author’s telling helps the reader step into the book easily.

    Presentation of facts and subsequent analysis are, in my opinion, fair and intelligently presented – no one has a time machine, so at some point the reader needs to suspend any argument and just read.

    One topic clearly and succinctly addressed is that of treatment of the Native Americans – of course, you’ll judge for yourself, but I found the author to be fair and rational, avoiding emotional extremes on such a volatile subject. Someone with a topical interest in Native American settlement will likely find themselves confident in either their new knowledge or clarified retelling of history.

    Because of the easy writing and colorful subject, ATG is recommended as a read to consume in one or compacted sitting.

  • infiniti
    20:43 on May 29th, 2012
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    This book provides a unique approach to the analysis of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. By using photographs as testimony, the authors help reveal some errors in how the battle has been analyzed in the past. By comparing photos from the past to current photos, the book illustrates how some features of the battle site have changed including the placement of gravemarkers. It is fascinating to see how photographs taken shortly after the battle reveal hidden facts about Custer’s famous Last Stand. It is also interesting to see the process of how the battlefield came to look as it currently does through photos over time. However, this book is only recommended for true Custer buffs and those who have actually been to the battlefield. For those who are students of the battle, I highly recommend it.

  • DataPipe
    22:22 on May 29th, 2012
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    This is a great publication.
    I have always loved books like this that show historical images then and now.
    I highly reccomend this book to anybody with an interest in history.

  • don't care
    23:59 on May 29th, 2012
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    James Donovan’s “A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn: The Last Great Battle of the American West” is not a book aimed primarily at the serious student of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. There are numerous books published each year about this famous battle, but most of them are full of dense, intricate arguments about quite narrow aspects of the historical event and really only of interest to — or even intelligible by — the serious Little Bighorn student (I should know — I am one; and I completely understand that many works that I find fascinating would inevitably be rated as “unreadable” by most readers.) Donovan’s book is something else entirely: a thorough, highly detailed narrative, drawn from primary sources (not just a tired rehash of secondary accounts, as is too often the case with such books), mountains of evidence carefully sifted and weighed, resulting in a judicious, well-balanced, fair-minded analysis of what actually happened.

    It’s a big book — nearly 400 pages of text plus voluminous and valuable source notes — that provides background and context and also vivid word portraits of personalities and activities. I consider it be quite simply the best available account of the Little Bighorn for the intelligent general reader who wants to know what was what and who was who, without those biases and distortions so common in writings about Custer and his last battle.

    In the book’s foreword, Donovan comments that he has departed from the strict historical record only in the area of the part played by Custer’s direct command after he had sent his last messenger. Of necessity, any account of those activities requires interpretation of highly conflicting evidence and of some plain-old educated guesswork — and James Donovan has done a superlative job of crafting a reasonable, plausible account of what happened.

  • Silvrhelm
    1:39 on May 30th, 2012
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    Wonderful book – perfect gift for a spouse hooked on the Plains Indian Wars.Reminded us of the priviledge of walking the battlefield in 1991, following the ebb and flow of the battle.Made us want to come again. Thanks Amazon, for such a great find

  • acres
    2:49 on May 30th, 2012
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    An excellant book on the subject of the battle of the Little Bighorn. The author provides a complete look at all the aspects of the battle including what led up to it, how it took place, and what happened after. One could read this book and have a very thorough understanding of the battle. However, as the history of the battle is endlessly complex and full of countless unanswered questions, the author’s best guess at some situations may not jive with the guesses of others. That is to be expected, of course, and is the reason we will be reading books on this subject forever. For those who are new to the study of this battle, this is a good start. It is easy to read and hard to put down.

  • SomeoneKnows
    3:33 on May 30th, 2012
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    I have a BA in History, and have researched over the last 40 years the Indian Wars and Battles.

    Custer’s battle over these 40 years has changed in perspective from the real truth, very much.

    The archeology research and the using of the Indian’s interviews taken before the Indian participants all died, have changed what “really happened”.

    I have been to the battle field. I spent over two days going over the 5 mile battle on foot last year. This book is the “greatest” for being able to see what, Custer and Indians saw, and what it looks like today. It’s easy now to see the nuances that have occurred over the last 130 years to the terrain and how they affected the battle.

