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Places in Civil War History: Tennessee Secession and Fortress Monroe

This is the fourth 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.

In May 1861, several more states formally seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America, including Tennessee on May 16th and Virginia on May 23rd.

Published in 1861, E.P. Dutton’s New map of Kentucky and Tennessee from authentic reports of county surveyors throughout the states… depicts the two states and includes information vital to military planners. The state of Kentucky, located to the north of Tennessee, did not secede from the Union, thereby making the region a potential front line in the conflict. The map shows the locations of post offices, grist and saw mills, mineral and salt works, iron and lead mines, mines and caves, river ford locations and landings, ferries and bridges, roads, plank roads, and both proposed and finished railroad lines in both states.

The red and blue annotated lines on the map refer to the “Great National Military Railroad” (blue) and the “Great National Military Road” (red). The former is a series of commercial railroad lines while the latter is a proposed road linking Nicholasville, Kentucky and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Elsewhere, in the fracturing Mid-Atlantic, federal forces continued to mobilize for the upcoming armed conflict with troops reinforcing major cites, including Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, both of which could be reached by rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay stood one of the largest and most heavily fortified fortresses in the United States: Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Situated at the tip of a small thin peninsula, the large fort guarded the entrance to the Elizabeth and James Rivers thereby protecting the cities of Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the Gosport Navy Yard, the center of Federal shipbuilding and home to a large part of the United States Navy.

Following Virginia’s secession, Union forces withdrew from the Gosport Navy Yard to Fortress Monroe. The nearby areas came under Confederate control but the large stone Fortress Monroe remained in Union hands throughout the war.

On May 27th, General Benjamin F. Butler, the commanding officer of the United States Army in Virginia and North Carolina, announced that escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered “contraband property” and therefore not returned to slave owners. This decision, which became known as the “Fort Monroe Doctrine,” triggered a massive flow of escaping slaves to flee to Fortress Monroe and other lines of Union control. The cartoon below depicts the effects of this decision, with escaping slaves fleeing plantations and heading to the fort.

Fort Monroe Doctrine

“The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine.” Fort Monroe Virginia, 1861. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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