Title Reviewed:
America's National Battlefield Parks: A Guide

Author Reviewed:
Joseph E. Stevens; Beth Silverman

Phyllis Zimmerman


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 87, Issue 4, pp 359-360

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

America's National Battlefield Parks: A Guide. By Joseph E. Stevens; maps by Beth Silverman. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990. Pp. xiv, 337. Illustrations, maps, index. $29.95.)

While it may be unwise to judge a book by its cover, in the case of Joseph E. Stevens's guide to American battlefield parks, happily the contents are equally as absorbing and gripping as the jacket front's striking artistic color recreation of a scene from the battle of Gettysburg. In thirty-eight chapters, one for each battle-field park administered by the National Park Service, Stevens surveys much of America's military heritage, beginning with the American Revolution and ending with the War in the Pacific Historical Park in Guam and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His prose sparkles as he recreates not only battlefield troop movements but also the real-life experiences of the participants.

With the traveler in mind, the chapters are arranged geographically: North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, South, and West. By far the largest number—nineteen—are southern Civil War battlefield parks. Each chapter is also geared to the park visitor. A box insert gives directions to the park, availability of gas, food and lodging, and information on handicapped access and park activities. The guide offers detailed, self-guided walking and auto tours keyed to National Park Service numbered tour stops. Fifty-two clear and simple maps, prepared by Beth Silverman, indicate present-day roads, trails, and visitor facilities. Visuals also include eighty drawings, paintings, and modern and historic photographs.

Each battle is faithfully and skillfully recreated in an engaging narrative style. Stevens gives the background, strategy, tactics, and significance of the engagements. In nineteen pages the battle at Gettysburg comes alive, and the carnage—51,000 casualties in three days—is poignantly portrayed. The twelve pages on Vicksburg, another turning point of the war, include a wartime lithograph showing Union forces firing at the forts around Vicksburg and a wartime photograph of the Union ironclad Cairo, sent to the river bottom in 1862, salvaged a hundred years later and currently on display. The only Midwest entry is George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, which stands on the site of old Fort Sackville in Vincennes, Indiana. The park commemorates the seizure of the fort from the British on February 25, 1779, and the role of the Clark expedition in conquering the old Northwest Territory. Stevens graphically portrays the successful siege of the fort by Clark and his men after they had spent eighteen days slogging through freezing mud and wading chest deep in icy water.

The narrative is a mix of the heroic and the tragic. The human dimension is ever-present. A letter written by a dying son to his father during the twenty hours of nonstop savagery at Spotsylvania is reproduced. Some of the photographs are worth a thousand words: the dead among shattered trees on the slope of Little Round Top at Gettysburg; a solitary headstone, nearly overgrown with tall grass, which marked the spot where one of George Custer's men fell; Union infantrymen sitting in a trench, waiting for orders to advance.

The guide is a treasure for anyone who plans to visit battlefield parks. It will make tours more rewarding and more easily manageable. It is readable and comprehensive enough, however, to appeal to a wider audience. It makes great armchair reading for the sedentary who love dramatic and well-crafted historical writing.

PHYLLIS ZIMMERMAN is assistant professor of history, Ball State University, Muncie. Her book on the role of George W. Goethals in the reorganization of the United States Army supply system during World War I is forthcoming from Texas A & M University Press.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.