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Collection Civil War Maps

Field Mapping

Although all successful field commanders realized the necessity of clearly understanding the lay of the land over which they were moving or fighting, some placed a higher value on mapping activities than others. Two eminent commanders that fall in this category are Generals William T. Sherman and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

General William Tecumseh Sherman

On March 18, 1864, Sherman became Commanding General of the Military Division of the Mississippi, succeeding Ulysses S. Grant, who became General in Chief of the Armies of the United States. Grant immediately ordered Sherman "to move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources."1 Sherman, with more than one hundred thousand men under his command from the Armies of the Cumberland, Tennessee, and the Ohio, immediately began preparations for what became known as the Atlanta Campaign.

[Portrait of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, officer of the Federal Army].

The Topographical Department of the Army of the Cumberland, under the direction of Col. William E. Merrill, was chiefly responsible for providing the maps necessary for the Atlanta Campaign. Thomas B. Van Horne in his History of the Army of the Cumberland (1875) notes that "The army was so far from Washington that it had to have a complete map establishment of its own. Accordingly, the office of the chief topographical engineer contained a printing press, two lithographic presses, one photographic establishment, arrangements for map-mounting, and a full corps of draughtsmen and assistants."2

The lithographic presses were invaluable for quickly providing multiple copies of a map. However, the weight of the presses and stones made transporting them difficult, necessitating that they remain in a central depot near the front lines. As Van Horne points out, the topographic engineers in the field had available to them a mobile "fac-simile [sic] photoprinting device invented by Captain Margedant, chief assistant. This consisted of a light box containing several india-rubber baths, fitting into one another, and the proper supply of chemicals. Printing was done by tracing the required map on thin paper and laying it over a sheet coated with nitrate of silver. The sun's rays passing through the tissue paper blackened the prepared paper except under the ink lines, thus making a white map on black ground. By this means copies from the drawing-paper map could be made as often as new information came in, and occasionally there would be several editions of a map during the same day. The process, however, was expensive, and did not permit the printing of a large number of copies; therefore these maps were only issued to the chief commanders."3 The map of the environs of Resaca, Georgia, is an example of a quickly made field map produced by the Margedant photoreproduction process. Printed on May 13, 1864, it shows the critical position of the Army of the Tennessee at Snake Creek Gap, Georgia (LC Civil War Maps no. S102).

In preparation for the coming campaign, the Topographical Department began the compilation of an accurate campaign map of northern Georgia. The best available map was enlarged to the scale of an inch to the mile.4 According to Van Horne, this was then "elaborated by cross-questioning refugees, spies, prisoners, peddlers, and any and all persons familiar with the country in front of us. It was remarkable how vastly our maps were improved by this process. The best illustration of the value of this method is the fact that Snake Creek Gap, through which our whole army turned the strong positions at Dalton and Buzzard Roost Gap, was not to be found on any printed map that we could get, and the knowledge of the existence of this gap was of immense importance to us."5

Two days before the Atlanta Campaign began, the Topographical Department was informed of the date of advance. As Van Horne notes, the single copy of the map of northern Georgia over which the Topographical Department had been laboring "was immediately cut up into sixteen sections and divided among the draughtsmen, who were ordered to work night and day until all the sections had been traced on thin paper in autographic ink. As soon as four adjacent sections were finished they were transferred to one large stone, and two hundred copies were printed. When all the map had thus been lithographed the map-mounters commenced their work. Being independent of sunlight the work was soon done--the map-mounting requiring the greatest time; but before the commanding generals left Chattanooga, each had received a bound copy of the map, and before we struck the enemy, every brigade, division, and corps commander in the three armies had a copy."6. Entitled "Map of Northern Georgia made under the direction of Capt. W. E. Merrill, Chief Topl. Engr.," the finished map measures 94 by 88 cm. It is lightly hand colored and indicates below the title and scale that it was "Lith. and printed at Topl. Engr. Office, Dept. Cumbd., Chattanooga, Tenn. May 2d, 1864." For ease of carrying in the field, the map was cut into 24 sections and mounted on cloth to fold to 16 by 23 cm. Pasted to the cloth mounting were cardboard covers to protect the map when folded (LC Civil War Maps no. S29-S30).

In addition to the standard edition of the campaign map lithographed on paper, it was also printed directly on muslin and issued in three parts. Van Horne points out that this was mainly for the convenience of the calvary, "as such maps could be washed clean whenever soiled and could not be injured by hard service."7 Each section of the cloth map is entitled "Part of Northern Georgia" and was printed from one of the lithographic stones used for the standard campaign map. The superb work of the Topographic Department, Army of the Cumberland, led Van Horne to conclude "that the army that General Sherman led to Atlanta was the best supplied with maps of any that fought in the Civil War."8 (LC Civil War Maps nos. 129.75, S22, and S31).

