The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero

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Overview

He was the "Boy General" of the Civil War, a dashing and courageous cavalryman with famously golden locks and a frank, generous manner. After the war, he was a devoted husband and a frontier soldier who respected the Indians whether they were adversaries or allies.

Yet General Custer made a fatal miscalculation. His Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn is an iconic moment in American military history. For modern propagandists, Custer's death fighting the Lakota Sioux ...

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The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero

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Overview

He was the "Boy General" of the Civil War, a dashing and courageous cavalryman with famously golden locks and a frank, generous manner. After the war, he was a devoted husband and a frontier soldier who respected the Indians whether they were adversaries or allies.

Yet General Custer made a fatal miscalculation. His Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn is an iconic moment in American military history. For modern propagandists, Custer's death fighting the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne was payment for American sins against the Indians. But was Custer really the bad man his modern enemies make him out to be; and how could this skilled cavalry leader suffer such a devastating defeat?

In The Real Custer, James Robbins studies the life of this fascinating man, drawing on correspondence, histories, and other personal documents to reveal different facets of the real Custer: the son of a strict but loving father; the mischievous West Point cadet who preferred earning demerits to studying; the loyal friend who amiably crossed enemy lines to visit his Southern friends during the Civil War; the loving husband who took years to finally win the approval of his wife’s stern father; and, of course, the famous "Boy General" who led a military career full of glorious victories—until his final, fateful charge.

Robbins demonstrates that Custer, having graduated last in his class at West Point, went on to prove himself as an extremely skilled cavalry leader whose only failing was his boldness, which, though it had served him well in the past, caused the Army’s bloodiest defeat in the Indian Wars. The Real Custer is an exciting and valuable contribution to understanding Custer—who was a valiant soldier and a fundamentally good man, not the Indian-hating villain so often portrayed today—that will delight Custer fans as well as readers new to the legend.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/05/2014
Here’s another Custer biography, purportedly of the “real” man, as if other writers haven’t tried to capture that elusive “real” creature—but despite its redundancies, Robbins delivers a book about as free of cliché arguments as one can get. He avoids the cynicism and sneering that too often attend his subject to give a full, sympathetic, yet warts-and-all portrait of the man we’ve long known: last in his West Point class, impetuous, cocky, brave, foolish, insubordinate, violent, a born warrior who struggled to survive in peacetime, and, of course, the controversial chump of Little Big Horn. While Robbins (who’s written on Custer’s West Point class and on the Tet offensive) relates Custer’s life story well, he’s best at summoning the military and political context of the man’s life and acts, as well as the people key to Custer’s spectacular advances in rank and responsibility. For Custer himself, scarcely a subject crying out for more attention, Robbins can add little to what’s already been frequently told. Thus this addition to the list of existing Custer biographies merits attention principally for being the newest and for being written with verve while remaining fair to its subject. (July)
From the Publisher

"[Robbins] avoids the cynicism and sneering that too often attend his subject to give a full, sympathetic, yet warts-and-all portrait of the man we've long known: last in his West Point class, impetuous, cocky, brave, foolish, insubordinate, violent, a born warrior...." —Publisher's Weekly

"James Robbins's The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero is a well-written four-hundred-page epic adventure that details the highs and lows of one of America’s most controversial figures. His treatment of Custer is fair and even handed. The most impressive aspect of the volume is the 'Boy General's' cadet years and his fearless exploits during the Civil War. For the casual reader who desires a truly dedicated exploration of Custer the man and soldier placed in the context of his time—this is the real thing."
—Michael Donahue, author of Drawing Battle Lines: The Map Testimony of Custer's Last Fight, historical interpreter at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and chairman of the Department of Visual Arts at Temple College

"Robbins has succeeded brilliantly in presenting The Real Custer, making vivid his romantic flair, joie de vivre, and battlefield mastery without being blind to his flaws."
—John Pafford, author of The Forgotten Conservative

"Robbins has created a scintillating, exciting narrative about the unique exploits of America's Boy General. He weaves a plethora of original source materials into a compelling, flowing tale of derring-do. The fast pace of the book matches the fast pace of Custer's Civil War involvement at Bull Run, the Peninsula, Gettysburg, the Shenandoah Valley, Five Forks, and Appomattox. Custer was everywhere in the eastern theater, and Robbins captures the nature and spirit of his adventures there and in the Indian wars that followed."
—Edward H. Bonekemper III, book review editor for Civil War News and author of Grant and Lee: Victorious American and Vanquished Virginian

Library Journal
08/01/2014
George Custer (1839–76) is an American icon—written about, argued about, loved and derided since his debut as a lieutenant in 1861. Was he a gallant boy general and winner of countless cavalry battles, or a reckless commander who destroyed the Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn? Robbins (contributor, National Post and Washington Times; This Time We Win) attempts to tilt the balance with this latest biography. Brief sections on Custer's origins, followed by descriptions of juvenile hijinks at West Point (Custer graduated last in his class) set the stage for Robbins's portrayal of the soldier's success as a dashing cavalry commander and as a genuine hero in the Civil War. Custer's political forays, like his emotional connection to wife Libbie remain in the background, a little obscure even after extended treatment. The climactic battle is covered in a chapter, but other works have plowed that ground so extensively that little new can be said. The author's treatment leans toward the heroic American whose fatal flaw was cockiness and self-confidence. The work is heavily footnoted with extensive primary and secondary sources. VERDICT An accessible popular history well grounded in source material and presenting a favorable view of Custer that will be in high demand for historians and casual readers alike.—Edwin Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781621572091
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/23/2014
  • Pages: 494
  • Sales rank: 80,937
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author


James S. Robbins is Deputy Editor of Rare and Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs on the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the award-winning former Senior Editorial Writer for Foreign Affairs at the Washington Times, an author, political commentator and professor, with an expertise in national security, and foreign and military affairs. He served as special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His books include This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive (2010) and Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point (2006). Robbins is also a political commentator and contributing editor for National Review Online.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2014

    Totally Recommend Custer

    The author provides a very insight to Custer and eliminate some myth's about him. His life, the civil war, his personal personnel life and the famous last stand give him more meaning as a person, war hero. Indian fighter and husband. I really enjoyed the history and events around his life.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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