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Custer Died for Your Sins
June 25, 2006 4:34 PM   Subscribe

One hundred and thirty years ago today, George Armstrong Custer divided his forces in the face of a superior enemy and rode to his death at the Little Big Horn. The actual battle lasted about 15 minutes, but the fight over Custer's legacy is going into its second century. Visit the battle memorial (webcam view) explore the archeology of the site, or read an Indian account of the battle. The battle has attracted artists as varied as Charlie Russell (this poster of his painting was distributed by Anheiser Busch and hung in bars across the United States), Thomas Hart Benton, and Kicking Bear (Mato Wanartaka). Little Big Horn is a lonely place today.
posted by LarryC (33 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 


Custer was a cunt. The end.
posted by dobbs at 4:46 PM on June 25, 2006


Custer was a cunt. The end.

Calamity Jane FTW. (She always called him 'Armstrong' though.)
posted by SenshiNeko at 4:56 PM on June 25, 2006


'cuz he was always so fulla himself
posted by Flashman at 4:59 PM on June 25, 2006


PS, your title - Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?
posted by Flashman at 5:05 PM on June 25, 2006


When asked for comment, Custer's superior officer said, "Wow. That was dumb."
posted by blacklite at 5:30 PM on June 25, 2006


The Battle of Little Bighorn is noteworthy in part because it was such an anomaly. There were very, very few cases in which aborigines managed to defeat western military forces so completely; Isandhlwana is the only similar case that comes to mind.

The other reason both are noteworthy is that in the long run they didn't make any difference to the aborigines in question. The Sioux (and the Zulus) were eventually defeated in those wars.

Both battles were the result of criminal overconfidence on the part of western military leaders. The main difference between them is that Custer was among those who died because of his stupidity, but Lord Chelmsford wasn't with the men who were lost because of his stupidity.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:40 PM on June 25, 2006


Interesting, as in my Military History course, the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Battle of Thermopylae were often used as case examples of smaller, more advanced (technologically, training and discipline) forces taking on larger forces. It was a demonstration that technology, training and discipline are not substitutes for strategy, understanding the enemy and terrain.
posted by forforf at 5:45 PM on June 25, 2006


Excellent post... Crazy Horse and Custer is a great book by Stephen Ambrose on the subject...
posted by AspectRatio at 5:52 PM on June 25, 2006


welcome to fort custer

photographs here ... by the 80s, it was nearly as desolated as little big horn ... now, it's an industrial park
posted by pyramid termite at 5:52 PM on June 25, 2006


There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Little Bighorn and from Isandhlwana. One of the reasons why the Sioux did as well as they did at Little Bighorn was that many of them were armed with repeating rifles, whereas Custer's men were using single-shot carbines. Those tended to jam, and even when they worked their fire rate was much inferior.

However, it was difficult for the Sioux to get hold of ammunition, and they expended most of their supply in that battle. So one of the lessons has to do with logistics: no amount of field brilliance and/or good fortune and/or successful exploitation of enemy stupidity can, in the long run, overcome logistical weakness.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:53 PM on June 25, 2006


Which is, of course, why Lee wanted to invade the North as early as he could in the Civil War. If you can make the war short enough, there is no "long run."

That's a lot easier said than done, as the Confederacy, Nazi Germany, and the Empire of Japan all found out.
posted by Justinian at 5:57 PM on June 25, 2006


Previous post on Crazy Horse.
posted by homunculus at 6:02 PM on June 25, 2006


The Battle of Little Bighorn is noteworthy in part because it was such an anomaly.

Yes and no. In every case where the U.S. army met mounted Indian warriors in anything like equal numbers, the Indians won! They often had good weapons, as Steven noted, and were far better shots than U.S. troops, who were famously poor marksman. There was a similar disparity in horsemanship skills. And the Indians morale was much higher than that of the frontier army, where drunkenness and desertion were endemic.

Crazy Horse and Custer is a great book by Stephen Ambrose on the subject...

Well, it is a great book by someone. Ambrose was a lifelong plagiarist, from his dissertation to his last book (excluding his memoir), everything he wrote included passages lifted straight from other historian's works, and far longer sections where he lightly paraphrases page after page of someone elses research. Organizers of the early Lewis and Clark bicentennial events, before Ambrose came down with cancer, had to be careful in their scheduling, since the leading Lewis and Clark scholars quietly let it be known they would not share a podium with Stephen Ambrose, who had stolen so much of their work.
posted by LarryC at 6:44 PM on June 25, 2006


I meant to post his as more inside: Custer's Autobiography, My Life on the Plains, is online. If you only read one thing about Custer, the third chapter, "A Futile Pursuit," tells you all you need to know about his character, especially at the end where he--I won't give it away.

