Monday, March 14, 2016

Moore, w/ Bandel & Hill: "THE OLD NORTH STATE AT WAR: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas"

[The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas by Mark Anderson Moore, with Jessica A. Bandel and Michael Hill (Office of Archives and History - NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources, 2015). 11" x 17" cloth, 99 maps, photos, illustrations, tables, charts, bibliography, index. 200 pp. ISBN:978-0-86526-471-7. $85]

Widespread publisher mishandling and misunderstanding of cartography is one of the most commonly heard complaints from Civil War readers, especially from those with the greatest appreciation for battle and campaign studies. If not absent altogether, maps are frequently too few in number, aesthetically sterile, and fail to match the content and level of detail in the accompanying narrative they should be specifically designed to support. In lieu of original creations, a common shortcut is to borrow maps from other sources but this practice is often performed with little or no regard for how relevant the previously published maps might be to the actual text at hand. Given the state of things, it is a welcome breath of fresh air to find a volume that exceeds all reasonable expectations when it comes to maps. The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas, the astonishing result of a decade of work by Mark A. Moore and colleagues Jessica Bandel and Michael Hill, is a masterwork of the cartographic arts.

Though the volume is also packed with charts, tables, photographs and other illustrations, the heart of The Old North State at War is Mark Moore's cartography [see samples here]. Moore's map work is the product of deep research into primary and secondary sources, with a big assist from invaluable resources like O.R. plates, topographical surveys drawn by Union and Confederate military engineers, and nineteenth century road surveys. With Moore's already substantial Civil War North Carolina history and map portfolio, it would be difficult to imagine a more qualified candidate for heading this particular project.

The color cartography in The Old North State at War (99 maps in total that are largely, but not exclusively, military in nature) is visually appealing and incredibly meticulous in its rendering of natural terrain, road networks, waterways, and unit positions and movements. The entire range of military map scales is represented in the book, from strategic overviews to operational renderings to tactical battle maps at the most desirable regimental level. Many illustrate at depth North Carolina battles and operations that have never been mapped adequately, if at all, in any previous publication. So many actions large and small populate the maps that there isn't even available space to mention them all in the text [for a complete map list and table of contents, click here]. However, embedded captions frequently contain useful supplemental information in the form of orders of battle, participant account excerpts, operational timelines and action summaries.

The geographical breadth is equally impressive, with even small guerrilla raids conducted in the mountain fastness of the state's far western reaches represented on the maps. The most intensely covered subjects are associated with the particularly eventful 1864-65 period. A large number of maps are devoted to Confederate land and water defense systems set up along the Cape Fear River and Union combined operations targeting Fort Fisher and Wilmington. The wide ranging Union advance through the interior of the state in 1865 is similarly treated, with an extensive series of operational maps precisely tracing march routes and tactical maps showing the various stages of the battles fought (including Averasboro, Bentonville and Wyse/Wise's Fork). In depicting operations conducted over great distances, the book's oversize 11"x17" landscape format uniquely allows both exquisite detail and sweeping military vistas to appear on the same page.

The range of subject matter in the atlas is also remarkable. In addition to military coverage, substantial chapter sub-sections discuss secessionist and pro-Union politics and voting patterns, industry, the economy, geography, a great number of home front issues, slavery, emancipation, black recruitment, freedmen policy, gunboat construction, blockade running and more. Capsule unit histories and biographies of influential figures are also present in sidebars, as are notable events like the Salisbury Bread Riot and the Shelton Laurel Massacre. On the other hand, a notable consequence of the project's comprehensive nature is the natural limit that editorial choice placed on the narrative's depth. For the many battles, campaigns, and raids mapped in the volume, space is available for only the briefest of descriptive overviews.

The end of the war and post-war commemoration are also discussed in the book. In advance of the Sesquicentennial, a parallel state funded project created and analyzed a roster of North Carolina war dead and some of the results are summarized in this volume. Of a total number of 33,418 dead, 31,954 were Confederate soldiers, with nearly one-third of those perishing in battle or dying later from wounds.

The price of this volume will likely turn away the more casual Civil War North Carolina reader but libraries and all serious Civil War map aficionados will want to pick up a copy of The Old North State at War. Over time, it will undoubtedly become a much sought after collector's item. The atlas is the product of a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something truly unique and special and all involved really went above and beyond the call of duty. Not enough superlatives exist to adequately praise this volume.

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