Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winter Lightning Book Review

Winter Lightning: A Guide to the Battle of Stones River by Matt Spruill and Lee Spruill.

This is the fourth guidebook from Matt Spruill, the others being for the battles of Chickamauga, Chattanooga and the Seven Days. They all follow the War College guidebook format, in fact his first book (Chickamauga) actually is part of that series.

Basically a series of driving and walking directions take you to a specific part of the battlefield. there you read the reports of the men who were there, with maps that show you where you are in relation to the units and people being discussed. The reports mainly come from the Official Records, with a few from other sources.

I love guidebooks, it is hard not to walk battlefields without them. Even a place I've been to often can be seen in a new way by using a new guidebook. I would definitely recommend everyone to add this guidebook to their collection for a variety of reasons.

First, Stones River is a hard battlefield to understand with just the park brochures. For one thing they limit you to only park land, but even in the park they do not do much outside the scope of the driving tour. The park does not have a good set of troop movement maps you can buy to take with you in the field (at least they did not when I was there about two years ago). This book also takes you to sites outside the park boundary, plus does a better job inside the park than the current driving tour does.

Second, I think Matt Spruill has achieved a reputation in the guidebook field that I can safely recommend any of his guidebooks to fellow battlefield wanderers. His directions are clear and easy to follow. The way he separates the editorial content from the historical narrative is easy to understand so you know who is talking to you as you read it.

Third, the maps are great. I initially had a problem with the maps in that the top of the page is not always north. But if you pay attention to the reading (and this would be crystal clear in the field) the maps are orientated in the book so that you don't have to twist your book around to line up map north with field north. Put another way, if you follow the directions when you stop to read the section and look at the map it will be orientated to the field so that you then do not have to figure out which way is north so you can turn yourself around to line up the map. When reading away from the battlefield this did bother me a bit but I soon figured out what Matt Spruill was trying to accomplish.

I think this guidebook is a must have for anyone wanting to know more about Stones River, especially those who will be wandering the fields there.

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