His widow Libby Custer lived into the 1920s, and the Custer myth was really her life work. She skillfully used her position as a respected Victorian widow-martyr to shield her husband from any posthumous criticism. Her autobiography is online as well.

Finally, an MP3 of an old western folk song about Little Big Horn--"Custer's Last Charge."
posted by LarryC at 6:53 PM on June 25, 2006


Don't forget his video game appearance.
posted by sourwookie at 7:11 PM on June 25, 2006


Hah! Thanks for the autobiography link, LarryC. The end of the third chapter is, indeed, well worth the read.
posted by event at 7:12 PM on June 25, 2006


PS, your title - Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?
posted by Flashman at 8:05 PM EST on June 25 [+fave] [!]


No, Vine Deloria, Jr.
posted by NoMich at 7:57 PM on June 25, 2006


As the AIM used to say: Custer had it coming. This one American myth that needs to die, already.
posted by jonmc at 8:12 PM on June 25, 2006


Afterwards...a grass stall was made on board the steamer which had brought Custer and his command to the battlefield--The Far West--for Comanche, the sole survivor. The steamer made record time--54 hours, never again equalled--down the river to Bismarck tp deliver the news to wires...
posted by wallstreet1929 at 8:35 PM on June 25, 2006


Very nice post. Certainly the famous, brief, firefight would be one of the top five moments in American history that — if we had time machines — I would like to watch. I've always found it memorable, fascinating, whatever the word is, the few times I've toured the battlefield (including once in the dead of winter).

Years ago I worked on a newspaper with an editor whose father was an agent for New York Life. He told me the story of, truly, one of history's forgotten men — the guy who sold Custer his life insurance policy.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:53 PM on June 25, 2006


I moved to Monroe, Michigan in fifth grade or so, and my elementary school was named after Custer... there are all sorts of landmarks dedicated to him in town.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:32 PM on June 25, 2006


I read an account where one of the Sioux said the battle lasted as long "as it took a hungry man to eat his dinner." What a great way to say "about 15 minutes."
posted by marxchivist at 9:50 PM on June 25, 2006


the plaque on custers' headstone is badly corroded.... probably from people urinating on it:


posted by breakfast_yeti at 11:10 PM on June 25, 2006


Another battlefield named after the loser? A very guick google didn't show up anything.
posted by Joeforking at 3:57 AM on June 26, 2006


When I was little, I read some child's biography of Custer. I thought he was the hoot. Then I grew up and gained an intense dislike for the man. Any time I'm in the company of others who talk about the mythical Custer, I quickly inform them about the factual Custer.


posted by Atreides at 4:56 AM on June 26, 2006


About Black Kettle:
In the winter of 1868 Black Kettle and his people were camped on the Washita River. On 27th November, 1868, the camp was attacked by Major General George A. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Custer later claimed that his men killed 103 warriors. However, the majority of the victims were women and children.
*gets in line to piss on Custer's marker*
posted by pracowity at 5:06 AM on June 26, 2006


Custer was my father's hero. My parents got married June 25, 1950, the day the Korean War started. As the oldest child, I had the honor of growing up with one of those cardboard Anheiser Busch Russell reproductions on my bedroom wall. Soon after the song Mr. Custer came out, my father sabotaged our radio. I didn't figure out that the song Sergeant Flynn wasn't a lullaby until I got married.
posted by taosbat at 7:12 AM on June 26, 2006


Look at all those fucking Indians.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:24 AM on June 26, 2006


LarryC writes "I meant to post his as more inside: Custer's Autobiography, My Life on the Plains, is online. If you only read one thing about Custer, the third chapter, 'A Futile Pursuit,' tells you all you need to know about his character, especially at the end where he--I won't give it away."

Holy shit. That is, indeed, revealing. What a jackass.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:01 AM on June 26, 2006


Yeah, not just what he did, but that he can tell the story thinking that it makes him look good! A very special piece of work.
posted by LarryC at 11:10 AM on June 26, 2006


I moved to Monroe, Michigan in fifth grade or so, and my elementary school was named after Custer... there are all sorts of landmarks dedicated to him in town.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:32 PM PST on June 25 [+fave] [!]


Then you are aware that Custer's last instructions to his father-in-law, Judge Daniel Stanton Bacon, a prominent man then in Monroe (member of the territorial delegation, director of a bank and a railroad company) were "Don't change a thing until I return!"

Any brief visit to Monroe will confirm that they honored Custer's request.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:37 AM on June 26, 2006


There were very, very few cases in which aborigines managed to defeat western military forces so completely

As LarryC said, that point can only be defended by examining one particular skirmish at a time. The fact remains that it took decades for the U.S. forces to subdue the native populations of the west, and that the campaign for the control of the west was clownish, long, bloody, miserably managed, poorly fought, and embarrassingly cruel as well as highly inefficient.
posted by Miko at 6:45 PM on June 26, 2006


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