Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spruill III and IV: "Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles"

[Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles by Matt Spruill III and Matt Spruill IV. (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2006). Pp. 327, Softcover, photos, illustrations, 55 maps, appendices. ISBN10: 1-57233-547-5 and ISBN13: 978-1-57233-547-9) $24.95]

The format of Echoes of Thunder is instantly recognizable, as it’s modeled closely on the Army War College’s series of Civil War campaign and battlefield tour guides. Battle reports gleaned from the Official Records comprise most of the text, with maps and tour directions attached. In fact, one of my major criticisms of the War College series as a whole—in terms of their practical usefulness as field guides anyway—is the inclusion of so much text (often hundreds of densely packed pages). It is difficult to enjoy a battlefield tramp and appreciate the subtleties of the terrain—let alone enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of nature—with your head buried in a book the entire time. There is a balance to be struck, and the Spruills do a much better job than others have done of constructing a guide useful for both touring and reading at home. Author commentary and tour directions are provided in gray box sidebars that can serve on the battlefield tour itself as substitutes for reading the full text of the O.R. reports and other lengthy primary accounts associated with each of the guide’s tour stops. I only wish the authors had elected to include a bibliography to demonstrate what sources were consulted beyond the official reports and excerpts recreated in the text.

In Echoes of Thunder, 55 maps cover the main battles of the Seven Days Campaign—Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’s Mill, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill. The authors chose to leave out the June 25 battle at Oak Grove, but they do include a tour of “Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan” as an appendix. The maps themselves are quality efforts, incorporating elevation contours and relevant terrain features like roads and streams (but unfortunately no on map scale). Helpfully, while tactical and operational maps detail troop movements over period terrain, modern maps are provided to guide the reader to each of the book’s 30 tour stops. Additionally, an order-of-battle for each side, casualty numbers by battle, and the locations of the national cemeteries in the area are included as appendices. With its detailed maps and practical structure and organization, Echoes of Thunder should prove to be a very useful guidebook for any reader interested in touring the sites of the Seven Days battles.

(Review reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appearing in vol.10 #3, pp. 93-94, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

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