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Greasy Grass

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Of the many controversies surrounding the life and death of George Armstrong Custer, none has been more enduring than whether he disobeyed orders given him three days before the Battle of Little Big Horn. Some have argued that Custer willfully disregarded Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry's written instructions concerning his approach to the Little Big Horn Valley; others have said that the order gave Custer sufficient discretion to justify his actions.

Evan S. Connell, in his best-seller about Custer, Son of the Morning Star, writes that "[i]t is a matter of interpretation...[i]t depends, like the blind men describing an elephant, on what part of the creature you touch."

While acknowledging that modern students of this battle are to an extent akin to blind men, this article attempts to 'describe the elephant' - to determine whether Custer disobeyed - by closely examining the language of the order in light of Custer's circumstances. This is not the first such attempt and undoubtedly will nto be the last. The years are seemingly bearing out Frederic Van De Water's 1934 prophecy that the order, which had already "had its every word tested, its each comma and period examined, [and] all its sentences twisted and stretched," would generate "immortal" controversy.


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