Book Review: Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry (Kenneth Hammer with Ronald H. Nichols) : WW

8/12/2001 • Battle of Little Bighorn, George Custer, George Mcclellan, Union Soldiers, Wild West Reviews

When it comes to the Little Bighorn, far more ink than blood has been spilled. How and when some 210 soldiers under George Armstrong Custer’s direct command died remains a mystery because there were no acknowledged survivors. This is a book about his men, not their battle, and therein lies its importance. Hammer and Nichols’ work is a long-awaited revision of Hammer’s original Little Big Horn Biographies with an improved format, new information and abundant source citations.

The biographies are arranged in alphabetical order, including all members of the 7th Cavalry on June 25, 1876, Indian and Anglo scouts, teamsters and other civilians. A 7th Cavalry organization chart and high-quality photographs of the officers and a few NCOs, scouts and notable civilians add polish. Appendices include rosters annotated with those killed, wounded and detached, casualty summaries, aliases, medal winners, and interments by cemetery.

Hammer’s original work relied heavily on the National Archives and anecdotes “from innumerable sources.” Much of the biographical information taken from Army files is subject to inevitable clerical error and civilian misinterpretation. Some of these are significant to students of the Western Indian wars who might not be fully familiar with America’s Civil War. The central character’s own biography provides a good illustration. Lieutenant Custer was not “transferred” from the 2nd Cavalry to the 5th Cavalry. Union mounted regiments were renumbered in August 1861; Custer’s regiment, fifth in lineage, became the 5th Cavalry. Also, Captain Custer did not actually serve with Maj. Gen. George McClellan “to March 31, 1863,” nor did he assist “preparing his report to April 13.” Instead, he was on leave in Monroe, Mich., courting Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon, from mid-November 1862 until reporting for duty on April 10, 1863.
Jerry Meyers