Book Review: Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide (by Mark Grimsley and Brooks D. Simpson) Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide With a Section on Chattanooga (by Steven E. Woodworth): ACW

8/11/2001 • Battle Of Chattanooga, Civil War 1863, Mag: America's Civil War Reviews, Ulysess S Grant, Union Soldiers

Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide, by Mark Grimsley and Brooks D. Simpson, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1999, $17.95, paperback.
Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide With a Section on Chattanooga, by Steven E. Woodworth, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1999, $16.95, paperback.

The University of Nebraska Press recently launched a new series, “This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War Battlefields,” with guidebooks to the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chickamauga. The choice of engagements is appropriate, since Gettysburg and Chickamauga were respectively the largest pitched battles in the Eastern and Western theaters and were the first two national military parks the government created after the war.

Both guides follow a standard format. There is a campaign overview that places the battle in the context of the war–an important addition too often omitted from battlefield guides–and brief summaries of the battle action on each day of the contest. The books feature easily followed directions on how to reach each tour stop. For each stop, they include an orientation section that points out the significant landmarks and terrain features necessary to understand the action. This is a critical feature of any battlefield guidebook, and the writers of both of these volumes do a good job in describing the lay of the land. The clearly written text contains enough substance to satisfy those battlefield visitors who like to sink their teeth into the subject, but not so much information that it will intimidate a first-time visitor. Some stops include an analysis section in which the authors offer insight into why a certain decision was made or why the action developed as it did. There is also a vignette section featuring personal accounts and anecdotes about the action.

Abundant maps accompanying both guides are helpful in supporting the text. Each book also contains an appendix that includes the order of battle of both armies; a section on tactics used by infantry, artillery and cavalry; the importance of understanding terrain; how to estimate distances; and suggested additional reading. The authors also include insight into these subjects throughout the text of both books.

The guides are quite thorough in their coverage of the subject matter. Mark Grimsley and Brooks Simpson’s Gettysburg volume contains 20 stops that cover the main battlefield and includes optional excursions to lesser-known areas such as the advance line of Buford’s defense on July 1, the East Cavalry Battlefield, the South Cavalry Battlefield and the area of Farnsworth’s Charge. There are also two walking tours. One explores in depth the fighting in the Wheatfield. The other tour guides the visitor across the field of Pickett’s Charge, following the route of Lee’s infantry.

Steven Woodworth’s Chickamauga guidebook also has 20 stops, along with seven optional excursions that allow visitors to experience the battlefield in greater depth. Woodworth offers a fairly extensive side trip to the Chattanooga battlefields.

The writers of both guides are first-rate scholars. Woodworth is an authority on his subject, having authored three books on the campaigns and battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Simpson and Grimsley are also Civil War scholars of very high reputation and clearly know the battlefield of Gettysburg thoroughly.

The only notable omission in the Gettysburg guide is that the reader is not informed of the presence of the National Park Service Visitor Center, which includes a large museum. Since the authors begin their tour at the facility, they may have made the assumption that the tourist would already know of this museum.

While the scholarship of both guides is of a caliber to be expected by such distinguished historians, there is one small nit in Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide. The authors contend that the famous story of Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s aiding wounded Union Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow was a figment of Gordon’s imagination–a conclusion that is now in doubt.

Overall, though, both of the guides are very well done and highly recommended to students of the Civil War, as well as to the average visitor who seeks a full understanding of these two great battles.

Scott Hartwig