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Posted on Mar 9, 2012 in Books and Movies

The Battle of First Bull Run – Manassas Campaign July 16-22, 1861: Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide – Book Review

By Neal West

The Battle of First Bull Run–Manassas Campaign July 16–22, 1861: An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. Blaikie Hines. American Patriot Press, 2011. 225 pages. 82 maps, 500+ photographs, bibliography, index. Paperback: $39.95.

As a volunteer at Virginia’s Manassas National Battlefield Park, you can probably imagine that I have quite a collection of reference books on the two battles fought on the hills outside Manassas in 1861 and 1862. You can also imagine that I begged ArmchairGeneral.com for a chance to review The Battle of First Bull Run–Manassas Campaign: July 16–22, 1861 – an Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. Prostration before my editor was well worth the effort.

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In his introduction, Blaikie Hines, Connecticut native and author of Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut (American Patriot Press, 2002), relates how he became enthralled with the iconic battlefield of Manassas (Bull Run) during a visit in 2003. Hines then spent the next seven years collecting photographs and researching the battle. The result of his passion is the impressive The Battle of First Bull Run–Manassas Campaign: July 16–22, 1861 – an Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. Of course, any book billed as "the only illustrated atlas and battlefield guide book for the first battle of the American Civil War fought on July 21, 1861" must be compared with that other illustrated atlas, Bradley Gottfried’s The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, June-October 1861 (Savas Beatie, 2009).

Granted, both are indeed illustrated atlases of the First Battle of Manassas, and Gottfried’s could be also be used as a battlefield guide, but Hines’ work has incorporated so much more information in its 225 pages that it soon became my preferred choice to take along to the battlefield.

Both Gottfried and Hines break the battle into 15–45 minute blocks and detail infantry, artillery, and cavalry movements on maps down to the regimental/battery/squadron level, but the difference is in how each author presents the information. While Gottfried’s topographical maps reflect the terrain features at the time of the battle 150 years ago, Hines’ overlaid his maps over 82 aerial views of the Manassas area as it is today, showing modern roads, subdivisions, hiking trails, etc. In addition to the present-day maps, Hines also unearthed late 19th and early 20th century photographs of battlefield landmarks and terrain features and compares them with modern digital photographs taken from the same camera positions. Terrain changes over the past 150 years—tree lines, roads, buildings, or the lack thereof—can drastically change a battlefield’s "viewshed" and create doubt about what one is seeing. It is Hines’ use of comparative period/modern photographs that makes his book a truly useful battlefield guide. Helpful labels of prominent landmarks and terrain features also serve to orient the reader and place the photographs in context with the battlefield as a whole.

The history that lies beyond the battlefield is another area that separates the Hines and Gottfried books. While both do an excellent job tracing the movements of each army, Hines pauses to give short historical summaries of major landmarks along the way. The histories of the Stone House, Stone Bridge, Henry House, Portici, Pittsylvania, Chinn, Robinson are covered along with the towns of Fairfax, Centerville, etc.. When were they built and who lived there before, during, and after the war (if known) are quickly covered. This personal information is indispensable to us battlefield volunteers who might know the muzzle velocity of a 12-pounder Napoleon smoothbore but stumble on what kind of rock the Stone House is made of (red sandstone).

Orders of battle are yet another outstanding subset of this book. Eschewing the traditional organizational-tree structure, Hines includes pictures and biographical information of the major, and many of the minor, personas, including academy graduation dates and class standings.

The photographs in the book—over 500—are some of the best this reviewer has seen in printed form; sharply focused, extremely detailed, with selected enlargements revealing astonishing detail in faces and clothing. Hines has also identified many individuals, both famous and forgotten, appearing in the photos.

Some reviewers noted that the Gottfried guide’s topographical maps lacked elevations and a somewhat compressed view of the battle on a solely North/South axis. The former complaint could also be levied against Hines’ maps, but since they are aerial views, would not be fair. Nevertheless, Hines does provide a more expansive view of what was happening south and east of the main battlefield during the afternoon of July 21, 1861.

One criticism of Hines’ maps is that they can get very "busy"—movement arrows, formation icons, landmark names, trail markers, times, etc.—but the reader is never overloaded. Indeed, Hines provides two pieces of information that are rare to find in battlefield atlases: latitude/longitudinal coordinates and distance markers. The coordinates could help settle disagreements about the location of this-or-that Bull Run ford or locate some obscure historical spot. Hines’ information is from the Historical Marker Database so anyone with a GPS should be able to locate Farm Ford, Mitchell’s Ford, etc. And the distance markers keep readers from having to pull out a ruler and measure "so many yards per inch" to learn the distance between Matthews and Henry hills, for example.

To be frank, the most stinging criticism of The Battle of First Bull Run–Manassas Campaign: July 16–22, 1861 – an Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide is its format as a coffee-table sized paperback. It would have been much handier out in the field if it were bound in a weatherproof, spiral-ringed binder. I may consider removing the pages and rebinding it myself —because I intend on making it my single-source reference book and battlefield guide from now on.

Neal West has been a National Park Service volunteer since 2001 and a living historian at Manassas National Battlefield since 2004. He has a BA in American Military History from American Military University and will graduate with a MA in Military History with a concentration on the Civil War in the summer of 2012.

2 Comments

  1. Nice review Neal. Now thgat we are in Florida I miss roming around the Battlefield and working on the trails.

  2. Excellent review! I will have to add it to my collection since I too am involved in giving guided tours of the Battlefield.

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