  • Danny Sullivan
    3:52 on May 30th, 2012
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    A detailed and innovative work, the 2005 book “Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now” by James Brust, Brian Pohanka and Sandy Barnard, is an obsessive investigation of the famous Montana battlefield. Please be warned, this is not a book for those unfamiliar with the battle. I’ve read 8-10 books on the legendary confrontation, starting with Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn, and continuing with Custer’s Luck, A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, Custer’s Last Campaign: Mitch Boyer and the Little Bighorn Reconstructed and so on, and I had to reread several passages for proper understanding. It can be slow going as dedicated authors comb over every inch, gully and coulee.

    Much to my surprise, their work pays off. Most notably, they have convincingly established where Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s body was actually found compared to the stone marker location of today. By utilizing fascinating photographs taken in 1877 and 1879 (the battle took place in June of 1876), they have effectively proven the marker location viewed by millions of tourists is the place where Custer was hastily buried, while the spot where his body was discovered was closer to the huge stone monument on the crest of Last Stand Hill. Other aspects of the legend are supported and disproven by their painstaking work. “Where Custer Fell” is a great continuation of the evolution on theories of the battle, clearing up several mysteries which will perhaps continue as long as we remember the epic confrontation.

    As just about everyone reading this knows, Custer split his men into four groups when riding down into the Little Big Horn Valley, including Captain Thomas McDougall’s slow-moving pack train, Captain Frederick Benteen’s men to the far south, Major Marcus Reno’s men attacking the Native American village from the south, and Custer himself riding north along the ridges with 200-plus men to the opposite end of the village. McDougall, Benteen and Reno would eventually band together to hold off the warriors during a two-day siege. Custer and his companies, riding three miles to the north out of view, were famously destroyed to a man over a period of roughly an hour. The fascination of this battle is the mystery of what exactly happened to Custer and his men, many of whom perished on Last Stand Hill next to the park headquarters today.

    Authors have rifled through archaeological records from the 1980s (Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of Little Bighorn), detailed historical interviews (The Custer Myth, Indian Views Of The Custer Fight: A Source Book) and numerous black and white photographs taken a few years after the battle. By matching their own contemporary photos, in almost every case snapping the pictures in the exact spot of pioneer photographers more than 100 years ago, they establish several forgotten locations of the extensive fighting.

    Notably, they discovered the location of the morass where men watered their horses en route to the battle (a key location as it provides clues to times of specific confrontations and Benteen’s progress to eventually assist Reno). They also located the hill known as the “Crow’s Nest,” where Custer’s guides first viewed the Native American village on the Little Big Horn River. Reno’s initial crossing of the river prior to his charge is also found, though today the water has changed course and the bed is dry. Haunting photographs of Last Stand Hill taken 1-3 years after the battle reveal a spot shockingly littered with horse bones and soldier boots, but they detail locations staked out where bodies fell. The number of wooden stakes, when compared to the locale today, shows far fewer in number than the stone markers presently in place. Authors hypothesize that roughly 20-30 men discovered in Deep Ravine, south of Last Stand Hill towards the river, never had markers appropriately placed where they fell. So the military detail responsible for placing the famous white stone markers in the 1890s most likely placed them on the hill due to misinformation, if not exhaustion. Thus, roughly 20 additional stone markers surround Custer’s than men who actually perished at the Last Stand spot.

    The beauty of this book is authors establish that many markers, specifically on Calhoun Hill and the Miles Keogh area east of the Last Stand, remain accurate compared to what was historically discovered in 1876. And so the white stone markers, noted by every single visitor to the battlefield today, are in fact a rough but essentially accurate interpretation little changed since the 19th century.

    “Where Custer Fell” also documents how well preserved the battlefield is, with almost every area relatively unchanged since the 1870s, with the exception of tree growth and the river’s changing course. The great frustration of visiting Custer battlefield today is so many areas including the “Crow’s Nest,” the eastern Keogh area, the site of Reno’s retreat, among others, can only be viewed from afar, if at all. “Where Custer Fell” allows you to visit these sites up close and personal. But if you have never before read about the Battle of Little Big Horn, this book is not the place to start.

