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John Hills Position of British Forces around Elizabeth Town PointA battle plan is any map depicting military events in a defined locale over a short period of time, including for example skirmishes, pitched battles and sieges.  What makes them particularly interesting is not simply the inherent, horrifying drama of war, but the challenge of conveying not only geographic phenomena but events as they take place over time: The designer of a battle plan must condense four-dimensional events into the two dimensions of a sheet of paper.

One finds an enormous variety of formats and styles of battle plan, governed by the skills and sources of the draughtsman; the conventions of the time, place and culture within which he worked; and his motivations.  Some are quite limited in their ambitions, such as this 1745 plan of the Siege of Louisbourg.  Others are complex, attempting to compress a complex sequence of events on a single sheet, such as this 1755 plan of the Battle of Lake George. They range from the unadorned, such as this woodcut plan of the Siege of Boston in a 1775 almanac, to ornate examples of the genre such as this 1781 plan of the Battle of Yorktown.

Another way battle plans vary is in the degree to which they highlight the maker’s own sympathies.  For example the battle plans issued by William Faden during the Revolutionary War tend to be straightforward and technical, such as this plan of the 1775-76 American Siege of Quebec. By contrast, this plan of the 1874 “White League Revolt” in New Orleans explicitly celebrates the attack on the Reconstruction government of the state.

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William Faden plan of the American Siege of Quebec in 1775-76

The finest contemporary plan of Montgomery and Arnold’s disastrous assault on Quebec in December 1775. In May 1775 a force under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured the British forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, from which were taken the cannon that ultimately enabled General Washington to drive the British from Boston. This opened a […]

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Rare American plan of the Battle of White Plains

This rare engraving from Charles Smith’s Monthly Military Repository is the first detailed battle plan of White Plains to be printed in the United States. The battle was violent but inconclusive. Following his decisive victories in Brooklyn and Manhattan, the British commander William Howe somehow allowed Washington to get the remnants of his army away […]

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The British take New York: The “Woody Heights” plan

An important plan depicting a key battle of the American Revolution. Background Following the British evacuation of Boston and retreat to Halifax in March 1776, the Americans held a tenuous control of the East Coast from Maine to Georgia. In truth, British mastery of the sea gave them the option to invade more or less […]

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John Hills Position of British Forces around Elizabeth Town Point

John Hills map of the failed 1780 British invasion of New Jersey

A very nice example of this rare and finely engraved plan depicting the action around Elizabeth Town, New Jersey in June 1780, after a manuscript by the great military cartographer John Hills. The engagement around Elizabeth Town consisted of two phases fought on June 8 and 23, 1780, during the last major British campaign in […]

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A unique composite depicting the 1776 British debacle before Charleston

A unique and appealing composite depicting the failed British attack on Charleston, South Carolina in the Summer of 1776. Background In early 1776 General Howe sent an expedition against the Carolinas, the first objective being the region’s undisputed commercial and cultural hub at Charleston. The expedition, commanded by General Henry Clinton, was to rendezvous with […]

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