Monday, March 9, 2009

Rafuse: "Antietam, South Mountain, & Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide"

[Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide by Ethan S. Rafuse (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). Softcover, illustrations, 49 maps, notes, appendices, source list. 282 Pages. ISBN: 978-0-8032-3970-8 $21.95]

I've often expressed my admiration for Nebraska's This Hallowed Ground series of Civil War battlefield guides, and this latest volume by Ethan Rafuse continues the series's tradition of consistent quality in information and presentation. One of the reasons behind this continuity is the structure. The major tour stops [14 for Antietam, 5 for South Mountain, and 2 for Harpers Ferry] are further subdivided into 2-3 additional locations, all effectively organized into the following subsections: Directions, Orientation, What Happened, Analysis, and an optional Vignette. From these, the reader gets valuable insight into historical questions of what, where, when, and why as well as a quick and easy means of navigating the modern landscape.

One of the great improvements in the current crop of battlefield guides is with the cartography. The Antietam campaign maps (by Christopher L. Brest) are numerous and represent well the unit movements and the topography of the battlefields. Elevation contours and other relevant terrain features (e.g. woods, fields, streams, buildings, fences, roads, and trails) are featured. In depicting combat, unit scale is at a mix of brigade and regimental level.

Rafuse's up-to-date content is detailed enough for readers of all backgrounds, and the coverage for each battlefield is fully comprehensive yet concise enough to allow the tour to be completed in a single day. Side tours are included for those with additional time. Extras include a campaign order of battle and a Civil War organization, weapons, and tactics primer. A source/suggested reading list, with some commentary, is provided, as well. I would recommend this volume as the best general use touring guide for this campaign.

This Hallowed Ground series reviews:
* The Peninsula & Seven Days: A Battlefield Guide
* Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road

Additional CWBA Reviews of UNL Press publications:
* Counter-Thrust: From the Peninsula to the Antietam
* Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign


  1. I used the guide this past weekend to visit part of the South Mountain battlefield - specifically the Frosttown gap area. I second your observation about the quality of the maps and accuracy of the roads and contour lines on the maps. It is a must for all Maryland Campaign students

  2. Jim,
    Good to know it passes the field test!


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