  • William R. Murray
    5:17 on May 30th, 2012
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    There is no doubt that Jim Donovan has the best word in research for a general-audience Little Bighorn work. He carefully documents his research, allows the reader to make his or her own assessments on many controversies of the battle and its background, and does a good job of presenting that background.

    That said, Donovan’s writing style, contrary to some reviewers’ blurbs, while not necessarily pedestrian, is definitely stilted at times and also grating at times. For instance, I think I would have torn out what’s left of my hair if I heard the phrase “dundreary Cooke” one more time.

    Oh, and is copy editing becoming that lost of an art? Officers’ titles do NOT capitalize, per either Chicago Manual for books or AP for media, but they’re capitalizes all over the place in the book, something I found offputting and annoying.

    This is nowhere near “Son of the Morning Star” stylistically. One other reviewer mentions “John Gray.” I’ve not read his two works, but, from reviews of them, think they are “wanting” for some of the same reasons I have problems with Donovan — too laudatory of Custer (see below).

    But, let’s get to the meat of the book.

    While Custer’s reputation, certainly among his surviving contemporaries in the Army officer corps, may have been more sinned against than sinning, Donovan’s fulcrum for the book is a false dichotomy: Reno’s cowardice/drunkenness/incompentence vs. Custer’s incompetence/disobedience/arrogance.

    There IS no dichotomy. Both are possible; more than that, both are actual, and were actual.

    Yes, Terry’s orders were discretionary. Nonetheless, if Custer had listened to his scouts, he might have waited a day for battle. If the Greasy Grass encampment started to scatter, he could pick off fair-sized chunks before it got too small. Also, of course, if had listened to his scouts, he never would have divided his forces.

    And, yes, there was the hurry of battle, but the hurry was not so hurried for Custer to more carefully make his decisions and deployments. Most sinful of all was splitting his own five companies into two.

    Well, maybe not retreating when he had the chance was the most sinful of all.

    And, as one other reviewer argues, the “Custer luck” was by no means a sure thing before June 25, 1876. He escaped with not a lot more than his skin at Trevilian Station in 1864, as one other reviewer notes.

    And, there are errors, not all of them mild.

    Donovan says Custer was on post-war Reconstruction duty in Elizabethtown, Ky. As Kentucky never seceded (though a slave state), this was not Reconstruction duty.

    He also glosses lightly over Custer’s political activity in Reconstruction years. During the start of that time, he openly called for moderation toward the South.

    Lesser errors: The Little Missouri flows into the Missouri, not the Yellowstone.1876 gave the Dems the first shot at winning an election in 16 years, not 20. President Monroe moved Indian tribes east of the Mississippi, not west, to Indian Territory.

    Finally, the book is a hybrid. It attempts to background Custer without doing as well as it could, and it attempts to go more in-depth into the battle itself than, say, Connell, without doing as well as a more technical book.

    Even as I write this review, I’ve been wavering on the 3/4 star border. But, because too many people have uncritically five-starred it, and reviews on Amazon don’t happen in a vacuum, “A Terrible Glory” falls to three stars.

    Beyond reviewing it in light of other reviewers, this review has to be seen in light of expectations raised by professional reviewers, especially those fulsome in praise of Donovan’s narrative as well as his research.

    That said, if you approach this book with lowered expectations and a thirst to wrestle with issues at the Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass, this is a good opener.

    For the larger historical picture, I recommend two classics: The Last Days of the Plains Indian, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Among new books, from what I’ve read in reviews, Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle,by Richard A. Fox, sounds like it is a definite read.

  • Pearl Hsia
    7:27 on May 30th, 2012
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    I read this and two other books (Robert Utley’s Custer and the Great Controversy, and Nathaniel Philbrick’s the last stand) to sort out the attacks and counter attacks on Custer as a result of the events at Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. As anyone who has ventured into the controversy knows, no definitive understanding can be achieved, and it is highly unlikely that we will ever know all the details of what exactly happened on that day.

    Donovan’s book is quite helpful in sorting out the events as much as they can be clarified. Along with Utley’s more scholarly but dryer Custer and the Great Controversy, a fairly decent understanding can be achieved, well enough to hold your own if you should ever find yourself trapped between Custer apologists and detractors.

