PBS special explores “Custer’s Last Stand”

Much of how we view history is based on interpretation, and perhaps no figure in American lore creates more diverse opinions than Gen. George Custer. To some, he was a military hero; to others, he was a controversial figure whose arrogance ultimately led to his infamous death at The Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

As part of its fantastic American Experience series, PBS tonight airs a two-hour biography of one of our countries most lauded and criticized icons of 19th century. Premiering at 8pm ET, Custer’s Last Stand documents his heroic Civil War battles while also exploring the narcissistic personality and need for fame that led to his demise.

“Custer is controversial for the same reasons he was so successful in his own time,” historian Michael Elliott said. “He was an outsized personality who used the tools around him to shape himself into a public figure that embodies many of the things that make us uncomfortable about American history — the way that Americans sometimes rush into a military action, the way that America has treated American Indians and other peoples now around the world. These are questions that are really raw and nagging and we haven’t resolved them. And until we do we’re going to keep returning to Custer and the controversies that surround him.”

In 1876, Custer was joined by Gen. John Gibbon and Gen. George Crook in what was supposed to be a three-pronged attack. But when Custer took it upon himself to charge a group of Indians with no support from the other two brigades, it led to the massacre of him and his 210 soldiers. What was initially thought to be a sure victory for the United States quickly turned into one of our country’s greatest military disasters.

PBS tonight delves into how that fateful decision turned a fame-starved military officer into the infamous figure he is today.


Courtesy of Library of Congress