- Wig-Wags Series
Review of History Shots – History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865
On August 16, 2009
Larry Gormley of History Shots kindly agreed to let me review the series of “information graphics” he has created that focus on military history. This post begins a brief series that I’ll do on all three, two depicting information about the opposing armies in the American Civil War: History of the Union Army and History of the Confederate Army, and a third on U.S. Army Divisions in World War II.
Minard as Inspiration
Gormley credits Charles Joseph Minard’s “statistical graphic” of Napoleon’s March to Moscow (interestingly published for the first time in 1861) as inspiration for his American Civil War graphics. Arguably the most famous effort to depict a military campaign in this unique way, Minard’s iconic work was reintroduced to modern audiences by statistical information guru, Edward Tufte in his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 
What Minard accomplished was the visual depiction of statistical data in a way that allows mere mortals to grasp it quickly.
“The aim of my carte figurative is less to express statistical results, better done by numbers, than to convey promptly to the eye the relation not given quickly by numbers requiring mental calculation.” [Charles Joseph Minard] 
John Corbett’s informative article, “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861,” points out that Minard incorporated six variables into him map.
“First, the line width continuously marked the size of the army. Second and third, the line itself showed the latitude and longitude of the army as it moved. Fourth, the lines themselves showed the direction that the army was traveling, both in advance and retreat. Fifth, the location of the army with respect to certain dates was marked. Finally, the temperature along the path of retreat was displayed. Few, if any, maps before or since have been able to coherently and so compellingly weave so many variables into a captivating whole.” 
Most startling in the work above is the comparative sizes of Napoleon’s army as it left France (tan colored stream at left of diagram) and then returned (black colored stream at left of diagram above) after having been decimated by the elements and lack of food. Michael Friendly’s Re-Visions of Minard also has a great deal of information on Minard including excellent graphics. The most powerful in my mind emphasizes the human element to Napoleon’s losses by replacing men with crosses. 
History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865
The statistics of the American Civil War, one of many histories that History Shots’ Larry Gormley and co-founder Bill Younker tackle, must have presented some interesting challenges. I think they handled them brilliantly and the results capture the spirit of what Minard attempted to accomplish in his 1861 work on Napoleon.
For this post, I want to take a look at the graphic titled: “History of the Union Army American Civil War, 1861 – 1865” which you can view on the History Shots website here. This will appeal to anyone trying to get their head around the key details of the war. The variables Gormley tackled graphically include:
- key milestones
- theaters of operation
- the 31 Union armies and departments (the date of their birth, sources of recruits, expansion, contraction, merging, etc.)
- the generals who commanded the armies and for what period of time
- statistical details of the most important 95 battles
- commanding generals
- number of casualties
- the number of men “present for duty”
- outcomes: win or draw
Each of the three major theaters of operation has its own swim lane and each army a unique color. The time element runs along an x-axis from left to right. The y-axis is largely size of army. This allows for effective illustration of the relative size of each army, their swelling and contracting in size, where they combined efforts for specific campaigns and/or battles, and when men were transferred between theaters. Vertical lines represent major battles and are color-coded to reflect their outcomes: Union win (blue), Confederate win (red), or draw (blue and red).
The History Shots website has an excellent feature that allows you to zoom in on any part of the diagram you want. I’ve taken the liberty of posting their full-on shot above and you can click on it to go to this graphic on their site. I zoomed in for illustrative purposes below on a section that shows the redeployment of soldiers from the Army of Southwest Missouri to Pope’s Army of the Mississippi and relative numbers of men moved.
But, in my mind, there is nothing that takes the place of having the map near at hand!
History of the Union Army would be an excellent tool to post in any classroom for students examining the American Civil War. Serious students of the Civil War will find it useful as an at-a-glance reference as well.
If research and production costs would permit, I would like to to see History Shots create versions of these information graphs in smaller hand-held format. I’d envision a collapsible folding version for each theater of operation. In fact, I would benefit from having graphical representations of each major battle. This would be different from traditional battle maps, of course, but a good companion reference to them. Choosing which variables to include and how to lay them out would be an interesting exercise. The following variables come to mind:
- chronology (the timeline remains key)
- opposing armies
- major units and their flow in and out of the field
- cavalry versus infantry
- artillery counts
- key commanders (including those below the general level)
- key events during the battle (at Antietam, for example, the Sunken Road, the Lower Bridge, Snavely’s Ford)
I could see all of the above as not only great additions to Civil War History student packets but as invaluable to those touring American Civil War battlefields. I realize there are some excellent guidebooks available but this could be a powerful supplement to those.
I am, needless to say, a fan of History Shots and the work Mr. Gormley and team have created. Highly recommend.
Next up: A Review of History of the Confederate Army and some Q & A with Larry Gormley.
Note: If statistical graphics grab you, I recommend highly scholar John Corbett’s informative article at the Center for Spatially Oriented Social Science “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861” for more on Minard and a second work on Hannibal’s Peninsular campaign in the Second Punic War. Michael Friendly’s Re-Visions of Minard also has a great deal of information on Minard including excellent graphics. Fascinating is the work that has come out of a contest where today’s scholars have taken Minard’s Napoleonic study and added to or revised it in meaningful ways. Today’s technology/computing power allows for some manipulation of the data (3D as an example) but Minard’s work stands as iconic.
 Corbett, John, “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861,” http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/58 accessed online, 8/15/2009.
 Friendly, Michael, “Re-Visions of Minard,” http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/re-minard.html, accessed online, 8/15/2009.
Tagged with: American Civil War • Battles of the Civil War • Center for Spatially Oriented Social Science • Charles Joseph Minard • Civil War Guides • Civil War Timeline • Confederate Army • Edward Tufte • Hannibal • History Shots • John Corbett • Larry Gormley • Michael Friendly • Napoleon's March to Moscow • Re-Visions of Minard • Second Punic War • social cartography • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information • U.S. Army Divisions of World War II • Union Army