McElfresh Maps to be Exhibited at the Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library

A gettysburg Map in Progress
A Gettysburg Map in Progress

Olean, NY—June 2, 2019–McElfresh Map Company LLC of Olean, NY is delighted to announce that a number of the company’s original hand-drawn manuscript maps will be on display at an exhibit at the Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library in Machias, New York. The exhibit will open June 8, 2019, with a presentation by Earl McElfresh at 1 p.m.

The exhibit, Mapmaker: The work of Earl McElfresh and the McElfresh Map Company will feature a wide selection of maps including the two part Gettysburg Map, the three part D-Day Map, the Little Big Horn Map and Pearl Harbor Map among others.

Mr. McElfresh said, ‘It will be wonderful to see these maps on display. Each map was a daily companion for months and months as it sat on my desk as a work in progress. But as soon as a map was completed it got shipped off for publication and thereafter the manuscript map was shelved away. I never really had a chance to look at or appreciate the original map again.”

Origins of the Company and Breakthrough Developments

Mr. McElfresh’s presentation will describe the origins of the map company, where his interest in mapping came from and a little background information on some of the displayed maps. It will include a description of the resources that were used to accurately and dramatically replicate the landscapes where armies met, fought and made history.

“As I completed the maps, I made careful notes of my process including the resources that I relied on for accurate data. I also detailed the efforts our company made in selling and distributing the maps,” Mr. McElfresh said. “Reading over my notes to prepare for this talk has been very intriguing and rather impressive to recall the consistent collaborative efforts and commitment my wife, Michiko, and I made to establish our map company as a viable business.”

Transatlantic Ocean Crossing Influences Mapping Interest

Incidentally, this map exhibit coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of a transatlantic ocean crossing that Mr. McElfresh and his family made on a 40 foot sailing ketch. His father, a US Navy PT Boat skipper in the Pacific during WWII, navigated the yacht Tammy Norie relying on essentially the same technology that Columbus used on his voyage: a sexton, the sun and the night stars. The trip that started in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, took the Tammy Norie to Madeira across the Atlantic to Bermuda and then to the vessel’s home port in Essex, CT. Mr. McElfresh attributes some of his interest in maps to that experience and this voyage.

Biographical Information

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As cartographer for McElfresh Map Company, Earl B. McElfresh prepares historical base maps. He is the author of Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War (Abrams, 1999) and contributing editor for the 2007 edition of Company Commander by Charles B. McDonald. He prepared maps for Library of America’s four volume Civil War set and for Lincoln’s Lieutenants by Stephen Sears.

The United States’ pre-eminent historians including Shelby Foote, Stephen Sears and James B. McPherson have acclaimed Mr. McElfresh’s maps. During its 26 years in business, the company has sold well over a quarter of million maps. Mr. McElfresh has given presentations on Civil War mapping at a number of venues including The Smithsonian, The National Archives, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, The Harvard Map Collection, The Warburg Institute in London, National Geographic and on C-Span Book TV. A number of his maps were previously on display at the Quick Arts Center at St. Bonaventure University.

He and his wife live in Olean, New York and are the parents of three adult children.

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A New Year and New Maps

I just put the finishing touches on two new battlefield maps. One I had started quite some time ago, put it aside for another map and forgot about it. It’s always nice to find a project in progress. The other map was a bit of a challenge. A family friend asked if I could do a map. Doing a map is easy for me–it’s the research that tends to trick me, but in this case it was more than just the research, it was the weather. I’ll explain.

Stones River Map

Stones River, a battle that took place during the Civil War, was the map I found. I had originally started a version of it for Stephen Sear’s Lincoln’s Lieutenants, an excellent history and a must read if you are interested in the American Civil War.

Stone River, TN Map
Stones River on display at McElfresh Map Company.

I am very pleased with the results of my Stones River map. It is a relatively obscure western battlefield.  The significance of the battle: the relative victory came at a low point in the Union’s fortunes and Lincoln in gratitude thanked General Rosecrans, the Union Commander, saying that had it been a Union defeat instead of a Union victory the nation could scarcely have lived over it.  Later in the war Lincoln mentioned the victory at Stones River and General Grant scoffed that it was no victory.

