Thursday, February 8, 2007

Miller: "Great Maps of the Civil War"

(The following review is reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appearing in vol. 8 #5, pp. 84-85, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

Great Maps of the Civil War: Pivotal Battles and Campaigns Featuring 32 Removable Maps by William J. Miller. (Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 2004. Pp. 48, $34.99, Hardback, photos, maps, notes. ISBN 1-55853-999-9)

Topographical engineers and the draftsmen who supported them did extremely important work during the Civil War, but their exertions have been largely thankless in terms of historical memory. Although many readers know the story of Jed Hotchkiss, many mapmakers of equal skill are almost forgotten. Thankfully, several fine works dealing with the underappreciated subject of Civil War maps have been published in recent years. Great Maps of the Civil War is an intriguing addition to this hopefully growing volume of literature. What sets this book apart from the others is the fact that each chapter contains two or more folded maps that the reader can pull out of a sleeve and examine.

The removable maps are of varying physical size (some are quite large when unfolded) and run the gamut from simple child-like sketches to beautiful full-color artwork. Many different drafting styles and copying techniques are illustrated. In a nice touch, some especially inaccurate maps are included to illustrate the fact that many generals’ decisions that were sound based on the maps available were actually disastrous when the reality of the situation became apparent. In addition to the maps, the book is also stocked with many period photographs.

Although solidly constructed, the book’s organization can be somewhat quibbled with. Short biographies of prominent topographical engineers, along with descriptions of mapmaking and copying techniques, are commonly relegated to sidebars while the main text is a summarized history of the war. Perhaps the reverse would have been more effective and even much of the general background information dispensed with altogether. In terms of geographical balance, two-thirds of the pullout maps are from the eastern theater of operations and it would have been nice to have seen more attention paid to the Trans-Mississippi.

The book is not highly technical, but readers who often wonder how Civil War engineers created accurate maps with such relatively primitive equipment will nonetheless gain some interesting insights into the process. Overall, Great Maps provides a fine introduction to Civil War maps and mapmakers from both sides of the conflict. The removable maps, many not often seen, are generally well chosen and will appeal to a range of reader interests.

[Reprinting this old review reminds me I still need to snag a copy of the McElfresh book Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War. If I recall correctly, among other images of interest, there are some really nice watercolor enhanced maps from the Red River Campaign.]


  1. Mr. Wagenhoffer, I am looking for maps of the Civil War era depicting Grant County, WV (then Hardy County, Va.) especially the area around Greenland Gap in the New Creek Mountains. Do you know if any exist in this book? Thank you, Debbie Kunkel

  2. Debbie,
    No, there wouldn't be anything like that. Perhaps you already know all this, but there is an old article on a fight at Greenland Gap in an issue of West Virginia History journal (I have a link to the journal website on the sidebar) written by one of the Haselbergers. More recently, there was an article in the Fall 2006 issue of Civil War Times magazine about Greenland Gap. I can't remember the author.


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