    If anything, I think Donovan’s take reinforces those who question Custer’s decisions at Little Bighorn. For instance, Donovan brings up these issues:

    * Custer failed to convey an overall strategy to Major Reno and Captain Benteen that might have helped them understand and support Custer. This failure to convey a strategy is especially damning when it is considered that Custer split his much smaller force multiple times without developing a battle strategy. Splitting smaller forces was proved quite effective by Confederate generals during the Civil War less than 20 years prior, but the Confederate actions were closely coordinated and executed by seasoned officers comfortable in working with one another, for the most part. Donovan points to Captain Myles Maylan’s criticism of Custer for splitting his forces as the pivotal error in determining the outcome, and I’m inclined instinctively to agree.

    * Custer knew (directly and through message) of Reno’s retreat after the golden-haired general sent the drinking alcoholic (drinking during battle happened, but Reno did it to excess) Reno and 100 men against the Cheyenne and Sioux camp, which was three miles in length and whose warriors greatly outnumbered Custer’s unified command. While it was standard operating procedure for US cavalry to coordinate attacks on Indian camps from different directions, one would think Custer should have been doubting his chances of success at this point.

    * Before attacking the superior force of Cheyenne and Sioux, Custer had in effect surrounded the encampment and presumably could have maintained close contact until US forces already on the way arrived. There seems to be little support for the urgency of attacking the encampment with his much weaker force.

    Donovan pads out his text to 400 pages by putting the battle in the context of campaigns against the various tribes in the region, which is nice to know type of information. And, he does it in a most readable fashion.

  • Barbera Skeen
    8:13 on May 30th, 2012
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    I’m a junkie on this subject. Have read most of the major books on the battle, so I’d say, honestly, I wasn’t prepared to be impressed. But I feel compelled to write a review here because I’m so pleasantly surprised. This topic has been well published, but this new book is GREAT. This author must have done some serious digging, because this book includes material I’ve never seen in any other book. Robert Utley was right about this book (if you’re not a regular of the genre, he’s the dean of writers on the American West). He’s quoted as saying ‘the research into firsthand sources is broader and deeper than I have ever seen’. To Custerphiles like myelf, that says something.

    There IS a lot of information here, but it’s skillfully blended into the narrative, and the author did a good job of synthesizing all the material (the Indian and white accounts, and the new archaeological and forensic research and analysis from the past few decades). It also seems like the author went to great lengths to show the Indian side of the story, which is a plus.

    As you’ll see, the book contains 83 pages of notes. But don’t let that fool you; it’s not a dry, academic type of read at all. (In fact, I’d say it’s better written than anything else I’ve read on this subject.) And there’s a lot of extra supporting material in all those notes, if you want to read them. But, notes or no notes–this is just a great read, and a wonderful new entry in the field. Good job, Mr. Donovan. (And, by the way, your publisher did a nice job, too. I’m a “book” person, and this book is quite handsome, both inside and out.)

  • Fox con
    10:18 on May 30th, 2012
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    I generally (no pun intended) liked this book. It was a very good supplement to other LBH books, and covers new ground. (again, no play on words) However, it was sorely lacking in maps. It had a few, very few, but was certainly difficult to follow troop movements without these maps. Granted, (again,…) many readers will be familiar with the battle, and the troop, and Indian, movements during the action, but reading along and trying to visualize what is occurring is not always easy without prior knowledge.
    For all the author’s research, and there clearly is a lot, with tremendous references and notes, the lack of maps and diagrams showing the action is a real disadvantage to this book.

  • Jon Nestorovic
    12:08 on May 30th, 2012
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    The latest book on Custer and Little Bighorn, James Donovan’s A Terrible Glory is a popular history which compliments existing literature, but fails to add new information on the subject. The book begins with a pedestrian, though thankfully brief, history of Indian relations with the U.S. government and then introduces the reader to Custer. Donovan’s enthusiasm for the “Boy General” is a bit disconcerting as he paints a picture of Custer as an almost universally loved figure despite, Donovan notes, his tendency to be tyrannical. Custer’s rash behavior is often overlooked and woefully under analyzed by the author. The book continues to chronologically precede forward, following the Seventh Cavalry on their trek towards disaster, the ensuing massacre, the Reno Court of Inquiry, and a very brief overview of Wounded Knee. Little of what Donovan presents is new or fresh. His writing, unfortunately, is somewhat sub-par for a poplar history and is often repetitive. Such as when he points out several times that Custer and several others were not scalped because they had their hair cut short before they left. It is admirable that Donovan does try to give a voice to individuals who have often been overlooked by past accounts, such as the average trooper in the Seventh Cavalry, but it is not enough to make this a five star book. Having read the book, I would wait for the paperback edition or go to the library rather than purchase the hardcover edition.

