Review: The Maps of First Bull Run

26 06 2009

mapsLast week I received a copy of The Maps of First Bull Run, by Brad Gottfried.  In the interest of full disclosure I must say that I did review the manuscript and maps for the Bull Run portion of the book, so I was involved to some small degree in the bookmaking process.  I’ll leave the details of my personal involvement at that for now, and save my thoughts on that for a separate post.

This second in Savas Beatie’s series of campaign map studies follows the format of its predecessor The Maps of Gettysburg, also by Gottfried, with three noticeable differences.  First, it is a much slimmer volume, which is understandable due to the relative brevity of the campaign and battle and the fewer troops involved.  Second, The Maps of First Bull Run also includes maps of the skirmish at Lewinsville, VA on 9/11/1861 and the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on 10/21/1861.  Third, unlike the Gettysburg maps, these are in full color.

There are 37 maps for the Bull Run portion of the book (another 15 for the remainder – that portion of the manuscript was reveiwed by friend Jim Morgan, author of the definitive study of Ball’s Bluff, A Little Short of Boats), from the positions of the armies in June through the Union retreat to Washington ending July 22.  The maps are clean and clear, which is good from the standpoint that they help the reader visualize the “bigger picture”.  Each map is accompanied by one full facing page of text.  Notes are at the end of the book, arranged by map.  I prefer footnotes at the bottom of the page, but I understand why endnotes were necessary in this case due to the constraints attending the two page layout for each map and text. 

Other than some minor quibbles not worth mentioning, I’m pleased with the text.  Gottfried considered all the standard primary sources as well as soldier accounts and modern scholarship of folks like Ethan Rafuse and John Hennessy.  No two accounts of the fighting on Henry House Hill are ever going to agree in every detail, but Gottfried’s interpretation of events is plausible and well supported.

The maps are all oriented vertically north to south.  This limited the amount of west to east info that could be accurately depicted, and gives the impression of a more limited area of operations on the day of the battle – the Confederate line extended along that axis from Stone Bridge to Union Mills.  For the action on Henry House Hill, I think the orientation of the maps and the need to depict some pretty confusing action resulted in a misrepesentation of the relative proximity of the Union and Confederate artillery (hat tip to Drew for pointing this out – I completely missed it when I reviewed the maps).  I agree that on a few of the maps they are too close together.  Also, there are no topographical (elevation) lines on the maps.  As a map lover, this is a bit of a bummer to me.  But the stength of this book is the clear – if general – tactical picture it provides.  A visit to the field – the whole field – reveals that it’s more than just four hills or ridges (Matthews, Henry House, Dogan and Chinn), but is dotted with cuts and defiles.  The depiction of all these changes in elevation would possibly have “busied” the maps to the extent that they would have failed in their purpose.

All-in-all, this study provides the best visual impression of the battle I’ve seen.  Ed Bearss’s map study is not written in a narrative format, and the few maps use the same base map and are very crowded and confusing.  John Hennessy’s book uses clearer, simpler maps, but again they’re few in number.  The reader will find more detail in those two Howard campaign series books, but in my opinion will come away with a better understanding of the battle with Gottfried’s work.  If such were not the case, there would have been no point to it.

The Maps of First Bull Run should have a place on the shelves of Civil War students of all levels.  Hopefully it will create more interest in the battle, not just among newcomers, but with the scores of long time students who may have dismissed the battle as a confused meeting between inexperienced armies of little interest tactically.  If it spurs them to dig more deeply into the details, and perhaps even produce micro-studies, all the better.  I’ll keep my copy close at hand when I’m reading and writing about the battle, and when the paperback edition comes out, I’ll have it with me when I visit the battlefield.

Interview with Jim Lighthizer at “This Mighty Scourge”

25 06 2009

Mike Noirot has this interview with CWPT’s Jim Lighthizer up at his blog, This Mighty Scourge.  The interview is broken down into eight audio clips.  Check it out.

Note From the Family of Romeyn Ayres

23 06 2009

I received this email the other day:

Hello Harry,

Thanks so much for doing a blog entry on my father’s great great grandfather, Romeyn Beck Ayres.   Today, Father’s Day, he had just shown me a photo from a magazine of Lincoln at Antietam where he inquired to the editors and they read the caption claiming Romeyn was 5th over to the left from Lincoln, the only one not wearing a hat.   But I found a caption online that says it was Col. Alexander S. Webb.  The photos on your site seem to confirm it was not him.

I am printing out the information you posted to show my father tomorrow.  This may be what wins him over re the internet.

Thanks again,

Tim Ayres

p.s.  I have my own wordpress blog, where I produce and rotate host a long running poetry show on our local college station.   Small world.

