Can you sketch in your head a battlefield while reading a text?

Feb 2019
A map is a necessity for a clear understanding of the battles. The author can paint a picture of what was happening where but a general map is necessary to put it all together. I remember when I was getting into individual battles of the Napoleonic Wars and reading in more detail. Let's use Jena as an example: The author could paint a picture of what was happening but I always was scratching my head thinking: ''What's a Landgrafenberg? Where is Hassenhausen?''. I constantly have to look at maps to understand where's a random village I never heard of or on what hill a division was placed. Still, you eventually get used to it and if your imagination is not sufficient there are some animations of battles that can paint a clearer picture.
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
No, no... I mean historical battles that are well documented even on wikipedia. Let's give you an example:

Battle of Lauffeld - Wikipedia

I feel dumb I can't imagine how the battle was with just a text saying something like: "The division of *somebody1* attacked the left flank of general *somebody2* and *somebody3* sent reinforcements from *whatever place1* exposing the right center so the division of *somebody4* advanced from *whatever place2* and *somebody5* retreated from..."
Sorry Incendio, I misunderstood your post.
Mar 2015
I absolutely agree with Incendio. Its so frustrating reading an excellent account of a battle and there is no map or the damn thing was 34 pages back and you have lost count of the number of times you flicked back to reference it - then you give up in despair.

Kindle makes a poor attempt to rectify the situation. Hover your finger over a map and you can expand and move around but quality is appalling and usually unreadable (also only in black and shades of grey). I am sure that it could be vastly improved by applying a bit of modern technology - better graphics and the ability to call up the map instantaneously (even on Kindle you are forced to flick back to correct page, if you can remember it). Connecting it with Google maps or preferable some of hte old WW1 and WW2 maps would make a huge difference to understanding.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
Depends on the writing I'd say.

As for maps – fantastically useful. The classic genre of early modern European battle paintings etc. were of course attempts to make post-battle sense of what had happened. They were a kind of composite of multiple view-points and best-guesses of parties involved, and then potentially tinkered with for various propaganda purposes. The reality was that commanders rarely had a full view of the action, and never direct control once the battle had started. So working out how they won, or lost, after the fact had a certain urgency.
Dec 2016
Sorry Incendio, I misunderstood your post.
The idea is when an author, most of them academics, is describing the course of a battle, providing all the details available from his resources/bibliography in just a text and in a row like he is broadcasting a football match in the radio, I feel overwhelmed trying to project a scene or an image in my brain to visualize the battlefield. Most of the times, at some point I am missing details and I am unable to visualize half of the battle. For this reason, I miss maps or any other visual supplementary material that would be helpful to understand the battlefield events. I'll try to draw by myself the battlefield but would be tedious to read and draw at the same time.

Given my reasoning, I think that in 21st century we have more than enough software applications to reproduce a battle with visualizations. Hopefully some day there will be enough videos and audiovisual materials to cover most of the major battles in history.
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Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
Just enjoy the imagining. That is what our mind is for.

Other than that, habitual reading through battle accounts that do provide sketch maps, over time, does help you gradually develop, in terms of familiarity with jargon, tactics & strategies etc.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
Late Cretaceous
When reading both A Terrible Glory and Last Stand, I found it useful to have the 3D maps in the Osprey Little Big Horn book for reference.
Mar 2018
Giving a technical description of a battle in a book/article/video/whatever without providing a map (static or animated) ought to be a criminal offence.
Oct 2017
South Australia
I can definitely sympathise with Incendio. I usually look for battlefield maps on Google Images (I think this is far better than Google Maps, as Google Maps shows the modern-day terrain which has probably changed since the battle, also they obviously won't have troop dispositions) and I actually prefer that to maps in the book because generally you have to flip back and forth a million times between the page you are reading and the map, unless they are side by side.