Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gottfried: "The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign ... "

[The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball's Bluff, June-October 1861 by Bradley M. Gottfried (Savas Beatie, 2009). Hardcover, 51 color maps, OB, notes, bibliography, index. 144 Pages. ISBN: 9781932714609 $34.05 ]

As mentioned in the introduction to his latest atlas study, The Maps of First Bull Run, Bradley Gottfried has embarked on an ambitious publishing project. The author/cartographer of the first two volumes of the Savas Beatie Atlas Series, Gottfried hopes to eventually cover all of the major eastern theater campaigns through Appomattox1.

Though similar in format to the earlier Maps of Gettysburg [with map sets divided into "action sections" of two or more maps, each accompanied by a full page of descriptive text], Gottfried's new atlas book sports some notable improvements. Among these, color cartography has been employed and criticism of the previous volume's lack of time range estimates for the events described by each map has been addressed.

Striking a judicious balance between inherent space limitations and the need for detail commensurate with that of the accompanying maps, the author's encapsulated text summaries of the Bull Run and Ball's Bluff battles are quite good, blending participant quotes with his own narrative (all annotated). By his own admission, the accounts are conventional in content and analysis, with heavy reliance on authoritative published works rather than extensive original research2. Gottfried also consulted with noted experts, such as Jim Morgan for the book's lengthy Ball's Bluff section.

The color cartography (as with the Gettysburg volume, designed and executed by Gottfried himself) is multi-featured, with troop positions and movements displayed at regimental and battery scale. What the maps lack in artistry, they make up for in functionality, providing enough visual information to satisfy most serious students while at the same time avoiding unnecessary clutter. On-map terrain features include woods, fields, fencing, ridge lines, streams, towns, roads, and trails. That said, elevation contour lines (like those found on topographical maps) would have been a nice touch for the more 'zoomed-in' tactical maps. The battle action is very easy to follow on the maps provided, and sufficiently detailed at regimental scale. My only significant objection is with the initial placement of the opposing lines atop Henry House Hill. While the distances mentioned in the text are in line with convention, in the series of maps the Confederate battle line is located too close to the hill's northwest face3.

Overall, The Maps of First Bull Run provides us with arguably the best balanced set of maps available for this important early war campaign and battle4. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the atlas to interested students of all background levels. Overall, the step-wise clarity of the cartography makes for an excellent battlefield reference, and Gottfried's Bull Run narrative is really one of the best tactical overviews available.

1 - Vol. 1: The Maps of Gettysburg. For Gottfried, the Maryland Campaign is next. The western theater will be addressed this fall with the release of David Powell's and David Friedrichs's The Maps of Chickamauga. One hopes for a continued series balance between east and west.
2 - Along this line, one item of interest is the book's timing of Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee's mortal wounding. The subject remains controversial, and, if I recall correctly, Gottfried's acceptance of the 2-4 p.m. time frame is among the latest put forth.
3 - By the maps' given scale, the southern batteries and their immediate supports (Jackson's brigade) are 150-175 yards from the Union guns positioned beside Henry House, far closer than any of the 300-400 yd. estimates from the best sources. Inexplicably, there's also a sliver of woods projecting between the lines and up to the yard of the Henry House, a terrain feature I've neither seen nor read about previously.
4 - Bearss's map study is essential research material, but very visually cluttered. The level of combined terrain and troop movement detail in Gottfried's maps easily exceeds those of earlier book length narrative studies (e.g. from Davis, Hennessy, Rafuse, and Detzer).

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Other CWBA reviews of Savas Beatie titles:
* The New Civil War Handbook: Facts and Photos for Readers of All Ages
* Chicago's Battery Boys: The Chicago Mercantile Battery in the Civil War's Western Theater
* One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863
* The Maps of Gettysburg: The Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 - July 13, 1863
* Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign March-May 1862
* The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign
* Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron
* Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg


  1. Hi Drew

    Many thanks for this extensive, fair, and thoughtful review of Brad's latest book in the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series.

    We are just sending Chickamauga off to the printer. I am an East-West kind of guy, and since I usually sit on the bridge of this ship, I am working to assure some form of balance. As you can imagine, however, these books are more labor of love than anything else (for everyone involved).

    Thanks again.


  2. Maybe one day there will be a 500-600 page book on First Manassas that will strike right in the middle of good, detailed narrative and nice corresponding maps. That was the sad thing about Detzer's book. He had a really nice, interesting account of the battle but his maps (or lack thereof) were really lacking.

    It has always interested me despite the battle being famous that it has never really got as much written attention as other Eastern theater battles. I guess the size and casualties of later battles take away from the attention of First Mannassas. Really ,as you have noted, the last 30 years have seen the publication of the best books on First Manassas.


  3. Thank you for your comments on my book, Drew. These volumes have become labors of love and I learn so much about a campaign by mapping it. As you know, I am not a cartographer, but learned how to prepare maps because I couldn't find anyone who would take on the task of preparing the dozens of images these volumes require. Ted Savas again did a great job of editing and formatting the volume. You may be interested to know that I am just about half way through the Maryland Campaign book.

    Brad Gottfried

  4. Thank you for your review of "The Maps of First Bull Run."
    We appreciate your interest.

    There is more information about this book and author on our website: www.savasbeatie.com.

    Thank you again for giving this book some well-deserved attention.

    Tammy Hall
    Savas Beatie


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