A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Big Horn by James Donovan

I am listening to the audio book in my car. There are 13 discs. I am on disc 9 and they are just getting ready for the battle. My disclaimer is that I have not read any other books on Custer. Two smart, interesting men friends are quite interested in Custer and the Souix Wars so my curiosity was piqued.

I like Donovan as an author. His work refers back to many primary source documents including letters. Custer was quite the letter writer, at one time writing a 44 page letter to his wife Libby and the next day an 80 page letter! Take that, you texters. Donovan also tells the story from both the viewpoints of the army and the Native Americans. I enjoyed learning more about the history of Native American relations with the U.S. government since the 1700’s. The things you learn in a U.S. History class in high school or college do not even begin to cover what you will learn in this book. I enjoyed most his biographies of the major characters including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

Did you know that Custer graduated near the bottom of his West Point class but was liked by almost all his classmates? He said (I paraphrase) that you can only distinguish yourself in two ways in your graduating class. You can be the top student, which he knew he could never be, or you come in at the bottom. He was well known for getting demerits (“skins”) and playing practical jokes. One of his very wise career strategies was getting assigned to various generals as an aide. This way he learned from men already successful in the military. As he was likeable, when it came time for promotions, they remembered him in a favorable light.

One of the things that comes out, so far, is that many of the officers and soldiers on the frontier were very inexperienced. Many had never seen active combat with Native Americans. One officer had only been an army officer for 8 months and had barely learned horsemanship, let alone how to fight from horse back. The Native American battle tactics were in a state of change, from the highest goal being personal glory through bravery and counting coup to working with many allied chiefs to present a united front against the white marauders.

I will add more to this post later, but if you are interested in Native Americans, the early West, the frontier or battle tactics, you will enjoy this book/CD.



About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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