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Last in Their Class  
Author James S. Robbins
Country United States
Language English
Subject(s) United States Military Academy
Military History
Publisher Encounter books
Publication date 2006
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 503
ISBN ISBN 159403141X
OCLC Number 62895798

Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point (ISBN 159403141X) is a book by American author James S. Robbins about the graduates of the United States Military Academy who came in at the bottom of their respective classes but nevertheless went on to distinguished careers. The book is published by Encounter Books.


The West Point cadet finishing at the bottom of his class, affectionately known as the "Goat," enjoys a short-lived celebrity among his classmates. But in the 19th century, he was something of a cult figure. One of these famous Goats was General George Armstrong Custer. Custer’s contemporaries at the Academy believed that the same spirit of adventure that led him to carouse at forbidden local taverns during his West Point days also motivated his dramatic cavalry attacks in the Civil War and afterwards. And the same willingness to risk the wrath of the Academy also sent another famous Goat, General George Pickett, marching fearlessly and perhaps foolishly into the teeth of the Union guns at Gettysburg.

In Last in Their Class, James S. Robbins guides the reader from the difficult beginnings of West Point through the carnage of the Civil War to the drama played out on the grassy bluffs over Little Big Horn. It is many books at once – a social history of West Point, a combat narrative, and a closely interwoven series of biographies. The author makes extensive use of primary sources, many previously unpublished. In addition, the author gives portraits of many other figures who made military history after leaving the Academy under a cloud, among them Jefferson Davis, Philip Sheridan and James Longstreet, along with artistic washouts Edgar Allan Poe and James McNeill Whistler.


The USMA alumni magazine Assembly gave Last in Their Class a very favorable review, saying "There have been countless books written about West Point and its graduates, but few can match Last in Their Class in terms of both in-depth research and superb story telling."[1]

Mackubin Thomas Owens writing in National Review said, "There are books one needs to read and there are books one wants to read. Last in Their Class is both. Robbins entertains us with humorous anecdotes and the riveting retelling of epic battles such as Gettysburg and Little Big Horn, but his book is edifying as well. ... So thank God for the cadets--who still know who the Goat is, and who lustily cheer him when his name is read; and thank God for the country that made the Goats, and still has a place for them."[2]

Claude Berube in the Journal of Military History writes, "With the author's depiction of the service of the goats in the Seminole, Mexican-American, and Civil Wars, readers will find more than expected, and welcomed, references to current affairs."[3]

See also[]


  1. Reviewed by MAJ Joe Scrocca, Department of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy, in Assembly, Magazine of the USMA Association of Graduates, Sep/Oct 2006.
  2. ...And the Last First, National Review, June 19, 2006.
  3. The Journal of Military History 70.3 (2006), pp. 841-842.

External links[]

  • Author web site
  • Podcast of April 28, 2007 author event at the Pritzker Military Library, Chicago, IL