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.








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