Pardon the crass comparison, but Bradley Gottfried’s new book should be called The Crack of Antietam, not The Maps of Antietam. It’s that addictive. Every time I’ve picked up Gottfried’s magnificent cartographical study, it seems like hours have evaporated. The Maps of Antietam makes it easy to lose track of the world.
Gottfried divides his atlas into twenty-one sections, beginning with a map series that lays out the entire Maryland campaign and running through a map series that covers the closing action at Shepherdstown. In between are map series that cover the Battle of South Mountain, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the fight at Antietam. Gottfried devotes keen attention to each phase of the campaign.
For the Battle of Antietam itself, Gottfried focuses on each phase of the battle in relatively traditional fashion: the north end of the field around the Cornfield, West Woods, and Dunker Church; the middle end of the field around the Sunken Road; and the south end of the field around Burnside’s Bridge.
But his focus is deep and sharp. The maps he does for the north end of the field, however, include
- a six-map series under the header “Hooker Opens the Battle (5:15-7:00 a.m.)
- a six-map series under the header “Hood’s Division Moves up and Attacks (6:45-7:45 a.m.)
- a six-map series under the header “Mansfield’s XII Corps Enters the Battle (7:15-8:45 a.m.)
- a seven-map series under the header “Sedgwick’s Division Drives East (8:15-9:30 a.m.)
- a three-map series under the header “Final Actions on the Northern Front (9:30-10:30 a.m.)
That’s twenty-eight maps alone just to cover the troop movements between 5:15-10:30 a.m. The book contains 124 maps total. I was particularly pleased to see detailed maps covering the action at each of the gaps at South Mountain.
The maps are color-coded with the traditional blue for Union and red for Confederate. Gottfried differentiates the different kinds of fences that wind across the battlefield, and the groundcover for each parcel of land is clearly illustrated (woods, corn, orchard, stubble, or plowed).
If there’s any fault on the maps, it’s that the little black squares that denote houses are only slightly smaller than some of the dark blue rectangles that denote small Union infantry regiments, so on a quick glance they can be easily confused.
Each map is clearly labeled with a numerical key that outlines the chronological order of the events it depicts. Gottfried offers further clarity by providing a page of narrative to go with each map. The reader-friendly layout puts the narrative on the left-facing page of each spread and the map it explains on the right-facing page of each spread.
Gottfried’s narratives are clear and concise, with first-person accounts sprinkled throughout to spice things up a little. It’s nothing as extensive as the primary source material you’d find in a Stephen Sears or Gordon Rhea-like account, but it gets the job done. “Original research was kept to a minimum,” he says in his introduction.
It’s easy to tell that Gottfried has spent a lot of time on the battlefield itself, though (which, as far as I’m concerned, is always the most enjoyable kind of research to do). Looking at the terrain and walking the field, he says in an interview published in the back of the book, helps him visualize the action and helps first-hand accounts come to life.
That has always been, to me, the real value of walking the ground. Arrows on a map always fascinate me, but it isn’t until you walk the ground that you understand why the arrows move in the directions they move—how troops might take advantage of the cover offered by a swale or how they might steer around a swamp or how sightlines get affected by knolls and ridges and trees. Gottfried’s maps reflect an intimacy with the ground.
“If someone, somewhere, places this book within reach to refer to it now and again as a reference guide while reading other studies on the campaign, the long hours invested in this project will have been worthwhile,” Gottfried writes in his introduction. Indeed, the book would be perfect for such a use—but to only use it that way would be a discredit to the book. The Maps of Antietam stands as worthy reading on its own. The maps alone offer the opportunity for hours and hours of close scrutiny and informative study.
Getting lost in them will be time well spent.
Gottfried, Bradley M.
The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, Including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2-20, 1862.
Savas Beatie, 2012
Hardcover; 360 pp.