    If I were to recommend one book on Custer and Little Bighorn, I would still pick Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star over A Terrible Glory because of its exceptional writing, overwhelming attention to historical detail, and analysis.

  • niki paul
    14:02 on May 30th, 2012
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    If you enjoy reading about archaeological digs and how scientific fact may dispell myths, this book could be for you. It’s an extensive catalogue of pictures and narratives that try to make sense at what happened that terrible Sunday afternoon in June, 1876, when Custer conducted his ill fated invasion north of one of the largest Indian encampments ever assembled and rode into American folklore. No pictures ever documented the battlefield until years later with most Americans wanting to forget this grim episode. But Custer, whether you respect him or not, is part of our history and this book closely traces the movement of his troops that day trying to discern exactly what happened which still today largely remains a mystery. The pictures capture not only the important battlefied sites at the time, ie Reno’s defensive position and Weir’s Point, but what the sites resemble today. What’s remarkable is how pristine the sites have remained, even to this day. The narrative is a bit dry but informative but with some new information. Thanks to metal detectors the authors were able to surmise the final defensive positions of the troops. Much as been written about that day, but for any student of the battle, this book is a must for their collection.

    Robert S.

  • Nicola Ray
    16:12 on May 30th, 2012
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    The project that sent three historians trudging across every acre of Custer Battlefield and beyond is finally complete – for now. “Where Custer Fell” is a testament to the teamwork, fellow admiration, and knowledge of Dr. James Brust, the late Brian Pohanka, and Sandy Barnard.

    The concept behind “Where Custer Fell” is something I’ve wanted to see ever since I found the book “Yellow Ore, Yellow Hair, Yellow Pine: A Photographic Study of a Century of Forest Ecology” during my first trip to the Black Hills in 1978. The spiral book by Donald R. Progulske and Richard H. Sowell is a study of the 1874 Black Hills expedition led by George A. Custer told in before and after photographs. Photographer Sowell researched historic photos of Custer’s camps including the long lines of wagons, livestock, and soldiers beside mountains, forest, and streams. Sowell then hiked throughout the Black Hills to locate the exact spot from which the historic photos were shot – there he set up the camera and snapped a contemporary photo. The before and after photos included in “Yellow Ore” give the reader an opportunity to look at and wonder how much the landscape has changed due to man and nature.

    Brust had similar ideas, however his subject would be the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The task he found himself under far outweighed the requirements Sowell encountered – Sowell was looking at one set of historic photos. Brust’s monumental mission involved one of the most photographed battlefields of the Indian Wars — photographers have been active there since 1877!

    Brust soon realized that he couldn’t do it alone. Coming on board next to help with the project was Brian Pohanka followed not long afterwards by Barnard. Together they would spend many seasons walking over the battlefield – over a decade. Imagine how long it would’ve taken Brust to do it alone.

    “Where Custer Fell” is richly researched and elegantly written. The three authors have provided us an invaluable resource regarding the changing faces of Custer Battlefield – it’s quite surprising to discover just how little the face has changed.

    The story of Custer’s Last Stand has been told in countless books, so why another – what can this book offer that others do not? I have to admit that I don’t read every single book regarding this subject because many are just not worth the cost or time required, especially when they are fraught with redundancy or biased viewpoints. We are fortunate that Brust, Pohanka, and Barnard have provided a book that is indeed very much worth its inexpensive price and our time spent studying it.

    “Where Custer Fell” is not a rehash of the same old stuff, albeit some of it may be well known to the average Custer buff. However, I dare any buff, after completely reading the book, to walk away without an extensive body of new and refreshing historical material.

