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Custer expert debunks myths about general

4/22/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

One of the biggest misconceptions about George Armstrong Custer was he was a fool, an egotist. Instead, at Little Big Horn, he merely was following orders, said author Sandy Barnard.

"Custer is both a good human being and a flawed human being," said Barnard, who has written several books on the flamboyant cavalry officer.

Barnard gave a PowerPoint presentation on two of his books, "Ten Years with Custer: A 7th Cavalryman's Memoirs," and "A Hoosier Quaker Goes to War, the Life & Death of Major Joel H. Elliott, 7th Cavalry," on Sunday afternoon at Ellis County Historical Society Museum.

"Some people would have you believe (Custer) woke up on a Sunday morning and decided to ride out and kill Indians at Little Big Horn," said Barnard, who is considered an authority on Custer. "Custer was leading his regiment under orders from the U.S. government."

Ryan fought at large battles in both the Civil War and Indian Wars.

"Ryan is interesting because as an enlisted man, he served for so many years and found himself in huge historical engagements, ranging from Gettysburg and Fredericksburg of the Civil War, to the Washita and Little Big Horn," Barnard said. "Probably there is no man in that period of time ... (who was) involved in that many significant battles as he was."

Elliott, a Quaker, is interesting for another reason -- for his reasoning to become a soldier.

"Here's a man whose tenets of his faith say thou shall not do this," Barnard said. "But because of the issue of slavery ... he was quite opposed to slavery. He also was very much a patriot. He was opposed to the division of the country."

A confluence of events led to disaster for Custer at Little Big Horn. One was Custer's reliance on a tactic which served him well in the victory at the battle at Washita. Then, he swept up Indian women and children in a cavalry charge.

At that battle, however, it was winter; the Indians weren't prepared to fight. At Little Big Horn, that wasn't the case.

Barnard's next book also is about Custer. He has access to numerous photographs of Little Big Horn and is writing text to go along with them.

All this from someone who didn't start out intending to become a Custer expert.

Barnard, 69, grew up in Boston. He lives now in Wake Forest, N.C. He was a newspaper reporter in North Carolina before becoming a journalism professor at Indiana State University, where he retired eight years ago.

"Some people will call me a historian, but I still think of myself as a journalist," Barnard said. "Historians and reporters have a great deal in common."

Mary Ann Thompson, Hays, also discussed her publication, "Winners of the West," which focused on Custer articles during the Indian Wars.

Barnard's and Thompson's books are available at the museum bookstore.