Son of the Morning Star (1991)

 

 

 

Director:    Mike Robe.

Starring:    Gary Cole (George Armstrong Custer), Rosanna Arquette (Libby Custer), Stanley Anderson Ulysses S. Grant), Edward Blatchford (Lt. Cooke), George Dickerson (Gen Sherman), Rodney A. Grant (Crazy Horse), Tom O'Brien (Charlie Reynolds), Terry O'Quinn (Gen. Alfred Terry), Nick Ramus (Red Cloud), Tim Ranson (Tom Custer), Robert Schenkan (Captain Weir), David Strathairn (Capt. William F. Benteen), Buffy Sainte-Marie (Kate Bighead, voice), Dean Stockwell (Gen. Philip Sheridan).

Made for TV movie.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

These days it is so politically-correct to condemn George Armstrong Custer.  Indeed, the estimation of the man varies over time with changes in the political climate.  From one time national hero, he now is seen as an arrogant, genocidal megalomaniac.

But Custer was just a man with good and bad traits.  This man from Ohio, graduate of West Point, was an absolutely fearless cavalry leader.  He became a national hero in the Civil War because of his many courageous cavalry charges with himself often in the lead.  In battle, he had many a horse shot out from under him.

Custer was very attached to his wife, Libbie.  He was court-marshaled on one occasion when he left a battlefield too precipitously in order to get back to see Libbie.  He was charged with leaving men on the field who possibly could still have been alive.

Custer was chosen to chase down the Sioux Indians because he was a fighter.  He was the man who his commander knew would chase the Indians and give battle.  He was the right man for the job.

Unfortunately for Custer, no one in the military realized just how many Indians had gathered together in a common camp.  By the time Custer found out their great numbers, it was too late.  Custer was very courageous and very impulsive.  He always had the faith that if he met the enemy he would defeat them.  (One time he put his small cavalry unit right smack in front of Lee's whole retreating army following the fall of Richmond and actually felt that he could stop Lee himself.) 

The terrain of the land is really what did Custer in at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.  The Indians were spread out on a flat river flood plain where their braves could move easily in any direction to maneuver their forces.  Custer's troops were on the higher ground that is covered with gullies where the water erodes the earth rushing down to the river during heavy rains.  The horses in this type of terrain tire very quickly.  

Simply put, Custer ran into a complete surprise at the size of the force arrayed against him and before he could really rally his troops, the soldiers were all spread out and were quickly outflanked by braves under Crazy Horse and completely surrounded by hostile forces.  

Custer had split his forces into three.  The reason for this was that the main task was to find the Indians.  So many others before Custer had the problem of just not finding the Indian forces.  Major Reno and his force arrived after Custer was already engaged in battle and his forces were immediately pinned down.  They were not relieved until the Indians picked up their tents and moved from the area.  They did not know the fate of Custer and wondered why he had not come to their support.  

Finding the dead bodies of Custer's cavalry was a big shock to the troops of the 7th Cavalry. Many of them were stripped naked and horribly mutilated.  Many of the troops harbored deep hatreds ever after this event.  (The 7th Cavalry perpetrated the massacre at Wounded Knee in southwest South Dakota in 1890.)  

The destruction of Custer and his part of the 7th Cavalry was a tragedy also for the Indians. The year 1876 was America's Centennial Celebration, which took place in Philadelphia. The massacre embarrassed the nation and they vowed revenge.  The plains Indians as a whole were largely put down in the aftermath of Little Big Horn.

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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