"AT LAST THE CHARM OF CUSTER'S CHARMED LIFE WAS BROKEN": FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST AUTHORITATIVE BIOGRAPHY OF CUSTER, 1876
WHITTAKER, Frederick. A Popular Life of Gen. George A. Custer. New York: Sheldon, (1876). Thick octavo, original publisher's gilt-stamped pictorial green cloth. $1350.
First edition (variant title and variant binding) of the first authoritative biography of Custer, "based on papers made available by Elizabeth Bacon Custer" and published within months of his death at the Battle of Little Big Horn, with steel-engraved frontispiece, 12 plates and four full-page maps, in bright original cloth.
Born in London, Frederick Whittaker migrated to America in 1850 and fought for the Union in the Civil War. Though he did not serve with General Custer, the two met briefly in 1875. News of Custer's death at the Battle of Little Big Horn soon after their meeting prompted a devastated Whittaker to contact Custer's widow with a proposed biography. "The mystery and tragedy of Little Bighorn immediately captured the nation's imagination… In the debate over who was to blame for the disaster… the groundwork was then laid for a historical debate unsettled to this day" (Hutton, Custer Reader, 398). Extensively "based on papers made available by Elizabeth Bacon Custer" (Lamar, 281), Whittaker produced this massive volume "with remarkable speed, publishing it in December 1876. The hero who emerged from the pages of his Life of Gen. George A. Custer was a figure of epic proportions." Here Whittaker sought to counter any criticism of Custer and elevate "a rash, ever-so-human young soldier into the pantheon of America's greatest heroes" (Hutton, 389-99). While sometimes problematic in reportage, this volume stands as the first authoritative account of Custer's life and career, and its influence remains substantial. This book is often found under the title A Complete Life of Gen. George A. Custer, in pictorial cloth depicting Custer on horseback, issued by Sheldon & Company with a copyright date of 1876 and with a page count of 648. This copy is titled A Popular Life…, in non-pictorial cloth, also with a copyright date of 1876 and a page count of 648, listing Sheldon & Company as the New York publishers and various other agents for Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, attesting to the nationwide demand for details of Custer's remarkable career. See Soliday IV:193 (Complete Life).
Only slight foxing to preliminary and concluding pages, light wear to bright cloth, minor coloring to a few spots. An extremely good copy.