Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hines: "THE BATTLE OF FIRST BULL RUN - Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide"

[ The Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide by Blaikie Hines (American Patriot Press, 2011).  Softcover, 82 maps, 500+ images, notes, bibliography, index. 224 pp. ISBN:978-1-61364-129-3  $39.50 ]

Civil War battle atlases continue to be rare, but students of the First Bull Run campaign and battle have been quite fortunate to see a pair of fine map studies emerge recently, 2009's The Maps of First Bull Run by Bradley Gottfried and now Blaikie Hines's The Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861 - An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. As an added benefit, their main features do not overlap.

As opposed to Gottfried's traditional cartography, photography, much of it rarely seen, is at the heart of Hines's visual treatment. He has assembled hundreds of period and modern images of buildings and landscapes, and has created 82 color battle overlays of recent satellite (as well as some 20th century aerial) photos of the Manassas battlefield park and environs. For many of the period landscape photographs, in addition to applying labels identifying persons, buildings, geographical points, and military unit positions, Hines includes his own matching perspective modern photographs on the same page. These side by side comparisons are fascinating records of changing landscapes, as well as useful guidebook features. The color map overlays offer all the tactical detail desired, from the positioning of  individual artillery pieces on the battlefield to the locations and movements of the infantry and cavalry companies, battalions, and regiments of both sides. In depth organizational sidebars, with officer photos attached to each formation, are also sprinkled throughout the book.

The accompanying text is very stripped down, favoring dry detail over pleasing narrative.  There is nothing wrong with this, and indeed it's preferable and probably necessary given the space limitations.  New military historical interpretations are not attempted. What is offered is a synthesis of the best current scholarship.  That said, the writing would certainly benefit from another pass by a professional editor in order to fix the numerous typographical errors and instances of information repetition. In fact, to alleviate the meandering quality of the text, a complete separation of the tactical treatment from the family and farm history sections associated with the battlefield might have been a better choice.  Some of these interludes, such as the investigation of the Thornberry property and Sudley Springs photography, represent quite extensive breaks in the flow of the surrounding battle history.

Overall, Hines does a fine job of maximizing the amount of data incorporated into the maps (which include the unit information mentioned above, as well as monument, park trail, and other geographically notable locations) without making them appear too cluttered.  However, it might have served the reader better to have the ubiquitous on-map distance markers depicted by something other than thick arrows, which also represent unit movements. A sample can be seen here.

In the end, the book's many strengths far outweigh its flaws.  Blaikie Hines has applied his substantial visual arts skills to the crafting of a highly original and broadly useful contribution to the military and civilian historiography of the Manassas battlefield and battle.  Certainly, nothing else offers readers at home and dedicated trampers in the field a more effective way to trace the course of the battle on the current landscape.  Hines's The Battle of First Bull Run can be confidently placed alongside top shelf subject matter works by Johnston, Gottfried, Bearss, Davis, and Hennessy.

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