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Places in Civil War History: Pivotal Virginia Battles, By Land and Sea

This is part of a series of 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.

One of the most iconic naval battles of the Civil War was the four-hour duel between the ironclad vessels USS Monitor and the CSS Merrimac, which took place off of Hampton Roads, Virginia on March 8th and 9th, 1862. While the battle ended in a virtual draw, historians have pointed to it as the end of the wooden warship era and the beginning of heavily armored ships.

The map shown below, entitled “Scene of the late Naval Engagement…,” does not directly depict the battle, but both vessels are shown and it was likely prepared for newspaper publication to accompany articles on the naval engagement. The first image includes the woodblock, while the second takes us closer into the map itself.

Pictoral map of Hampton Roads, Virginia with battleships; map alongside woodblock used for map's printing.

“[Scene of the late naval fight and the environs of Fortress Monroe, and Norfolk and Suffolk, now threatened by General Burnside].” 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail of map showing Hampton Roads with battleships in harbor.

Map detail of “[Scene of the late naval fight and the environs of Fortress Monroe, and Norfolk and Suffolk, now threatened by General Burnside].” 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Most newspaper and journal illustrations at the time were printed from woodcuts. This form of reproduction, albeit crude, was inexpensive, reasonably quick to execute, and the woodblocks could be inserted into pages of text and printed on newspaper presses without difficulty. A close-grained hardwood, usually boxwood, cut against the grain, was employed to make the wood engraving. Usually the blocks consisted of several parts tightly bolted together from the rear. After the image was drawn on the block, the parts were separated and distributed among several wood engravers to be worked on simultaneously. Once the carving was completed, place names cast in type metal from a mold (stereotype) were cemented into place, the parts bolted together again, and the whole retouched to insure uniformity. At this point, the illustration was ready for printing. The entire process required approximately two weeks to complete from the time the sketch was received by the publisher.

Across the state, in the spring of 1862, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson began his “Valley Campaign,” an attempt to drive Union forces occupying parts of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and push them out of Virginia. The opening salvo of the successful Valley Campaign was the March 23, 1862 Battle of Kernstown, Virginia, located in northern Shenandoah Valley, a few miles south of Winchester, VA.

The two maps shown below represent a preliminary manuscript map and a finished manuscript map of the battlefield extending from Winchester south along the Valley Turnpike, through Kernstown. Both maps were prepared and signed by noted Confederate cartographer “Jedidiah Hotchkiss, Topographic Engr. Valley D[ivision].” The preliminary draft provides a listing of Confederate infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, including abbreviations and strikeouts, while the finished manuscript map has a more complete table, decorative border, and ornate title block. Both maps use hachures to signify relief.

Map of Battle of Kernstown, showing routes and fields.

“Sketch of the Battle of Kernstown, Sunday, March 23d 1862.” Jedidiah Hotchkiss, 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Three days after the Battle of Kernstown, on March 26th 1862, Jackson ordered Hotchkiss to prepare “a map of the Valley from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offence and defence in those places.” Hotchkiss began working on his best known map almost immediately and continued to work and refine it over the course of the Civil War. Hotchkiss’ masterpiece is prepared with a 3/4-inch grid that allows one to “scale” the map and produce larger scale maps as needed. The Jedediah Hotchkiss Papers are housed in the Library’s Manuscript Division.

Map of Shenandoah Valley detailed with roadways, waterways, topography, and both Union and Confederate army positions.

“[Map of the Shenandoah Valley].” Jedediah Hotchkiss, 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.