For Grant, victory meant flags being surrendered, armies being disarmed and marching off the field.  But when an Army has endured a long string of stinging defeats, an outcome only slightly better than a stand-off can seem like a moral victory, a turning of the pages, a new lease on life.  For Lincoln, whose political senses were fine-tuned, the equivocal outcome of Stones River, was to a despondent Union public, a comparative victory at a point in time when an actual, outright defeat, could have been a disaster.

There are cotton fields in the map which are always a treat to do. Many pine trees – always a nice effect. And corn fields, my absolute favorite embellishment—delightful corn stalks with little yellow kernals—dot the map. 

It is always nice to bring attention to the western battlefields which tend to be overlooked.

Bastogne Belgium Map

The other map I finished was Bastogne.  Bastogne was a town that figured heavily in World War II. Family friends asked me to do a map of a battle where their father had fought.  He was a man I knew and greatly admired.  I was thrilled.  But I didn’t want to commit until I knew I could do it.  He documented his service during the battle. Mapping the area in which he saw battle will take a little more research on my part.

Bastogne Map
Bastogne Map on display at McElfresh Map Company. The green is deceptive, it was a very snowy battlefield–a mapping conundrum

But in the mean time I decided to do a study.  Reason being—the weather, how does one do a map and depict the weather.  The winter weather was notorious during the Battle of the Bulge and had an impact on the battle. But how does one, or should one, depict that in a map.  In the end, on my study at least, I opted to go for a green terrain.  Weather, at least in my home base western NY and I’m betting Belgium as well, changes every hour, but the terrain—fields take seasons, trees take years, river courses takes centuries (and can sometimes dramatically change) and those beautiful mountain take eons to take hold.

Currently on the map table: The finishing touches on a small map of Stones River, TN,  the research for the second Bastogne Map, and a very interesting one for me—a local map of my parish and two other local parishs.

And on a Completely Different Note

And on another table, at least for a couple of days – parts of my small collection of Rock memorabilia.  My son’s co-worker is a fan of that era, the music and the rock and rollers.  It was treat for me to bring it all out—especially my short arm Rickenbacker.

Headstock of a Rickenbacker Guitar
Rickenbacker guitar with extra strings just waiting for a new gig.

Yes! There is a Method to our Mapness

As a historical cartographer–one who doesn’t use a computer to draw or to do research, I could be considered a dinosaur, maybe a buggy whip. But details in mapping are important, especially when recreating a historic place–a place that existed when the population of the United States was 55 million, before the industrial revolution, before oil was discovered and  long before automobiles were the prefered mode of transportation.

So how are our maps completed?

I use contemporaneous photographs, taken within days of some of the major battles for Gettysburg and Antietam.  I asked an agronomist, a crop expert, from Cornell  to study the panoramic photos of these fields to determine the crops in the fields. It was easy to figure out what type of fencing there was, where the orchards were, the extent of the woodlands etc. Essential to the use of these photographs was the 1970’s work of William Frassanito, who painstakingly determined the point-of-view and location of each extant wartime photograph of Gettysburg and Antietam.

Then I used regimental histories–each regiment would occupy a small sector of the battlefield and their accounts and maps  would show their particular sector in great detail. The soldiers’ diaries and letters (this was probably the most literate war in history) also contain many references to their immediate surroundings. Many of them were themselves farmers and they would frequently comment on the crops and fields, fences, barns and orchards. The most poignant research items were “burial” maps. Dead men were often buried right where they had fallen by their fellow soldiers, who were usually their townsmen, friends, even relatives. They would then send the family a very detailed map so they could journey to the battlefield, locate the body and bring it home for burial.

On the major battlefields such as Gettysburg, Antietam, Stones River in Tennessee, the National Park Service has tons of data that they gladly make available to a researcher.

Aerial photographs are very revealing if you know what you’re looking for. If I have a reasonably good Civil War era map and it shows a road or a lane that’s vanished, or a barn or a house, if you look very carefully, you can find a footprint or a trace of it. Also, the skeleton features in the landscape – the rivers, streams, hills, principal roads etc. – are obviously extant features on todays extremely accurate USGS maps. So those features are immediately drawn on my map,  providing an immediate reliable framework.

