Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Review - "The Complete Pickett's Mill Battlefield Trail Guide" by Brad Butkovich

[The Complete Pickett's Mill Battlefield Trail Guide by Brad Butkovich (Historic Imagination, 2021). 8.5"x11" softcover, color maps, color photos, orders of battle. 76 pp. ISBN:9781732597631. $21.95]
The stretch of large-scale 1864 Atlanta Campaign maneuvers conducted north of the Chattahoochee River consisted of a great deal of flanking and retreating, with General William T. Sherman's massive army group obliging the enemy's desire to be attacked behind its field fortifications on only a few occasions. One of those bloody noses delivered by General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee occurred at Pickett's Mill on May 27. The Confederate defensive victory achieved by General Patrick Cleburne's reinforced division over elements of three Union corps, all placed under the overall command of General O.O. Howard, is perhaps best described in the pages of Brad Butkovich's 2013 volume The Battle of Pickett's Mill: Along the Dead Line. Unlike so many other Atlanta Campaign events overtaken by modern development, Pickett's Mill has been the beneficiary of strong preservation initiatives, the result of which is today's 765-acre Pickett's Mill Battlefield State Historic Site. Though a pristine green space crisscrossed with miles of walking trails, site interpretation is minimal. Bridging that gap between armchair historical reading and useful guided battlefield exploration is Butkovich's The Complete Pickett's Mill Battlefield Trail Guide.

A brief but excellent introductory history of the battle is provided over the first twelve pages of the book, with the narrative overview of the fighting closely supported by seven highly detailed battle maps tied closely to events described in the text. The maps contain all of the information necessary to understand troop positions and movements along with the battlefield terrain (then and now). The historical map information provided is very easily correlated with features and stops indicated on today's park trail map.

Generally speaking, Butkovich's guide follows the park's established network of connected trail loops, which are four in number and labeled blue, red, white, and orange. Butkovich incorporates the numbered official trail stations from those loops into the guide and generously supplements them with his own "Extra" stations that represent other "areas where historically significant or interesting events occurred" (pg. 14). For the most part, the loops cover different phases of the battle (and the red loop mostly "focuses on fighting that occurred in the park for the week after the May 27th battle") so there isn't an excessive amount of overlap present in the guide. For those with the most limited time available, the author recommends the blue loop.

Each trail station is given its own page in the guide, with orientation summary (including GPS coordinates) at the top, a photograph in the middle, and text at the bottom. The attached text, in most cases filling around half of each 8.5 in. by 11 in. page, further establishes view orientation and incorporates firsthand accounts from the author's research into a vivid description of the action that occurred there. A modern color photograph of the viewshed is also included for every station. Unlike the author's previous photographic study of Antietam, where he carefully matched modern images with historical event timing estimates, for Pickett's Mill many off-season autumn photographs are included to provide views of the ground unobstructed by spring and summer's dense leaf growth. Even so, most photographs consist of forested views with relatively narrow framing, so they are primarily useful for in-person sight line orientation rather than providing armchair readers with panoramic images of the modern battlefield. An order of battle completes the volume.

Anyone planning a serious visit to the park should have a copy of this highly functional guide in hand. Recommended.

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