Crossroads of the Conflict Review

crossroads-of-the-conflictA few weeks back I purchased yet another Gettysburg reference book for my collection.  For my “Gettysburg Project”, as discussed in earlier posts,  what I desire – a catalog of markers, monuments, tablets, and memorials from the battlefield within the HMDB system.   Toward that end, I’m casting my nets over any work that provides information about the subject.  So when my post-Christmas Amazon purchase cycle came up, I had Crossroads of the Conflict: Defining Hours for the Blue and Gray:  A Guide to the Monuments of Gettysburg, by Donald W. McLaughlin waiting in my cart.  Mr. McLaughlin was a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg until his death, and clearly had a large volume of notes.  The work has been well reviewed on Civil War Librarian, and by Brett at TOCWOC.  Instead of plowing over the fields they have already sown, allow me to simply add how the book has worked for me in my project.

When I first opened the book, I was quite pleased.  The format is, to put it bluntly, “raw information.”  No illustrations or photos, but rather a straight listing of the tablets, monuments, and memorials on the battlefield.  Not every bit of text from these battlefield displays is reproduced, in most cases just the sections detailing activity from the battle.  For instance for the 121st Pennsylvania Monument on Cemetery Ridge, which I entered just yesterday, McLaughlin reproduced the text from the left side, with the number engaged and casualty figures from the right side.  In the case of the War Department tablets, the “headers” spelling out the unit’s parent formation and subordinate units is omitted, and only the day by day narrative is presented.  I would note also that McLaughlin was not as rigid with regard to punctuation as I am (and I appear to be the only one!).  However, I have not noticed any point where the punctuation added significantly alters the understanding of the text.

McLaughlin organized his listing in the order of the battle events for the most part.  There is no grand table of contents or groupings, but a map of the battlefield offers page number references to key the reader to specific sections.  For each section of the battlefield, strip maps orient the reader and visitor to the locations of markers, monuments and tablets.  In some cases flank markers are indicated.  One great example is the New Jersey Brigade (Torbert’s) position.  Not only is the location of the monument cited in reference to the horse trail and Sedgwick Avenue, but also the War Department tablet for the brigade and the flank marker stones.  McLaughlin included the stone walls to provide an excellent visualization of the area.  In other words, beating around the brush to find a “stone” is much easier now!   But, as detailed as the strip maps are, they suffer from the inherit flaw in that means of visually conveying information – lack of scale.  In the case of “well off the beaten path” items, the lack of scale may be frustrating to visitors in a hurry.  Personally I find it forces me to take a deep breath and really take in the battlefield instead of rushing through it.

But there are some faults I found with the book.  First off, as a raw information presentation it has several typographical errors and formatting issues.   Take it for what it’s worth.  The book comes from a self publishing outlet and likely did not receive a lot of pre-publication support.  Second off, I found several points where the text from a monument or tablet was omitted.  For instance, while the entry for the High Water Mark monument contained even the names of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association from the back, about a dozen lines of text were omitted from the other sides.  Something I would attribute to editing.  However, most annoying is the omission of entire monuments!  For example, McLaughlin noted the location of the 143rd Pennsylvania monument on Cemetery Ridge on the strip maps, but the monument is not discussed in the text.  But in his defense, the monument is weathered and worn.  Most other references only mention the regiment’s monument near the McPherson Barn, but forget about the second and third day position monument.   Lastly, at least in my copy, the index is truncated.

Separate sections at the end of the book cover the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s 1940s era Gettysburg Campaign markers, the War Department’s hospital tablets, the Gettysburg Foundation hospital markers, and some of the War Department itinerary tablets.

After a week of using McLaughlin’s book, and making one trip to the battlefield with it in hand, I declare it a good buy.  It isn’t the “all knowing” reference (nor is there one on this topic, in my experience).  But I use it in conjunction with several other references to confirm or supplement field notes in order to form a full entry in HMDB – title, text, date placed, organization that placed it, location, and additional details.

We should consider McLaughlin’s work in context of the delivery.  Crossroads of the Conflict is in essence a “notebook” collection from a licensed battlefield guide.  As with any rough, raw format, it will have errors and omissions.  But having it at hand on the battlefield or at home while reviewing field notes is much like having said licensed guide beside you to answer a question or two.  Personally I think the work is a diamond in the rough.  A publisher might well massage out some of the issues and present a most professional product with only a limited effort.

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5 responses to “Crossroads of the Conflict Review

  1. Hi Craig

    I have the book also and my index is also truncated. Also missing are the charts following the truncated index for the Union 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Corp…it starts on page 296 with the 5th Corp. I had emailed the publisher about this to see if I had a defective copy…but didn’t get a response on the index and charts. I was a little surprised when I looked up the 147th Pa in the index …and nothing was there. In fact, nothing after the 110th Pa is in the index.

    I agree with you, though, that the book is a valuable resource at home and on the field.

    Bill

  2. Dear Craig, I just came across your review of my Dad, Donald W McLaughlin’s, book on your site. I found the review and comments most helpful and enlightening for many reasons. I think you for that. My sister Mary and I, with the help of our 5 siblings, published my Dad’s book posthumously through a self publishing firm in 2008. Our plan was to honor our Dad’s memory and ensure that our mother saw the book published in her lifetime. What we published were his notebook, notes and his own personal guide to the monuments. Originally he made only 3 copies of his notebook/manuscript. He shared it with other Battlefield guides in the 1990’s. One park ranger still uses it today. My father researched the battlefield for many years even prior to moving to Gettysburg in the 1980’s and he had many notebooks, books, files, slides, pictures etc. Much of that material has been lost in the past 15-20 years although some remain with different family members.

    When my Dad passed on his notebooks and files to my sister he was already quite ill and we never thought to ask him where any additional materials were located. We feel that we published as much of the material as we had available at the time that was related to the battlefield monuments. We are aware that there are errors and have wondered if the mistakes were ours in the publishing process or Dad’s omissions. He was so methodical in his research that it is hard for us to believe that he did not know every step of the battle and every monument. We may never know. We do however plan on revising the current book because we have discovered some additional pages for the index. We also plan on additional explanation about the book so that the reader will know that it is basically his field notebooks and his view of the Battlefield. I will be glad to notify you when the updated printing is available.

    The problem, quite frankly, is that my sister and I are not Gettysburg Battlefield experts so we cannot accurately edit the book. We have considered finding a publisher but just like everyone else we live busy lives and have not had the opportunity to submit queries to any publishers. If anyone has any ideas on publishing or collaborations for editing we are open to suggestions. We want the book to be as accurate as possible while still keeping Dad’s style intact. As you may have read this book was written on a typewriter before computers were available, which gives it the unusual style. Once again, thank you for your comments and consideration of Crossroads of the Conflict. Judith McLaughlin

  3. Judith,
    Thank you for filling in some details about the book, which I could only speculate on. I am most appreciative and thankful that you and your family followed through to publish the book in the first place, as it is a valuable reference work. I think a revised edition would be well received. If you need a hand proofreading or matching up some of the content corrections, please let me know.

    Craig.