The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002

Book Reviews

General William S. Harney: Prince of Dragoons. By George Rollie Adams. (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 2ool. Pp. 399. ISBN 0-8032-10582. $50.00,
cloth.)
The world has seen its share of people who own personalities described as du-
alistic or contradictory. A possessor of such a condition was William Harney, a sol-
dier, and in the bargain, a premier Indian fighter, whose considerable success
against the tribes of the West influenced positively a successive generation of like-
wise talented Indian fighters-George Crook, O. O. Howard, and Nelson Miles.
Extraordinarily tall with massive shoulders, deep chest, and narrow hips, he was
described by Jefferson Davis as "physically, the finest specimen of a man I ever
saw" (p. 8). His personality and character require an altogether different assess-
ment, for his vices far outweighed his virtues. The litany of his antisocial tenden-
cies borders on the pathological. Murderous, contentious, vindictive, brutal,
coarse, crude, profane, rapacious, arrogant, callous, impulsive, bull-headed, con-
ceited, and insanely ambitious, he also failed as a husband and a father taking his
bitter and enduring familial recriminations to the grave. It is impossible to bal-
ance the moral ledger by describing his better qualities with the accurate and ele-
gant words, brave, generous, and innovative.
His extraordinarily long military career was exceeded by only four other of his
contemporaries who achieved at least the rank of unbreveted brigadier general.
He was prominent in the Black Hawk, Seminole, Mexican, and Sioux wars. Al-
though much admired by his professional colleagues for innovative and brilliant
tactics that included ruthless but effective guerrilla, riverine, and search-and-de-
stroy missions, he was denied participation in the Civil War by Lincoln and other
Unionists. Mistakenly and unfairly, he was accused of Southern sympathies and
considered altogether unreliable. The unfortunate charges rested primarily on
his slave holdings, friendship with President Davis, and extreme caution, incor-
rectly interpreted as squeamishness by his enemies, in handling Missouri's seces-
sionist attempts.
His lasting fame rests, therefore, on his skill in the Indian wars. Tough, uncom-
promising, the personification of vengeance, and the model of death, somehow
(or one might suggest because of these traits) he became, nevertheless, the Indi-
ans' friend and advocate. Believing Indians were treated unjustly, essentially by
the civilian Indian Bureau which he detested, he plainly and relentlessly declared
its agents, provisioners, and civilian Washington bureaucratic functionaries as tol-
erant of or even in favor of corruption. Leaders of various tribes, including those
he had defeated, honored him and described him with hero-worship adoration
because he was a keeper of promises and their apparent anchor to safety.
In this capacity, even his opponents in both civil and army life came to respect
him. Commanding general William Tecumseh Sherman sought to replace him
because he defied orders and overspent his allotment, but grudgingly admitted
that Harney had more influence with the Sioux than any other living man, "and
if he cannot reduce them to subjection by peaceful means, no man can" (p.
268).

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed May 25, 2016.

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