Custer and the Great Controversy by Robert M. Utley The controversy of GeneralCuster and the actions that culminated his fate and almost three hundred menunder his command has long been discussed and debated by many historians as wellas important military officials all trying to conclude what happened at theBattle of Little Bighorn. There have been countless myths and legends of whatoccurred on that fateful day in American history, but there has yet to be asolid right answer.
This answer is difficult to conclude for one reason, therewere no survivors of the battle from Custer’s troops. This led to the manydifferent sides of story that were mostly fabricated by newspapers and authorsto sell their papers and books, without much care towards the accuracy of thebattle and it events. The book, Custer and The Great Controversy try’s to putinto context the developing situations prior to and after the battle to get tothe roots of these legends and myths to try and make sense of them. Theauthor’s goal is not to come to a conclusion and a theory of his own, but todisregard the myths and legends of the past and in doing so shed some light onthe controversy for people who may have thought otherwise.Order now
The author achievesthis goal in a unique way by writing chronologically but at the same time writesabout the major events of the developing controversy, sometimes overlapping inyears but making smooth connections between similar the events. First, theauthor starts out by giving a background of The Battle of Little Bighorn. Describing the main characters of the battle and the events leading up to thebattle and then finally the battle itself in a broad context. Doing this givesthe reader a foundation of what lies ahead in the book.
Secondly, the authordescribes the role of the press and its impact after the battle has concluded. The press can be looked upon as the main reason for the overwhelming myths andlegends that followed due to their unwillingness to find the facts and theirmotivation to sell their papers. Thirdly, the author attends to the great debatethat followed the battle a few years later, that was fueled by these myths andarose during this hostile time. The debate was between the critics who thoughtthat Custer led his men into suicide by disobeying orders and selfishly seekingthe individual pride and glory that followed him throughout his military careerup until his death at The Battle of Little Bighorn.
On the other side of thedebate, were the people who thought of Custer as a hero and sacrificing himselfas well as his army for the United States. They placed the blame on orders thatwere to broad in detail and on the cowardliness of other military leaders whowouldn’t engage in the battle. The following chapter sheds light on themystery of the battle by seeking the Indian side of the story by crediting anddiscrediting the stories of the Indians on what happened in the battle. In thefifth chapter of the book is concentrated on the different myths of the battle,such as the way that Custer perished in battle.
Since not a single person knowswhen Custer actually perished and how it is myth all within itself and theauthor gives the evidence to support this and the other myths of what happenedin the battle. In the ending chapter the author gives a bibliographical surveyof the books written preceding the battle and their importance in the developingand unlocking the mysteries of the battle at the Little Bighorn. The author,Robert M. Utley, was first enveloped by the Custer legend as a seventh graderwhen he watched the movie They Died with Their Boots On.
From there on Utley wasdevoured by the legend of Custer and determined to fine the answers of thismystery. By the age of twenty-two, Utley compiled his master thesis at theUniversity of Indiana on The Custer Controversy: A Historiographical Story ofthe Battle of The Little Bighorn for the Period 1876-1900. At the age ofThirty-five he wrote the book, Custer and The Great Controversy trying to putthe legend that has developed over the years into a format that explains theroots of these myths and legends. Utley believes if you can get to the roots ofthese myths and legends that were created in past and disregard them you canbegin to solve the mystery of The Battle of Little Bighorn.
Other books writtenby Utley followed Custer and The Great Controversy that concentrated on militaryand Indian affairs in the old west. On a personal note the book was well-writtenand captivated my attention as well as my imagination. My only knowledge ofCuster was of the movie that the author also saw as a young boy, which was TheyDied with Their Boots On. I took the knowledge from the movie and incorporatedthat as my knowledge of the subject.
Utley showed me the myths that the moviecontained and many more, giving me a better understanding of what was containedin the Battle of Little Bighorn. Utley gives precise detail in describing themany issues that are intertwined in the book by giving abundant amounts ofsources to back up and aid in his knowledge of Custer. In only a few parts wouldthe abundance of military names accompanied by their ranks confuse a reader, butover the entire book is very clear in the direction that the writer isfollowing. The book content is set-up in a very logical way that allows thereader to understand. In each chapter, the objective is set out in the beginningand is achieved at the end of the chapter carefully not jumping back and forthbetween other similar ideas in the book.
Utley achieves his goal by dissectingthe myths and legends and leading to a better understanding of the CusterControversy. Utley successfully gives the reader a better understanding of thesubject leading the reader, if they wish, in the right direction of unlockingthe mystery of Custer and the Battle. Brian W. Dippie, who is responsible forwriting the introduction of the book states ” There is no final word, no endto the Custer debate. But there is a beginning point, and readers of Custer TheGreat Controversy hold the key in their hands”.