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The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

Little Bighorn

Custer ~~ Sitting Bull ~~ Little Bighorn. The names evoke excitement & mystery even today. The events of 25 Jun 1876 are (& will be) shrouded in nystery & will never be known with any confidence of accuracy.All that can be said for sure is that Gen Custer & his 7th Cava...
Custer ~~ Sitting Bull ~~ Little Bighorn. The names evoke excitement & mystery even today. The events of 25 Jun 1876 are (& will be) shrouded in nystery & will never be known with any confidence of accuracy.All that can be said for sure is that Gen Custer & his 7th Cavalry died fighting to "the last man" in one of the greates "Last Stands" in the American west. And yet, Nathaniel Philbrick, has managed to pick through the strands of time & history to bring it to life. And he succeeds admirably. And, in doing so, he shows the simularities of Gen Custer & Sitting Bull; each had their demons, their flaws, their beliefs & their strategies.This is history at its finest as Mr Philbrick takes us along with the 7th Cavalry on its ill~fated 1876 campaign. And he follows the Sioux as they attempt to recapture tribal life as it was before the white man arrived. It is fascinating & well researched. His conclusions & placement of blame for the disaster may not be much of a surprise but they are backed up with his historian's instinctive grasp of detail & narrative. He gives us a first~hand look at the personalities of Custer & Sitting Bull & how Custer's Last Stand in effect was also the Last Stand for the Sioux & American Indian.

posted by dragonsscape on June 8, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

8 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

No Love for Custer

Philbrick's work is characterized for its passion, entrancing the reader with the power of his research and historical characters that arouse empathy from his audience. It's clear that both Mayflower and In The Heart of The Sea are subjects that are near and dear to th...
Philbrick's work is characterized for its passion, entrancing the reader with the power of his research and historical characters that arouse empathy from his audience. It's clear that both Mayflower and In The Heart of The Sea are subjects that are near and dear to the author. Both aforementioned works provide insight to cultures and eras that are vividly revealed to the reader. The Stand is an aberration to Philbrick's work, a multi-faceted recollection of the first great American military disaster (a subject that is fascinating enough) focusing primarily on the confrontation from eyewitness accounts. His depiction of the American military leadership on the ground (Terry, Custer, Reno and Bennton) leaves a sour taste in the mind of the reader. There is no love for these figures, and Philbrick's narrative places a tremendous amount of weight on individuals that, frankly, are not that interesting. Oddly, Philbrick doesn't seem too interested either. He occasionally discusses Sitting Bull and the Lakota peoples, but these moments are all too brief--and superficial. His inclusion of the Lakota reeks of political correctness, especially when he mentions that this was really Custer and Sitting Bull's "last stand."

The Last Stand does have its moments. The depiction of the battle, Reno's "Charge," and the subsequent sieges are harrowing stories. Philbrick's narrative is captivating, providing eyewitness accounts of the military tactics and the complete incompetence of the American military operation. Outside of these components, The Last Stand is a disappointment, but for the reader interested in the Custer campaign its certainly worthy of a read.....

posted by HarryVane on June 13, 2010

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Little Bighorn

    Custer ~~ Sitting Bull ~~ Little Bighorn. The names evoke excitement & mystery even today. The events of 25 Jun 1876 are (& will be) shrouded in nystery & will never be known with any confidence of accuracy.All that can be said for sure is that Gen Custer & his 7th Cavalry died fighting to "the last man" in one of the greates "Last Stands" in the American west. And yet, Nathaniel Philbrick, has managed to pick through the strands of time & history to bring it to life. And he succeeds admirably. And, in doing so, he shows the simularities of Gen Custer & Sitting Bull; each had their demons, their flaws, their beliefs & their strategies.This is history at its finest as Mr Philbrick takes us along with the 7th Cavalry on its ill~fated 1876 campaign. And he follows the Sioux as they attempt to recapture tribal life as it was before the white man arrived. It is fascinating & well researched. His conclusions & placement of blame for the disaster may not be much of a surprise but they are backed up with his historian's instinctive grasp of detail & narrative. He gives us a first~hand look at the personalities of Custer & Sitting Bull & how Custer's Last Stand in effect was also the Last Stand for the Sioux & American Indian.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 13, 2010