The maps drawn and used by the actual Civil War armies, while not terribly accurate in terms of exact distances and such, are full of the sort of information the armies needed. They wanted the name of residents along the roads because there were no route markers and there were not normally formal names for a given road or lane. The surest way to get reliable directions was to get pointed toward the Smith’s house or the Jones farm. Documenting the residents also gave the armies an idea of the local population. The more residents there were, the more resources there were for the armies to live off. (Union General William Tecumseh Sherman set off across Georgia on November 16,1864 saying, “Where a million Georgians can live, my army will not starve.)

The armies also had to know where they could find corn fields, wheat fields, orchards, hay fields, wells, springs etc. because an army on the march needed to feed 30, 40, 50 thousand men  and thousands of horses and mules. A typical mule would drink 10 gallons of water a day. Multiply that by 10,000! A Civil War army (and it didn’t matter whether they were friends or enemies, Union or Confederate) would devastate any countryside they marched through. They would take all the food for themselves and all the forage for their animals, drink the wells dry, destroy the fields they camped on, empty the barns, clear out the larders, tear down all the fences (to make their camp fires to brew their coffee) and raise havoc generally. But the armies need to live off the land is great for mapmakers because their military “route” maps detailed this sort of food and forage information so the armies knew where they could march and fend for themselves.

A great aid in mapping Gettysburg was the work of John Bachelder, who arrived in Gettysburg immediately after the battle. Bachelder marched up and down the field, mapping it, and he had as a resource the thousands of wounded soldiers, Union and Confederate, remaining behind, who he interviewed. His map, a birds-eye view of the field, was very reliable and valuable.

There were also quite accurate published county maps available of some areas, including Gettysburg, published prior to the Civil War that I used. (They were also used of by the armies and the generals.) Also, soon after the war, the U.S. War Department prepared surveys of many of the major battlefields. These maps were much more detailed and accurate than the maps made under wartime conditions. (The U.S. hired former Confederate mapmakers to work on these surveys. One Rebel named Blackford, who’d sworn he would die rather than live again under the stars and stripes, found himself, within a month of Appomattox happy to be working for the U.S. Army mapping the battlefield

Finally, almost every Civil War battlefield has people who have devoted their lives to studying “their” battle. They know every nook and cranny of the field and like nothing more than to guide someone around the field, point out sites, recommend books and resources, provide access to private lands and to other knowledgeable locals, and in some cases they fix parking tickets incurred locally.

There are other resources but the above provides a pretty good idea of what’s out there. I decide on the reliability of the information based on the resource I used. Photographs, for example, are irrefutable–at least back then they were, before Photoshop.  Other data would often be corroborated by some other data. And then you have to wonder why anybody would mislead about the existence of a stone wall or the presence in their front of a rye as opposed to a wheat field.

After I have everything in place.  I get to add trees and terrain.  I get to print.  I guess I was given the talent of being able to print–very legibly and very small. And finally I get to watercolor.

All my maps are done on a desk that  I found in a barn–it was probably the carriage house for the only New York State governor that hailed from my city.  Unfortunately it wasn’t his desk. I needed some thing flat and this table was tucked away, dusty, covered with some weird tack paper–nobody had used it in years.  I cleaned it up and gave it a second life.  It looked so nice that my landlady wanted it back when we moved.  I offered her $25 for it–I had already completed Pea Ridge and Shiloh and was in the middle of Antietam,  I was rolling.    I can’t remember if she took the money or just let me have it. I am thinking she took it.

  • Top Image: The Wheatfield at Gettysburg Battlefield — Courtesy: Library of Congress

  • Middle Image:  Jedadiah Hotchkiss Gettysburg Map Detail.  Photograph of the original in the Handley Regional Library, Winchester, VA  by Rodney Lee Gibbons, CPP. The map appears in Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War (Abrams 1999) by Earl B. McELfresh

  • Bottom Images:  McElfresh Map Company’s Gettysburg products.

