Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dunkerly, Pfanz & Ruth: "NO TURNING BACK: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May 4 - June 13, 1864"

[ No Turning Back: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May 4 - June 13, 1864 by Robert M. Dunkerly, Donald C. Pfanz, and David R. Ruth (Savas Beatie, 2014). Softcover, 25 maps, photos, drawings. Pp. 188.  ISBN:978-1-61121-193-1 $12.95]

No Turning Back is the latest battlefield touring guide from publisher Savas Beatie's Emerging Civil War series. With respected historian Donald Pfanz spending much of his career at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP and Dunkerly and Ruth employed at Richmond NBP as park ranger and superintendent respectively, the authors can certainly write with authority on their subjects.

At 120 road miles, and divided into four slightly overlapping sectors -- Wilderness (13 stops), Spotsylvania (31), North Anna River (27), and Cold Harbor (15) -- the tour is a long one, covering in dozens of stops the entire Overland Campaign from the initial clashes south of the Rapidan to the crossing of the James River. The authors suggest at least 1-2 days to complete the experience.

Directions to each site (and optional side trip) are detailed, with GPS coordinates and distances marked in mile tenths. Visitors are taken to a variety of places, from battlefield vistas to river crossings and antebellum churches and homes. The text accompanying each stop is informative, both for background as well as Civil War history. Every stop includes quotes and anecdotes from participants, their words describing the landscape, battle experiences, and notable personalities involved. Even if the reader is not visiting the battlefields, the narrative is comprehensive enough and flows together well enough to provide a good general history of the Overland Campaign.

As with all volumes in the series, maps and illustrations are a priority. No Turning Back is filled with judiciously selected contemporary photographs and drawings, as well as modern images. The maps are quite good, depicting both troop movements at an appropriate scale and important natural and man-made terrain features. My only complaint with the battlefield maps is they're not specifically tied to the tour stops, leaving the reader (who may or may not be experienced) to relate them to the text. There is a set of designated tour maps at the beginning of the book, but it would have been helpful if the numbered stops had also been placed on the tactical and operational scale maps, where appropriate. An index might have proved useful, too.

No Turning Back does not contain the same degree of tactical detail and command analysis found in the U.S. Army War College or This Hallowed Ground series of guides, nor is it designed to be. Instead, it is a great option for a tour of low to moderate intensity. The text's popular format will appeal to a broader range of visitors than the more specialized target audience of the guide series mentioned above, but there's little reason for seasoned readers to regard it as guide-lite either.

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