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Mapping Matters

Updated: Feb 12


Map image courtesy of Hindman Auctions

Recently, a hand-drawn Civil War map (pictured above) from a private collection advertised on the Internet for auction. The rather crude sketch shows Eleventh Corps troop positions, Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's flanking column, road networks, and various landmarks on the May 2, 1863, Chancellorsville battlefield. Some of the information on the map, including an Eleventh Corps hospital location, offers possible new insights and information about the battle. Primary source maps like this demonstrate not only their importance to the user at the time it was created, but also its significance to those of future generations trying to reconstruct the events it depicts. Of course, like all primary sources, period maps should be corroborated with other available evidence to determine their credibility and accuracy.

Since 1998, through generous donations and grant programs, CVBT has saved a significant amount of the land portrayed on this map. Currently CVBT is campaigning to save 44 more acres that also appear on it. You can help us preserve the 42 acres at Dowdall's Tavern (the Eleventh Corps headquarters location), as well as two acres just to the east.


The Power of Maps

Maps have the unique ability to translate information through a visual format that helps the reader make sense of the displayed information quickly. Due largely to ever-advancing technology, such as GPS, and the convenience of devices like cell phones, paper maps like those created and used at the time of the Civil War have a less prominent place in our lives than they did in the past. However, accurate maps were vital to Civil War armies. Those individuals who could produce good maps quickly received praise from commanders who relied on them to help make important decisions. Those leaders without maps, or maps missing information, were operating at a distinct disadvantage. Maps not only guided armies to advantageous ground, they also helped officers think ahead and develop contingency plans based on what the maps indicated the area's landscape provided. In addition, maps were also helpful as teaching tools after battles to document and explain troop positions. In this history email we will take a closer look at some additional period maps from the battlefields that CVBT works to preserve.


The Battle of Fredericksburg

"Plan of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862"

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

This hand-drawn map of the Battle of Fredericksburg distinctly shows the two major parts of the battlefield; that at Marye’s Heights, and that on the south end at Prospect Hill. Drawn by an unknown Confederate, it identifies several Confederate artillery positions, Gen. Lee’s headquarters location, where Gen. John R. Cooke was wounded and Gen. Thomass R.R. Cobb was killed, as well as various roads, streams, and pontoon bridge locations.

McCabe Map of the Battle of Fredericksburg Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Apparently produced in 1863, and similar in layout to the previous map, this one was sketched for an individual, James D. McCabe, Jr., by a “James W. B.” McCabe, a Virginia Military Institute graduate and employee of the Confederate War Department, was also a prolific writer until his death in 1883. It is unknown if the map maker produced it for military purposes or to help McCabe with some of his writings, which often included Civil War events.


The Battle of Chancellorsville

Map of the Vicinity of Chancellorsville. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This undated map shows the Chancellorsville region and appears to be the type of map that officers would use to identify available road networks, rivers, streams, and fords. Places like Ely’s Ford, US Ford, Germanna Ford, Dowdall’s Tavern, Wilderness Church, Hazel Grove, and Fairview all appear on it and became familiar name places during the campaign.

Rough Sketch Map of the Battlefield of Chancellorsville" Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Often period maps are not in color. This map, showing Confederate troop positions at Chancellorsville, primarily those on May 2, gives a good idea of the locations of battlefield landmarks like the Talley farm, Wilderness Church, and Dowdall's Tavern. Likely produced soon after the battle, it may have been used to document the events of the battle.


Mine Run Campaign

Map of the Field of Operations in Virginia and Battle of Mine Run, November 1863," by Robert Knox Sneden. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This map of Mine Run by Robert Knox Sneden, a Federal cartographer, shows a large geographical expanse of the region ranging from north of Culpeper, south to Orange Court House. The important communication lines of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, the Orange Turnpike, and Orange Plank Road, as well as noted fords like Jacob’s Ford, Germanna Ford, and Raccoon Ford are all identified. Note the Army of Northern Virginia's fallback position west of Mine Run and the positions of the various Federal corps.


The Battle of the Wilderness

Campaign of "The Wilderness,' Position of Brigades of 2nd Corps, A.N.Va., May 6, 1864." By Jedediah Hotchkiss, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Well known Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss created this map of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Second Corps brigade positions on May 6, 1864, at the Battle of the Wilderness. Straddling the Orange Turnpike and opposing the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth and Fifth Corps, it also shows Gen. John Gordon’s attack on the Sixth Corps’ right flank that evening as indicated by the dashed arrow.


The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

Sketch showing positions and entrenchments of the Army of N. Va. from May 9th to 21st 1864, battles of Spotsylvania C.H., Va." by Jedediah Hotchkiss Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This Hotchkiss map of Spotsylvania Court House details the earthwork line of the Federal and Confederate forces, including the important "Mule Shoe" salient, which was defended largely by his Army of Northern Virginia Second Corps. This map is particularly helpful in understanding which parts of the battlefield were forested and which were fields.


Sources & Suggested Reading

For great a great collection of period maps and sketches by Pvt. Robert Knox Sneden see: Charles F. Bryan, Jr. and Nelson D. Lankford. Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey. Free Press, 2000. Charles F. Bryan, Jr., James C. Kelly, and Nelson D. Lankford, eds. Images from the Storm. Free Press, 2001. For a map collection by Jedediah Hotchkiss see: Chester Hern and Mike Marino. Civil War Battles: The Maps of Jedediah Hotchkiss. Thunder Bay Press, 2009. For excellent modern maps and descriptions of the battles' actions, see: Bradley M. Gottfried. The Maps of Fredericksburg: An Atlas of the Fredericksburg Campaign, Including all Cavalry Operations from September 18, 1862 to January 22, 1863. Savas Beatie, 2017. Bradley M. Gottfried. The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns: An Atlas of the Battles and Movements in the Eastern Theater after Gettysburg, Including Rappahannock Station, Kelly's Ford, and Morton's Ford, July 1863-February 1864. Savas Beatie, 2013. Bradley M. Gottfried. The Maps of the Wilderness: An Atlas of the Wilderness Campaign, May 2-7, 1864. Savas Beatie, 2016. Bradley M. Gottfried. The Maps of Spotsylvania through Cold Harbor: An Atlas of the Fighting at Spotsylvania Court House Through Cold Harbor, Including Cavalry Operations, May 7 through June 3, 1864. Savas Beatie, forthcoming.


Parting Shot

"Lost horsemen In search of a road," by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress)

“We lost the points of the compass and became about as much bewildered in regard to courses or directions, as we already were in regard to the object of the expedition." Capt. Harrison P. Griffith, 14th South Carolina Infantry, on Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's famous flank attack march at Chancellorsville.


Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

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