Here’s a cropped version of the photo to which I think Tim is referring – click the thumbnail for a larger image:


The bareheaded fellow bears more of a resemblance to Webb than to Ayres.  That’s George Custer on the far right, by the way.

I’m not done with Ayres, commander of Sherman’s Battery (E, 3rd US) at Bull Run.  There’s a pretty cool story regarding his plot in Arlington National Cemetery and another of Tim’s ancestors. 

David Woodbury’s Seven Civil War “Secrets”

23 06 2009

David Woodbury has a link to a fairly mundane list of Seven Civil War Stories You Didn’t Learn in High School in the Wall Street Journal, and offers his own alternative, more interesting list at Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles.  Check it out.

First Bull Run Campaign Markers

20 06 2009

Craig Swain has but up an index to  HMDB entries for markers associated with the First Bull Run Campaign over at To the Sound of the Guns.  This is a handy reference, and one you’ll want to read over before visiting the area.  (I’ll add a link on the blogroll page.)  Check it out.

Manassas National Battlefield Park Photos May 2009

19 06 2009

These images were recorded on May 29-30, 2009; for the most part in the company of fellow blogger Craig Swain.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.


Visitor’s Center (VC) displays of Francis Brownell’s musket and 11th NY uniform worn at the occupation of Alexandria; Capt. James B. Ricketts’s sword and sash worn at First Bull Run.


Francis Bartow monument on the Henry Hill Trail; trees marking the site of the base to an earlier monument to Bartow erected in September 1861; two images of the base.


The Henry House; Judith Henry grave; view north to Matthews Hill from the Henry House.


View south along Ricketts’ line toward VC; site of death of Lt. Ramsey of Ricketts’ Battery; two images of 7th GA marker near Ricketts’ guns; view north along Ricketts’ line toward Matthews Hill.


Two views of the monument at Signal Hill in Manassas, marking the position of E. P. Alexander’s signal station.  The earthworks to the rear of the monument are off limits.


Entry to the path leading to Mayfield Fort in Manassas, part of Beauregard’s system of defensive earthworks; Mayfield Fort.


Parking lot on north side of Blackburn’s Ford; three views from north to south side of ford, panning to west.


View west along Warrenton Pike (Lee Highway) toward Cub Run (new bridge is lighter pavement); view west to run; view east to run; view of run from the west.


View south from Reynolds’ RI Battery on Mattews Hill south to Henry Hill; view east along Reynolds’ line.


View east along Stone Bridge Trail toward the monument Private George T. Stovall of the 8th GA; two views of the marker.


Two views of the Carter Family Cemetery on the Stone Bridge Trail, both looking south.


Area marked as Farm Ford on Bull Run, where the brigades fo Sherman and Keyes crossed.  NPS Ranger Jim Burgess believes the actual ford lies about 200 yards upstream from here.


View north to Matthews Hill from Imboden’s position on Henry Hill, Reynolds’ guns in the distance; view northwest to Dogan’s Ridge from Imboden’s position, Dogan House in the distance.


Entrance to original Sudley Road trace near the VC, looking south with Sudley Rd to the right; the trace looking north to the VC; the trace looking south.


The Stone House at the intersection of the Sudley-Manassas Rd and the Warrenton Pike – view north from the Pike; view southwest from the rear of the house; two interior images.


Buck Hill to the north of the Stone House – view south to Henry Hill; view north to Matthews Hill; view east toward the Stone Bridge.


Chinn Ridge looking north – the area of the repulse of Col. O. O. Howard’s brigade.


The Thornberry House near Sudley Springs – Union soldiers took shelter in this house (much changed from the original) after the battle.

JCCW – Gen. Louis Blenker

18 06 2009

Testimony of Gen. Louis Blenker

Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 75-77

WASHINGTON, January 6, 1862

General Louis BLENKER sworn and examined.

By the chairman:

Question. Were you at the Bull Run fight?

Answer. Not a great fighter, but I did what I could. I was present from the first until the last hour.

Question. To what do you attribute the defeat of that day particularly?