    No Love for Custer

    Philbrick's work is characterized for its passion, entrancing the reader with the power of his research and historical characters that arouse empathy from his audience. It's clear that both Mayflower and In The Heart of The Sea are subjects that are near and dear to the author. Both aforementioned works provide insight to cultures and eras that are vividly revealed to the reader. The Stand is an aberration to Philbrick's work, a multi-faceted recollection of the first great American military disaster (a subject that is fascinating enough) focusing primarily on the confrontation from eyewitness accounts. His depiction of the American military leadership on the ground (Terry, Custer, Reno and Bennton) leaves a sour taste in the mind of the reader. There is no love for these figures, and Philbrick's narrative places a tremendous amount of weight on individuals that, frankly, are not that interesting. Oddly, Philbrick doesn't seem too interested either. He occasionally discusses Sitting Bull and the Lakota peoples, but these moments are all too brief--and superficial. His inclusion of the Lakota reeks of political correctness, especially when he mentions that this was really Custer and Sitting Bull's "last stand."

    The Last Stand does have its moments. The depiction of the battle, Reno's "Charge," and the subsequent sieges are harrowing stories. Philbrick's narrative is captivating, providing eyewitness accounts of the military tactics and the complete incompetence of the American military operation. Outside of these components, The Last Stand is a disappointment, but for the reader interested in the Custer campaign its certainly worthy of a read.....

    8 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A pleasure to read

    150 years after George Armstrong Custer's first appearance in the American Civil War, he still fascinates us. We might feel it is a horrific accident or a great work of art but we always look at him. He is a larger than life presence in our history, both loved and hated. There are a goodly number of books and movies on Custer, his record in the Civil War and the Battle of Little Big Horn. The range is from him being "the deranged maniac of Little Big Man" to "the noble hero . in They died with Their Boots On". A good Custer book is always a treat, always worth reading and this is a very good Custer book!
    Nathaniel Philbrick gives the reader a very human Custer. Older but not wiser, he is as flamboyant as ever chafing under the restrictions of military life. The author is careful to be fair to all sides, presenting a balanced portrait. My only reservation is his reliance of Benteen for so much personal information. While most of it is carefully collaborated, the glass is often half full.
    The Seventh Cavalry is a character in this story. The author takes a long hard look at the army during the Indian Wars, providing some surprising information. Top heavy with senior offices reduced in rank after the Civil War, Custer is a Lieutenant Colonel reduced from Brigadier General, complicated by the brevet system of rank and under staffed they soldier on. Careful preparation pays big dividends giving the reader an excellent understanding of the complex relationships within the regiment. Understanding this adds an extra dimension to Reno and Benteen's actions on the battlefield.
    The author fully develops Sitting Bull and his village, providing a full background of tribal politics within their warrior society. This is an extra dimension to the story and an important one. While cautioned that Native American participants guarded what they said, their statements flesh out the account of the battle. The book covers relations between "hostile" and "friendly" Indians and how this plays out during the campaign.
    The centerpiece of the book is the Battle of Little Big Horn. Seven maps and over 130 pages cover this in detail. The author fully captures the chaos, fear and uncertainty of battle. Weaving accounts of saviors with historical evidence produces a well-documented very readable account. The author refuses to speculate on Custer's battle. This is not a HEROIC LAST STAND account of glorious battle. This is a nasty dirty fight where one side is overrun and slaughtered. While avoiding speculation the author captures the fear and collapse of Custer's command.
    Footnotes have a unique presentation. They are endnotes referenced to pages. However, there are no footnote numbers. The endnotes represent a walk through the documents available to historians. I read them as a stand-alone book, finding them very informative.
    This is an excellent book. Interesting, well researched, well documented and a pleasure to read.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Terrific addition to earlier tellings of this history

