Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CWL---New: Gettysburg Companion, A Gem With Flaws

The Gettysburg Companion: A Guide to the Most Famous Battle of the Civil War, Mark Adkin, 544 pages, Stackpole Books, $69.95.

Scott Hartwig, supervisory historian of Gettysburg National Military Park, states on the front inside flap of the cover, that "This is the Gettysburg book that students and aficionados of the battle have dreamed about . . . . The Gettysburg Campanion is quite absolute gem." So it appears but CWL sees that many of the books strengths are also its weaknesses.

Open the book at page 429: There is a nice modern color photograph taken six feet above the ground of the terrain over which 'Kershaw's Brigade Attacks From the Millerstown Road'. The Millerstown Road is on the horizon not the foreground or so it appears from the title of the photograph. On the photograph are the key sites: Rose Farm and Biesecker's Woods in the distance; three orange arrows flow from the horizon and over the ground showing the path of Confederate troops towards the photographer. The photograph looks sharp and the graphics are crisp. The problem is that the author does not show on a map the position on the battlefield where the photographer stood. Though in the caption a description is given regarding the the photographer's position as being from the position of Bigelow's battery. If that is the case and it does appear so, then the title of the photograph is wrong. Kemper does not attack from the Millerstown (Wheatfield) Road but towards the Millerstown Road.

Now turn to panorama photographs on page 434 and 435. 'The View from Bigelow's Final Battery Position Looking Toward the Rebel Attack'. In this case the title matches the position of the photographer and the movement of the Confederate troops. CWL sees that Akins should have asked Stackpole Publishing for a few sharp-eyed, licensed battlefield guides to actually read everything in the book.

Adkin has invested a major effort into The Gettysburg Companion but he leaves CWL grasping in vain for explicit guideposts for the sources he consulted. CWL also has complaints that the citations are inadequate for convenient source checking. The bibliography of consulted sources is too small to substantiate the immense amount of material the author discusses. This leads CWL to consider the charges which J.D. Petruzzi levels in his Amazon.com review and his remarks on online The Gettysburg Discussion Group forum against Gettysburg Companion; specific quotations were used from diary and letter sources that can be found only in others scholarship. Also, Petruzzi states that the William Frassinito, acknowledged as the expert on Gettysburg photography, quickly found misidentified illustrations.

It appears that Adkin is a subscriber to both North and South Magazine and Gettysburg Magazine. In the acknowledgments, Adkin thanks Tom Desjardins and the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg for allowing him to use their map as a base from which he adds enhancements. Yet it appears that some information is taken from North and South Magazine and Gettysburg Magazine without attribution. As enjoyable as The Gettysburg Companion can be, CWL winces at the lapse of acknowledgement by Adkin of the many, many historians who have mined primary sources and published their work with bibliographic citations. If Gettysburg Companion is intended to be a coffee table book which looks nice on display and a satisfying book through which to browse, then the meager citations are not an issue. But if Adkin hoped his work would stand alongside the work of scholars, then the Gettysburg Companion will not be on the bookshelf but stay on the coffee table.


J David Petruzzi said...

Great and very fair review. As you've seen from the replies from Adkin posted on my Amazon.com comments, he has absolved himself from any responsibility pointed to the use of my or others' material without attribution. Folks who are familiar with the map published with my "America's Civil War" article of July 2005 (that of Gen. Buford's cavalry vidette positions of June 30-July 1, 1863) know that the map is very unique. Nothing like it was ever published before or since. Cartographer Steven Stanley did the map for me from my hand-drawn map. Fellow cavalry student Mike Nugent and I GPS'd those vidette points one day, most of them based on primary source info that only I have (sources such as trooper letters from descendants, etc.). Lo and behold, with just a few exceptions, the map in the Gettysburg Companion matches my map. It is patently impossible to have come up with such a map without consulting mine. As everybody who has recognized the use and consultation of many others' works in this book have said - all that is desired is recognition of sources. It's only fair.
In my ACW magazine article of July 2006, I used several quotes and information from trooper letters and a diary, given to me for my use by descendants. No one else has ever used these sources, much less ever published any information from them. Lo and behold (again), these details show up in this book. How amazing.
The US publisher, Stackpole, simply published the book as-is from the UK publisher Aurum. I don't hold Stackpole responsible for anything - all they did was publish the existing book. Additionally, the cartographer of this book simply did professional maps based on "hand-drawn" maps from the author. No problem there, either. The $64,000 question inquiring minds want to know is... what were those "hand-drawn" maps based on? If you use another published map as your source and then draw a map of your own, it certainly doesn't mean that map is now "yours." Adkins maintains he's never seen my map, and it's hard to argue any different. I take him at his word, so maybe someone else gave him some information that he then incorporated into his map. Who knows? I'm sure he's a fine guy, helps little old ladies across the street and such. I just have no reason to feel any different because I've never met him. I'd be more than happy to buy the guy a pint, but you can bet I'd ask him specifically what went into the design of that map.
Since that "Buford's videttes" map was so entirely unique when I published it, of course I'm protective of it. Anyone out there is certainly free to use it - with citation of course. In fact, I encourage it. It's a teaching and learning tool now, and enhances folks' understanding of the start of the battle. It must also be understood that I have about 25 years in that map, thousands of dollars of research, and thousands of miles of driving and walking into it. To simply take it, revise or change it a bit, and publish it without citation to the source of inspiration will understandably ruffle the feathers of the one who originated it. That is certainly the danger of a 500+ page book that has a bibliography the size of which would be expected for a small pamphlet.
In the end, I certainly hope folks purchase the book, use it, and enjoy it. It has much to offer. It's pretty and very well done. But there are many scholars out there who feel as I do - that hopefully someday those responsible for it will take the time to make the bibliography the 10 pages (or 500 entries) ...or whatever... is required to substantiate the source material. This very nice book should be wholly applauded instead of hanging under a pall of skepticism that many scholars give it at the moment. It deserves it. And look at it this way - I've heard from several authors and scholars that they'd be scared to source this particular book in their own work, because it would further compound the perceived problem.
And yes, to say Bill Frassanito was disappointed in the picture captions is an understatement. We sat together in Gettysburg a few weeks ago, both of us going over the book. Bill read the captions of about 25 pictures, then closed the book and threw it across the table. He exclaimed that half the picture captions were wrong. And he, too, was surprised that two of his books, "Journey in Time" and "Early Photography" are NOT in the bibliography either. I'm sure Bill feels that the chance that neither of his books were consulted, has about as much chance as the moon being made of cheese.

Best as always,

J. D. Petruzzi

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