Book Review: Campfire and Battlefield: An Illustrated History of the Great Civil War (by Rossiter Johnson): CWT

8/12/2001 • Mag: Civil War Times Reviews

Campfire and Battlefield: An Illustrated History of the Great Civil War, by Rossiter Johnson, 1894, reprint, Trident Press, Naples, Florida, 941-649-7077, 552 pages, deluxe edition, $50.

We seem to have an obsessive need to collect objects to help us remember the seminal events of our past, good and bad. Over the years, perceptive entrepreneurs have made healthy livings by selling products to satisfy this need. Some of their greatest moments came courtesy of the Civil War.

Even as the war raged on, businessmen sold newspapers that documented the conflict in words and illustrations, photographs of battles and heroes, and countless mementos made of paper, cloth, and metal. Later, memories of America’s four most formative years found their way into hardcover books. Two of the more famous–and profitable–offerings were the 4-volume Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (1887-1888) and Francis Trevelyan Miller’s 10-volume Photographic History of the Civil War (1911). Another less renowned favorite was Campfire and Battlefield (1894).

Campfire and Battlefield is a narrative history of the war printed on 11-by-13-inch pages that afford ample space for illustrations and photographs of heroes and battlegrounds. Written by Rossiter Johnson, the book includes contributions from the likes of Generals Oliver O. Howard and John B. Gordon, and LaSalle Corbell Pickett, wife of General George Pickett.

Rossiter’s work has been criticized as occasionally overwrought and distortive, but the modern reader would be buying Campfire and Battlefield as a showpiece, not a reference book. Trident Press’s deluxe reprint of the two-inch-thick tome is destined to end up on the coffee table of many a Civil War buff. To judge a book by its cover, it’s a handsome one, decked out in dark-blue silk imprinted with gold-leaf writing and ornamentation.

Examining the substance behind the exquisite facade, some of the photos, illustrations, and text are a bit blurry. To some extent, that’s to be expected when pages are reproduced from old books whose original engravings are long gone.

I’m not sure where the Civil War Times review copy of this book is destined to end up, but I wouldn’t mind it on my coffee table.

Carl Zebrowski