Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review of Puckett & Kelley - "CIVIL WAR ARKANSAS: A Military Atlas"

[Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas by Randy Puckett and Ron Kelley (Arkansas Toothpick Publishing, 2016). 8.5x11 softcover, intro, color maps, 2 appendices, index. ISBN:978-1533614599. $39.95]

In 1864, Confederate Lieutenant Colonel H.T. Douglas directed captain and Chief of Topographical Engineers of the District of West Louisiana and Arkansas Richard M. Venable to created a detailed military map of the state of Arkansas. The end result was an impressive achievement of cartographical art and skill (scaled at 1 inch=4 miles), completed in two 35-inch x 77-inch sections. It likely represents the best single map of Civil War Arkansas produced during the war. Found on Venable's person when he was captured by Union forces, the map currently resides in the National Archives (RG 77: drawer 123, sheet 15).

Randy Puckett and Ron Kelley's Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas is a full-color, complete digital reproduction of the Venable map. It was no easy task, as scanning the original and georectifying the data was a painstaking process that took several months in itself. The book sections the map into 147 squares using a grid system, with the scale of each block being a bit more than three miles to the inch for a total of roughly 400 square miles of coverage. Each grid square gets its own 8 1/2 x 11 inch page in the book, the oversize presentation making the map details and labels easy to see and read. Beginning at the top left corner of the Venable map, Puckett and Kelley's block reproductions proceed from left to right and down (with a typewriter-style return). Each county is assigned a different color, aiding user orientation as the reader moves across the map from page to page. Located in the legend, "Cartographer's Notes" are also added to each block. These are topically diverse, but most commonly are used to provide modern references to antebellum names and places.

Map features encompass a range of structures, cities and towns, roads, railroads, political boundaries, hills, mountains, and prairies. To manage the clutter that would occur if all water features were exhaustively included, only rivers, lakes, and major creeks appear. Only four battlefields are noted, but some military camps and forts are indicated on the map. Of the last, only those few deemed important to the Confederate authorities at the time the map was created in 1864 were included, so the map is not useful as a general survey of Arkansas battles and fortifications (nor was it intended to serve such a purpose).

Readers will readily notice that the amount of cartographic detail vastly increases as one moves south along the book's grid network. By 1864, all but the southern reaches of Arkansas came under at least nominal Union control, and Venable's topographical team was only able to personally reconnoiter around 29% of the state. In this area, surveyed roads are specifically marked and traced as "reconnoitered," and other public roads, settlement roads, and trails are also separately categorized. The type and number of man-made structures—churches, cemeteries, houses (labeled by owner name), schools, post offices, businesses (e.g. stores, tanyards, gins, mills, salt works, factories, shops, and distilleries), landings, ferries, and bridges—appearing on the map also increase exponentially the farther south one goes.

The pages are not numbered, so cross-references provided in the appendices and index refer instead to the grid coordinates. To help readers easily find any given settlement, the authors compiled a useful town and municipality appendix for the book. Another appendix divides the map into large sections and effectively contrasts the modern and 1864 road networks by placing an interstate, U.S., and state highway overlay on top of the antebellum system. The atlas concludes with a full index.

This project was obviously a labor of love on the part of Puckett and Kelley, one that any great enthusiast of Civil War cartography should appreciate. Some readers might be a bit disappointed that the authors did not add a great deal of new material to their maps, but the stated objective all along was to stay as faithful to the original Venable map as possible. Anyone researching the Civil War hardly needs to be reminded that the examination of history operates hand in hand with the study of geography, and Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas is a remarkable new tool to assist in these endeavors.

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