A 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.