Check out the collection of rare American Civil War maps provided in the Hargrett Library collection digitized and online here. This excellent resources demonstrates the power of digitization of primary sources. Bravo!
The good folks at PublicAffairs Books sent me a review copy of Marc Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta viewable on my virtual bookshelves here. I decided to create a shelf specific to “Civil War Sieges” because this book doesn’t quite fit in other categories. That uniqueness is part of its draw.
Full disclosure: This is my usual “pre-read” post where I’ll share some early impressions. Wortman had me before page one because he put six nicely done maps right up front. His poignant introduction left me with no recourse but to read on. A small excerpt:
War is cruelty. Its bloodshed and destruction – the “hard hand of war,” as Sherman really did call it – struck Atlanta with a greater ferocity than it has any American city in history. This is the story of how Atlanta and its people came to be in the direct line of the whirlwind, what one of the besieged city’s Confederate defenders called “a grand holocaust of death.” (Wortman, 2)
Having read the first chapter, I can say that Wortman has a talent for turning a phrase. His depiction of a devastated Atlanta on the morning of September 2, 1864 put me there.
A reeking sulfurous stew that stung the eyes had already settled over the town, filling the railroad cuts, hollows, and streets. Its tendrils wavered along the hillsides and ravines and sifted through the blackened skeletons of what once were houses and factories, railcars and machine shops. It was the silence, though, that shocked people most. Three predawn hours of gut-rattling, earsplitting, and window-shattering explosions and gunfire made the previous night feel like the announcement that the Apocalypse had finally come. But the infernal noise had ended shortly before morning’s light tipped into the eyes of those hunkered down within the earth. (Wortman, 5)
From reading just a few chapters of book, its TOC, and its index, I can add that Wortman’s work emphasizes the broader historical context of the war, covers the importance of railroads during the Civil War, provides insights into the conflict as seen from the perspectives of common soldiers and citizens, and draws upon a substantial amount of primary sources. All of these are pluses.
I look forward to a thorough reading.
An earlier book published by PublicAffairs Books in May of 2007, The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, also looks like a great read and I recently ordered a copy. Per the publisher, it is in development as a major motion picture. Of note, both of Wortman’s histories are available in Kindle versions which means you can begin reading them in about 40 seconds.
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.
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. 
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:
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:
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.
The highlight of the first five chapters of Two Great Rebel Armies by Richard M. McMurray was hands down the lesson on geography. This is, I fear, an area that receives too little emphasis in our study of the war. Particularly interesting was the reference to the Shenandoah Valley (Valley of Virginia) and the advantages and disadvantages it presented to those who chose to maneuver in it. It helps me to actually “see” a map of the area and I found a collection that you might find helpful if you’ve not already discovered it. It is the Hotchkiss Collection on the Library of Congress site here. The collection consists of 341 sketchbooks, manuscripts, and annotated printed maps, the originals of which reside in the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division. It also provides two essays including a biographical essay about Hotchkiss. Not to be missed is the Map of the Shenandoah Valley which was considered a masterpiece.
Major Jedediah Hotchkiss (1828-1899) was considered the cartographer of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was a topographic engineer in the Confederate Army. Most of the works in the collection are of the Shenandoah Valley and certainly some would have been used by Lee and his commanders.
The letters of Jedediah Hotchkiss are available on the University of Virginia’s excellent The Valley of the Shadow digital history project here. This exceptional collection is well worth the read and covers the major’s war experiences from 1861 – 1864 as conveyed to his family.
From class reading several weeks ago, I thought I would share a fascinating quote from T. Harry Williams and his 1952 work Lincoln and His Generals discussing the military preparedness of both sides to wage the war between the states.
“All of them were unready for war in 1861, and in that year and even later were not able to furnish field commanders with the technical information or advice or supplies which they were suddenly called on to provide. One of the most ironic examples of American military unreadiness was the spectacle of Northern – and Southern – generals fighting in their own country and not knowing where they were going or how to get there. Before the war the government had collected no topographical information about neighboring countries or even the United States, except for the West. No accurate maps existed. General Henry W. Halleck was running a campaign in the western theater in 1862 with maps he got from a book store.”
By the way, I highly recommend the David Rumsey Map Collection site available here. Outstanding collection of maps and the user interface is superb!