I love it when I get to see the new cover designs for books in the Emerging Civil War Series. The covers have become a distinctive part of our overall brand, tying the books together in a visually strong way and creating a feeling of “collectability” to them. Cover designer Ian Hughes has created a fantastic body of work for us.
As an author, I always draw a lot of inspiration from my book covers. When a book is in progress, the cover always reminds me of what I’m working toward. When a book has been published, the cover evokes fond memories of writing experiences and work I’m proud of.
The cover for my upcoming book about the Mine Run campaign, The Great Battle Never Fought, was especially tricky.
Because the Mine Run campaign didn’t end in a highly dramatic bloodbath of a battle, newspaper artists didn’t have a whole lot to sketch. The one place where there was sustained, sharp action—Payne’s Farm—artist Alfred Waud was driven from the field by an errant cannonball. As a result, there’s not a plethora of images to draw from for cover art. Of the few images that did make it into print, nothing became iconic.
Furthermore, no photographer tramped the battlefield afterward, camera in tow. No artist rendered any colorful, dramatic paintings.
I sent Ian the image I thought best captured Mine Run—a woodcut of the Union Second Corps marching up to Locust Grove to engage Confederates—and he put together another good cover for us. I’ve kept it handy as I’ve worked, drawing on it for inspiration.
In the meantime, though, Ian has really stepped up his game even more by using more full-color paintings on the covers, rather than just sketches and photos. We first did this with Dan Davis and Phill Greenwalt’s Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville. Ian followed that with the full-color cover for Lee White’s Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin (due this fall!).
Then Dave Powell’s Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and The Battle of Lookout Mountain and (and his forthcoming All Hell Can’t Stop Them: The Battle of Missionary Ridge, also due this fall). There was also Dan Vermilya’s That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam.
And wait until you see Sarah Bierle’s forthcoming Call Out the Cadets: The Battle of New Market. Wow.
Compared to these great covers, I thought Great Battle lacked something. Ian did good work with the material I gave him, so it wasn’t his fault at all. He just had better material to work with for the other covers, that’s all.
Although I didn’t have any better images to work with, I did start wondering about other elements we might be able to incorporate into the cover design.
After all, we had ghosted Stonewall Jackson onto The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson, and we had done the same with Ulysses S. Grant for Grant’s Last Battle. Perhaps we could ghost someone onto the cover of Great Battle. The more I thought about it, though, the only logical choice seemed to be George Gordon Meade.
But Last Days was clearly a book about Jackson; Last Battle was clearly a book about Grant. Great Battle, in contrast, was a campaign study, not a book about Meade.
Except Mine Run, at its heart, really is a story about George Gordon Meade. The stakes for him could not have been higher. He held the initiative, and he called the shots. And in the end, he made one of the most difficult decisions of the war at great personal risk to himself.
Meade’s exhibition of moral courage at Mine Run was, I think, his finest moment of the war—even moreso than his victory at Gettysburg. He threw himself under the proverbial bus in order to save the lives of his men and the life of his army.
Meade never got the credit he deserved for the moral courage he showed at Mine Run, in large part because the campaign itself has largely been forgotten by history, so of course Meade’s actions there have been forgotten, too. With Grant’s arrival in the spring of 1864, Meade then found himself overshadowed, so he largely remained forgotten.
In that context, ghosting Meade onto the cover of The Great Battle Never Fought seems like the least I can do to tip my hat to him. And doing so, I think, has livened up the cover considerably.
Look for The Great Battle Never Fought in mid-November, in time for the anniversary of the Min Rune campaign, available from Savas Beatie as part of the Emerging Civil War Series.