Book Review Custer: The Making of a Young General by Edward G. Longacre

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Oct 13, 2019
North of the Wall & South of the Canucks

This is not an overly long book, and it was one that I had bought looking forward to reading. I hadn't read too many bios on Custer, a rather flamboyant character, but especially after reading about his experiences in The Earth is Weeping, a book on the Plains Indian Wars, I figured this would be a good follow-up.

The book is broken roughly into 3 parts.

The first deals with his pre-West Point life. His skirt chasing days, less than astudious school days. I had actually forgotten that prior to West Point, he had actually been a school teacher for a few years and clearly enjoyed the work.

The next part focused on his West Point days. The book makes a big deal about his goal to have as much fun as he possibly could without getting kicked out. And how his skirt chasing led to his getting gonnarhea which in turn probably made him sterile.

The third is his Civil War service. Unfortunately, it only reaches to just shy the Mine Run campaign and then stops. So if, like me, you were hoping to read about Trevalian Station or the Shenendoah Valley, you are going to be disappointed.

Three themes go throughout the book. The first theme is his gaity. Even as a commander in the field, he was light-hearted, to the point that several mistakes he made in battle were a direct result of his lack of attention and forethought. Such as how he didn't reconnoiter a battlefield and ended up getting a green regiment pinned on the wrong side of a fence and the Confederates were able to mow them down.

Another one is his complete and utter care for Sectionalism and Politics. At least when it came to differences. He could easily rub shoulders with Republicans and Democrats, Northerns and Southerners. Even during the war you would find him going under a flag of truce to enemy camps to visit a friend.

The last is his relationship with power. He actually didn't spend as much time leading field commands as we would expect of a soldier. He generally spent his time either in McClellan's, Pleasantons or even Hooker's staff. He had something like 2 months of actual field command experience prior to getting command of the Wolverine Brigade.

The book is well written, and Longacre is able to write down a prose that allows for humor. It's a fair-minded approach to Custer, neither glorifying or villifying him. But, as said, it is lacking some of the more interesting parts of his Civil War service. There is also the famous story that he would carve into the desks at school with his initials and other small stories like that that end up be missed in the final product.

I would say this is an 8/10.
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