Pulitzer-prize finalist H. W. Brands follows the lives and battles of General William Tecumseh Sherman and Apache warrior Geronimo to tell the story of the Indian Wars and the final fight for control of the American continent.
Mr. Brands is a talented storyteller, with a novelist’s feel for pacing and detail. There are virtues to The Last Campaign, chief among them Mr. Brands’s linking of the histories of the South and the West ... Alas, the weight of the book’s shortcomings keeps it earthbound. For one thing, Mr. Brands frames his story solely in terms of conflict ... For another, The Last Campaign is strictly narrative, a series of (often well-told) episodes rarely squeezed for their significance ... At times it seems as if Mr. Brands is almost allergic to analysis, a quality stemming in part from his habit of quoting the actors in his drama at excessive length. On the one hand, this permits readers to hear both sides in their own words ... But too often Mr. Brands’s narrative is drowned by a tsunami of excerpted primary material, to such an extent that his own voice, as the expert, is all but imperceptible ... The biggest problems with The Last Campaign are structural.
Drawing on their mastery of local geography, his band of warriors held out, riding out from their reservations sporadically, until they were compelled to capitulate. Brands describes the horrors of these clashes in vivid prose, drawing on conversations and memoirs from the era to document the tragedy.
The Geronimo campaign has been so intensely studied for the last 150 years that it’s hard to imagine there’s much new information to discover. Noted historian Brands finds news, though, by placing the war against the Apaches in the larger context of the Indian Wars generally, from the mass hanging of Sioux rebels in 1862 to the Modoc Wars, Little Bighorn, the Red Cloud War, and more ... Brands is particularly good in placing all this in a political as well as military context, with Sherman wrestling with Indian Agency bureaucrats in Washington over whether they or the Army should oversee matters of war, peace, and, in the end, cultural extermination ... An excellent, well-written study—like most of the author’s books, a welcome addition to the literature of westward expansion.