Monday, December 18, 2006

Hess, Hatcher, Piston & Shea: "Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide"

[Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road by Earl J. Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston, and William L. Shea (Bison Books-University of Nebraska Press, 2006) Softcover, maps, photos, notes, reading list. ISBN: 0-8032-7366-5, $19.95 --- [Fourth volume in This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War Battlefields series]]

I applaud University of Nebraska Press for taking a timeout from 'the usual suspects' and choosing to publish a tour guide for three crucial Trans-Mississippi battles, and for matching author with subject so well (Hess for Pea Ridge, Piston and Hatcher for Wilson's Creek, and Shea for Prairie Grove). Also, the decision to include a driving tour of the Wire Road was inspired. The Wire or Telegraph Road played a critical role in all of the dramas played out across the Ozark plateau in Missouri and Arkansas. By no means is it simple to trace, and this guide gives the reader the ability to follow it as closely as possible from Springfield, Missouri all the way south to Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Aiding continuity, each tour is structured along similar lines, with each tour stop organized into the self-explanatory Directions, Orientation, What Happened, Analysis, and an optional Vignette. It's practical, and very effective. The descriptions are detailed enough to satisfy the most demanding students of Civil War battles, yet will not bog down the average nature tramper. As another nice touch, tours to places peripheral to the main battles but part of the overall campaigns are included, several of which I didn't know were marked and/or still in recognizable form. I wish I had this book the last time I visited the area.

The guides' numerous maps deserve special mention. Their level of detail is extraordinary. Elevation contours and other relevant terrain features (woods, orchards, streams, buildings, fencelines, both modern and period roads, trails--it's all in there). The majority of military movements are traced on the maps at regimental scale, similar to that found within the best of modern tactical battle studies. The only complaint I have is the up-close Pea Ridge maps do not have the actual numbered tour stop locations placed on them. However, this is only a minor distraction. They are easy enough to find following the Directions and Orientation sections associated with each stop, but a visual marker would have helped nonetheless. In general, these markers are prominently displayed in both the campaign overview map and the smaller scale maps associated with each stop.

In addition to the fine maps, a number of well chosen photographs and illustrations are included, many of which are new to my viewing. Extras placed in the rear of the book include serviceable orders-of-battle for each campaign and a very helpful guide to further reading with commentary on sources.

If this volume is an indication of the quality of all the books in the This Hallowed Ground Series, then it is clear to me this series should be considered the class of Civil War battlefield tour guides. For intellectual depth that does not sacrifice ease and practicality of use in the field, it would be difficult to imagine this guide being superseded any time soon. Highly recommended.

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