6 months ago
Friday, September 28, 2007
Mapping the Civil War: Featuring Rare Maps from the Library of Congress
Authors: Christopher Nelson, Brian Pohanka, Library of Congress Geography and Map Division
Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing, 1992
This book is part of the Library of Congress Classics series. In addition to reproductions of civil war maps, it has contempory sketches and photos, a good narrative history of the Civil War, and some short but detailed essays on the maps used and mapping during the different campaigns.
The narrative history is excellent for giving the novice student of the civil war an overview of the main course of the war. The pictures give a very realistic feel of what the war was like with out being overpowering.
Of course the maps are the interesting things. There are reproductions of maps from all theaters, levels of organization, uses, and quality. They provide a full panorama of the maps used in the Civil War. It is one thing to know in theory that they did not plan a campaign using EarthGoogle. Instead they had maps that were drawn on a very small scale, had roads and key features missing or not correctly located, to plan the movement of very large forces. That the armies often literally did not know where they were, explains much of confusion of the war especially early in the war.
This is a map of the river in front of Vicksburg MS. (It is the lead map on the in the chapter on the Vicksburg Campaign.) The union gunboats and barges running this stretch of the river under fire from the town bluffs is one of the great sagas of the war. But usually there is not a map or it only shows the river in front of the town not the full hairpin turn. Here you see the tricky navigation that was carried out at night along a course where there could be no surprise.
What I found especially interesting were the excellent large scale maps of fortifications, positions and battles that show considerable skill in producing a map when time and surveying resources were available. Individual units or officers, rather than the Topographic Corp, drew many of these maps. This is a skill that is vanishing since much better can be done with computers and aerial photography.
At the beginning of the war the US was mapped in a rather haphazard manner. Collecting maps, drawing new ones, reproducing, and distributing them was a major challenge for both sides. As the war progressed each side developed a better “data base” of areas in which they operated. Reproduction facilities and efficient distribution methods were set up. When it was decided that an army was going to move from point A to B relevant maps were prepared, reproduced and distributed in a few days and available before the movement began. With its greater industrial capacity the Union did better than the confederacy but the confederacy made significant improvements. The best use was General Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign where one map was developed from the best intelligence that could be had, and every one who needed a map was using the same map. There were actually orders issued like “defend by the letter ‘O' in word 'Mountain'” a sign of high quality maps that had the trust of the users. The topographic staff was part of General Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, which did most of the logistics work for this campaign.
Maps were prepared by the US Coastal Survey and Army's Topographic Corps, most Topographic Corps' officers stayed with the Union at the beginning of the war. Many volunteer officers who had surveying or drawing skills served on both sides. The best of them was Jedediah Hotchkiss, the principal of a small school before the war, who was Lee’s mapmaker. In the Washington-Richmond theater the Confederates almost always had better maps do to his efforts. When the Union captured his maps the Union reproduced and distributed them. There was an injustice to the officers of the Topographic Crops, they were so valuable in that role they would not be released to command regiments brigades and divisions, with the appropriate promotions that many Regular Army officers in other branches recived. None the less they performed excellently thought out the war.
The only problem with this book is that many of the maps are not reproduced on a scale that allows you to use the actual maps used by the armies to follow the action.
This is an excellent book assessable to all levels, well written with good pictures and maps. I would say that for a person is only going to read one book on the Civil War this is a good candidate. If you are person who likes maps this is a gold mine.