Book Review: The Fights on the Little Big Horn: Unveiling the Mysteries of Custer’s Last Stand


by Gordon Harper

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. x, 386. Illus., maps, tables, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $32,95. ISBN: 1612002145

Sorting out the Details of “Custer’s Last Stand”

“Custer’s Last Stand” on the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876), is perhaps the most contentious battle in American History, subject to numerous studies, turning up in almost as many films, and forever generating arguments about who did what and when and to whom and why. 

Gordon Harper (1939-2009) had a life long fascination with the battle, lived near the field for a time and toured it often, collected accounts of the battle, official papers, memoirs, and more, and hoped to write a definitive source book on it, but passed away before it was completed. This volume was compiled from his materials by his daughter Tori Harper and Gordon Richard.

The first half of the book is essentially a narrative treatment of the operations that culminated in Battle of the Little Big Horn, which Harper had largely completed before his death. It consists of four chapters that follow the various detachments of the 7th Cavalry as the moved toward the battlefield on the Greasy Grass River, followed by three chapters on Maj. Marcus Reno’s column, and then two chapters on the events and circumstances of the destruction of Custer’s battalion.

The second part of the book is titled “Analysis. It consists of eight essays that address particular questions about the battle and battlefield archaeology, from “A Question of Disobedience,” discussing whether or not Custer deliberately ignored orders through“The number of Warriors Facing the 7th Cavalry”, “Burials, Markers, and Survivors,” and so forth. 

While it’s likely that neither Custerphiles nor Custerphobes will be entirely happy with all of Gordon’s conclusions, anyone with a serious interest in the events on the Little Big Horn, or in the “Indian Fighting Army,” will find this excellent reading.

Note: In a unique example of a particular strength of electronic publishing, an e-book companion volume to The Fights on the Little Big Horn includes copies of more than 1,500 original source materials, official documents, letters, newspaper reports, diaries, memoirs.  The Fights on the Little Horn Companion: Gordon Harper's Full Appendices and Bibliography, is available for $39.95 from several booksellers.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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