In a world where we can keep tabs on our own backyards from our desks at work, via satellite, it’s difficult to imagine the impact one man armed with notebooks and pencils could have in 1861 as the Civil War began to rend our young nation. Generals on both sides of that conflict desperately needed good topographical information to plan attack and defense. One good mapmaker could be worth battalions of firepower.
Into this fray stepped a New York-born schoolteacher named Jedediah Hotchkiss (1828-1899). Jed had moved to Virginia, and initially aided the Confederate war effort by hauling supplies. Before long, he was making maps for Brig. Gen. Richard B. Garnett, and eventually he became the mapmaker for Gen. Robert E. Lee and Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
These history-changing maps are the subject of a just-opened exhibition in the corridor outside the Geography & Maps Reading Room at the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Hotchkiss’ maps, many drawn from horseback, were extraordinary for their accuracy. Jackson’s successes in the 1862 campaign were largely credited to those remarkable maps. Hotchkiss, who rose to the rank of major, also was entrusted with choosing lines of defense and arranging troops during several crucial battles.
Over four years of war service, ending with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, Hotchkiss created some 600 maps and numerous drawings, which he was allowed to retain following the cessation of hostilities. He returned to further teaching and mapmaking, and ran for Congress. His maps eventually were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948, from Hotchkiss’ granddaughter.
The one considered his masterpiece — offensive and defensive points within the vast Shenandoah Valley — came to the Library in 1964.