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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 existed of areas in which fighting was likely to occur. Uniform, large-scale topographic maps, such as those produced today by the U.S. Geological Survey, did not exist and would not become a reality for another generation.

In the Eastern theater (i.e., southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia) both Union and Confederate military authorities initially relied on several maps: Fielding Lucas, Jr.’s Map of Maryland (scale 5 1/2 miles to 1 inch) published in Baltimore in 1852; and the nine-sheet map of Virginia by Herman Böÿe (scale 5 miles to 1 inch), revised by Ludwig von Buchholtz and published in Richmond in 1859. Each was actually a revision of a map published long before the Civil War: the map of Maryland was first issued by Lucas in 1841; and the map of Virginia was first copyrighted by the state in 1826 and offered for sale in 1827.

Lucas Map of Maryland

“Map of the State of Maryland.” Fielding Lucas, Jr., 1841. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The most detailed maps available in the 1850s were of selected counties. Published at about the scale of one inch to a mile, these commercially produced wall maps showed roads, railroads, towns and villages, rivers and streams, mills, forges, taverns, dwellings, and the names of residents. One such map is Issac Bond’s Map of Frederick County, Md. accurately drawn from correct instrumental surveys of all the county. The few maps of selected counties in Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania that were available were eagerly sought by military commanders on both sides.

Throughout the American Civil War, commercial publishers in the North and to a lesser extent in the South produced countless maps for an eagerly awaiting public in need of up-to-date geographical information. Few families were without someone in the armed forces serving in a little-known place in the American South. Maps, therefore, were not only important sources of information, but also satisfied the patriotic impulses of the populace. Publishers in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston quickly became aware of this profitable market and began to issue maps in quantities undreamed of before the war.

One of the earliest maps, copyrighted by M. H. Traubel of Philadelphia less than a month after the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, is entitled Pocket Map of the Probable Theatre of the War. The compiler of the map, civil engineer G. A. Aschbach, accurately anticipated that the principal seat of war in the East would be Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. To assist the map user, Aschbach underlined camps and forts in red and prominent places in blue.

Pocket Map showing probable theater of war

“Pocket map showing the probable theatre of the war.” G. A. Aschbach, copyrighted by M.H. Traubel of Philadelphia, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Although propaganda maps are better known from their use during World Wars I and II, an occasional map of this type was published during the Civil War. Such works are designed to have a maximum psychological impact on the user of the map. The commercial publisher J. B. Elliott of Cincinnati published a cartoon map in 1861 entitled Scott’s Great Snake which pictorially illustrates Gen. Winfield Scott’s plan to crush the South both economically and militarily. His plan called for a strong blockade of the Southern ports and a major offensive down the Mississippi River to divide the South. The press ridiculed this as the “Anaconda Plan,” as shown on this map, but this general scheme contributed greatly to the Northern victory.

Scott's Great Snake Map

“Scott’s great snake Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1861.” J.B. Elliott, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Another propaganda map more subtle in appearance, but perhaps just as effective, was Edmund and George Blunt’s sketch of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States. The Blunts depicted the “loyal part” of the coast with a heavy (strong) line and the “rebel part” with a thin (weak) line. “This sketch was prepared to show at a glance,” explains George Blunt on the map, “the difference in extent of the coasts of the U. States occupied by the loyal men and rebels; its circulation it is believed will have the effect of counteracting the exertions of traitors at home as well as those abroad.”

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, […]