Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mackowski & White: "SIMPLY MURDER: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862"

[ Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White (Savas Beatie, 2012). Softcover, 6 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices. 167 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-146-7 $12.95]

Simply Murder is the first volume in Savas Beatie's Emerging Civil War series, a new line of Civil War battlefield history and guide books. The U.S. Army War College guides and Nebraska's This Hallowed Ground series pretty much dominate the arena of serious, in-depth touring aids favored by the most serious Civil War students. This book is not set up to compete with these books, but rather seems to be destined to appeal to a different, more typical audience. That is not to say this is a lightweight Fredericksburg guide but it probably better meets the needs of the car ride oriented, general interest battlefield visitor.

Unlike the other guides, Simply Murder does not reproduce extensive quotes from official reports or break the battle down into a large number of segments pregnant with tactical detail and analysis. What readers get is a popular style narrative of the events of the battle and the major personalities involved, with frequent short quotes from participants, geared to an 11-stop driving tour that can be easily completed in an afternoon.

In terms of presentation, the volume is attractive with multiple illustrations in the form of current and contemporary photographs [individuals, landscapes, buildings, etc.] and lithography. The six maps are relatively few, selective of key moments in the battle, and future volumes might consider at least creating one for each stop.  Numerous appendices offer additional information that will interest many. Background information about the national cemetery and the town is located here, as well as a handful of essays dealing with the civilian experience of the battle, slavery at Fredericksburg, and some of the mysteries and interpretive themes that arose in the wake of the fight and evolved over time.  The decision to separate this information from the main text is a good one, as much of it is not immediately related to the tour and can be perused with equal effect after the tour is over.

For those with a moderate or greater understanding of the battle, Simply Murder is not an essential tool, but placement in the park bookstore would be an ideal situation. Novices and more general interest visitors will find the book to be a thoughtful companion to their introductory experience of the Fredericksburg battlefield, helped by the fact that, for these readers, it is priced right and strikes a largely satisfying balance between specialized information overload and oversimplifying complex events.


  1. Thanks for this review, Drew.

    You hit exactly the points of debate and agreement we reached when dealing with this series (the intended audience, lay-out, and so forth). We are very excited by this series, and intend to expand it to the Western Theater as well. To that end, we welcome any ideas for topics--especially since we intend to go well beyond just battles and campaigns.

    Thanks again for all you do for the Civil War publishing community.

    Theodore P. Savas
    Managing Director

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the book!

    It's of course impossible to truly understand a battle unless you understand the ground, so we hope the book will serve as a valuable companion for anyone who walks Fredericksburg. However, we also hope it gives folks who CAN'T visit the battlefield a clear glimpse of what they'd see and experience if they were to visit.

    We have several more titles already in the works, which we're really excited about!

    -- Chris Mackowski

  3. Have you heard of any upcoming titles from the This Hallowed Ground Series?

    1. No, and your question prompted me to revisit its webpage and I can't believe how long it's been since the last one was published [although huge gaps between books is the established pattern (2 in 1999, 3 more 2006-07, then 2008)]. It's my favorite guidebook series and I would heartily welcome more.

    2. I agree, I would love to see a volume published on Vicksburg or the Atlanta Campaign


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