A lasting impression after reading Custer’s Trials is that George Armstrong Custer was a man who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time—until he died being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Pulitzer Prize winner T.J. Stiles (The First Tycoon) chronicles Custer’s knack for being present at significant historic events and around remarkable historical figures. Bold, ambitious and dashing, Custer commanded attention. He joined the Union cavalry at the onset of the Civil War and was present at the First Battle of Bull Run. Later, upon delivering a message to Union headquarters, he met General George B. McClellan and joined his staff. Custer went on to serve in many major battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg, and was present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
Not bad for a guy who graduated last in his class at West Point.
He might have retired to a prosperous business career, but the pulse of glory still circulated in Custer’s veins. So he signed on with General Philip Sheridan and took part in the American Indian Wars. That led to his last meeting with a famous man, Crazy Horse, who led his Lakota warriors in the destruction of Custer and his troops at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
In writing Custer’s Trials, Stiles presents a much fuller picture of the tragic figure many of us know. He shows a Custer who came from a simple farming family and suggests that those humble roots drove him to take risks in the pursuit of fame and fortune. While Custer remains a controversial figure for his violent treatment of Native Americans, Custer’s Trials masterfully adds dimension to his life, helping us better understand the man behind the legend.