 

C-Span Book TV Presentation

On Thursday, December 2,1999 C-Span Book TV videotaped a presentation by our cartographer, Earl McElfresh to the Huntington (Long Island) Civil War Round Table at The Book Revue, an independent bookstore.  The talk was attended by approximately one hundred people.  The presentation was a little over an hour with a question and answer period.  On the C-span website we were able to make a short four-minute clip about Jed Hotchkiss.  Please follow this link if you wish to see it:

C-span Clip

If you would like to see the entire presentation, please follow this link:

C-Span Entire Mapping Presentation

Civil War Questions with High School Students–Final Questions

Question 12  Did you Ever consider that map-making wasn’t for you?  What do you like the most about making maps?  The least?

Once I started making maps I never looked back. It’s a very satisfying activity and I like every aspect of it. The research is fun, the drawing is fun, using watercolors is fun, deciding what to include on the reverse side of the map is fun, the process of taking the original manuscript of the map to the printer is fun (great inky smells, huge thundering printing presses) and getting paid for doing something fun is fun.

Question 13  What do you think makes your maps about the Civil War better that others?

Our Civil War maps are essentially unique. No one else has done Civil War battlefield maps that contain so much cultural and physical information and present that information is such a stylized format. The corn fields look like cornfields, the fences look like fences, the orchards look like orchards. Our maps give modern visitors to the battlefield the same view of the terrain as the Civil War armies had. That’s why when West Point does its staff rides at Gettysburg or at Saratoga, they carry our maps with them. They want modern soldiers to see the roads and lanes, the farms and fences, the rivers and bridges, the terrain, that Civil War soldiers confronted and contended with. Because these were the features that settled the outcome of the battles.

Question 14 During the Civil War, what do you this was Lincoln’s most strategic move as president?

Lincoln’s most strategic move as president was to ignore the lurid gossip about U.S. Grant, saying to Grant’s detractors, “I can’t spare this man, he fights.” Lincoln, sight unseen, intuitively trusted Grant (a fellow mid-westerner) and when he appointed Grant overall commander of U.S. forces, the Confederacy  was done for because U.S. Grant brought William Tecumseh Sherman to the fore and the Southern Confederacy was done for.

Question 15  What do you think Lincoln would have done  the 13th Amendment hadn’t passed? What would have been his next step?

The 13th Amendment passed. There are no “if’s” in history. Every “if” brings more “if’s” and one drifts away into a mist.

Question 16  Lincoln is always refered to as “honest Abe,”  yet in the movie Lincoln, you see he could be very dishonest at times. 

I don’t see Lincoln being dishonest in the movie “Lincoln.” He was contending with existential challenges and had to manage the give and take of politics in the midst of the iron contingencies of war. And throughout, he had to contend with political opponents who were in fact undermining the war effort in ways that didn’t exist in U.S. politics until the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. But in neither of the latter wars was the nation’s life hanging in the balance. At different times in the Civil War, there were Rebel flags  from the White House.

Question 17  What would you say was the most important fact or scene put into the movie Lincoln?  Meaning, what would you say is the most influential fact about Lincoln we should take away from the movie?

The best thing about the movie was its realistic portrayal of the character Lincoln. He was a consummate politician, a very real man, the wisest of the wise, and the only person in all the country that could have managed the menagerie that was Civil War era America partly with an iron will and an iron fist and partly with the most thoughtful political words ever spoken.

 

Civil War Questions with High School Students–Questions 9, 10, 11

Question 9:  How did the draft work during the Civil War?

The draft was a pretty shabby affair for both sides and it was also manifestly unfair. In the North a drafted man could buy out for $300. That was a lot of money then and only the wealthy could afford that. They would then get a substitute. They were often enough shady characters who would take money, enlist, desert at the first opportunity and enlist again, again for money, using an alias – and on and on. In the South, there were numerous exceptions and the saying was, “It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” In other words, the wealthy men who owned the slaves (and they made up a tiny fraction of the overall population) that the war was really all about were not drafted because they had to stay home and oversee the slaves etc. Initially, in the South, draft age (and there were many occupations, including service in the non-fighting state militias e.g. that were exempt from the draft) was from 18 to 45. By the end of the war, they were taking men from “cradle to grave” 16-65. The draft, for both sides, was pretty much a disaster.

Question 10  Did we have the Medal of Honor during the Civil War?

