Review of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn-The Last Great Battle of the American West By James Donovan; The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn: A Lakota History By Joseph M. Marshall; Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer By Michael A. Elliott
Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 141-145
During the last few years a number of books on the Indian wars fought in the upper Great Plains have been published. The three under review here are among the best. Donovan's A Terrible Glory, the most ambitious, is a study of epic proportions involving the life of George Armstrong Custer and his military career, starting with his rather humble birth in Ohio and ending with his death at the Little Bighorn. Donovan does more than just focus on Custer and his tumultuous years with the U.S. Army, however. His first chapter, for instance, deals with the long and often bloody conflicts that initially pitted Native Americans against colonists from Europe and later against citizens from the new American republic. Moreover, the author does not end his narrative at the Little Bighorn, but continues it throughout the rest of the Great Sioux War. He also chronicles the events of the Ghost Dance movement and the circumstances surrounding the tragic events at Wounded Knee Creek in the winter of 1890. He concludes his study with a compelling follow-up on the lives of some of the more prominent Seventh Cavalry officers and men who survived the Little Bighorn, such as Major Marcus A. Reno and Captain Frederick W. Benteen, both of whom faced disappointment and controversy during their declining years.
Gracefully written, A Terrible Glory manages to immerse you in its pages and hold your attention to the end. Donovan's inclusion of items of human interest about the principal figures in Custer's life, reminiscent of the late Barbara W. Tuchman's practice in The Guns of August, proves more effective than the colorful adjectives historians sometimes employ to enliven their studies.