- BOOK REVIEW -
"The ABC of Custer's Last Stand" (by Arthur Unger) : this is a blunt straightforward account of the Little Big Horn with no holds bared. It reminds me a great deal of Graham's great work the "Custer Myth" which provided a ton or resource material from all sides of view, Indian, scout and military participants. But Unger uses more recently discovered material such as the famous Maguire (Gibbon's engineer) map that apparently was altered many times at the time of the Reno trial, new documents written by Benteen only discovered in the 1950's and many accounts of participants both Indian and military to show what happened on the day that a 1/3 of the 7th cavalry met their death. Utilizing Walter Camps extensive references, comments and map by Philo Clark the great Indian interpreter, the Reno trial transcripts, and various Indian testimonies, Unger makes one of the strongest cases that Reno and Benteen failed Custer and left his battalion to fight the Indians alone. Includes several new perspectives and questions such as Daniel Kanipe, the next to last messenger or deserter? Was Reno drunk during the battle? Did General Merritt allow the Reno trial to be a whitewash? Why did the pack train commander not know of Kanipe's mission? Why did companies C and I wait on the ridges behind Custer's attacking column? Were they holding for Benteen who was given the last message?
Unger makers a strong case that Custer did actually attack at Medicine Trail Coulee and that it was not a feint or just a change of mind to utilize a ford further down. Unger does an impressive chronology indicating where all Custer's units were at any one time and although suggesting that Custer was on the attack when he moved north as Fox suggests, he disagrees with Fox by stating that Custer was under great pressure from the start particularly when Reno abandoned the field. Unger even speculates on whom the Officer was that Indians say was shot at Medicine Trail Coulee's ford and he provides insight into what happened to several missing Officers' bodies.
Unger gives you the whole campaign perspective including Crooks abandonment of the campaign and failure to notify his superiors timely, Sheridan's failure to notify the columns of numbers of Indians leaving the reservations timely, Reno's failure to hold his position or move to Custer after Benteen's arrival, Benteen's failure go to follow Custer's orders and his deference to Reno for convenience, Reno and Benteen's claim on not hearing Custer's firing and on. No one involved with the debacle is left out that may have had a contributing part. Unger even covers the details of cavalry organization, unit size, missing officers and who the survivors were and he speculates why and how they were not with Custer.
The chapters on each subject are short, very direct and loaded with evidence and testimony. The book also has a large number of photocopied exhibits from a variety of sources. My only question is that Unger credits Reno's battalion with firing a lot of ammunition but some eyewitnesses indicated that Reno's battalion took few shells when the packs arrived.
Also, the Nathan Short story of the escaping trooper has not had much recent support. The only negative is that I wish I could have read the maps a bit better as they are reprinted with no additional detail and its hard to find some of the lettering that references the fords
This book is a delight to read, full of information and points of view (even challenges Fox and Scotts' archeology digs). Any LBH historian will enjoy this book since all the primary participants are highlighted and detailed probably better than any other LBH book.
(Daniel Hurley, Amazon.com)