Summer Lightning:
A Guide to the Second Battle of Manassas

Matt Spruill III and Mat Spruill IV
University of Tennessee Press, 2013, 324 pp., $32.95
Review by Gordon Berg

The sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War is bringing thousands of battlefield trampers to the sites of the war's major engagements.  This has helped spawn the golden age of battlefield guidebooks, and the Spruill family seems to have perfected the genre.  The latest offering from these two former army officers offers readers a user friendly compendium to the August 28-30 1862 Second Battle of Manassas that enhances the quality of any on-site visit.  Since it's arranged in chronological order, the book is useful when visiting all or only a portion of the Virginia battlefield.

The model the Spruills employ is that of a military staff ride.   They primarily use after-action reports written by participants and compiled in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  Where reports are unavailable, postwar memoirs and speeches fill the gaps.  The authors provide a minimum of contextual continuity, rightly preferring the story of the battle to be told by those who were there.  Portraits of the major actors, along with period and contemporary photos, help readers to visualize the action as well as read about it.
The key ingredient of the guide, though, is the simple, yet informative, tactical maps "designed to be a frame of reference that will allow a reader to visualize the events transpiring around them as they read the various accounts of the participants."  The Spruills even give instructions on how to use them as "a brief snapshot in time of many unit movements."

The authors characterize Second Manassas as "a fluid battle" fought over acres of ground.  For 21st century visitors, a well planned twenty-stop driving guide is "designed to place you on the ground where the combat and events took place."  Detailed instructions are provided for each stop: which way and how far to walk, where to look and what's important that you'll be seeing, and where you are in relation to other action nearby.  There is also an Order of Battle for both armies, casualty estimates, and information about some related sites away from the battlefield.

The Spruills are dedicated battlefield preservationists and any review of their book would be remiss if it didn't include their plea for the public to become active in trying to save hallowed Civil War ground for future generations.  "The battlefields themselves provide the most direct contact we have with those veterans and the Civil War," and they remind us that this and other guide books are written "to provide that connection with past events on the actual spot where they happened."  In this, Summer Lightning succeeds admirably.

Gordon Berg is a past President and member of the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia (  His reviews and articles appear in the Civil War Times and America's Civil War, among other publications.

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