Monday, September 10, 2018

Book Snapshot: Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864

Charles D. Collins, Jr. is a history professor at the U.S. Army's Combat Studies Institute and the author of a pair of military atlases covering the Cheyenne and Sioux wars. His new map and text study, Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 (2018), addresses one of the very largest, but at the same time least studied, Civil War campaigns fought in the Trans-Mississippi theater. Only very recently has the first truly full-length military history of this operation been published, Kyle Sinisi's excellent The Last Hurrah: Sterling Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 (2015).

Consisting of 77 maps in total, the Missouri Expedition atlas is divided into seven parts, with the first two sections  background related, for both early Missouri history and for those military events that occurred in the state during the first half of the war. Parts III-VII together discuss and map the entire 1864 campaign beginning to end, from initial planning stages through the ultimate return of Price's shattered remnants to Arkansas. 

In terms of general layout, the author adopts the common military atlas format of presenting a full-page map on the left faced by explanatory text on the right. Pages are 8.5" x 11" in size so the large maps make it easy to view the wealth of features that so many of them offer. The cartography comes in all three military map scales—strategic, operational, and tactical.  Most attractive are the last, a good example of which can be seen on the cover art image above. For a great many of these, impressive terrain and small-unit details are present, and the modern landscape is faintly traced as an additional layer underneath the historical one (a helpful touch for those wanting to visit the sites today). It should be mentioned that the new 2018 print edition's cartography is all in black and white. Those wishing to see the maps in color will need to pick up a copy of the earlier 2017 version, which is nearly double the list price. As far as I know, that is the only difference between the two editions beyond the cover art, which is frankly terrible in the case of the 2017 color edition. For those that don't mind looking at atlases on a computer screen, a digital version has been made available free of charge since 2016.

The author research that goes into atlas studies can be typically characterized as a synthesis of select published sources, and that is the case here, as well. Notes and bibliography indicate reliance on the O.R. plus a small list of published books and a few journal, magazine, and newspaper articles. Sinisi's study is not referenced, but that's understandable given the closeness of original publishing dates.

Many events, most particularly from Westport onward, receive appropriately exhaustive coverage, but some earlier battles, even significant ones, get comparatively slight treatment. For example, the bloody Pilot Knob battle only gets two maps that aren't particularly detailed and the book's text description of the fight at Glasgow is only a couple sentences in length even though readily available sources exist, particular the work of James Denny, that could have fleshed out the skirmish/battle more. Also, many of the map-facing text pages contain a great deal of empty white space that could have been put to use. In general, I would have preferred more interpreted text rather than the primary source 'vignettes' placed at the bottom of every right-hand page, but the latter have a larger purpose Collins deems important [From the author: "These vignettes provide an overview of the events shown on the map and discussed in the narrative from the perspective of persons who participated in the events. In most cases there are two vignettes with the first from a person loyal to the Union and the second from a person who supported the southern cause. A few narratives have two or more vignettes from only the Union side. This was done to emphasize disagreements and struggles among senior leaders to establish a common course of action."]

Maps and text seem globally reliable, though the latter could have used some much more thorough proofreading. Without offering specifics, one campaign authority claims to have found map "errors" for the October 23 fighting, but it's unclear if these were careless mistakes on the part of Collins or just differences in interpretation. Of course, everything should be viewed with a critical eye, and I don't see any reason for anyone interested in the campaign to be deterred from picking up a copy. With so many events mapped in unprecedented detail (or for the first time ever) in its pages, Battlefield Atlas of Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 is an exciting new resource.

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