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John Bachmann’s Bird’s Eye Views

John Bachmann, a Swiss born lithographer, moved to the United States shortly after 1848, and went on to produce a series of bird’s eye maps that depict American landscapes in ways that were groundbreaking around the mid-nineteenth century. His work blurred the line between cartography and fine art, and his landscape prints are held by both the Prints and Photographs Division and the Geography and Map Division here at the Library of Congress.

Many of his American works focus on New York City, illustrating the city during a time of immense change. His depictions celebrate an emerging modern industrial city and often focus on public works, showcasing local civic landmarks and highlighting both modern innovation and a sense of urban pastoralism.
Bird's eye view of New York City with a focus on the island of Manhattan

“New York” by John Bachmann, 1874. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

In “New York,” as seen above, Bachmann’s depiction of New York City showcases the newly constructed Brooklyn Bridge. In the forefront are Governor’s Island and Battery Park. Bachmann’s works often emphasized urban greenery, as seen in his view of Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery below:

Depiction of Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery, showcasing winding paths and natural features

“Birds eye view of Greenwood Cemetery. Near New York” by John Bachmann, date unknown. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Bachmann’s rendering of Greenwood Cemetery emphasizes the cemetery’s winding paths, sweeping tree canopy, and ponds that exist alongside the cemetery monuments.

At the start of the US Civil War, Bachmann turned his talents toward rendering the American South on a series of landscape maps in a series titled “Panorama of the Seat of War.” His Civil War series helped the southern landscape come to life for Northern audiences.

Bird's eye view map of Florida, looking west across the Florida peninsula

“Birds eye view of Florida and part of Georgia and Alabama” by John Bachmann, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

While traditional bird’s eye views of cities were often drawn from natural perspectives (in the manner of the artist climbing a hill to look down at a city, for example), Bachmann’s Civil War series depicts the landscape from unexpected angles. This view of Florida above, for example, looks west across the state’s peninsula, as though the viewer were in a spot high above the Atlantic Ocean.

Detail of the Florida coast, showing military installations with ships in the ocean nearby

Detail of “Birds eye view of Florida and part of Georgia and Alabama” by John Bachmann, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Bachmann’s Civil War works focus in on crucial military details such as ports, military bases, and major cities, and major waterways full with ships.

Bird's eye view of coastal Louisiana, with a focus on the Mississippi River and the city of New Orleans

“Birds eye view of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and part of Florida” by John Bachmann, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Bachmann’s maps allow the landscape to come to life for the viewer, clearly depicting the topography and giving a practical sense to how rivers and streams connect in a way that can be difficult to decipher from traditional maps. In his “Bird’s eye view of Louisiana…” above, Bachmann’s map illustrates the mouth of the Mississippi as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Below the city of New Orleans along the Mississippi are Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, both of which the Union would fight past to eventually capture New Orleans in 1862, a year after the map’s publication.

Detail of previous map, showing canals and waterways at the mouth of the Mississippi River

Detail of “Birds eye view of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and part of Florida” by John Bachmann, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

South of the Mississippi, Bachmann depicts the series of river channels now known as the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife area, an area comprised of natural bayou, fresh marshes, and human-constructed canals.

The “Seat of War” Civil War panorama series was designed to allow for the landscape maps to be strung together side-by-side to create an even more comprehensive view. A composite image is available online through the David Rumsey Map Collection.

As the war progressed, Bachmann’s landscape illustrations became filled, at times, with the battles themselves:

Landscape scene depicting a Civil War battle. Groups of Union and Confederate troops are seen in multiple groupings as smoke rises from green hills.

“Birds eye view of the seat of war around Richmond showing the battle of Chickahominy River, 29 June 1862” by John Bachmann, 1862. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

A great example of this is his bird’s eye view showing the Battle of Chickahominy River, from 1862. Also known as the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, the clash between Union and Confederate forces was one of the largest concentrations of Confederate troops  up to that point in the war, and ultimately forced Union forces away from Richmond. Bachmann lays out the scene clearly, with the majority of blue-uniformed Union troops stuck on the far side of the Chickahominy River from Richmond.

Even more of Bachmann’s work can be found online through the Library of Congress at this link.

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Chicago’s South Park by Fredrick Law Olmsted

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