Preview: Hutchison, “Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn”

18 12 2016

517bvmwsael-_sx375_bo1204203200_I know this is not a Civil War book, per se. But a good friend has invited me on a week-long July trip to Indian War sites including the Big Kahuna, Little Big Horn, and if my brother doesn’t wuss out, I think I’ll be going. Around the same time I got the invitation, I received an inquiry from the publisher of Will Hutchison’s Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn: Custer, the 7th Cavalry & the Lakota and Cheyenne Warriors. It’s fate, Kismet, the stars aligning. Or something.

This is a very attractive book. Glossy pages, full color photos, a narrative portion including descriptions of the ephemera carried into the field by members of Custer’s expedition, and notes on each and every item pictured. I’m no expert by any means – I’ve read two books on Little Big Horn, the non-linear, unreadable (for me) Son of the Morning Star, and the more recent A Terrible Glory. I plan to bulk up on that in 2017, and Artifacts seems like a good place to start. I checked with someone who IS something of a LBH expert, and he tells me that, while few of the items included are new and most have been published elsewhere, this book represents the largest collection of artifact images presented in a single volume.

How can I convey to you the many and varied types of artifacts you’ll find inside? I think one item will do – though it’s not the same image as is in the book. This image of George Custer’s jock strap (technically, his Rawson’s Patent Elastic Self-Adjusting U. S. Army Suspensory Bandage C-7A Size 5) can be found here.


The image in Artifacts is much better, not such a jumbled mess, and appears on the same page as an image of Custer’s apparently blood-stained socks.

The point is, this book is a feast for the eyes not only for Custer and LBH buffs, but for pretty much anyone who likes viewing, and learning about, old stuff owned and handled by legendary figures. If that sounds like you, check out Artifacts of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Preview: Miller, “Decision at Tom’s Brook”

6 08 2016

TomsBrookYet another Savas Beatie new release is William J. Miller’s Decision at Tom’s Brook: George Custer, Thomas Rosser, and the Joy of the Fight. This is a chronicle of the October 1864 clash of cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley, described by one Confederate soldier as “the greatest disaster that ever befell our cavalry during the whole war.”

Mr. Miller builds the story of Tom’s Brook on the framework of the relationship between Custer and his rebel counterpart Rosser. Both attended the USMA at the same time, and both were noted for their sometimes rash behavior and poor judgement on the battlefield. Like the Highlander says, “There can be only one,”and at Tom’s Brook one would lose his head to the other (if only figuratively). Note that the Lieutenant Rosser commanded the 1st Company of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans at Bull Run. Custer was there, too.

Here’s what you get: 212 pages of text, with page-bottom notes, plenty of illustrations, and Hal Jesperson maps; three appendices (orders of battle, strengths and losses, and notes on maps and topography – Mr. Miller is, after all, the author of Mapping for Stonewall: The Civil War Service of Jed Hotchkiss); a bibliography listing over three pages of archival sources and over three pages more of newspaper sources; and a full index.

Preview – Stiles, “Custer’s Trials”

22 10 2015

41jMb9LuJsL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The nice people at Knopf (that’s k-nop-f) sent me a copy of Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T. J. Stiles. Mr. Stiles is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book on Cornelius Vanderbilt, The First Tycoon, and also authored a biography of Jesse James. So, like Arthur Digby Sellers (author of the bulk of the TV series Branded), he’s not exactly a lightweight.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. If you’re a regular reader of this or other Civil War blogs, you’re probably beyond a comprehensive biography by a “non-specialist,” particularly yet another biography of one of the most biographied Americans ever. And you’re right to be leery.

I wager there are a few members of the Little Big Horn Associates who stop by here every now and again (after all, Autie was here at First Bull Run), and I don’t think most of them or you will find much to shock or surprise. It’s 460 pages of text, with 80 pages of notes and a surprisingly brief 8 page bibliography (but a good four pages of that is archives and newspapers.) But at this point, is some new discovery the real reason you’d pick up a Custer bio these days? Doubtful. Folks who have read thousands of pages just on the condition of Custer’s body, or certain parts of his body, when found aren’t going to be surprised by much in the way of documentary discovery.

Stiles states in his preface that his intent with Custer’s Trials is “to change the camera angle – to examine Custer’s life as it was lived, in order to better grasp…his larger meaning….escape the overshadowing preoccupation with his death.” Because his life “had a significance independent of his demise.” “I want to explain why his celebrity, and notoriety, spanned both the Civil War and his years on the frontier, resting on neither exclusively but incorporating both.”

So let me explain why I’ll read this one, despite the fact I’ve read others, and some studies of Little Big Horn, and even have a pretty focused book sitting right here in my maybe-I’ll-read stack, Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle. I’m going to read this because it promises something so very rare in Civil War literature: good story telling. Dude won a Pulitzer! What I’ve skimmed is elegant, that is, not painful to read, and it smacks neither of hagiography nor hatchetography (although that could change, I suppose.) I encourage all CW lit consumers to take breaks every now and again for books that are not painful, in fact, enjoyable to read. Think of it as a reward. You’ve earned it.