George Armstrong Custer's Life of Service and Lust for Fame
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
400 Pages | 6 x 9 | 12 b&w illus.
George Armstrong Custer, one of the most familiar figures of nineteenth-century American history, is known almost exclusively as a soldier, his brilliant military career culminating in catastrophe at Little Bighorn. But Custer, author James E. Mueller suggests, had the soul of an artist, not of a soldier. Ambitious Honor elaborates this radically new perspective, arguing that an artistic passion for creativity and recognition drove Custer to success—and, ultimately, to the failure that has overshadowed his notable achievements.
Custer's ambition is well known and played itself out on the battlefield and in his persistent quest for recognition. What Ambitious Honor provides is the context for understanding how Custer's theatrical personality took shape and thrived, beginning with his training at a teaching college before he entered West Point. Teaching, Mueller notes, requires creativity and performance, both of which fascinated and served Custer throughout his life—in his military leadership, his politics, and even his attention-getting, self-designed uniforms. But Custer's artistic personality emerges most clearly in his writing career, where he displayed a talent for what we now call literary journalism. Ambitious Honor offers a close look at Custer's work as a best-selling author right up to the time of his death, when he was writing another book and planning a speaking tour after the 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne.
Custer's fate at Little Bighorn was so dramatic that it sealed his place in the national story—and obscured, Mueller contends, the more interesting facets of his true nature. Ambitious Honor shows us Custer anew, as an artist thrust into the military because of the times in which he lived. This nuanced portrait, for the first time delineating his sense of image, whether as creator or consumer, forever alters Custer's own image in our view.
“A fresh and lively look at George Armstrong Custer, America’s most fascinating—and controversial—cavalry commander, and his action-packed life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.” —James Donovan, author of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—The Last Great Battle of the American West
“An ancillary addition to the Custer shelves.”—Kirkus
“No American soldier has attracted as much historical attention as George Armstrong Custer. Thousands of books and articles, and a fair number of movies and television shows have featured him in whole or in part, and the fascination with the officer is unlikely to end anytime soon. In this biography, James E. Mueller, a journalism professor at the University of North Texas, takes a new approach to his subject by stressing his artistic instincts. The author presents a well-researched account of Custer’s life. Throughout his text, he takes the new approach of emphasizing Custer’s artistic nature — from his garish general’s uniform worn during the Civil War; to his close friendship with artists and actors (such as Lawrence Barrett); to his instituting distinct colors for the horses in each of the Seventh’s twelve companies, so that they would look better on parade. Ambitious Honor is a fine addition to the ever-growing body of work on the namesake for “Custer’s Last Stand.”— Journal of America’s Military Past