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on 21 August 2011
An excellent study by Robert Kershaw of the destruction of Custer's force at the Little Big Horn in 1876 shows the consequences of under-estimating the enemy. It rests on deep research, careful analysis and is well-written. It smashes the mythology which has underlain Hollywood treatment of the battle and produced the cliche of the 7th cavalry riding to the rescue!

George Armstrong Custer's Civil War reputation was the product of luck, panache,ambition and self-confidence. Fighting a different enemy under different conditions made such quallities lead to disaster.

It's a sad tale of a general pushing his troops beyond reason in search of glory - exhaustion, hunger, thirst, lack of intelligence of terrain or enemy numbers and tactical naivety. Custer divided his 7th cavalry force into units which lost touch with each other due to the unexplored terrain. He took on an enemy outnumbering his total force in a manner which drastically increased the odds. He expected the enemy to run at the first sign of danger: they fought back with firepower exceeding his own, morale surpassing that of his force and physically better able to tackle such a chaotic fight. The fate of individual troopers is described in horrific detail - much based on archaeological evidence. Custer proved his own worst enemy - waiting to combine with General Terry would have provided greater force, keeping a tighter link to supplies of ammunition, food and water would have strengthened his troopers, combining more with subordinates (e.g. Reno & Benteen) might prevented such heavy losses, a better use of reconnaisance would have led to a very different, and more successful, outcome.

However, he wasn't solely responsible. His opinion of Sioux & Cheyenne military abilities was commonplace among the whites. General Crook worsted at the Rosebud but a few day's before didn't report any details to other commanders. The overall command were more involved in celebrating the Centennial in Washington and protecting their own reputations. The 7th had inadequate training (e.g. marksmanship) & lacked first-class equipment. The US Government expected too much from over-stretched forces controlling excessive areas occupied by inhabitants whipped into resistance by the greed and ambition of white intruders.

Before the British smile at the US discomfiture they should consider the British disasters at Isandhwana against the Zulus (1879) and in Afghanistan (1881) and against the Boers in 1881 and 1899. In all cases military hubris thrusts itself to the forefront of explanation.

Kershaw invites comparison with contemporary situations in which events didn't go as expected - Somalia (1993) and Afghanistan since 2001 are but two examples.
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on 9 April 2009
A steady,easy-to-read account of a battle much given over to interpretation and opinion.The writer is careful to avoid being too obviously pro or anti Custer,Reno or Benteen.He takes note of the discoveries after the grassfires of 1983 and gives a logical description of what probably happened.He is certainly right that the tactical handling of the cavalry was initially plagued by false conclusions which were magnified at each subsequent stage of the battle.Custer got it wrong,
the indians did not.
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VINE VOICEon 7 April 2009
Robert Kershaw, a British Army Officer, has managed to deliver the definitive work on one of the most iconic battles of American history.

This is a superb examination of the Battle of Little Big Horn which is not lost in Custer bashing or Sioux glorification.

Kershaw's perspective is as a fighting soldier. He examines each decision made by the Seventh Cavalry as a military tactician - whether it makes sense considering the information in front of the commanders, whether it was sensible or mis-guided. This point of view puts you right at the heart of the action - from the first contact to the frantic last few minutes.

But this is not dry, military college tactics analysis; Kershaw never forgets these are men - fighting and dying - and contains a wealth of detail on their lives, motivations, prejudices.

In short, the best book on Little Big Horn - cool, clinical and engaging.
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on 16 May 2009
Kershaw has, in my opinion, written a masterpiece of plains indians history.

Not only has he described in great detail the defeat of Custers command, but also,has given a great insite to the "foregotten" battles of that day,and the following day, i.e the commands of Reno and Benteen.

It is written with such feeling,and understanding, you cannot fail to be moved by the tragic events as they unfold.

The quotes from journals of the soldiers involved add's poignancy to the vivid events of the two days.

