Cover of Thundering Courage: George Armstrong Custer, The Union Cavalry Boy Generals, and Justified Defiance at Gettysburg by Terry C. Pierce shows Custer on a horse directing men at Hanover

Thundering Courage: George Armstrong Custer, The Union Cavalry Boy Generals, and Justified Defiance at Gettysburg

By Terry C. Pierce.

"Promotions or a coffin!" To George Armstrong Custer, war is the Devil's own fun. And his luck—"Custer Luck"—peaks during the Civil War, keeping him alive against all odds. Yet, for the first two years of the war, Custer luck has not earned him a command—until, three days before a brewing battle at Gettysburg, Captain George Custer is promoted to brigadier general. Possessed with raw courage, rare gallantry, and reckless heroism, Custer becomes the youngest general in the Union army.

Hugely spirited, tactically flexible, and fiercely ambitious, Custer, on July 3, 1863, trots in front of the First Michigan cavalry regiment, grips his sheathed saber, and pulls. The blade swishes from its metal scabbard with the sleekness of a swooping hawk. "Come on, You Wolverines!" he yells. And the 23-year-old leads one of the greatest cavalry charges in the annals of warfare.

Craving attention, approval, and glory, the boy general with long, flowing, golden locks is an impulsive, fearless daredevil. Commanding the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, Custer is throttled by his vainglorious reporting senior and ridiculed by battle-hardened Wolverines. But the pride that lies in the flesh of all men is thicker in Custer. He loves dancing at the edge of death's doorstep. And he believes that moral courage means leading from the front—but not always following orders. Because he knows that, between orders and duty, blind obedience and justified defiance hang in the balance.

Thundering Courage is the riveting story of the Union cavalry's Second and Third Divisions at Gettysburg, boy generals who face crises of justified defiance, and the unsung hero who wisely keeps a human thunderbolt on a tight, short string. Built firmly upon the annals of history, Thundering Courage journeys through the hearts and minds of Union cavalry heroes who face the agony of choosing between blind obedience and justified defiance at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The beautiful cover art is based on Custer at Hanover by Dale Gallon.

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Product details

  • Publisher: Heart Ally Books, LLC
  • Publishing Date: October 24, 2023
  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 652 pages
  • Paperback Item Weight: 2.08 pounds
  • Dimensions: 6 x 1.44 x 9 inches
  • Hardcover Item Weight: 2.47 pounds
  • Hardback: 652 pages



Kirkus: Pierce presents a fictionalized account of the Union cavalry at Gettysburg that focuses on the young Brigadier Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Retired U.S. Navy Captain Pierce returns with his second novel in a planned trilogy about the Battle of Gettysburg, which begins at a pivotal moment in Custer’s burgeoning career. He’s 23, and it’s only been a few years since his court-martial at West Point, yet he’s managed—through heroism, say some, or through foolhardy recklessness, say others—to make a name for himself in President Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army. When readers drop into the timeline in mid-June 1863, the brash Custer is about to seize a moment that will make him famous, forcing his way into a cavalry charge led by Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. In a phrase that will come to define Custer’s place in the lexicon, he shouts, “Promotions or a coffin!” and flies headlong into battle. The gamble pays off; Custer survives, and he’s given the promotion he craves in order to prove his worth to a wealthy judge back home in Michigan, who’s also the father of Custer’s great love, Elizabeth Bacon. Such rolls of the dice become standard for Custer, whose fortunes on the battlefield begin to take on a mythic aura referred to as “Custer’s Luck.” Although Custer (and his flowing blond curls) remains the star of the show, readers also get to spend entire chapters with, among others, Brigadier Generals David Gregg, Kilpatrick, and Elon Farnsworth—all important figures, no doubt, but none of them will captures readers’ imaginations like Custer does.

The plot proceeds in lockstep with the real-life historical events, as one would expect, but the author manages to keep things suspenseful for Civil War buffs and novices alike. The prose sings most beautifully when in motion, and the scenes surrounding Custer’s charges into battle are truly exhilarating: “An enemy bugler trumpeted, and Rebel wolf cries howled….A gray, crested wave spiked with glittering sabers started jogging down the crest.” The author also portrays moments of compassion between gentlemanly combatants—often neighbors, friends, or old schoolmates—in which readers will most keenly feel the realities of Civil War conflicts. Pierce sticks to the history of the central battle, which is indisputably monumental. At more than 600 pages, the novel does feel overlong (even for historical fiction, which tends toward considerable length), and readers will find that wading through some of the tome’s more academic minutiae will require commitment. Readers looking for a breezy, biopic-style narrative of Custer’s life may get bogged down in such material, but the book has plenty of compelling information for those who might wish to dive deeper. Fans of the author’s previous work will be happy to return and spend more time with familiar characters, and newcomers are sure to be drawn in by the central character’s strange magnetism.

An often engrossing, well-researched tale of one of American history’s most infamous generals during the most famous battle of the Civil War.

Kirkus Reviews

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