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An Exercise of Power

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Fighting Words: The bloody saga of George Armstrong Custer

Robert Downes - June 23rd, 2008
A Terrible Glory
By James Donovan
Little, Brown and Company
528 pages • $26.99


“June 25, 1876. The air is filled with smoke, arrows, and the roar of hundreds of rifles. George Armstrong Custer and five undermanned companies of his famed Seventh Cavalry are trapped on a hill overlooking a river called the Little Bighorn. They are surrounded by more than a thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors...”
So begins the much-told tale of George Armstrong Custer, “the Boy General” whose hubris led more than 200 men to their death in what author James Donovan calls “The Last Great Battle of the American West.”
There have been many retellings of Custer’s last stand on a hill in Montana, but Donovan sheds new light on the battle by exploring unpublished resources and new forensic evidence. His claims are backed up by more than 80 pages of footnotes in small type, as well as a bibliography that cites hundreds of books, articles and unpublished accounts.
More to the point, his superb scholarship is matched by a spellbinding gift for storytelling: Donovan is adept at drawing pictures with his words, bringing the story of “the last cavalier” to life. That gift is perhaps a bi-product of the fact that he’s also the author of an illustrated book on the battle, “Custer and the Little Bighorn.”
 
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