Top(?) Ten List

29 06 2009

gettysb-lgI’m not a big fan of “Top Ten” or “Ten Best/Worst” lists.   But I guess a “favorite” list at least doesn’t pretend to be objective.  Brett Schulte at TOCWOC has asked a few of his fellow bloggers to join him in writing up their ten favorite books on Gettysburg, all to be posted around and during the anniversary of the battle.  Here’s a page set up by Brett to coordinate the whole project, where you’ll find a schedule of when each of our lists is to be posted on our sites.  My list is slated to go up on the morning of July 2 – this coming Thursday.  I’ve selected my ten books and will try to compose my post this evening – I don’t want to be influenced by what anyone else writes.  Click on the map thumbnail for a larger image, then click on that image for a ginormous one.

Of Dust Jackets and Acknowledgements

27 06 2009

In this post I wrote about the first appearance of Bull Runnings – and me – in a book, The New Civil War Handbook.  Well, like a zit on prom night, I’ve popped up again.  In the first case, I expected it.  I wrote a blurb for Brad Gottfried’s The Maps of First Bull Run that appears on the back of the dust jacket:

“Brad Gottfried’s The Maps of First Bull Run is filled with full-page maps and accompanying facing text that will help make sense of a confusing series of events for Bull Run/Manassas neophytes and old hands alike.  I highly recommend it.” – Harry Smeltzer, host of the Civil War blog Bull Runnings (

Inside, Brad gave wrote this gracious acknowledgement:

I was blessed to work with three experts: James Burgess, Museum Specialist at the Manassas National Battlefield Park, James Morgan, author of A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, and Harry Smeltzer, whose website “Bull Runnings”  contains a wealth of information on everything related to First Bull Run.  If you haven’t visited it, I highly recommend you do so:  Each reviewed the manuscript for accuracy and provided many useful suggestions, corrected embarrassing mistakes, and pondered a host of questions raised by the sources.  Any errors that remain are mine and mine alone.

I’ll have more thoughts on my experience as a manuscript reviewer in a later post.

The othe day I got an email from my friend Mike Pellegrini who informed me that the Bull Runnings and I extended our fifteen minutes on the inside rear flap of the dust jacket of J. D. Petruzzi’s and Steve Stanley’s The Complete Gettysburg Guide.  Savas Beatie uses this area to promote related publications, and my Maps blurb – shortened to “I highly recommend it”, but again listing the site address – appears there.  This was a complete surprise, and prompted me to run out to Barnes & Noble and get the book (I cashed in coupons and gift cards and got it for $4!).

If any of you are visiting here as a result of the above, welcome!  Be sure to visit the “About Me” page and read the notifications at the top of the marginal column to the right.  Check out the Orders of Battle and the Bull Run Resources, and search the articles and resources via the categories, tags, and search box also to the right.

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.


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