George Armstrong Custer, Custer's Last Stand (American National Biography)

Robert M. Utley, "Custer, George Armstrong," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
By 1875 Custer was widely admired as the nation's foremost Indian fighter. He boasted a solid record, but the fame came as much from newspaper attention and from his own writings. He published a series of magazine articles and then consolidated them into an autobiography, which reached a large audience. Custer's final campaign, ending in the battle of the Little Bighorn on 25 June 1876, earned him immortality and a place in the national folklore. The disaster, low point for the army in the Great Sioux War of 1876, occurred when the Seventh Cavalry attacked a large Sioux and Cheyenne encampment on Montana's Little Bighorn River. Five companies under Custer's immediate command, more than two hundred officers and troopers, were wiped out by nearly two thousand warriors defending their families. The remaining seven companies of the regiment, under Major Marcus A. Reno and Captain Frederick W. Benteen, successfully defended an entrenched hilltop for two days until reinforcements arrived.

At once the subject of bitter controversy, "Custer's Last Stand" has been vigorously debated ever since. Custer has been charged with recklessness, Reno with cowardice, and their superiors with faulty strategy. Defenders ensure that the arguments will endure forever, as will the image of the doomed but heroic figure of Custer facing death on a hilltop. In large part, however, the soldiers lost because the Indians won--although in victory lay the seeds of their ultimate defeat.
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