April 19, 2011 Library of Congress Holds Conference on Civil War Mapping, May 20

Re-Imagining the U.S. Civil War: Reconnaissance, Surveying and Cartography

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: John Hessler (202) 707-7223

Cartographers during the U.S. Civil War invented new techniques and mapped the country—both Union and Confederate territories—more accurately than ever before in the nation’s history. The reasons for this improvement in mapping were complex, and the maps created ranged from typical battlefield cartography to demographic and thematic maps that were used for both policy and propaganda purposes.

A Library of Congress conference will take a fresh look at the accomplishments of these cartographers and topographic engineers from a multi-disciplinary perspective, and will provide new insight into how their maps were used and how geographic space was conceived and measured during one of the most difficult periods in U.S. history.

“Re-Imagining the U.S. Civil War: Reconnaissance, Surveying and Cartography” will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20, in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The conference is free and open to the public, but reservations are needed: contact specialevents@loc.gov or call (202) 707-1616.

Speakers in the morning and afternoon sessions include historians, conservators, engineers and a mapmaking reenactor. The schedule follows:

Coffee: 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Morning Session: 9:30 a.m. to noon

Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, will present “Hidden Patterns of the Civil War.” Mapping, broadly understood, can help reveal complex patterns that are otherwise invisible. In a context as vast, varied and dynamic as the landscape of the American Civil War, all the tools at one’s disposal would be used to gain a sense of proportion and change. This presentation will demonstrate several such tools, mapping not only military history but also language, politics and the actions of enslaved people.

Susan Schulten, professor of history at the University of Colorado, will present “Mapping the Strength of the Rebellion.” The sectional crisis prompted several uses of cartography, both on and off the battlefield. Some of the most original of these maps attempted to measure the strength of the rebellion. Maps of cotton production and the slave population exemplify this new purpose of cartography, designed to assess not just the landscape but the population and its resources. These maps represent different moments of the secession crisis and the ensuing war, and also the shifting uses of cartography in American life.

Richard Stephenson, a former map librarian at the Library of Congress, will present “We Were Profoundly Ignorant of Our Country: The Struggle to Provide Accurate Maps During the U.S. Civil War.” At the start of the Civil War, much of the United States had not been mapped with the accuracy needed for successful military campaigns. Stephenson provides an historical analysis of the struggle to acquire the new geographical information necessary to provide maps to commanders in the field and the innovations developed by cartographers in the post-1859 period.

Afternoon Session: 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

John Cloud, historian at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will discuss “Mapping the New Coasts of War.” The Civil War was an entirely novel experience in American life and novel demands on cartography were called for in order to capture the event. The staff of the U.S. Coast Survey re-purposed many traditional aids to navigation and created many new ones to assist mariners and to help determine strategic aspects of locations. As the war progressed, they also re-defined the coast in military-political terms, mapping the shifting boundaries between Union and Rebel domains—in an exercise never attempted before, or after, the war.

Adrienne Lundgren, senior photographic conservator at the Library of Congress, will present “Shedding a Little Light: Early Photographic Techniques Used to Reproduce Maps.” This presentation will chronicle the first paper photographic printing process and its use in the reproduction of maps. During the Civil War, this technique became an important method for distributing updated maps quickly and efficiently. While often described in the period literature, the terminology surrounding these processes can be confusing. Variations in the technique will be described as well as methods to identify these unusual artifacts. Maps from the Library of Congress collections will be featured.

Robert Mergel, a reenactor in the guise of a Union surveyor, will explain and demonstrate the surveying and cartographic methods of the period, using original equipment and describing experiences in the field. He will review the mapmaking of a selected group of Union Topographical Engineers (topogs) through their personal records, examples of their work and observations by colleagues. The group includes well-known topogs at the time, such as Gouverneur K. Warren and George Gordon Meade, and lesser-known topogs, such as William Emory Merrill, Orlando M. Poe and George A. Custer. Particular emphasis will be placed on the Peninsula Campaign and the Siege of Chattanooga as examples of early war-mapping attempts and the later field-mapping techniques learned “under fire.” Also, the strategic use of maps by W.T. Sherman during his march to the sea will be examined. Selected examples of the equipment will be available for viewing.

Reception: 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.


PR 11-085
ISSN 0731-3527