Military History Animated

Recently, while searching the internet for open-source graphics to use in the Harper’s Donelson manuscript, I had the pleasure to discover James Cagney’s wonderful website: History Animated (   In spite of the name, the topics covered on the website concentrate on United States politico-history.

The site uses annotated and animated maps of the wars of the American colonies and the United States, starting with European colonization leading to the French and Indian War  through to World War II, although the complete list of WW2 Western front battles continues as a work-in-progress.

Rather than attempt to describe this complex site completely, I shall focus on my current particular area of interest: the Battles of Forts Henry and Donelson.

History Animated LogoFrom the Home page, we get to Fort Donelson by clicking on The Civil War box title within the navigation box.  We arrive at a landing page for the Civil War where we read the following greeting:

Welcome to Civil War Animated

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good animation is worth ten thousand. After reading book after book about the US Civil War and finding only complicated maps with dotted lines and dashed lines crisscrossing the pages, we decided to depict the key naval and land battles using animation technology.

While the animation helps readers view a broader picture of the battles showing the inter-relationships of the opponents in time and space more clearly, it is limited in the detail that can be shown. While accuracy has been attempted, at times the picture of the battles must be simplified to make the battle as clear as possible.

We are not attempting to reinterpret history, but merely to depict it as the best military historians have written it.

On the right-hand side bar, we find a list of Union and Confederate generals mentioned in the animations with links to the animations where they appear.  On the left side bar, we find the list of battles which are supported by map animations.  The list is headed by a pair of listings which cover the War with Mexico and an animation for The Road to War.  The Road to War is especially well done and starts with a discussion of the compromise reached by the drafters of the Constitution on the issue of slavery and how the need to maintain a balance of power among the states evolved during the first half of the nineteenth century as more states entered the union.  My only gripe about this presentation is a minor one.  It does not include a description of how France re-acquired its Louisiana colony in 1800, only to sell it to Thomas Jefferson in 1804, following the destruction of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar

Exiting The Road to War, we return to the Civil War landing page.  In the sidebar, the major battles of the civil war are divided between the Eastern theater and the Western theater.  Clicking on the Battle of Forts Henry and Donelson, we come to a landing page which includes a set-up for the battle, the linking title, and a list of recommended references.  Clicking on the covers for these books leads to the Amazon page where each can be purchased on line.

Clicking on The Battle Animation brings us to a landing page with a more-detailed and referenced set-up for the battle and instructions on how to operate the animation.   We start the animation and the display zooms in on a map of the Western Theater.  We are treated to a description of the strategic situation for both armies before the animation zooms in further to a map of the area near Forts Henry and Donelson.  The animation describes the local situation of the troops and commanders in a series of text boxes augmented by the display and movement of the forces over the map.  Following a description of the fall of Fort Henry, the animation zooms in to the area surrounding Fort Donelson.  That battle is shown in four phases:  Feb 14th PM, Feb 15th AM and PM, and the surrender on Feb 16th.

The story of the battle is told at a high-school/undergraduate level of detail.  As stated in the introduction, the animations are intended to provide a summary of the battle which invites the serious student to investigate further detail through the references listed.

I enjoyed working my way through the various simulations and intend to use this site constantly when researching and drafting my novels.

I commend James and Kimberly on the quality of the presentations, especially when considering the size of the undertaking.  They offer a CD with the animations of the Revolution and The Civil War as a gift for a tax-free donation.

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