SINCE 1876 HISTORIANS have debated every nuance of Custer’s battle against the Sioux at the Little Bighorn River. The quantity of literature produced is stunning, and it consistently contends that Custer was thrown on the defensive, that he quickly hunkered down on a ridgeline, awaiting help that never came. An even more troubling scenario is offered up by others, most notably Captain Frederick Benteen in 1876 and archeologist Richard Fox today, who contend it was a rout without any true defensive lines or even the celebrated “last stand.”
But the well-accepted details have baffled many who have studied the battle and the man in depth. The idea of Custer dismounting his troopers to hold a ridgeline, passively waiting for help, goes against the grain of every aspect of his career and character. How could this brilliant, consistently aggressive officer have been thrown totally on the defensive? In MHQ‘s Winter 2013 issue, historian Paul Andrew Hutton contends that the conventional interpretation of Custer’s movements is deeply flawed and that, in fact, Custer retained the offensive throughout the battle.
On May 22, 2013, Hutton received the Army Historical Foundation’s 2013 Distinguished Writing Award (Journals and Magazines) for this story. We’ve posted it to celebrate!