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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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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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William Faden plan of the 1775-76 siege of Quebec

Superb William Faden plan of the 1775-76 Siege of Quebec

The finest contemporary plan of Montgomery and Arnold’s siege of Quebec during the opening year of the Revolution, published only four months after the lifting of the siege. 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 […]

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An American debacle at Charleston

A fine example of Banastre Tarleton’s plan of the Siege of Charlestown, one of the greatest American setbacks of the Revolution. Offered here on excellent, heavy paper with very wide margins. The siege This map depicts in great detail the siege of Charleston, conducted by the British forces in early 1780 at the beginning of […]

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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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Faden plan of the Battle of Bennington

This battle plan was issued in General John Burgoyne’s State of the Expedition from Canada, his famous defense against charges of mismanaging the disastrous British expedition from Canada in the Summer-Fall of 1777. It was drawn by an officer present on the scene, then engraved and printed by the Faden firm in London. The expedition […]

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Magnificent bird’s-eye view of the Battle of Gettysburg

A spectacular and remarkably informative depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg, which marked the turning point of the Civil War.   The view was published in late 1863, within months of the events depicted, and marked the beginning of John Bachelder’s three-decade career documenting and depicting the battle in prose, maps and prints. Here he depicts […]

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A very early map of the siege of Boston

One of the earliest obtainable maps relating to the Revolution, this map is based on an original drawn in June 1775, probably only days before the Battle of Bunker Hill. The depiction of Boston proper is striking-at the time, the city was essentially an island linked to the mainland via a narrow causeway. No street […]

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