At first glance this book looks to be a very specialist work, looking at two minor skirmishes in the North Platte valley of Nebraska in 1865, the first an attack on a staging post, the other an encounter battle. However the aim of this book is to look at the modern theories of 'battle space' and levels of conflict to see if they can be of assistance to the archaeologist, and to see if they can be detected in the archaeological record. These are ideas that are included in current US army training manuals, but are certainly valid (with some tweaking) for the Civil War period.
The fighting in the North Platte was triggered by the Sand Creek massacre, in which rogue elements of the US cavalry attacked a peaceful Cheyenne camp that was officially under US protection. In the aftermath of this attack the Cheyenne went onto the war path, carried out a series of raids and then retreated into inaccessible countryside. The two clashes in the North Platte took part during this movement phase. The first was an attack on a small post at Mud Springs, in which reinforcements were summoned by telegraph. The second took place at Rush Creek, when the two forces ran into each other with little warning.
One aim of the authors was to look at the landscape and see if the idea of battlespace could be used to locate the Rush Creek fight. In the end a combination of local knowledge and a metal detector survey helped them find the site. They were also able to prove that the traditional location of the Mud Springs battle was correct, and to use firearms forensics to prove that many of the same weapons were present at both sites, helping prove that the archaological remains did indeed belong to these two incidents.
The authors also compare the archaeological evidence with the contemporary accounts of the two battles. In general the two sources match up quite well, with the patterns of ammunition finds matching most battle narratives. One exception is the role of the light artillery used by the US cavalry, but here the sources disagree on how effective that had been, and the evidence perhaps supports those sources that suggest the artillery had little impact.
There are some interesting techniques used here. The possible routes used by the two sides are traced using lidar surveys of the areas, and an analysis of the easiest routes. The lidar surveys are also used to examine the battlefields, and help detect subtle landscape features that probably had an impact on the fighting. This use of the most modern techniques is of great interest, and produced very clear results. Admittedly the same might not be true for older battlefields in more populated areas, but many of these ideas will be valid elsewhere.
1 - Introduction
2 - Landscapes and dynamics of the Platte Valley in 1864
3 - Conceptual tools for the consideration of conflicted landscapes
4 - Levels of war and battlespace in the North Platte Valley, 1865
5 - Conflict Begins - the battle of Mud Springs
6 - The archaeology of the Mud Springs battle
7 - The road to Rush Creek
8 - The forces collide at Rush Creek
9 - Firing line landscapes: archaeology of the Rush Creek Battle
10 - Fighting on the North Platte as military operations
Author: Douglas Scott, Peter Bleed and Amanda Renner