February 2012

Review: Evidence and the Custer Enigma

Jerome A. Greene's examination of a certain Sunday in June, 1876

Once upon a time in 1995, I went out west on a family trip wondering how many books I would buy.  I wound up coming home with quite a haul, and, naturally, most dealt with George Custer and his last battle.    I began my spree at –fittingly enough- Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument.

This was one of my purchases.

Review: The Bloody Bozeman

Dorothy Johnson's book on the storied trail

When you’re on vacation, you wind up collecting things as you go.  So much so I think it’s always best to pack lightly because you’re bound and determined to bring home a ton of stuff, whatever it may be.  One of the things in my case is books, and during a visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, in 1995, history geek that I am, I naturally gravitated towards the gift shop … and came out with this book.

The Fetterman Massacre

A review of Dee Brown's classic on this storied battle

Battles such as Isandlwana, Little Big Horn, and Maiwand have always fascinated me.  The combination of so-called “civilized” forces being pitted against “savages” and losing to the latter can grip the imagination when one imagines small knots of soldiers giving their all while surrounded by overwhelming numbers;  at least as depicted in popular culture.   The reality is always more gritty, desperate, bloody … but nonetheless just as fascinating as looking at, say, a sanitized painting by C.E. Fripp of the last stand of the 24th Foot in the face of the Zulu army defending their homeland at Isandlwana; if not more so.

One such desperate fight was the so-called Fetterman Massacre, which took place barely a year after the Civil War, on December 21st, 1866.   In this battle Captain William J. Fetterman lead a mixed force of infantry and cavalry with two Henry rifle-toting civilians tagging along (the walking soldiers carried the old Civil War-style muzzle-loading Springfield rifles, the cavalry seven-shot Spencer carbines)  on a mission to relieve an apparent Indian attack on a train bringing wood into Fort Phil Kearny on the Bozeman Trail to Virginia City, Montana, down in what once was known as the Wyoming Territory.