Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cooling and Owen: " MR. LINCOLN'S FORTS: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington "

[Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington, New Edition by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II (The Scarecrow Press, 2010). Paperback, maps, photos, drawings, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pp. 332. ISBN: 978-0-8108-6067-4 $50]

Historian B.F. Cooling has published two major works dealing with the Civil War forts ringing the U.S. capital city. Symbol, Sword, and Shield: Defending Washington During the Civil War is a broad overview that will satisfy most general readers, but the most dedicated students have always sought after the marvelous Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (first published in 1988*). The non-profit group Friends of Fort Ward sponsored the original work, and co-author Walton Owen is assistant director and curator at the Fort Ward Museum. Out of print for some time, the book has been relatively scarce on the secondary market, making the new, affordable reissue by The Scarecrow Press a welcome development.

Mr. Lincoln's Forts is a deeply researched and masterfully compiled text and pictorial guide to the batteries and forts circling Civil War Washington D.C. The book's introduction updates readers on the current state of preservation. Following that are six chapters. The first two provide background information (a general history and fortification engineering summary), while the final four break up the complete tour into as many sections. Each chapter examines a list of sites, with information on these batteries and forts further subdivided into location (driving and walking directions -- GPS coordinates might make it into a future edition) , visible remains (if extant, outlines and tracings of the historical works are described), description (physical design, layout, and armament, as well as background information and discussion of significance), and finally note/anecdote (a collection of primary accounts, plus a listing, with dates, of garrison units). This arrangement works well, breaking down a massive amount of data into easily referenced categories.

In addition to being a pleasure to look at, the hundreds of photographs, topographical maps, and engineer drawings (averaging more than one per page) reproduced in the study provide a wealth of information, and are essential tools in visualizing the design of the works and how they fit into the surrounding terrain. In reading this book, serious students of Civil War fortifications are treated to a truly unprecedented compilation of period cartography.

An appendix is composed of even more full-page engineer drawings, selected for those forts with visible remains. Others include a biographical sketch of engineer officer John G. Barnard, ordnance statistics, a glossary of engineering terms, and army regulations dealing with the important task of earthwork maintenance.

The co-authors and their publisher are to be congratulated and thanked for bringing Mr. Lincoln's Forts back to print in a newly revised edition. Another generation of Civil War students will now be able to own a copy of this unique work. Highly recommended.

* - I do not own a copy of an earlier edition for direct comparison. However, the To the Sound of the Guns blog has posted a fairly detailed critique (here) of the new edition's revisions and additions. It is well worth a careful review.

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