    We are not forced to waddle through the causes and aftermath of the Sioux War – instead, the authors start their story as Custer divides his forces the afternoon of June 25, 1876. The narrative is the most all-embracing and satisfying telling of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in decades – even for the expert. Sharing in this adventure are the wonderful historic and comparison photos. As I turned each page the excitement of what the next photo might reveal was masterful.

    The authors provide many interpretations from different historians, however they set their own course; analyze the facts, and draw their own unique conclusions. The narrative does not burden us with finger pointing or blaming of individual battle participants. The story is told, as all books on this subject should be, in a completely objective manner. And, in doing so, the narrative does not fall into a common trap when telling this story – the authors do not speculate or pretend to know what a battle participant may have been thinking just to fill any unknowns or gaps. “Where Custer Fell” is history written at its best.

    What are some questions the authors help answer?

    ·Identification of Reno’s first crossing of the Little Bighorn.
    ·Location of the morass.
    ·Exceptional analysis of the Valley Fight including the skirmish line, and the location of the timber that Reno’s forces moved into from the skirmish line.
    ·Fascinating events surrounding the Charlie Reynolds and Donald McIntosh markers.
    ·Whether the Reno-Benteen Monument was moved from a different location.
    ·New revelations for the true locations of the Butler and Bobo markers.
    .How far north of Last Stand Hill did Custer’s battalion do battle.
    ·How much, if at all, Last Stand Hill has changed since 1876.

    That just touches the surface of what is covered in this book – there is so much more.

    The authors save their most extensive coverage for Last Stand Hill. A worthwhile map is included which locates each marker, within the fence, and its respective number along with identification of each officer’s marker. Included is an impressive full-page photo – the first taken of Last Stand Hill in 1877 by John Fouch. And, as the books’ title promises, the authors put to rest the debate as to where Custer actually fell with clear and persuasive evidence.

    Predominantly, the complete photographic study delivers a most gratifying finish — assurance that efforts by the NPS and countless individuals have achieved a remarkable accomplishment with maintaining the battlefield and surrounding environs in pristine condition. When we visit the Custer Battlefield we see pretty much what Custer, Reno, Benteen, and hundreds of the soldiers and Indians saw on June 25-26, 1876.

    I cannot speak lightly regarding the significance of “Where Custer Fell.” Its legacy will live on for decades much like Edgar Stewart’s “Custer’s Luck” and John Gray’s “Custer’s Last Battle.”

    Note: Each chapter includes a topographical map pinpointing the location of each photo presented – a simple but valuable tool that makes following the storyline easy.

    You can learn more about this book by reading interviews with the authors Dr. James Brust and Sandy Barnard at the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield website — friendslittlebighorn.com

  • susanborst
    19:10 on May 30th, 2012
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    The author obviously has read the account of Reno`s Court Martial and used this as a partial basis for his book. However, I feel he was in fantasy land when he was trying to write the saga when Custer got whipped. No one knows for sure how he and his men died but the author seems to know how everything happened. Some of his “facts” have been disproven and he states some “facts” that are pure fiction. He has a good imagination and does do a good job of telling his version of what happened.
    As far as historical data he does a fairly good job. The book is entertaining.

  • Vinny
    20:29 on May 30th, 2012
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    This was the first book I read on the subject and I found it exciting, well written and completely unbiased (other than being understandably sympathetic of the plight of the American Indians). I read the critical review and none say that the facts are wrong. Those reviewers have a problem with the way the facts are presented; which is unwarranted. Donovan is as critical of Custer as he is the other officers involved. This book creates an incredible image of the battle from the beginning to the end and for that reason alone, it is worth reading. I was on the edge of my seat with every page. Picture watching a horror movie. You want to yell at the screen DON’T open that DOOR! Well, while reading this book you’ll want to yell, don’t go over that ridge!

  • ctaylor
    22:30 on May 30th, 2012
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    As others have attested, this is a superb collection of photos, and the text is scrupulous and compelling. You have to love the battlefield to want this book, but if you do, then you can’t live without this. What’s great is that you emerge with a sense that the battlefield hasn’t been standing still for years, but slowly changing over time. Pair this book with Greene’s new “Stricken Field” and you realize that history is constantly being made before our eyes.

