Custer And The Great Controversy Essay

Custer and the Great Controversy by Robert M.Utley The controversy of General
Custer and the actions that culminated his fate and almost three hundred men
under his command has long been discussed and debated by many historians as well
as important military officials all trying to conclude what happened at the
Battle of Little Bighorn. There have been countless myths and legends of what
occurred on that fateful day in American history, but there has yet to be a
solid right answer. This answer is difficult to conclude for one reason, there
were no survivors of the battle from Custer’s troops. This led to the many
different sides of story that were mostly fabricated by newspapers and authors
to sell their papers and books, without much care towards the accuracy of the
battle and it events. The book, Custer and The Great Controversy try’s to put
into context the developing situations prior to and after the battle to get to
the roots of these legends and myths to try and make sense of them. The
author’s goal is not to come to a conclusion and a theory of his own, but to
disregard the myths and legends of the past and in doing so shed some light on
the controversy for people who may have thought otherwise. The author achieves
this goal in a unique way by writing chronologically but at the same time writes
about the major events of the developing controversy, sometimes overlapping in
years but making smooth connections between similar the events. First, the
author 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 the
battle and then finally the battle itself in a broad context. Doing this gives
the reader a foundation of what lies ahead in the book. Secondly, the author
describes the role of the press and its impact after the battle has concluded.

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The press can be looked upon as the main reason for the overwhelming myths and
legends that followed due to their unwillingness to find the facts and their
motivation to sell their papers. Thirdly, the author attends to the great debate
that followed the battle a few years later, that was fueled by these myths and
arose during this hostile time. The debate was between the critics who thought
that Custer led his men into suicide by disobeying orders and selfishly seeking
the individual pride and glory that followed him throughout his military career
up until his death at The Battle of Little Bighorn. On the other side of the
debate, were the people who thought of Custer as a hero and sacrificing himself
as well as his army for the United States. They placed the blame on orders that
were to broad in detail and on the cowardliness of other military leaders who
wouldn’t engage in the battle. The following chapter sheds light on the
mystery of the battle by seeking the Indian side of the story by crediting and
discrediting the stories of the Indians on what happened in the battle. In the
fifth 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 knows
when Custer actually perished and how it is myth all within itself and the
author gives the evidence to support this and the other myths of what happened
in the battle. In the ending chapter the author gives a bibliographical survey
of the books written preceding the battle and their importance in the developing
and 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 grader
when he watched the movie They Died with Their Boots On. From there on Utley was
devoured by the legend of Custer and determined to fine the answers of this
mystery. By the age of twenty-two, Utley compiled his master thesis at the
University of Indiana on The Custer Controversy: A Historiographical Story of
the Battle of The Little Bighorn for the Period 1876-1900. At the age of
Thirty-five he wrote the book, Custer and The Great Controversy trying to put
the legend that has developed over the years into a format that explains the
roots of these myths and legends. Utley believes if you can get to the roots of
these myths and legends that were created in past and disregard them you can
begin to solve the mystery of The Battle of Little Bighorn. Other books written
by Utley followed Custer and The Great Controversy that concentrated on military
and Indian affairs in the old west. On a personal note the book was well-written
and captivated my attention as well as my imagination. My only knowledge of
Custer was of the movie that the author also saw as a young boy, which was They
Died with Their Boots On. I took the knowledge from the movie and incorporated
that as my knowledge of the subject. Utley showed me the myths that the movie
contained and many more, giving me a better understanding of what was contained
in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Utley gives precise detail in describing the
many issues that are intertwined in the book by giving abundant amounts of
sources to back up and aid in his knowledge of Custer. In only a few parts would
the abundance of military names accompanied by their ranks confuse a reader, but
over the entire book is very clear in the direction that the writer is
following. The book content is set-up in a very logical way that allows the
reader to understand. In each chapter, the objective is set out in the beginning
and is achieved at the end of the chapter carefully not jumping back and forth
between other similar ideas in the book. Utley achieves his goal by dissecting
the myths and legends and leading to a better understanding of the Custer
Controversy. Utley successfully gives the reader a better understanding of the
subject leading the reader, if they wish, in the right direction of unlocking
the mystery of Custer and the Battle. Brian W. Dippie, who is responsible for
writing the introduction of the book states ” There is no final word, no end
to the Custer debate. But there is a beginning point, and readers of Custer The
Great Controversy hold the key in their hands”.


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