A "must have" book for any serious student of native american wars.
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on 28 October 2009
This is by far the best account of the events leading to and the outcome of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Kershaw debunks all the old myths surrounding 'Custer's Last Stand' and presents a very readable and plausable interpretation of what happened on that fateful day. I challenge any person to put down the book once they start reading.
Written in a very clear and attractive style the author's account stands head and shoulders above any others because he has brought his own experiences as a professional soldier to evaluate the available evidence. In particular, his understanding of the tactical importance of the ground, the factors influencing Custer's decision making (eg, fatigue, doctrine, enemy actions) and the comparison of combat strengths present a balanced view of what happened.
However, this is not a dry and dusty read. His descriptive use of language and engaging narrative means you can almost 'taste' the action as it unfolds.
Definitley on a par with anything Anthony Beevor (Stalingrad)has written.
If you don't buy any other book on this subject, buy this one, you will not be disappointed.
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on 25 November 2014
For just about as long as I can remember I've been interested in the story of The Battle of the Little Bighorn. I can remember owning a Ladybird book about it as a young boy, but I can also remember being unable to make sense of the sequence of events. I didn't understand why Benteen and Reno were separated from Custer, why the size of the village was such a big shock, why the separate commands were so isolated from each other, why Custer was overrun when Reno was not or how the Native Americans were able to respond so rapidly and effectively. Since then I've read several other accounts but none had done much to clarify things in my mind, until now.

Robert Kershaw takes as his starting points two other famous 'Indian fights' - the Fetterman massacre and the Wagon Box Fight. He explains the factors of terrain, weapons, tactics and command decisions that lead to one of these being a famous defeat and the other a famous victory. He then describes the influences that both sides were under when defining their particular 'tactical systems', the resource constraints that both were operating under and their relative successes in incorporating the lessons of previous campaigns into the fighting in 1874. His conclusions might be surprising, but they are well argued and supported by statistics and ample sources.

In the immediate lead-up to the battle, Kershaw describes Custer's decision making process based on what's known about his movements, his awareness of the enemy situation, and his experience and ambition. He identifies several key 'decision points' as stepping stones to the final defeat and convincingly details the various pressures that lead to each being taken.

Once battle is joined Kershaw uses ample eye-witness accounts, from both sides, to describe the action and uses archaeological evidence to support this, where it's available. After Custer's battalion has been isolated from the remainder of the regiment, the only accounts available are the oral and pictorial histories left by the Native Americans, these are bolstered by more archaeological and statistical evidence and shown to be largely accurate. All this is backed up by clear and comprehensible sketch maps detailing the movements of each part of Custer's command.

The language used throughout is clear and concise with only the occasional lapse into unexplained military jargon and Kershaw's appreciation of the role fatigue must have played in the defeat of the 7th Cavalry and the tactical advantages the Sioux were able to exploit are second-to-none. The book would have benefited from an additional proof reading, though, there are a couple of sentences that just don't make sense and at least one occasion where text has been dumped into a paragraph where it simply doesn't belong.

I have read accusations of bias in other reviews, I think this comes from the fact that this is emphatically an account of the actions of the U.S. army during the campaign period and there is little to no detail on what command decisions were taken on the other side of the fence. However, given that the U.S. were the aggressor, that the Sioux and their allies were passive unless imminently threatened and that the tactical system described by Kershaw as being employed by the Sioux negated the influence of a central command I think this imbalance is justified. Certainly there is no suggestion in the text that the author favours one side over the other or any hint of a patronising attitude towards Native Americans.

Overall, I found this to be entertaining, gripping and informative and I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in military history or the psychology of folly.
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on 25 October 2010
If that's not the basis of a good story .....what is ?? Get inside the Hollywood version and find out the REAL story
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on 16 March 2009
An excellent, informative book that brings the people involved to life. Very good character assessments, and descriptions of the various battle sequences are frighteningly realistic.
The author tries to give a balanced view of the whole episode.
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on 22 July 2009
...I can only concurr with the previous comments.....as a longtime donkey walloper.... I have to say that the tactical insight of this former Para and his story telling is little short of superb.....get rid of the rest of your Custer library....this is "the Book".....

Tally ho!
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on 15 April 2011
After much reading on this subject and visiting the battlefield.I must say without a doubt that this is a great book , the best I have come across . Now I feel that I fully understand what really happened !
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