The Custer Conundrum by T. J. Stiles

Here’s two-time Pulitzer Prize winner T. J. Stiles giving an outstanding presentation on George Armstrong Custer based on his superb book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. He gave this presentation at the US Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA.

The video’s description reads, “George Armstrong Custer proved himself a highly capable commander from the battlefields of the American Civil War through the hills of Texas, to his final moments on the Great Plains. On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) hosted Mr. T.J. Stiles, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, as he presented a lecture entitled, ‘The Custer Conundrum.’ The lecture examined the complicated nature of leadership principles in the U.S. Army through the lens of the peculiar combination of Custer’s skills as a combat leader and failings as a regimental field commander. Brevet Major General of U.S. Volunteers during the Civil War and later, a Lieutenant Colonel in the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, George A. Custer was a highly skilled tactician and inspiring figure in battle, but failed to manage his men well in non-kinetic settings, whether in Texas in 1865–66 or on the Great Plains over the next decade. He also developed a problematic reputation within the army that complicated his relationship with his superiors, who often assumed the worst about him. Custer’s career sheds light on the U.S. Army itself, and its role in the transitional time during the push west across the continent in the Post-Civil War years. The Army represented the leading edge of modernization in the United States, introducing finely articulated organization, professionalization, and technical expertise into an individualistic country that was transforming into a corporate, organizational economy and society. Custer was both a highly trained professional—a technical expert—and a romantic individualist; his volatile nature emphasizes the broader themes of this transition. His self-destructive tendencies lead to a story, which highlights the peculiar demands the Army faced in conflict with Native peoples on the Great Plains.”

This is really a terrific presentation.

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