"Autie" to his family, "Armstrong" to his friends, George A. Custer was one of the most colorful and capable officers in the American army throughout the Civil War and the Indian wars. His reputation, reflecting the colorful rather than the capable, remains hotly disputed among historians and polemicists, most of whom give total attention to his one defeat in his last battle. Custer's debacle at Little Big Horn provides the focus for almost all studies of his personality and career. Wert's effort is to reverse this process, to demonstrate that Custer's defeat is consistent with a lifetime of successfully defying authority and taking risks.

Custer's Civil War career was divided into two periods by Union cavalry doctrine: from McClellan Custer learned how to inspire loyalty, but he was unable to demonstrate his talents; after 1863, when cavalry was organized into larger forces, he swiftly rose to prominence.

After the war Custer was sent to Texas, where his experience with disaffected troops and the jealousy of other officers was followed swiftly by the failure of the summer campaigns on the central plains. His court-martial, an embarrassing episode resulting from concern for Libbie and loneliness, did not change Sheridan's belief that Custer was the indispensable officer for victory over the Plains Indians.

The rise of the KKK resulted in the Seventh Cavalry being stationed in the South 1871-1873, after which Custer's Luck was tested again, this time on the northern plains. Wert emphasizes Custer being a man of contradictions, a man with a zest for life and fame, whose vacillating wise and poor judgments led him not to greatness but to immortality at Little Big Horn.