Cecily Zander, a Ph.D. candidate affiliated with the Richards Center, recently published an article that will appear in the April issue of Civil War Times. The article also is available online at The HistoryNet website. Zander’s essay reconsiders the three memoirs that Libbie Custer published about her life on the frontier with her husband, General George Armstrong Custer. Zander argues that these memoirs have been dismissed unjustly by historians. Following the Civil War, several widows of prominent officers published memoirs and biographies of their late husbands. Historians generally have characterized these works as self-serving exercises in mythmaking by so-called “professional widows.”
When Libbie Custer began publishing her memoirs following her husband’s death in 1876 at the Little Big Horn, her works were seen as additional entries in the “professional widow” genre. Zander notes, however, that Custer’s memoirs “were not designed to provide an embellished biographical sketch of her husband” like most widows’ memoirs. Rather, she sought to depict life in military installations on the American frontier through a woman’s eyes. In these works, she also offered her perspective on the causes and legacy of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and western expansion. Zander argues that historians should revisit Custer’s memoirs to hear the unique voice of a “perceptive observer and active participant” in the signal events of the Civil War and its aftermath.