Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reardon & Vossler: "A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTYSBURG: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People"

[A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). Softcover, photos, maps, notes, index. 454 pp. ISBN:978-0-8078-3525-8 $22]

The academic presses affiliated with the Universities of Kansas, Nebraska, and Tennessee all publish fine battlefield guidebook series, but Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler's A Field Guide to Gettysburg from UNC Press has features and depth rivaling the best of them. For the price, the presentation is fairly spectacular, with color photography, abundant color maps, and durable paper.

The book follows the familiar guide format of segmenting the tour into numbered stops, in this case 35. Each begins with an Orientation section containing walking, driving, and on-the-ground facing directions and ends with instructions on how to reach the next stop. In between, the following questions are answered:

1. What Happened Here?

Several pages in length, this part contains a narrative account of military events associated with the location. Unlike most guidebooks, the text is sourced (with the notes located at the rear of the book). In support are modern color photographs (sometimes with noteworthy points labeled), archival B&W images, and multi-color maps. The map set is quite impressive, with unit movements and locations at regimental and battery scales. The full array of terrain features is also depicted.

2. Who Fought Here?

     A listing of regiments and/or brigades that were present, often with numbers data included.

3. Who Commanded Here?

     Brief biographies of the leadership of both sides (brigade level or higher) are located in this section, with photographs.

4. Who Fell Here?

     Casualty levels, including regimental totals, resulting from the fighting around each stop are listed. In addition, a subsection titled Individual Vignettes are often present, offering a more personalized insight into the battle's terrible losses.

5. Who Lived Here?

     The extent by which the civilian presence is emphasized is a unique component of this guidebook. It is much more than just mentioning house and farm family names.

6. What Did They Say About It Later?

     This is another section that sets A Field Guide to Gettysburg apart from the typical Civil War battlefield guidebooks. In addition to offering excerpts from veteran letters, memoirs, and memorial dedications, the written records of civilian observers and even historiographical issues are discussed.

A visitor with only a few hours to spare on a Gettysburg battlefield tour might be better served by the more economically detailed volume from the Nebraska series, but I would wholeheartedly endorse that serious battlefield trampers give Reardon and Vossler's guide a trial run in the field.  For those not able to travel to the site, there's also more than enough material inside the book for satisfactory home reading.  The format, presentation, and material quality of A Field Guide to Gettysburg is very appealing, and one hopes that UNC Press might consider using it as the flagship launching of their own series of battlefield touring guides.

More CWBA reviews of UNCP titles:
* Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign
* With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North
* The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
* Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
* West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
* Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

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