Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

T.J. Stiles

Language: English

Pages: 640

ISBN: 0307475948

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History

From the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, a brilliant biography of Gen. George Armstrong Custer that radically changes our view of the man and his turbulent times.

In this magisterial biography, T. J. Stiles paints a portrait of Custer both deeply personal and sweeping in scope, proving how much of Custer’s legacy has been ignored. He demolishes Custer’s historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person—capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years).

The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. In the Civil War, the West, and many areas overlooked in previous biographies, Custer helped to create modern America, but he could never adapt to it. He freed countless slaves yet rejected new civil rights laws. He proved his heroism but missed the dark reality of war for so many others. A talented combat leader, he struggled as a manager in the West.

He tried to make a fortune on Wall Street yet never connected with the new corporate economy. Native Americans fascinated him, but he could not see them as fully human. A popular writer, he remained apart from Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, and other rising intellectuals. During Custer’s lifetime, Americans saw their world remade. His admirers saw him as the embodiment of the nation’s gallant youth, of all that they were losing; his detractors despised him for resisting a more complex and promising future. Intimate, dramatic, and provocative, this biography captures the larger story of the changing nation in Custer’s tumultuous marriage to his highly educated wife, Libbie; their complicated relationship with Eliza Brown, the forceful black woman who ran their household; as well as his battles and expeditions. It casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure, a man both widely known and little understood.

From the Hardcover edition.


















his Division by merit, not by hinting and begging,” Libbie wrote to her parents—a sign of how thoroughly and persistently her husband despised Wilson.35 But he had to abandon the Michigan Brigade. When he said farewell to his officers and men, he told them that Sheridan had promised that he could later swap one of his brigades for his old command. “Some of the officers said they would resign if the exchange was not made,” Custer wrote to his wife. “Major Drew said some actually cried.” Kidd

death squads, summary executions, massacres, mutilations, and mass banishment of civilians. But it was still immensely destructive. Sheridan reported that he seized or eliminated 3,772 horses, 10,918 head of cattle, 12,000 sheep, 15,000 hogs, 20,397 tons of hay, 435,802 bushels of wheat, 77,176 bushels of corn, 71 flour mills, and 1,200 barns. The suffering fell on women, children, and the elderly. “Heart-sickening,” a New Yorker wrote. To the astonishment of white Virginians, countless African

the arrest be entrusted to Lieutenant Colonel G. A. Custer, and not less than three hundred men.”29 Custer’s performance against the Lakotas had converted Stanley into something of an admirer. But Custer received no information on the suspect until December 7, when he requested permission “to arrest the Indian referred to and test the proposition as to whether a white man has any rights which a reservation Indian is bound to respect.” His words were ripe with sarcasm. They echoed the U.S.

October 25, 1863, GAC Correspondence, LBH. 8. Utley, Cavalier in Buckskin, 20; Starr 2: 26–27. 9. OR, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 1: 390. 10. GAC to Nettie Humphrey, October 12, 1863, quoted in Whittaker, 213; Merington, 66. 11. See, for example, Thom Hatch, Glorious War: The Civil War Adventures of George Armstrong Custer (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014). 12. OR, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 2: 448. On the bureaucratization of the supply of horses and the disputes over their quality, see Starr

McClellan’s letter of policy toward in military, 4.1, 7.1, 8.1, 8.2, 9.1, 9.2, 10.1, 10.2, 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, 11.4, 12.1, 13.1, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3 population of, 2.1, 14.1, 15.1 postwar injustice against, 9.1, 10.1, 10.2, 16.1, 16.2 prejudice against, 1.1, 1.2, 3.1, 4.1, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1, 9.2, 10.1, 12.1, 12.2 in racial hierarchy, 7.1, 9.1, 11.1 rights denied to, 9.1, 10.1, 10.2, 13.1, 14.1, 14.2 stereotype of, 9.1, 11.1, 11.2, 16.1 suffrage for, 9.1, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 12.1, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3,

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