Schultz, Duane, Custer; Lessons in Leadership, London, Palgrave
Publishing, 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-61708-7
Plenty of ink has been spilled over George Armstrong Custer in the last 30 years. Recent archeology has provided new insight to Custer’s most famous battle, but studies of the great General’s life have reached an impasse. Duane Schultz contributes a slender volume on Custer to the Great Generals series from Palgrave Publishing, and does his best to distinguish his work from the well worn Custer biographies.
“We built a foundation of thoughtful preparation, teamwork, and mutual understanding which has made our forces the most effective and agile in the world…We probably owe it all to Custer.” Such insight would have provided much needed depth to Schultz’s biography, unfortunately this passage is found in General Wesley Clark’s introduction. Clark contributes an interesting premise, Custer’s perceived recklessness provided valuable lessons to the American military. Schultz’s biography doesn’t stray from the usual Custer fare- boy general, personally brave, heroic during war, always ambitious, chivalric soldier caught in the wrong type of struggle where he pays the ultimate price.
In a surprising move, Schultz attempts to revive the story of Custer’s Indian love-child. A rumor first promulgated by Custer’s enemy, Frederick Benteen, scholars discarded it long ago- most effectively in 1984 by Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star. Schultz relies upon questionable sources and unreliable claims in oral history to support a rumor that contributes little to our understanding of Custer’s character. The revisionism of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s has been effectively refuted by more disciplined studies of the last 20 years. Custer provided New Left historians with a suitable villain to the image of the noble savage- the exploitation of an Indian woman added to his disreputable resume. Strange that Schultz would imply that the rumor could be true when well received studies from Connell, Jeffrey Wert, and Robert Utley have all relegated it to history’s ash heap.
An analytical study of Custer’s leadership and its effects on the evolution of the American military would be a valuable contribution to Custerology. Duane Schultz’s brief biography does not fill that need, but it does provide a fast read on one of America’s more controversial figures.