Pick number three in my Top 10 List: A set of maps

The third book, or books, every Civil War buff needs on the bookshelf is a good set of maps. These are invaluable–nothing less. They give form to the function of a campaign or battle and, depending on your choices, can put you virtually “on the battlefield.”

These recommendations are varied, but I own them all, and use them regularly. Personal choice and need dictate a collection, but unless you can put a finger on a page or a screen to trace the maneuvers of your favorite army, you are only seeing part of the story.

My overall “go-to” map collection is the National Geographic’s Atlas of the Civil War: A Comprehensive Guide To the Tactics and Terrain of Battle, by Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop.

This is a collection of different types of maps: battle maps, terrain maps, and reprints of old maps in use at the time of the War. Each set of maps has a concise descriptive piece concerning the engagement or campaign it shows. Orders of Battle are included for every major fight, and the maps offer a variety of perspectives.

Being a NatGeo publication, it is fully illustrated with drawings, period photographs, and images that support a better understanding of the subject. It is arranged by date, from the fall of Fort Sumter through Reconstruction. It is thoroughly indexed, and printed on semi-gloss paper that is very nice to the touch. This map collection is as useful as a coffee table book as it is in a personal library, and for about $25.00 retail, it is a good investment. You can probably get it for less on sale tables or used from amazon.

Plus–it smells wonderful when you open it!

If you have a favorite battle, you deserve a good book of maps concerning your passion. For individual battles, the best collection by far is the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series. These books cover individual battles. I happen to own First Bull Run and Gettysburg, but the series also includes Antietam, and the Chickamauga Campaign. Knowing Savas-Beattie, more volumes are in the works! The format of these books makes them easy to bring along on battlefield walks, and the text covers the specific battles almost moment-by-moment.

Maps of First Bull Run, by Bradley M. Gottfried, covers the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, June-October, 1861. There are 51 maps in all, and many of them cover the actual battle in fifteen-minute intervals. Working with Gottfried’s atlas and accompanying text was an absolute necessity for me when examining the actions of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves (Elmer Ellsworth’s men) at Bull Run.

Savas Beatie books always get excellent reviews from buffs and academic historians alike, and are clearly presented and complete. They run about $25.00, and I have never seen a “deal” on them. I think the deal is that the buyer gets a great atlas for a fair price.

Another place to get good maps–no, unbelievable maps!– is to join the Civil War Trust. Each month, sometimes more often, the CWT sends printed maps in the mail. These are excellent, but they are old school, to say the least. The CWT’s website has interactive maps that are about the best I’ve ever worked with, both as a teacher and a historian.

The maps come in three formats: battle maps, historical maps, and animated maps. Additionally, there are short movie versions of maps of selected battles, with an interesting mix of narration, old photographs, and re-enactor footage that highlight the battle itself. Hours can go by when investigating this source, and no student who has a report on a Civil War battle should fail to check this site.

Actually, the site is free for anyone to use, which is why the person reading this should immediately send at least $35.00 to the CWT. In a time when money needs to go far and purchase something of real, lasting worth, this group delivers all that and so much more. If you are looking for a Christmas gift, a lesson plan, a new book, or just want to make a difference, visit the CWT.

The last suggestion concerning maps comes from a friend of mine, Greg Camacho-Light. He has a subscription to the day-by-day ACW series from the History Channel on his iPad, and, since he is my principal–at Elmer Ellsworth Brownell Middle School, no less!–we frequently “talk Civil War” for a moment or two on a regular basis. He takes the daily History Channel map coordinates from the images on the iPad and looks them up in real time on Google Earth. By doing this, he can see the exact battle site as it looks today. Comparing the images side by side is either heartbreaking or exhilarating, depending on how much of the original landscape is left untouched. Google Earth has developed such finely tuned zoom capabilities that, were one to look at a map of Chancellorsville, one could close in on the house where Stonewall Jackson died and get a friendly wave from newly-minted Ph.D. Chris Mackowski! Huzzah!

The Chandler House, where Jackson died

No matter what one’s level of interest, there is a collection of Civil War maps to match it. Your ACW bookshelf is incomplete without at least one atlas.

Amazon.com has many collections of maps, from James McPherson’s Atlas of the Civil War, the Official Military Atlas of the Civil War, and Time-Life Book’s Illustrated Atlas of the Civil War (Echoes of Glory) to William Miller’s Great Maps of the Civil War: Pivotal Battles and Campaigns Featuring 32 Removable Maps (Museum In a Book), which is an excellent collection for younger historians. All are reasonably priced, from a penny to about twenty-five dollars.

With the holidays coming up, perhaps a reminder to Santa that a good set of maps for every Civil War scholar is in order.

Let me know which ones you get!

About Meg Thompson

CW Historian
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3 Responses to Pick number three in my Top 10 List: A set of maps

  1. Eric Hedden says:

    Excellent recommendations, Meg! Do you have an opinion of the works of Jedediah Hotchkiss?
    In other words, were there any better Civil War cartographers?

    • Meg Thompson says:

      When I wrote a paper about Custer & the East Cav. Field a while ago, I used my Jedediah Hotchkiss maps almost exclusively, as I was writing about Stuart’s whereabouts and plans Lee might have had for him. I got a wonderful book of Hotchkiss’s maps, including several larger maps that came in an envelope with the book, for seven dollars on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble. One of the large maps was Gettysburg, 3rd Day. Basically, that map made my argument for me! I tried to make clear in my post that the maps pretty much reflect one’s involvement in research. If accepting the general historiography is what you need, then any of the big, generalized collections will do. If you are looking for something more specialized, you have to dig more.

      I never did find any map of the small action in Arizona at Picacho Peak, for instance. Now, I never write much of anything without looking at a map of some sort, and I use my weather guide as well–Civil War Weather In Virginia. The weather wonks at the National Weather service are very helpful as well, and have sent me great information and links to sources.

  2. I agree that a good set of maps is indispensable!

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