Preserved in the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, is a collection of 210 maps and three atlases belonging to Gen. William T. Sherman. This important cartographic collection, brought together from three separate acquisitions by the Library, includes both printed and manuscript maps, as well as contemporary photocopies. Many of the items were used by the general and his staff during the march on Atlanta in 1864. Represented are small-scale regional maps, maps indicating troop positions and fortifications, and reconnaissance maps. The latter were issued to topographical engineers on field assignment who were then required to plot new data and directed to return the reconnaissance maps to headquarters as soon as possible. Annotations were usually made in red to show additional roads, railroads, fortifications, and dwellings. One such reconnaissance map made as the army moved toward Atlanta is entitled "Part of De Kalb and Fulton County, Ga." (LC Civil War Maps no. S77). The base map was compiled and printed in Marietta, Georgia, on July 5, 1864, by the Topographical Engineer's Office, Department of the Cumberland. Instructions on the map direct topographical engineers "to return as soon as possible one copy of this land map with all the information they are able to obtain, to this office. Corps Engineers will cause a speedy compilation." The copy of the map in Sherman's possession has annotations apparently made by Lt. Harry C. Wharton, an engineer in the Army of the Cumberland.

Also issued to field parties during the campaign was a similar printed base map covering the area south of Atlanta. The lithographed copy preserved as number 24 in the Sherman Map Collection has been revised by the use of an overlay covering the East Point-Rough and Ready area. The overlay has a significant number of revisions of the original base map, including the realignment of lines of communication and the repositioning of the towns of East Point and Rough and Ready. In addition, numerous names of residents and some relief have been added. By the use of this simple expediency, the Topographical Engineer's Office was able to get the revised data to the field parties without having to redraft and print the entire map.

General Thomas J. Jackson

After distinguishing himself in June 1861 at the first battle of Manassas where he earned the nickname "Stonewall," Thomas J. Jackson was promoted to major general and assumed command of the Confederate forces protecting the Shenandoah Valley. The valley was of immense strategic importance to the Confederate cause because it provided needed agricultural products for the South and a natural transportation route for invading the North. Jackson's defense of the valley provides an excellent example of the significance of skilled field mapping.

[General T.J. Jackson, three-quarter length portrait]

At the beginning of March 1862, a schoolmaster from Staunton, Virginia, named Jedediah Hotchkiss joined Jackson's staff as topographical engineer. Realizing his need for a better understanding of his surroundings, Jackson ordered Hotchkiss to "make me a map of the Valley, from Harper's Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offence and defense in those places."9 The resulting comprehensive map, drawn on tracing linen at the scale of 1:80,000 and measuring 254 by 111 cm., was of significant value to Jackson and his staff in planning and executing the Valley Campaign in May and June 1862 (LC Civil War Maps no. H89). Conducted against numerically superior forces, the Valley Campaign is considered "one of the most brilliant operations of military history."10 The success of his actions and movements so disturbed Federal planning that large numbers of troops were withheld from General McClellan's advance on Richmond. Conceivably, without the aid of superior maps, Jackson's diversionary efforts would not have succeeded and McClellan's movement on Richmond would have had a different ending.

The map of the Shenandoah Valley constructed for Jackson is preserved with the rest of Jedediah Hotchkiss's map collection in the Library's Geography and Map Division.11 This is one of the finest collections of Confederate maps in existence today. In addition to the master map, there are countless sketches, reconnaissance maps, county maps, regional maps, and battle maps. Of particular interest is his sketchbook with over one hundred pages of drawings recording roads and distances, topographic features, and the location of dwellings and names of occupants (LC Civil War Maps no. H1). Much of the information recorded in the sketchbook was later transferred to his finished maps. Hotchkiss annotated the cover of the sketchbook as follows:

This volume is my field sketch book that I used
during the Civil War. Most of the sketches were made
on horseback just as they now appear. The colored pencils
used were kept in the places fixed on the outside of the other cover.
These topographical sketches were often used in
conferences with Generals Jackson, Ewell and Early.
The cover of this book is a blank Federal
commission found in Gen. Milroy's quarters at Winchester.

[signed] Jed Hotchkiss.

Richard W. Stephenson, Civil War Maps


  1. William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman by Himself (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), 2 vol. in 1, v. 2, p. 26. [Return to text]
  2. Thomas B. Van Horne, History of the Army of the Cumberland (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1875), vol. 2, p. 456. [Return to text]
  3. Ibid., pp. 456-457. [Return to text]
  4. The base map used was James R. Butts's "Map of the State of Georgia" (1859). See R. W. Stephenson, "Mapping the Atlanta Campaign," Special Libraries Association, Geography and Map Division, Bulletin, 127 (March 1982): pp. 8-9. [Return to text]
  5. Van Horne, History of the Army of the Cumberland, p. 457. [Return to text]
  6. Ibid., pp. 457-458. [Return to text]
  7. Ibid., p. 458. [Return to text]
  8. 8.Ibid., p. 358. [Return to text]
  9. Jedediah Hotchkiss, Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson's Topographer, ed. by Archie P. McDonald, foreword by T. Harry Williams (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press [1973], p. 10. [Return to text]
  10. Mark Mayo Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1959), p. 739. [Return to text]
  11. For an article about the acquisition and contents of the collection, see Clara Egli LeGear, "The Hotchkiss Map Collection," The Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions 6 (November 1948): 16-20. [Return to text]