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Book Review – Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns

By Richard Sauers; Zenith Press; 160 pages

As a self-diagnosed Civil War buff, the barrage of news books set to coincide with the ongoing Civil War Sesquicentennial has been a dream come true. One downside, however, besides overflowing bookcases, is that deserving titles sometimes go unnoticed. So seems the case with Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns. Part battlefield guide, part history, this new volume from noted Civil War historian Dr. Richard Sauers is more than meets the eye.

The 18 battlefields mentioned are delightfully misleading, since some battlefields saw other distinct battles, such as the Manassas National Battlefield Park, home of First and Second Manassas.

The book focuses on 18 battlefields that the author identifies as being key to the Civil War. Coincidentally, all 18 battlefields are also part of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). The 18 battlefields mentioned are delightfully misleading, since some battlefields saw other distinct battles, such as the Manassas National Battlefield Park, home of First and Second Manassas. Also featured are some lesser known but still important battles, such as the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and the Battle of Monocacy. This is where the battlefield guide part of the book comes in, with each chapter featuring a sidebar with visitor information. Park information useful to the prospective park visitor is included, such as phone number, points of focus, hours, acreage, facilities, park fee, and various programs available for park visitors.

Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War's Pivotal Battles and Campaigns

Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns, by Richard Sauers; Zenith Press; 160 pages

A chapter is devoted to each battlefield park, with each chapter including a brief history of the battle. This isn’t likely to break any new ground, although the chapters provide a quick reference or refresher for anyone preparing to tour the battlefield. What really sets the book apart and makes it a worthy purchase for even the most knowledgeable Civil War scholar are the little-known Civil War facts that are broken into sidebars. Quirky facts range from the more well known, such as the Zouaves who served during the Civil War, to the lesser-known Gettysburg Gun, the youngest Medal of Honor recipient, and the origins of battlefield preservation. Little known Civil War personalities are spotlighted as well. Examples include Lew Wallace, who went on to author Ben-Hur, and Arthur MacArthur, a Medal of Honor recipient who was the father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Quotes from the participants of the battle are a nice touch, the brief firsthand accounts helping the reader form a picture of what happened at each battle.

Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns also benefits from handsome photography and artwork that are put to effective use throughout the book.

Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns also benefits from handsome photography and artwork that are put to effective use throughout the book. Each chapter is separated by a two-page spread containing a piece of Civil War artwork or a gallery with photos on a particular subject. An example of a particularly interesting one consists of Civil War envelopes, which were the postcards of their day and were often used by the sender to show where their sympathies lay. Little-seen photography and the use of lithographs add greatly to the book.

Civil War Infantry

The addition of little-seen photography adds to Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns. National Archives photo

The book does suffer from a lack of detailed maps of the battlefields. An effort was made to include a mix of contemporary and period maps, but most of the maps should have been in a larger size. Many of the maps are from the Civil War Preservation Trust, a worthy organization that crafts highly detailed maps, but those details would be more of an asset to the reader if they had been larger. The map accompanying the Battle of Antietam is large and clearly legible, but the one for the Battle of Shiloh is small and almost useless to a reader. The period maps are a nice touch in helping the reader to see how a particular battle was viewed at the time, but aren’t necessarily a clear guide to what happened.

This book should whet the appetite for battlefield touring of anyone with a passing interest in the Civil War, something for which the NPS should be grateful.

Having toured 12 of the 18 battlefields mentioned, it would have been nice to have a guide such as Civil War Battlegrounds: The Illustrated History of the War’s Pivotal Battles and Campaigns along for the ride. Additionally, this book should whet the appetite for battlefield touring of anyone with a passing interest in the Civil War, something for which the NPS should be grateful.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...