Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Military History Overview Lecture






 
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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Custer's Last Stand: The Indian View




Showdown at Little Big Horn by Dee Brown (1964)

     Dee Brown was a novelist and historian.  This book is a dramatic retelling of the battle as seen through the eyes of many of the major participants, military, civilian, and Indian.  The book is essentially a non-fiction novel, in which Brown puts words into the mouths of participants to make historical points.  For example, Brown has Captain French approaching Major Reno during the initial charge on the village and saying, “Winchesters!....Too many blasted redskins armed with new Winchesters.”  There are no new facts here, just Brown embracing certain historical assumptions through the medium of dramatic dialogue.
     What is new is Brown’s abandonment of the “Great Man” approach to history.  For Brown, the Battle of the Little Bighorn is not just, or primarily, about George Armstrong Custer.  Using eyewitness accounts, diaries, letters, and testimonies of participants in the battle, Brown embraces the historical perspective of the common man.  Significant too, is Brown’s willingness to embrace Indian testimony on an equal level with that of white participants.  This book anticipates the treatment of the battle in Brown’s more celebrated book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), in which he recounts the battle solely on the basis of Indian testimony.  In Bury My Heart Brown tacitly admits that Indian testimony can be contradictory, acknowledging at one point that no fewer than four different Indians had claims to killing Custer ( Rain-in-the Face, Flat Hip, Brave Bear, and an unidentified Santee warrior named by Red Horse).  Given the contradictions embedded in non-Indian accounts of the battle, however, Brown has concluded that it is reasonable to treat the Indian testimony on an equal footing.
     Brown’s use of the Indian perspective is a radical departure from previous histories written from the Anglo perspective of the battle and its aftermath.  Brown writes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, “When the white men in the East heard of Long Hair’s defeat, they called it a massacre and went crazy with anger.  They wanted to punish all the Indians in the West.  Because they could not punish Sitting Bull and the war chiefs, the Great Council in Washington decided to punish the Indians they could find, those who remained on the reservations and had taken no part in the fighting.”  On August 15, 1876, Congress forced the Indians to give up all rights to the Powder River country and the Black Hills, maintaining that the Indians had violated the treaty of 1868 by going to war with the United States.  “This was difficult for the reservation Indians to understand, because they had not attacked United States soldiers, nor had Sitting Bull’s followers attacked them until Custer sent Reno charging through the Sioux villages.” (Brown, 297-298)  By writing from the Indian perspective, Brown reverses the importance of the roles earlier histories assigned to Custer and the Indians.  Custer is now merely the foil for the real heroes of the story…the Indians.




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Treasure Legends of Virginia







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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Historic Civil War Blenheim: Fairfax,Virginia


Virginia Time Travel interviews Andrea Loewenwater from Historic Blenheim in Fairfax, Virginia.




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Friday, April 04, 2014

Stratagem 1861: The War for the Potomac




Virginia Time Travel interviews Robert Alton, author of the book Stratagem 1861 which describes the war for the Potomac River in 1861.










 
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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Women in the American Civil War





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The National Civil War Life Museum





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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: Nathaniel Philbrick - The Last Stand


The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick (2010)

     “Before Custer became the mythic figure we know today, he was a lieutenant colonel desperate to find a way to salvage his reputation after a run-in with President Grant.  Custer did not stride through history doing what he wanted; he, like any military man, spent most of his time following orders.” (Philbrick, 101)  Custer was on the brink of professional and financial ruin.  If he could catch the Indians all would be well again. In his most hopeful fantasies he imagined a draft Custer for President Movement at the Democratic convention which was to open in St. Louis on June 27.  More realistically he could expect accolades at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and big box office receipts for a lecture tour for which he was already booked. (Philbrick, 119)

     The villain of the Battle of the Little Bighorn (June 25, 1876) was General Alfred Terry and his flawed battle plan.  According to Philbrick, General Terry “wanted Custer to attack if he found a fresh Indian trail.”  He says, everyone knew perfectly well what Custer was going to do once Terry, “, in the words of Major Brisbin ‘turned the wild man loose.’”(Philbrick, 99)  General Terry was protective of his own military reputation however and was spinning an invisible and cunning web.  “Terry had a lawyer’s talent for crafting documents that appeared to say one thing but were couched in language that could allow for an entirely different interpretation should circumstances require it.”  Terry’s ambiguously worded orders to Custer, allowed him to protect his reputation no matter what happened.  “If Custer bolted for the village and claimed a great victory, it was because Terry had the wisdom to give him an independent command.  If Custer did so and failed, it was because he had disobeyed Terry’s written orders.”  Philbrick continues, “As Terry would have wanted it given the ultimate outcome of the battle, Custer has become the focal point, the one we obsess about when it comes to both the Black Hills Expedition and the Little Bighorn.  But, in many ways, it was Terry who was moving the chess pieces.  Even though his legal opinion launched the Black Hills gold rush and his battle plan resulted in one of the most notorious military disasters in U.S. history, Terry has slunk back into the shadows of history, letting Custer take center stage in a cumulative tragedy for which Terry was, perhaps more than any other single person, responsible.” (Philbrick, 102-103)

     In 1886, some ten years after the massacre of Custer and 225 men of the Seventh Cavalry, the well-respected Terry was promoted to the rank of Major General.



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