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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, and maps depicting secession. Following posts will proceed chronologically from the first shots fired at Union held Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 through the surrender of the Amy of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

In studying the preceding and early years of the American Civil War, political maps of the United States from the 1800s help to visualize the geography of social and economic divisions in the nation at the time. These divisions set the foundation for the imminent outbreak of conflict in the spring of 1861.

Issued during the presidential election campaign of 1856, several years before the outbreak of hostilities, Reynolds’s political map of the United States… pictures famous Western explorer John C. Fremont, the first presidential candidate of the Republican Party, and his running mate, William L. Dayton. The map also compares legislative, economic and population statistics of free and slave states. Despite gaining thirty-three percent of the popular vote, Fremont lost the election to James Buchanan. Four years later, however, the Republican Party succeeded in electing Abraham Lincoln, who was inaugurated March 4, 1861.

Another commercially produced representation of the political and economic divides in the United States over slavery prior to the outbreak of armed conflict can be found in Henry D. Rogers’ 1857 General map of the United States… which graphically depicts the area of the “free” states (green); “slave-holding” states (red); “states importing slaves” (dark red); and “states exporting slaves” (light red). It is important to note that at the time of the publication no states had formally seceded and that the growing nation was continuing to wrestle with the issue of slavery.

Shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, but before his inauguration in March 1861, the United States changed dramatically. The political and economic tensions between the northern industrialized states and the southern agrarian states reached a fever pitch as states previously leaning towards secession held formal votes and left the Union in order to form what would become the “Confederate States of America.” On December 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, as shown on the accompanying map entitled Map of the United States of America showing the Boundaries of the Union and Confederate Geographical Divisions and Departments as of Dec, 31, 1860 published in the 1891 Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Civil War.

US War Department, US Dec. 31, 1860.

“The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.” United States War Department, 1891, as part of Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Civil War. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Over the course of the next six months the states of Missouri (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10, 1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19, 1861), Louisiana (January 26, 1861), Texas (February 1, 1861), Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), North Carolina (May 20, 1861), and Tennessee (June 8, 1861) formally seceded from the United States. This map, entitled Map of the United States of America showing the Boundaries of the Union and Confederate Geographical Divisions and Departments as of June 30, 1861 also appears in the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Civil War.

US War Department, US Jun. 30, 1861.

“The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.” United States War Department, 1891, as part of Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Civil War. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

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 […]