Author Spotlight-Phil Laino

Gettysburg Campaign Atlas


I am often asked how did the idea of the Atlas come about and how long did it take you to complete this project. I will try to explain my answers to these questions, hoping along the way not to put you all to sleep. 

Ever since I can remember, I have always been graphically inclined. I seem to see things, understand things, experience things in pictorial terms. When I read a book, I turn it into a movie, inhabiting it with leading men and women, appropriate locations, etc. Tom Hanks becomes the protagonist and Anthony Hopkins the antagonist, with Elizabeth Shue or Penelope Cruz, the femme fatale. The word is never enough for me. A picture is overwhelmingly worth more than a thousand words. But I digress a bit. 

When I discovered Coddington in high school, I bookmarked the few maps within this wonderfully descriptive book and would go back and forth from the text to the maps, flipping pages to and fro, to try to get a lay of the land and understand what was happening, where, when, and by whom. 

In the early 70’s I was returning from a cross-country car trip and decided to stop at Gettysburg and the experience was life changing. As my interest in the Civil War in general and Gettysburg in particular increased, I bemoaned the dearth of maps in most of the Gettysburg books I read (one can never have enough maps). 

Somewhat later, in a happenstance I cannot explain, a germ of an idea began to gnaw away at my imagination and eventually I realized that what I needed, and perhaps what others needed, was a book of many maps that would compliment a few words about the battle of Gettysburg. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) but no training in cartography. Early on, I decided that mapping with pen and paper was too daunting a task and so around 1994, I bought a Mac and Adobe Illustrator software program and dove in. I read all I could on the doings at Gettysburg and through trial and many errors, began inputting data onto blank computer pages. I was working at a paying job at the time, so the going was slow but steady. My first offering was one page of text with a corresponding map on the opposite page. I eventually completed a book of maps and submitted it to a publisher and my eternal thanks goes to those gentlemen who promptly rejected my manuscript. My first attempt was woefully bad. I mean really BAD! It took me a while to realize that, but when the clouds parted, I went back to the computer and reworked and improved my first attempt at mapping this confusing battle. 

The second iteration entailed more maps and fewer words. Now I only included bare-bones text at the bottom of the map. I assumed that the reader had many options to explore more deeply what my maps were showing using the large library of Gettysburg books available. As I was working on this new Atlas I discovered Gettysburg Magazine and the exemplary maps penned by John Heiser. Now that’s what I was always aiming for! I realized that I needed to rework, once again, my Atlas in an attempt to measure up to the high bar that Mr. Heiser’s put forth with his wonderful maps. 

Iteration number three commenced. I now added much more detail and decided to include the march to and retreat from Gettysburg. In 2002 John Heiser no longer mapped for Gettysburg Magazine and Bob Younger canvassed readers to take Mr. Heiser’s place. I submitted some of my Atlas maps as examples of my work and he gave an unknown mapmaker a chance. Thank you, Mr. Younger. In a sidebar, years later, I am having dinner with Andy Turner, the new editor/publisher of Gettysburg Magazine, and I asked 

him how many others submitted maps in response to Mr. Younger’s request. Andy smiled and softly replied: “you were the only one.” 

As my third attempt at a Gettysburg Atlas continued, two important events occurred. John Imhof’s groundbreaking Day Two book of maps was published (Bravo!).  I refined my maps as new battle information became available and as I completed a first-draft atlas, I posted these maps on the Military History Online website for a critique from its members. I incorporated ideas, suggestions and corrections from the incredibly generous students of the battle who posted responses and emailed me important information. With the unstinting help from Alan Brunelle (index) and Steve Floyd (Order of Battle), and the vetting of John Heiser, Andy Turner, published the Gettysburg Campaign Atlas late in 2009. 

Years passed, Andy Turner sold Gettysburg Magazine. I continued to improve and add more maps to my first edition Atlas, I needed a new publisher. I have been blessed with meeting really great people as I wandered through the publishing phase. I was introduced to Kevin Drake at Gettysburg Publishing, and as I did with Andy Turner, Kevin and I shook hands and the updated Gettysburg Campaign Atlas became reality. 

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.