Answer. My idea is that the general-in-chief, General McDowell—an honorable officer, a very well-educated officer—at that time had not prepared enough his staff officers, and all the other plans were spoiled by the baggage wagons which he had ordered to be there not coming as he ordered. The whole trouble was in going in so risky a way that any general—even the greatest in the world—would be beaten that day, if the enemy was strongest. But the enemy were losing a great deal more than we. They were retreating. But still I do not think it is a blame for anybody to lose that battle. It was a panic, all at once. There was a panic which nobody can explain. The colonels there, a great many of them, never have a command. They look around and say: What shall we do? That is strange music—the bullet—and strange feeling to be killed. But what to do is the question. They are running. Some begin to retreat, and it is not possible to give orders to keep them together. If one regiment runs, the others go too. That has been the case in every army— French army, Austrian army, and every good army in the world. I would not blame any officer for that. The regiment I had three times ordered, was ordered to retreat; and then I see I can do a little more if I stay. And then I think I advance two miles further against the enemy. I see the spirit was good in my troops. I see a great deal there that I shall never forget in my life. It is the most interesting matter for me, indeed, in my military experience—that battle. I never had a chance to study a great deal. I am only a brigade officer, but if the moment comes I know what to do. The enemy only risk a little attack of cavalry, and if that was a good attack they would go further. But General McDowell, he was so much hurt that I feel the greatest sympathy for him to-day. I would not allow anybody to blame him to-day. He was not assisted enough. I was, in the evening, at the council where the plan was discussed. Of course Colonel Miles was in the best spirits with him, and he said: “We have but little anxiety to be in the reserve.” But the general said: “‘Colonel, you can be sure there is great danger if we do not have that reserve there, and so we make our preparations.” The next day they fight; and the orderly came with the message that the battle is lost. There were a great many around me, and it would have curious effect. They asked: “What is the matter?” I said, we are victorious. And they hurra. At once I make my preparation for an advance. After one mile we pass the troops retreating. My troops said: “What the devil is that?” I said, it is a mistake; go on. Not even my adjutant understand what I want. So I went to the front, and we make a good effect, because the enemy could see us. That was all I wanted at that time. I never expected to see anything else. I do not speak good enough English to express myself. But if the time comes I hope I may make good the honor conferred upon me.

Question. You understood, I suppose, at that time, the position of Patterson and Johnston to be about Winchester?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Was it understood by you on the field that Patterson was to engage Johnston, or to prevent his going down to that battle?

Answer. I am very much informed now, because I had a conversation with General Sanford, who was with General Patterson’s division.

Question. What did you understand about the matter on that day?

Answer. I knew it just the same as General Sanford told me from what I have seen in the papers.

Question. What I mean is, not what General Sanford or the papers have said, but what was the understanding on the battle-field when you had the council?

Answer. The understanding was that Johnston was to be kept back there; there is no doubt that is so, and every one who knows anything about the operations would know that Johnston should never have had the chance to come to Manassas.

Question. Had Patterson held Johnston back, what would have been the result at Manassas?

Answer. There is no doubt we should have taken Manassas, because they were so much knocked down that they were just ready in a moment to retreat; both parties retreated. And because we are not a despotic educated army, we are here a peaceful nation, and we could not do better at first; but we will repair that the next time.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Your division was stationed at Centreville?

Answer. My brigade was, under the division of Colonel Miles.

Question. Was that a reserve stationed at Centreville, because it was necessary that that point should be protected?

Answer. It was both. It was stationed there as a reserve for the army engaged in the battle, and at the same time we made our position stronger, so that we should not be flanked by the right wing of the enemy. First, we were to be in reserve ready, for if we were not there they would come straight down to Alexandria and Washington.

Question. You would not have considered it a good plan for the commander- in-chief not to have left any force at Centreville on that day?

Answer. No commander-in-chief would do that.

Question. That was a point it was necessary to protect?

Answer. Necessary for all eventualities, and for all circumstances; that was the point.

Question. That force was only to be moved forward from that point in case it should be absolutely necessary to support the army already on the field?

Answer. Exactly; it was a reserve to be ready if they were called on, or be careful that no enemy should flank us; that is a disposition which must be taken under such circumstances.

By the chairman:

Question. We have had some testimony in relation to the condition of Colonel Miles that day, and I deem it but justice to him, as you were there and must know his condition, to ask you what was the condition of Colonel Miles that day, whether he was intoxicated at all, or partially so, or not?

Answer. I will tell you as a man of honor. Every word I say is truth and fact. I was with him the whole day till about two or three o’clock. There was nothing like intoxication. He took, once in awhile, a drop. Never mind, that is nothing. I never saw him intoxicated. From that time he was out observing. When I received that message that the battle was lost, I was the first man who sent an officer of the general staff to report to Washington, and I told him I would go right away with my brigade. He took my hand and said: ” Go and die on the ground.” I go then. The whole question about his intoxication was in the evening about five or six or seven o’clock. I did not see him then; but if I had seen him I would just as soon say he was drunk as to say he was not.

Question. Then I understand you to say that you saw him during the day down to three o’clock?

Answer. Yes, sir; and then he was in a fit condition to give every order as an officer, when I saw him last.

Question. What time was that?

Answer. Between three and four o’clock, or a little earlier, perhaps.


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