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Places in Civil War History: Aerial Reconnaissance and Map Marketing

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.

Aerial reconnaissance was first used in 1861 by the War Department using balloons tethered to the ground. Early balloon observers were civilian employees of the Army, sometimes referred to as “Aeronauts,” who ascended in baskets attached to the balloons to survey battlefields, make troop observations, and prepare maps based on those observations.

The following is a report from Union Aeronaut John La Mountaine forwarded to General Benjamin F. Butler concerning two balloon ascensions made near Hampton Roads, Virginia:

I have the honor to report that on the 11th of August I made two ascensions in which I attained an altitude of 8,872 feet and made observations as follows, about five or six miles north west from Hampton I discovered an encampment of the enemy but owing to the misty state of the Atmosphere caused by the recent rain I was unable to form a correct idea of their numerical force, but I would judge from four to five thousand. There were no vessels or encampments of any kind either on York or Back Rivers or at New Market Bridge…On the left bank of the James River about eight or nine miles from Newport News is a large encampment of the enemy from 150 to 200 tents, also an encampment in the rear of the Pig Point batteries of some 40 to 50 tents. At Norfolk, two large ships of war are lying at anchor in the stream one of which appeared ready for sea with sails ready…I illustrate what I saw by the accompanying hasty diagram…With respect, John La Mountaine, Aeronaut

John La Mountain's report on his aerial econnaissance operation, including letter to General Butler and map produced from operation.

“Aerial reconnaissance, August 10th, 1861 : [Sewells Point, Virginia]” John La Mountain, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

While John La Mountaine’s aerial reconnaissance work was an innovative approach to wartime mapmaking, many of the maps used for military intelligence at the time were instead existing cartographic materials applied to new purposes. Among the most prolific commercial publishers of these kinds of maps during the Civil War was Northerner James T. Lloyd.

On August 19, 1861, the Confederate government voted to allow the state of Missouri into the Confederacy. For a brief time, the state of Missouri had, essentially, both a Confederate government and Union government. There were several skirmishes fought in the state in the late summer of 1861 but, for the most part, the major actions took place elsewhere. Lloyd did not, however, ignore the potential map market in the West, including Missouri. On his 1861 Map of Missouri, Lloyd prominently advertised his “Great Military Map of the Fifteen Southern States” which “cost over $5,000, [and] Sells for only 50cts.” He further describes the map as the “the only map deemed contraband by the Secretary of War and is prohibited from being sent South for their use.”

James T. Lloyd's map of Missouri, 1861.

“Lloyd’s Official Map of Missouri.” James T. Lloyd, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

In addition to advertising, Lloyd freely used the work of others. In 1861, Lloyd published his “Lloyd’s official map of the state of Virginia from actual surveys by order of the Executive 1828 & 1859.” In fact, this map was based on Hermann Böÿe’s 1825 nine sheet map of the state of Virginia revised and reduced by Lewis von Buchholtz in 1859.

James T. Lloyd's official map of the state of Virginia, 1861.

“Lloyd’s Official Map of the State of Virginia” James T. Lloyd, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Herman Böÿe's 1959 map of Virginia.

“A map of the state of Virginia, constructed in conformity to law from the late surveys authorized by the legislature and other original and authentic documents.” Herman Böÿe, 1859. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

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