    This history does what every nonfiction title aspires to do: makes the reader want to run out and read as much as they can on the subject. That is exactly what I found myself doing today--looking in my public library for more. The Last Stand doesn't so much slake your thirst as inflame it. When I looked over the books on similar subject matter, I can see why. It was clear Philbrick used primary sources, but also built on what had come before: he consolidated information and didn't impede the forward momentum of the story. He added maps in the right places to clarify movements, and included photos which flesh out the characters. This book is about the last stand of the Indians in America. Although the Battle of Little Bighorn was ostensibly a rout of the uniformed troops sent by the American government to move the Lakota off their given land to make way for gold rush settlers, it was also the end of Lakota way of life and was the last concerted attempt to save it. The story is mired in myth, due to the death of all in Custer's party, though there were other battalions there led by surviving commanders. Due to the personalities involved, and the necessarily self-serving nature of their reports, these "truths" can be difficult to reconcile, one with the other. At the same time, the American government in Washington also had reason to interpret the facts so as to preserve the notion of manifest destiny, westward expansion, and the heroics (rather than the possible disgrace) of their fighting force. Surviving warriors from the Indians tribes were interviewed extensively in the years following the Battle, and much richness of detail (and contradiction with evidentiary evidence) can be gleaned from their accounts. What does come clear from the story as told by Philbrick is the great-man nature of Chief Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader and warrior of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux. Many wise words are attributed to the man from reports at the time, and Sitting Bull's attention always seemed to focus on the safety and welfare of his people, rather than on revenge or rage at betrayals. Later, after the battle recounted in such detail here, we learn that Sitting Bull did finally lay down his arms, and was shuttled to a reservation, where he was killed in 1890 by a Lakota policeman. The apparently first-hand testimonies of survivors of The Battle of Little Bighorn do not paint complimentary portraitures of their commanding officers. The sound, smell, heat, and intensity of the battlefield come to life in this account, and we squirm with the uncomfortable knowledge of the end even as we begin reading. Learning the details of any military engagement brings its own horrors, but the facts of this devastation is particularly poignant when realizing that troops were being led by one commander deranged with drink, and another who felt no sense of urgency. All fought bravely in the end, to the end.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 10, 2010

    Excellent update of the familiar story, but read it in hardcover!

    Nathaniel Philbrick pulls off the impressive trick of going over familiar ground in a fresh way. Read The Last Stand, then re-read Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star for a different slant -- you'll enjoy the juxtaposition. Meanwhile, I have to say that reading The Last Stand on my Nook was a disappointing experience. The maps are completely illegible, and the striking photographs that grace the hardcover edition are not only missing -- their existence is left unacknowledged. To get the full experience of reading this title, you still need to buy the printed version.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Inacurate, terrible

    This book is a highly unimaginative look at the life of one of the great heroes of American History. If the author had bothered to look at the facts, he would have seen that Custer's subordinates left him to his fate for personal reasons and then placed all the blame on him to save their own careers later. Reno spent the afternoon and the night after the battle hiding in a hole drinking whiskey. Custer, meanwhile, made mistakes, but not mistakes that were inexcusable given the way that the government was conducting the wars with the Native Americans. Next time, the author might want to actually do something called research. If you want a great book that gives an even-handed account of all sides, read A Terrible Glory by James Donovan, who is a historian rather than a propaganda artist.

    4 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2011

    Informative

    It has been a while since I have read Son of Morning Star so it was good to read another account of the famous General Custer and be refreshed of the famous battle. There was nothing new in this last book except in the way it was written. The chronology of events and positioning of Reno and Benteen's troops was helpful in visualizing the events. What was annoying and jarring was the flashback style of the characters that did not really help in the flow of those events as they happened. Philbrick treated both the Indian and the army fairly although there seemed to some political correctness laced throughout. Benteen and Reno were the focus and bear much responsibility while Custer's actions can only be told through speculation. While Custer's character flaws are brought out, there seems to be a lack of speculation on the responsibilities of those in the high command and their actions that may have prevented this massacre. Is it possible that Custer was a pawn and that those that gave the vague orders to Custer, Benteen and Reno knowing Custer and his character? At the end of the book, Philbrick says that Sitting Bull's victory over the army was really a loss for the Indian nations. This is very true when the reservation system and the conditions of the American Indian today. They are kept in line by making them dependent on the government the same way as in the later 1800s. It is a policy that needs to be examined force the Indian to become more self-reliant. There is no pride that the Indian once had in living free and self-sustaining. The question that has yet to be answered is, what brought about the gathering of all the tribes some of whom were enemies? The fear of the U.S. Army because of the massacres at Sand Creek and the Minnesota uprising, is a root, however, there had to be another reason for this gathering of largest force of Indian warriors ever. After the Battle at LBH, they went their separate ways. Had they stayed together the army would have had a difficult time subduing them. I would recommend this book to any one who has not read much on Custer.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Behind the headlines