There was a Medal of Honor during the Civil War. It was awarded much more liberally than the present day Medal of Honor and it was sometimes given to an entire unit for some especially meritorious action. There were several local Medal of Honor winners including a Mr. Oviatt (the street next to Boardmanville school is named for him)  and Stephen Welch. Mr. Welch, your OHS teacher, is a direct descendent. Stephen Welch is buried in Allegany cemetery. Mr. Welch can tell you all about him.

Question 11  What was the most important information a battle map could provide for the armies?  Elevated ground?

The most important information a map could provide a Civil War commander was enough knowledge of the ground that he knew where he could march and maneuver his army (where he could pass through a mountain range, where he could ford a river, where he could feed his men and water his animals, what multiple roads he could spread his army out on and still maintain contact between the separated units and get them to the right place at the same time.) A commander mostly wanted to know from a map where he could go and what he could do and equally important to him, where his enemy could go and what the enemy’s options were. It was while the armies were angling for a battle that maps were most important. Once contact was made and battle was joined, they could scout around for information and to a limited extent see what was going on.

Civil War Q&A With High School Students–Questions 6, 7, 8

Question 6:  How many people survived the prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia?

There were about 45,000 Union prisoners at Andersonville. Something like 13,000 of them died there, so there was about a 27% casualty rate. The biggest Union POW camp was in Elmira, NY.  There was less excuse for the approximate 25% casualty rate for Confederate prisoners there since the Union, in contrast to the South, was thriving throughout the war.  But those were very hard times and very hard people.

Question 7:  Would you consider Robert E. Lee a traitor?

Robert E. Lee was still in the U.S. Army in early 1861 and he received a promotion. When you receive a new rank, you take a new oath of allegiance.  You swear to defend the United States of America against any enemy, foreign or domestic.  Within weeks of taking that oath, Robert E. Lee was a domestic enemy of the nation he had just sworn an oath to defend.  That pretty much makes him a traitor I’m afraid.

I think the Southern aristocracy—which Lee was part of—had such a high opinion of their personal “honor” that whatever they did had to be honorable because it was their honorable selves doing it. I also think that their absolute power over their black slaves, and the iron handed rule they had over their plantations and their society gave them a bad case of arrested development. Their actions and opinions were so unchallenged that they had been gradually lulled into simple-mindedness.

Question 8:   What was your favorite map to make? Why?

I really can’t say which was my favorite map to make.  Each mapping project is really exciting, first because it’s a new job and it means money and it means you’re going to be profitably and happily employed for months and that’s nice. And it’s also wonderful to have a new subject to delve into, to dig around for resources and information.  So I like that.  It’s also a lot of fun to do the drawing and I really enjoy, for example, doing the lettering of the map titles.  I usually meet some interesting people and get to travel to interesting places when I do the research…And as I got better at doing the maps, the ones done with more expertise were more enjoyable than ones done early on that I look back on and wish I’d done a better job. Long and short, I guess I’d have to say my favorite map is the one I’m working on or the next one I’m about to do. I guess my Pearl Harbor map is right up there though.

 

Civil War Q&A with High School Students–Questions 3, 4, 5

How long does it typically take you to create a map of a famous battle?

 It typically takes six to eight months to do the research, draft the map, and then ink in the data and watercolor the whole concern.  In the midst of that process, I also work out the information and secure the images for the reverse side of the map.  That six or eight months means seven days a week, morning, noon and night.  The maps are great fun but they’re also a lot of work.

 What interests you most about the Civil War?

The most interesting thing about the Civil War is the participants. The panoply of characters, Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart, and more obscure characters like Richard Ewell (he married a widow and always introduced his wife as “Mrs. Brown”), Confederate general Joe Johnston who hated president Jeff Davis so much that you wouldn’t know from his memoir that he was fighting the Yankees, he’s always fighting Davis.  Then George B. McClellan, Union general whose reputation collapsed because the stupid, vainglorious letters he wrote to his wife revealed him to be a supercilious jerk.  There was General George Custer (of Little Big Horn fame) who was a brilliant cavalry leader who perfumed his flowing locks and designed a uniform that made him look like a circus performer.  It was a wild bunch of characters.  England had Dickens’ characters.  We had these guys.  Some of the most noble people in history, and some of the most ignoble, made up the cast of our Civil War.

