TO HELL WITH HONOR: CUSTER AND THE LITTLE BIGHORN, by Larry Sklenar, University of Oklahoma Press, 395 pages, $29.95.
Author Larry Sklenar spent six years researching George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the result is not just another discourse on the most famous of Army-Indian battles.
Neither a biography nor a simple retelling of the known facts, Sklenar’s self-styled “historiography” offers a stimulating account of the Seventh Cavalry’s fight against Sioux and Cheyenne in southern Montana in June 1876. More importantly, Sklenar provides some new interpretations of the battle and its participants. Most of the sources cited (predominantly military) have already been published, but Sklenar’s conclusions are thought provoking.
Sklenar argues that instead of charging in like some reckless glory hunter, Custer had a viable battle plan. Once he realized his force was overmatched, he then tried to save the rest of his regiment at the now-famous Last Stand. What doomed Custer were his other officers, specifically the “heavy-drinking” Major Marcus Reno and “stubborn” Captain Frederick Benteen. Yet this is not an apologist’s biography of Custer, who died, Sklenar writes, “through his own fault.”
Sklenar offers appraisals of the campaign’s other soldiers, both those who loved Custer and those, especially Benteen, who hated him. In addition to analyzing the key moves made by Custer, Benteen, Reno, and others, this book provides much insight into the testimony of survivors–military and Indian–and the motives behind their statements.
To Hell With Honor is a well-documented and compelling account of the Little Bighorn that advances some intriguing speculations about what happened there–and why.
JOHNNY D. BOGGSis a freelance writer, photographer, and novelist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who specializes in the nineteenth-century American West.