    Finally after a lifetime study of the Lakota, a writer who helpfully illustrates places and people within numerous first person narrative of events. Much appreciated are the maps showing locations of agencies which are usually overlooked in books about the Plains Indians. There are also depicted details of Indian travels, troop movements, time elements. Many excellent photographs of soldiers and even a few new photos of Indians. Excerpts of written accounts on interactions between leaders in months and days leading up to event. No matter if you are for or against Custer, his own words tell us much, and there are many of them as he was a constant correspondent to his wife, friends, newspapers.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Into The Valley Of Death

    A hard hitting, well-balanced look at arrogance and jealousy in the U.S. military. As history shows, this was not the "Last Stand" for only General Custer and his men, but, also, for Native Americans. A book that's hard to put down.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The beginning of the end of Indians in America...

    This history does what every nonfiction title aspires to do: makes the reader want to run out and read as much as they can on the subject. That is exactly what I found myself doing today--looking in my public library for more. The Last Stand doesn't so much slake your thirst as inflame it. When I looked over the books on similar subject matter, I can see why. It was clear Philbrick used primary sources, but also built on what had come before: he consolidated information and didn't impede the forward momentum of the story. He added maps in the right places to clarify movements, and included photos which flesh out the characters. This book is about the last stand of the Indians in America. Although the Battle of Little Bighorn was ostensibly a rout of the uniformed troops sent by the American government to move the Lakota off their given land to make way for gold rush settlers, it was also the end of Lakota way of life and was the last concerted attempt to save it. The story is mired in myth, due to the death of all in Custer's party, though there were other battalions there led by surviving commanders. Due to the personalities involved, and the necessarily self-serving nature of their reports, these "truths" can be difficult to reconcile, one with the other. At the same time, the American government in Washington also had reason to interpret the facts so as to preserve the notion of manifest destiny, westward expansion, and the heroics (rather than the possible disgrace) of their fighting force. Surviving warriors from the Indians tribes were interviewed extensively in the years following the Battle, and much richness of detail (and contradiction with evidentiary evidence) can be gleaned from their accounts. What does come clear from the story as told by Philbrick is the great-man nature of Chief Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader and warrior of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux. Many wise words are attributed to the man from reports at the time, and Sitting Bull's attention always seemed to focus on the safety and welfare of his people, rather than on revenge or rage at betrayals. Later, after the battle recounted in such detail here, we learn that Sitting Bull did finally lay down his arms, and was shuttled to a reservation, where he was killed in 1890 by a Lakota policeman. The apparently first-hand testimonies of survivors of The Battle of Little Bighorn do not paint complimentary portraitures of their commanding officers. The sound, smell, heat, and intensity of the battlefield come to life in this account, and we squirm with the uncomfortable knowledge of the end even as we begin reading. Learning the details of any military engagement brings its own horrors, but the facts of this devastation is particularly poignant when realizing that troops were being led by one commander deranged with drink, and another who felt no sense of urgency. All fought bravely in the end, to the end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 17, 2011

    Well researched. Lively and interesting material

    I have been reading stories about the old west ever since I read Dee Brown's excellent "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee". This book belongs on the shelf right beside Brown's book. It is that good. I didn't think that Custer was a nice guy but after reading this book and finding out that he indulged in callously raping and murdering helpless native women and children I am convinced my earlier feelings were correct.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Fine Job

    I still think Connell's Son of the Morning Star is the best book on the Little Big Horn, but Philbrick has nothing to be ashamed of. Like Connell, he understands that part of the battle's power lies in its mystery. He has used many sources and his notes are first rate, giving credit to the many who laid the groundwork for modern Custer scholarship. He is evenhanded, showing the Sioux as victims as much as winners of the battle. Native Americans are treated with respect and as real persons who made poor and wise choices in their struggle to survive the onrushing white tide. Philbrick reminds us that all side suffer in warfare and the price of victory and defeat can be costly indeed. He is an excellent storyteller.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2010

    another great book from one of my favourite authors

    I could not put this book down. Philbrick's research is amazing. I love the flow of his writing. He is such a wonderful writer.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2013

    Not bad

    You feel left wanting to know more

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2013

    A very entertaining and informative read!  Fans of the story of

    A very entertaining and informative read!  Fans of the story of Custer, the Indian Wars of the 1860's-1880's, and those interested in the history of Sitting Bull will certainly enjoy this book  Philbrick's close attention to detail has made this retelling especially rich..

