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Places in Civil War History: Maps of the Peninsula Campaign, Part 2

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.

By late May 1862, the Union’s Army of the Potomac, led by General George B. McClellan, was making significant headway in its march to the Confederate capital of Richmond. The objective of the Union’s Peninsula Campaign, capturing Richmond by attacking northwest up the peninsula formed by the James and York Rivers, seemed within reach after a slow start to the campaign earlier that spring.

Confederate forces had retreated to the outskirts of the Confederate capital, preparing to defend the city near its doorstep. After the minor Battle of Hanover Court House on May 27th, in which Union forces defeated a small contingent of Confederate troops, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston launched a surprise attack at the Battle of Seven Pines, hoping to inflict heavy casualties on the threatening army. Although the result of the battle itself was inconclusive, it would become a turning point in the Civil War. General Johnston was seriously wounded in the battle and was soon replaced by Robert E. Lee, formerly Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ military adviser, as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. For most of June, Lee reorganized troops under his command while McClellan, vastly overestimating the army size of his foe, called for reinforcements of troops and supplies from Washington.

Map of Union and Confederate battle of Seven Pines.

“Plan of the Battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, Va. Fought 31st May 1862.” by Robert Knox Sneden, 1862. From collections of Virginia Historical Society.

In what became known as the Seven Days Battles, from June 25th to July 1st, 1862, a series of aggressive Confederate assaults on Union positions would drive the Army of the Potomac away from Richmond. Although casualties were heavy on both sides, the Seven Days Battles was an undisputed victory for the Confederates: Union forces were pushed back about 20 miles from Richmond, morale among the Confederates surged, and the Army of the Potomac was decimated to a point that a renewed effort to capture Richmond via the peninsula would not be attempted again anytime soon. Union hopes for an imminent extinguishing of the rebellion were dashed.

The two manuscript maps shown below reflect the state of intelligence around Richmond during the summer of 1862.

Henry Abbott’s “Position of Richmond” shows the gradual Confederate advance and Union retreat from June 27 until July 7, 1862. Two annotations on this Confederate-produced map indicate that it was “compiled from ‘Map of Henrico Co.’ and ‘Sketch exhibiting the approaches with additional reconnaissance,’” as well as the fact that it was “copied from a map captured from the enemy June 27th 1862.”

Confederate map of Richmond, regional roads, and locations of Confederate and Union positions in Summer 1862.

“Position of Richmond, Va.” Abbot, Henry L., 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

A slightly different map by Union topographical engineer John C. Babcock, entitled “Map exhibiting the approaches to the city of Richmond prepared for Maj. Gen. Geo. B. McClellan, U.S.A.,” covers the same vicinity and time period and bears a printed note indicating that it was “compiled from ‘Map of Henrico Co.’ and map of the ‘Position of Richmond.'”

Map of Union approach lines outside of Richmond in relation to common roads and railroads

“[Map exhibiting the approaches to the city of Richmond prepared for Maj. Gen. Geo. B. McClellan, U.S.A.]” by John C. Babcock, 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

In other words, these maps represent the fast paced and fluid consolidation of cartographic information from both Union and Confederate sources on the field of battle. The cartographic and military information of prior maps would inform the creation of new ones.

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