Also, most wars are futile. For example, the First World War led directly to the Second World War and the Second World War wasn’t even over when the Cold War got underway.  In contrast, the Civil War was fought to end slavery and preserve the United States.  When the Civil War was over, slavery was dead and the United States lived.  Success!

Who do you think was the greatest Confederate General?

I think Stonewall Jackson was the South’s great general but he had the advantage in that regard of dying too early in the war to confront the best Union generals.  But I also think there was something vaguely—for want of a better term—autistic, about him.  He seems kind of blank in terms of personality and he was a bewildering figure to his fellow generals.  And his successes came in the first half of the war when the south fought with the immense advantage of a friendly population and in familiar countryside.  His Valley Campaign, upon which his fame primarily rests, would not have been possible once Union forces knew the roads and topography as well as he did.  But circumstances are what they are and he was, in my mind, the best in the 1861-1863 timeframe.

What is the oldest battle that you mapped?

The oldest battle I’ve mapped is the Revolutionary battlefield of Saratoga in NYS.  It was fought in 1777.  The oldest Civil War battlefield I’ve mapped is Manassas or Bull Run, VA.  Two battles were fought there, 1861 and 1862.

Civil War Q&A With High School Students–Questions 1 & 2

Time did not allow me to answer all of the questions of the American History Class at Olean High School, but I did respond to them by e-mail.  The first and second question were:

What information do you use to draw the maps?  Do you use photos along with studying the landscape?  What else do you use?  How do you decide if the information is reliable or legitmate?

I had to give a rather long answer to the question:

  1. I use contemporaneous photographs, taken within days of some of the major battles (Antietam, Gettysburg e.g.).  I got a Cornell agronomist (a crop expert) to study the panoramic photos of these fields to determine the crops in the fields. It was easy to figure out what type of fencing there was, where the orchards were, the extent of the woodlands etc. Essential to the use of these photographs was the 1970’s work of William Frassanito, who painstakingly determined the point-of-view and location of each extant wartime photograph of Gettysburg and Antietam.
  2. Then I used regimental histories – each regiment would occupy a small sector of the battlefield and their accounts and maps  would show their particular sector in great detail. The soldiers’ diaries and letters (this was probably the most literate war in history) also contain many references to their immediate surroundings. Many of them were themselves farmers and they would frequently comment on the crops and fields, fences, barns and orchards. The most poignant research items were “burial” maps. Dead men were often buried right where they had fallen by their fellow soldiers, who were usually their townsmen, friends, even relatives. They would then send the family a very detailed map so they could journey to the battlefield, locate the body and bring it home for burial.
  3. On the major battlefields such as Gettysburg, Antietam, Stones River in Tennessee, the National Park Service has tons of data that they gladly make available to a researcher.
  4. As I mentioned in the class, aerial photographs are very revealing if you know what you’re looking for. If I have a reasonably good Civil War era map and it shows a road or a lane that’s vanished, or a barn or a house, if you look very carefully, you can find a footprint or a trace of it. Also, the skeleton features in the landscape – the rivers, streams, hills, principal roads etc. – are obviously extant features on todays extremely accurate USGS maps. So those features are immediately drawn on my map so I immediately have a framework to go by. And the maps drawn and used by the actual Civil War armies, while not terribly accurate in terms of exact distances etc., are full of the sort of information the armies needed. They needed the name of residents along the roads because there were no route markers and there were not normally formal names for a given road or lane so the surest way to get reliable directions was to get pointed toward the Smith’s house or the Jones farm. Documenting the residents also gave the armies a idea of the local population. The more residents there were, the more resources there were for the armies to live off. (Union General Sherman set off across Georgia on November 16,1864 saying, “Where a million Georgians can live, my army will not starve.) The armies also had to know where they could find corn fields, wheat fields, orchards, hay fields, wells, springs etc. because an army on the march needed to feed 30, 40, 50 thousand men  and thousands of horses and mules. A typical mule would drink 10 gallons of water a day. Multiply that by 10,000! A Civil War army (and it didn’t matter whether they were friends or enemies, Union or Confederate) would devastate any countryside they marched through. They would take all the food for themselves and all the forage for their animals, drink the wells dry, destroy the fields they camped on, empty the barns, clear out the larders, tear down all the fences (to make their camp fires to brew their coffee) and raise havoc generally. But the armies need to live off the land is great for mapmakers because their military “route” maps detailed this sort of food and forage information so the armies knew where they could march and fend for themselves.
  5. A great aid in mapping Gettysburg was the work of John Bachelder, who arrived in Gettysburg immediately after the battle. Bachelder marched up and down the field, mapping it, and he had as a resource the thousands of wounded soldiers, Union and Confederate, remaining behind, who he interviewed. His map, a birds-eye view of the field, was very reliable and valuable.
  6. There were also quite accurate published county maps available of some areas, including Gettysburg, published prior to the Civil War that I could make use of. (They were also made use of by the armies and the generals.) Also, soon after the war, the U.S. War Department prepared surveys of many of the major battlefields. These maps were much more detailed and accurate than the maps made under wartime conditions. (The U.S. hired former Confederate mapmakers to work on these surveys. One Rebel named Blackford, who’d sworn he would die rather than live again under the stars and stripes, found himself, within a month of Appomattox, working for the U.S. Army mapping the battlefields.)
  7. Finally, most every Civil War battlefield has people who have devoted their lives to studying “their” battle. They know every nook and cranny of the field and like nothing more than to guide someone around the field, point out sites, recommend books and resources, provide access private lands and to other knowledgeable locals, and in some cases they fix parking tickets.
  8. There are other resources but the above provides a pretty good idea of what’s out there. I decide on the reliability of the information based on the resource I used. Photographs, for example, are irrefutable – at least back then they were, before photoshop – and other data would often be corroborated by some other data. And then you have to wonder why anybody would mislead about the existence of a stone wall or the presence in their front of a rye as opposed to a wheat field.

