Friday, April 20, 2007

Burton: "The Peninsula & Seven Days"

[The Peninsula and Seven Days: A Battlefield Guide by Brian K. Burton (Bison Books-University of Nebraska Press, 2007) softcover, 31 maps, illustrations, photos, notes, order of battle, appendices, reading list. Pp. 174. ISBN:978-0-8032-6246-1, $21.95 --- [Fifth volume in This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War Battlefields series]]

Civil War tour guides are basically one of three types: walking, driving, or a combination of both. None of these is inherently better than any of the others. Depending on the time available to the visitor and/or the interest level involved, they all have utility. A book from the same series, Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road, reviewed here late last year, is a model of excellence for the combo type.

The latest volume, Brian K. Burton's The Peninsula & Seven Days, could be described primarily as a driving tour guide. Conceivably, all the site visits can be squeezed into one long day. Each tour [early Peninsula Campaign (6 stops) and the Seven Days (9 stops)] takes approximately six hours to complete and only rarely requires the visitor to venture more than 50 yards beyond the car. As far as I am aware, this is the first and only book length guide that covers the entire campaign.

One of the great things about the This Hallowed Ground series is the common structure. Like all the others, the tour stops (in this case seventeen) in The Peninsula & Seven Days are organized into discrete sections, titled Directions, Orientation, What Happened, Analysis, and an optional Vignette. This particular volume also has perhaps a dozen or more optional secondary tours. One traces Stonewall Jackson's route to the battlefield at the beginning of the Seven Days and other side tours visit important locations such as Fort Monroe, Drewry's Bluff, and Harrison's Landing. I was happy to read about several new or improved sites that were in the process of being opened up to visits and interpretation when the book went to press.

The tour stops are well chosen. The early campaign section highlights the remaining stretches of preserved fortifications on the lower Virginia peninsula. Readers of author Brian Burton's previous book Extraordinary Circumstances, a detailed military history of the Seven Days battles, will be familiar with his analysis of those events. Unfortunately for posterity, some important areas have been lost to sprawl, including the Fair Oaks/Seven Pines battlefield, and thus are not included in the tour.

Brian Burton has provided those interested in the Peninsula campaign with a comprehensive guidebook that suits a wide range of tastes. Daytripper and dedicated battlefield trompers alike will find much useful information therein. This series as a whole is rapidly becoming the best published traveling companion for visits to our nation's Civil War battlefields, and I eagerly await the next installment.

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