Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain
Edited by Jay Luvaas & Harold W. Nelson
The US Army War College Guide to Civil War Battles

If you are familiar with the War College Guides then you already know that this is a book you need to own. If you are new to the series here is a brief overview. Each guide, this is the seventh, traces the actions of a battle or campaign with the Official Records as your guide. The editors put you in the place where the action occurred and then let the commanding officers' reports explain the fight to you. When the Official Records are skimpy the editors also rely on excerpts from the Battles and Leaders series as well as some memoirs, but most stops of the tour are explained with the Official Records.

There are a few slight problems in this volume that detract from its overall value. At the stop for some artillery positions on Rocky Face Ridge the directions tell you to walk along a concrete path marked "Personnel Only" near the Georgia State Patrol office. It does not then explicitly say that following this path is fine so one is left to assume that it is okay to disregard the "Personnel Only" sign since it says to walk the path in the book. Personally I would have liked a little more clarification that it is okay to walk the path.

Another thing I did not like were the maps. There is too much variation in the maps. Some use shading to denote elevation while some use topographic lines. None of these lines are marked so while I can figure out relative elevations it would have been easier if a few topo lines had been marked with elevations. Other maps do not use shading or lines to denote elevation, they simply show streams and roads. I'm also not a big fan of using gray maps. A gray map seems more cluttered than a white map with the same information on it.

One final map complaint is for the Picket's Mill section. The overview map shows the park's trail system but the detail map that shows the troop movements lacks the trail info. While showing the trails might have made this a very cluttered map it would have definitely enhanced the tour experience. I cannot remember from the last time I was at Picket's Mill if the park trail map shows troop movements but even if it did it would make more sense to have all the info on one map so that you did not have to worry about orientation and scale differences between the two maps.

I was surprised that the editors did not include any of the battles of Atlanta in the book. These battles were not even treated as a side trip. The tour ends with the fighting at Kolb's Farm at Kennesaw Mountain. The way the editors deal with this is by saying this set "the stage for the next phase of the campaign for Atlanta, which is best studied in textbooks rather than on sites covered with modern development." I can see their point but on the other hand there are still things to see in Atlanta which even if they do not offer great views can still give some appreciation for the amount of ground covered and how Hood dealt with the encircling Union army. They have brought you this far so to suddenly stop the tour seems a bit odd. Of the seven books in the series Luvaas and Nelson were part of six. The seventh was done by Matt Spruill on Chickamauga. Since then Spruill has done other guidebooks along the same lines as the War College books but he has done some on those sites that apparently Luvaas and Nelson find too overdeveloped for worthwhile touring, namely Stones River and Chattanooga.

Despite my complaints about the maps and the lack of anything on Atlanta I do this this is a worthwhile addition to the traveler's library. No other guidebook will provide you with this sort of detail in touring the sites from Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain. I'm sure the next time I'm in northern Georgia I will get good use out of this book.

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