The Author Blog of Ethan E. Harris
James S. Robbins
The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero
Regnery History, 23 JUN 2014.
5 out of 5 stars
Thousands of authors and reporters have written about George Armstrong Custer. Hundreds have published books. But only a few dozen have contributed to understanding the continuing fascination with General Custer while adding to the existing historical research. At some point, we must ask, “Haven’t we studied this to death by now?”
The answer for many of us is “Not quite yet.” There are so many facets and approaches to historical research of Custer and his famous last battle, with research bias being the most deadly to achieve an exact picture of the man and his military career. It is simply an overwhelming task to ask any single author to capture an overview of this material.
Most recently, Thom Hatch’s recent “Glorious War” did a tremendous job at exposing the Civil War exploits of Custer, while Nathaniel Philbrick and James Donovan placed the Last Stand in a narrative form exceeding many of the previous attempts to do so.
James S. Robbins “The Real Custer,” however, is a stand-alone book with excellently guided narrative relying primarily on first and second person source material. Robbins’ portrait of Custer is exhaustive, providing what this reviewer believes is the single most unbiased attempt at Custer’s deeds.
From his youth to West Point, from Bull Run to Appomattox and from Washita to the Little Big Horn, Custer’s character is revealed to us with a smooth grace firmly planted within historically verifiable records. The delivery is so well presented that the reader is not left to feel it is a subject best left for historians or “Custer buffs.” Even if the historical record and our knowledge that the man Custer did not in fact exist, this book would still stand by itself as an incredible adventure, filled with excess and triumph, pitfalls and victories, true to the period but still just beyond the scope of believability.
This is the Custer presented in Robbins’ portrayal. The author’s well-rounded approach doesn’t shrink from pinpointing Custer’s weaknesses in politics, nor does it shy away from Custer’s resounding successes as a military tactician and leader.
Other than the author’s previous title “Last in Their Class,” Robbins appeared at first to be an unknown figure in the Custer drama. With the “Real Custer,” Robbins has firmly ensconced himself into what should be the heart of future canonical references. Without a doubt, the author has given us a biographical overview that will stand the test of time for anyone interested in a more and fuller view of the background to the myth of Custer.
Incidentally, the title’s release date coincides with the beginning of Custer’s trip from the Rosebud that would end a few days later at the Little Bighorn.