No Turning Back: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor,

May 4—June 13, 1864.

Robert M. Dunkerly, Donald C. Pfanz, and David R. Ruth.

(Savas Beatie, 2014).

Reviewed by John Scales (full disclosure, Savas Beatie is to publish my Forrest book this fall, and the cartographer used in this book, Hal Jesperson, is the cartographer I used for my maps as well.)

No Turning Back by Robert M. Dunkerly, Donald C. Pfanz, and David R. Ruth
No Turning Back by Robert M. Dunkerly, Donald C. Pfanz, and David R. Ruth

This book is an example of the title absolutely reflecting the contents.  The core of the book is a series of directions, buttressed by maps, numerous black and white photographs (Civil War era and modern), and GPS coordinates.  The text first gives directions to a stopping point, then explains its significance to the battle or campaign in several paragraphs.  These directions allow the reader to visit not only the famous battlefields that are preserved, but also to follow the routes taken by the armies and to visit the remaining ante bellum buildings that were used as headquarters and hospitals.

After a brief overview of the strategic situation in the Eastern Theater as of early May, 1864, the narrative outlines the campaign’s opening moves, with detailed directions to Germanna Ford on the Rapidan River where Wilson’s cavalry dispersed Confederate pickets.  There are fourteen stops for the Battle of the Wilderness alone and at many of them there are footpaths leading to various points of interest.  This is nothing, however.  There are thirty-one stops covering the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and subsequent maneuvers down to the North Anna River.  The books covers the thirty-one stops in fifty-two pages—a nice balance between explanation, illustration, and directions.  Once the North Anna is reached, another twenty-one stops cover the North Anna and Totopotomoy Creek engagements before moving on to Cold Harbor and finally the James River in another fifteen stops.  The book ends as Grant tries to outmaneuver Lee by crossing the James and moving on Petersburg.

The authors (one of whom, Donald Pfanz, is the son of the author of the famous two-volume set on the second day of Gettysburg) recommend taking two or three days just to follow the directions given.  I would say it may take even longer if you desire to walk any of the trails.

The book itself is a long-needed supplement to the very detailed War College Battlefield guides for these same battles.  Written for a layman with good general knowledge of the Civil War, the book provides an up-to-date route (current roads) guide and a more friendly description of the various actions as compared to the War College books.  I highly recommend it to those who want to take such a tour, even if only parts of the various battlefields.  The GPS coordinates even allow one to tour vicariously via Google Earth!