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Places in Civil War History: Fort Sumter and Virginia Secession

This is a series of posts 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 Civil War were fired with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, situated in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, by Confederate guns. Unable to reply effectively, the commanding officer, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered on April 13th. As shown on an 1861 map published by George T. Perry entitled Part of Charleston Harbor, embracing forts Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, and Castle Pinckney, also Sullivan, James & Morris islands, Fort Sumter was situated in the middle of Charleston Harbor and by April 1861, it was one of the last Federal outposts in the region.

On January 28, 1861, almost three months prior to the bombardment of Fort Sumter, George T. Perry deposited this map to satisfy copyright requirements. The map was formally accessioned into the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, then housed in the United States Capitol, on February 12, 1862. Perry provides the following description of the newly completed forts in Charleston Harbor on his map:

Forts Moultrie and Sumter, are situated on opposite sides of the entrance to Charleston Harbor, and completely cover and command it. Fort Moultrie is on or adjacent to the land and dwelling houses and other buildings are being erected close up to the walls of the Fort.

Fort Sumter (under the command of Major Anderson), is built in the water, one thousand yards from the land. It can only be attacked, therefore, from watercraft. It is just finished and is one of the strongest works in the world; mounted with thirty-two-pound cannon and one hundred rounds of ammunition per gun, It is covered bomb-proof and can only be attacked by the embrasures, which an attacking force must crawl through on at the time, and hence two men at one of these could defend it against five hundred.

As part of an 1866 report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a United States Congressional committee tasked with investigating executive branch management of the war as well as Union military defeats, Major General John G. Foster produced Sketch showing position of besieging batteries. [Fort Sumter] April 12-13, 1861 to visualize the siege of Fort Sumter. The name “Rebellion Road,” found in Charleston Harbor on both Foster’s and Perry’s maps, predates the Civil War and refers to a ship channel or anchorage.

Siege at Fort Sumter

“Sketch showing position of besieging batteries. [Fort Sumter] April 12-13, 1861.” John G. Foster, 1866. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

By the spring of 1861, several states had already seceded from the Union. The state of Virginia decided to call a special convention of delegates to consider secession and on April 17, 1861, following the attack on Fort Sumter, Virginia passed its “Ordinance of Secession.”

Published in 1861, Edwin Hergesheimer’s map entitled Map of Virginia: showing the distribution of its slave population from the census of 1860 provides statistics on the percentage of slaves in each Virginia county compared to the total free population.

Graham Map of Slave Population in VA

“Map of Virginia : showing the distribution of its slave population from the census of 1860.” Henry S. Graham, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

During 1861, three editions of the map were produced, all of which were based on 1860 census data. The choice of shading from lower percentages per county in light grey to higher percentages illustrated in darker tones, including a contrasting font color, provides a dramatic representation of slavery in Virginia.

Cartographic detail in Graham's maps

Detail of cartographic differences between Henry S. Graham’s three versions of “Map of Virginia : showing the distribution of its slave population from the census of 1860” produced in 1861. Clear non-county border in northwest corner delineates proposed State of Kanawha (later West Virginia). TOP: LCCN 2010586916; MIDDLE: LCCN 2010586922; BOTTOM: LCCN 2010586923. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

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