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Places in Civil War History: Virginia Geography

This is part of a series of guest posts from Ed Redmond, Cartographic Specialist in the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis.

As both land and sea clashes between Union and Confederate forces occurred with more frequency, it became clear that, at least in the early stages of the war, Virginia was to be a major battleground. The geography of Virginia, as outlined on the accompanying maps, unwittingly played a role in the Civil War.

Virginia was the northernmost state to formally secede. Its state capital, Richmond, became the capital of the Confederate States of America and was located just 90 miles from Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States of America. In between the two cities lay the Potomac River which flowed into the Chesapeake Bay, the outlet to the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently, either city (Richmond or Washington) was potentially vulnerable to attack.

In 1861, the thirty-nine counties we know today as the state of West Virginia were part of Virginia. Harper’s Ferry, located at the junction of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers was a strategic location as the powerful force of the two rivers converging provided a unique opportunity to power waterwheels and turbines and was instrumental in the creation of the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal.

The Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains stretch southwest past Harper’s Ferry and, eventually, to the Cumberland Gap. Between the two lay the Shenandoah Valley which became an important battleground and highway during the Civil War.

Birds eye view of Maryland and Virginia

“Birds eye view of Maryland and Virginia.” S. N. Gaston and Company, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Virginia’s geography also played an important role in the American Revolution. The best example occurred in southeastern Virginia where Continental forces led by General George Washington, with assistance from both French infantry and naval forces, trapped the British Army on the Yorktown peninsula, the last military action of the American Revolution.

In 1862, the same peninsula between the James and York Rivers would play a critical role in Peninsula Campaign, the Union attack and Confederate defense of Richmond.

Modest Monuments: The District of Columbia Boundary Stones

The oldest set of federally placed monuments in the United States are strewn along busy streets, hidden in dense forests, lying unassumingly in residential front yards and church parking lots. Many are fortified by small iron fences, and one resides in the sea wall of a Potomac River lighthouse. Lining the current and former boundaries […]

Places in Civil War History: Tennessee Secession and Fortress Monroe

This is the fourth in a series of guest posts from Ed Redmond, Cartographic Specialist in the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis. In May 1861, several more states formally seceded from the […]

Places in Civil War History: Fort Sumter and Virginia Secession

This is the third in a series of guest posts from Ed Redmond, Cartographic Specialist in the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis. On April 12, 1861, the first salvos of the American […]

Places in American Civil War History: Preparation for War

This is the second in a series of guest posts from Ed Redmond, Cartographic Specialist in the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis. On the eve of the Civil War, few detailed maps […]

WWI-Era Terrorism: Black Tom Island and Anti-German Hysteria

The following guest post is by Ryan Moore, a cartographic specialist in the Geography and Map Division. The German act of terrorism on Black Tom Island was one of a series of events that came to a head with the infamous Zimmermann Telegram and pushed America to declare war on Germany in April 1917.  These […]

Resources in the Geography and Map Division about World War I

The following guest post is by Ryan Moore, a cartographic specialist in the Geography and Map Division. On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on the German Empire, bringing the country into the world’s deadliest and most destructive up that point in history. The Great War, as it was called at the time, […]

Places in American Civil War History: Maps Depicting Prologue to War and Secession, March 1861

This is the first of a series of guest posts from Ed Redmond, Cartographic Specialist in the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis. The first post will provide on overview of pre-war mapping, […]

Philip Lee Phillips, Reluctant Ambassador to King of Maps: The Story Behind the First Superintendent of Maps at the Library of Congress

Today’s post is from Ryan Moore, a Cartographic Specialist in the Geography and Map Division. Philip Lee Phillips was the first superintendent of the Hall of Maps and Charts, today known as the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. He also was the driving force behind creating the world-renowned map collections of […]

The Bob Crozier Collection: Aerial Reconnaissance in World War II

Today’s post is from Ryan Moore, a Cartographic Specialist in the Geography and Map Division. Bob Crozier served as a Technical Sergeant in the 654th Topographic Engineers from 1943 to 1946. Crozier was part of the American First Army under General Omar Bradley. He donated a collection of photos and maps created during World War […]