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  • Posted June 16, 2012

    This book is about the battle of "Little Bighorn" also

    This book is about the battle of "Little Bighorn" also known as "Custer's Last Stand", fought between combined forces of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army of which George Armstrong Custer was an integral part. The book details the account in such a way that it seemed to me as if i was there watching the battle unfold infront of my own eyes. As far as the authenticity of the book is concerned, or whether the writer is biased or not, or who should be considered as a hero (Custer or Sitting Bull) is not for me to decide. I think it should be left to you or to some serious researcher. But writer's narrative style is excellent and he touches each and every aspect of the battle. Like how the soldiers were really frightened and yet at the same time some of them were very brave, how some of the officers like Reno were drinking during height of skirmish and how some of the soldiers were really coward, how cruel were sometimes both sides including Indian warriors and 7th cavalry soldiers, how Custer's lust for gaining or attaining the Glory all by himself led to incorrect decision of dividing the soldiers into small groups, and how personal conflicts between two persons, especially during war/fight can create difficulties for the rest of group. Overall it was an excellent book. I enjoyed it a lot and really recommend this book. It is certainly going to be one of the best books you will read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Lame

    Custer was never actualy a hero students history textbooks are crap he killed people he was told to retreat he didnt he was neve a friggin hero

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2012

    Peeling Back the Myth

    I liked this book so much that after reading it in paperback, I purchased a hardcover copy for my library. The author has combined a fantastic amount of research, including the latest interpretations of what happened at the Last Stand based on archeological findings, with a lively and easy-to-read narrative. Publisher’s Weekly complained of a “surfeit of unnecessary detail,” but the details are what I loved about the book. As far as I’m concerned, details are essential to coming closer to the truth about why complex characters think and act as they do. Give me more.

    Intelligent readers, who have only the barest outline of Custer’s story, will come away from "The Last Stand" with a deeper understanding of the personalities and events and the social and political forces that contributed to of one of the worst military disasters in American history. I particularly appreciated that the author takes pains to maintain a neutral stance. Custer’s defeat at the hands of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull is such a contentious subject: Those who regard Custer as a vain, ambitious fool, who wasted the lives of his men, engage in bitter dispute with those who claim he was one of the Union’s most talented cavalry officers—defeated only because he was betrayed by disobedient, malicious subordinates. The truth lies somewhere in-between. Philbrick presents the major players in this historical drama with all their flaws and strengths. He also does a fine job sorting through a morass of contradictory evidence and eye-witness claims from both soldiers and Native Americans.

    This book does not focus on Custer’s personality and marriage; for a more biographical approach try Connell’s Son of the Morning Star. Donovan’s A Terrible Glory goes into what happened on Calhoun and Custer Hill in even more detail. His description seems to follow the scenario described by archaeological research conducted in the mid-80s after a fire cleared the area of grass and brush. For a more technical look at what happened based on archaeology, combat modeling, and history, read Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle by Richard Allan Fox, Jr.
    author’s reinterpretation of the Custer legend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Helps to understand the battle and the people

    As someone who has visited the battlefield three times I can say that this book is a "must read" for understanding the personalities involved in that fateful event. Custer's drive for glory and fame is woven into the story of a leader of a people who wished to retain their land against the onslaught of encroaching settlement. Mr. Philbrick's research is thorough and the bibliography serves as a useful stepping point for further reading of other authors.

    Readers of the Killer Angels have a better understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg; readers of The Last Stand have a better understanding of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

    I've purchased this book for others as it is a readable book and quite fluid in its pace.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2011

    Highly Recommended for lovers of history

    Easy to read. Lots of new information. Balanced view of Natives vs. Whites.

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