 

 

The Civil War: Some Suggested Reading

I prepared a reading list of Civil War volumes to hand out to an Olean High School junior year American history class as part of a Civil War presentation on Jan. 15, 2013. The list is short and sweet and my basic premise was that, for the most part, none of the students had read much, if anything, about the Civil War. My intention was to suggest some books that would be scholarly but entertaining and informative at the same time.  Also the list had to fit on one page. This is the list I came up with. My feeling is that if any of the students read even one of these volumes they will probably be drawn to read others as well.

  •  Bruce Catton’s trilogy on the Civil War, which includes The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, and Never Call Retreat, is a very dramatic and beautifully written set. It’s accurate history but it reads with the verve of a novel.  A pretty long novel though.
  • Bruce Catton also wrote a terrific little book entitled U. S. Grant and the American Military Tradition. It’s one of my absolute favorite Civil War books. And it’s short!
  • There are two excellent one volume biographies of Abraham Lincoln.  Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None and/or Benjamin P. Thomas’s Abraham Lincoln.  Another really neat little book is this same Benjamin P. Thomas’s Lincoln’s New Salem.
  • The best single volume account of the overall Civil War—it’s pretty long and quite detailed but extremely worthwhile—is James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom.
  • There are all sorts of truly fascinating first person accounts of being a soldier in the Civil War.  These books are America’s Victorian literature.  We don’t have a Dickens, a Trollope, a Thackery, an Eliott…but we do have these.  And they’re not only thrilling and entertaining but they’re also true.  There are dozens of these but two of the best are: War Years with JEB Stuart by W.W. Blackford and I Rode With Stonewall by Henry Kyd Douglas.
  • The Blue and the Gray, edited by Henry Steele Commager, is a chronologically arranged collection of excerpts from contemporary accounts of the Civil War.  The entries are usually short.  They’re like intellectual snacks.  But the selections were chosen because they gave the illuminating sense of “being there.”
  • If you’re feeling really ambitious, there’s a fabulous set of volumes by Carl Sandburg (he’s the poet)—2 volumes entitled The Prairie Years, and 4 volumes entitled The War Years.  Together they constitute a superlative biography of Lincoln and the American cultural and political environment in which he lived and governed. Make yourself a promise to read these volumes some time in your life.
  • Finally there is an ongoing series The Civil War: Told by Those Who Lived It, which will consist of four volumes published by Library of America.  McElfresh Map Company prepared the endpaper maps for each volume.