  • Jonathan Ruff
    23:11 on May 30th, 2012
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    A superior new book on the famous Little Bighorn Campaign based on primary sources and more recent historical analysis culminating in a very reasonable account of what happened to Custer’s battalion once it descended into Medicine Trail Coulee. The author is a very gifted writer and his descriptions are so fluent that the book does read virtually like a well written novel. Donovan starts with a fast paced history of the Indians on the North American continent that directly leads to the Sioux and their current state of affairs in 1875-1876. Their history includes their migration west as they split from their eastern brethren, the post Civil War Red Cloud War that includes the emergence of Crazy Horse and later background information on Sitting Bull. The bio information on Custer is fast paced and accurate as the author moves you forward through his career with brief effective bios of the key members of his regiment that are key to the Little Bighorn battle. Within 100 pages, the author has you well familiar with the situation, the political and the military and the next 300 pages of text are loaded with information on the campaign preparation and the campaign as it unfolds. For the well familiar, the essential information leading to the divided commands will not be too new but the documentation and source material is excellent but the exciting part of the read is what is revealed when Custer reaches the bluffs, signals to Reno in the valley and proceeds to a northern attack point leaving his last white witness, the courier Martin, as his battalion descends toward the river. Donovan describes a very rational Custer who is anxious to stay on the offensive while apparently realizing that Reno’s attack has collapsed but also knowing that Benteen’s battalion should be arriving soon, a fact that many historians do not seem to give enough credit particularly since Custer’s brother Boston had passed Benteen on his way to reach his brother and had done so by this time. The final actions of Custer’s battalion heed an excellent mix of views by notable historians such as Greg Michno’s (Lakota Noon) and Dr. Richard Fox (Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle). Notable in that the Indian point of view is well presented such as those researched not only by Michno but by Richard G. Hardoff’s series of researched Indian testimonies. What is quite rational in this analysis is that Custer, who was famous for adapting to situations tactically from the saddle was adapting as circumstances changed. He ordered up support and expected it to be coming promptly and he reorganized his battalion based on that premis. But the failure of support left him in the obvious vulnerable situation leading to the demise of his complete battalion. Although the division of his last battalion has been roundly criticized by many historians, his logical reasons for doing so are well defined by Donovan and linked to his expectation of command consolidation. The circumstances of Reno’s rout from the valley and the intense battle on Reno Hill with Benteen taking nominal command is well described including Reno stopping Benteen from supporting Custer with Benteen’s easy acceptance. The author provides an excellent description of Reno’s total lack of action to support Custer, Reno’s alledged drinking and the unauthorized uncoordinated but too late attempt at support by Lt. Weir. The only thing lacking in the description of Reno’s actions on the hill and in the later court of inquiry was the failure to address the significant time sequences that were misrepresented by Reno, Benteen and Wallace to make it appear that they would not have been able to aid Custer if they tried. Donovan over the last 100 pages covers the controversies of the battle extremely well, the post Bighorn careers particularly of Reno and Benteen, the 7th as a whole, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and a wonderful summary of the Reno court of inquiry that is fascinating. Donovan makes note that the Little Bighorn was an embarrassment to the army particularly since funding was at stake at the time of the inquiry. Although well documented in many other books, such as “Abcs of Custer’s Last Stand: Arrogance, Betrayal and Cowardice” by Arthur C. Unger, the author provides an excellent discussion for the reasons for collusion among the officer’s testifying. One motivation was not just for the good of the regiment but that many of the surviving officers performed poorly, although Benteen was brave during the siege he never answered Custer’s order for support. One obvious hint that the army wanted the inquiry a whitewash was the appointment of Lt. Jesse Lee as the recorder (investigating legal counsel) although Lee was not an attorney, had limited experience and was not a Judge Advocate. Donovan does not tell this history with an extended argument as many of the more analytical books do and are quite fascinating but he takes what to him are the most logical and reasonable documented occurrences that lead to his forthright description of the destruction of Custer’s battalion left alone on battle ridge. The research is so well done that even the foot notes are worth reading. A better reference map for the Indian village would have helped understand where various Indian parties were before and during the attack. Overall, this is one of the best books on the Little Big Horn campaign and controversy.

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