Thursday, February 19, 2009

Military traditions

I just finished reading A Terrible Glory, a history about Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, the battle of the Little Bighorn, and a military screw-up and subsequent cover-up that ranks right up there with some of the finest army disasters and CYA activities of all time. I've read a lot about Custer and the Sioux wars so this book didn't hold many surprises.

One thing did become clear, though. I always wondered why Anheuser-Busch distributed so many prints of Custer's Last Stand to taverns. After reading A Terrible Glory it's clear the brewery was in mourning over losing so many of its best customers. It's moderately amazing the members of the 7th Cavalry were able to stay on their horses considering how much booze both the officers and enlisted men consumed. Major Reno should have been absolutely paralytic, but even in the heat of battle instead managed to keep staggering to the whiskey jugs and picking fights with enlisted men while his company (or what was left of it) tried to stay alive. And while Reno may have been the biggest drunk, he definitely wasn't the only one.

The Army did eventually get around to investigating what went wrong, and, in the fine tradition of whitewash jobs everywhere, the board of inquiry eventually found that if anyone had messed up it was the dead guy. No surprise there. In short, no significant problems with communications, supply lines, or intelligence on the part of the generals planning the campaign, and if Reno and the other surviving officers disobeyed orders, behaved like gibbering idiots, or just generally screwed up big time they were still all found to have behaved honorably and with distinction. Medals were handed out, promotions assured, and everyone went home happy except Custer's widow. She spent the next 50+ years working on redeeming his image as a popular hero. Not that it helped him in the long run -- once she was dead, too, historians had a field day. Custer's one of those colorful idiots that just makes for really good story telling, no matter what type of revisionist spin someone wants to put on the whole mess.


  1. yupper, he was a buttroy alright..and paid for it with all of his mens lives and his...

  2. I just wish that this country could grow up and get over being proud of it's past wars and history, most of it was pretty ugly and nothing to be proud of.

    Generally speaking America is not a nice country, it's just a tribe of relocated monkeys.

  3. I've read about 40 or so books on Custer, Reno, etc., etc., my own self. Is this one worth buying or just reading?

  4. ER - I'd put it in the "get it from the library" category. It's interesting, but doesn't really add anything new if a person is already well read on Custer and the Sioux wars.


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