Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Not a harbour over 8 feet.”

Posted in Education, Media by Andy Hall on May 8, 2012

Over at the Big Map Blog, they have an 1862 map showing the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. (The original is in the Library of Congress, here.) The map, published in New York, is intended to show the vulnerability of the Confederate coastline, and the difficulty the South would have in establishing an overseas trade essential to its survival. This was at a time when formal diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy, particularly by France and the United Kingdom, seemed a real possibility, and a potentially-decisive factor in the outcome of the war. The map was, according to its creator, Edmund Blunt,

prepared to show at a glance the difference in extent of the Coasts of the U. States occupied by the loyal men and rebels; its circulation it is believed will have the effect of counteracting the exertions of Traitors at home as well as abroad.

Blunt continued, “persons having correspondents in Europe would do well to send copies of this sketch to them for Circulation.” Heh.

There are a lot of reasons to appreciate this map as an informative tool, not least of which is that it conveys fairly complex information with extreme economy of line and text. (Edward Tufte‘s great-grandfather probably loved it.) There’s not an unnecessary figure or word on it, Blunt’s propagandizing notwithstanding. Union-occupied parts of the coast are shown with a bold line, while Confederate-held areas are drawn with a lighter line. Each potentially significant port or inlet is marked with the maximum depth of water over the bar at its entrance, a critical factor that restricted the size of ships that might effectively use that port. I like the map because it becomes immediately clear how geography shaped Union naval strategy on the one hand, and Confederate blockade-running on the other — why, for example, Mobile and (later) Galveston became important blockade-running ports in the Gulf of Mexico, while other ports did not.

The map also serves as a reminder of just how sparsely-populated and inaccessible some parts of the South were in the 1860s. Almost the entire coast of Louisiana is written off, “not a Harbour over 8 feet.” The southern tip of Florida (the Everglades) from the Keys westward, is noted as being “swampy or uninhabited.” Almost all of Florida’s Atlantic coast, from St. Augustine south to the Keys, is similarly dismissed as being unimportant militarily, or for maritime purposes. Sorry, Josephine.

So what are your favorite CW maps, and why?

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8 Responses

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  1. corkingiron said, on May 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I’m not a map geek. What struck me about this was the fact that Lincoln had patented a device for getting flatboats off a sandbar – had it become widespread,[indeed, if it had actually worked] the ironic possibilities would have been endless.

  2. theravenspoke said, on May 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent post. Mad props for the Tufte reference.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Map design has been on my mind lately, as I’m working on one myself, and having to make decisions about what to show, and how. Mine is a lot more cluttered than Blunt’s.

  3. Vicki Betts said, on May 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    For purely personal reasons, I like the “Reconnoissance of Sabine River and Vicinity,” by Capt. W. Von Rosenberg, Engineer Department Topographical Bureau, District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Plot No. VII includes eastern Smith County from the Tyler to London (Rusk Co.) line on the south, to the Tyler to Camp’s Ferry line on the north, with the east line running Camp’s Ferry to London, making a triangle. It shows all of the communities, all of the roads, many of the homesteads by name, sites of large fields, mills, tanneries, distilleries, a schoolhouse, Camp Ford, the Confederate Workshop (transportation–Kirbyville), and the Confederate distillery (Headache Springs). I think it dates to 1864. I just wish it covered the entire county. I’d like to get copies of plots I through VI.

    By matching 1860 tax rolls (which includes abstract names for owners) with this map, along with survey and Google maps, Randy Gilbert has been able to track old roads and verify that Rosenberg was very careful and accurate in his work. I would love to find an account of how he did it and what the locals thought.

    Vicki Betts

  4. Reed said, on May 10, 2012 at 2:17 am

    I’m not sure “favorite” is the right word, but for me, one of the most telling CW maps is: Hergesheimer, E. (Edwin). Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States. Compiled from the census of 1860 Drawn by E. Hergesheimer…1861.

    There’s a really long link for a zoomable version of the map at the Library of Congress’s “American Memory” site which you can google. I recommend using the LoC’s jpeg2000 version (about 16.3 MB). It’s a quick download and much easier to view in full and play with in detail: http://memory.loc.gov/gmd/gmd386/g3861/g3861e/cw0013200.jp2

    I think Tufte might have appreciated this map, too. It displays a lot of information about the central issue of the war in a very simple, intuitive fashion.

    And as someone with ancestors from the South, I find it an interesting resource to use when researching and thinking about the various southern lines of my family, the counties they lived in, and their likely relationship to slave and/or plantation economics, the war, race and related issues in the following decades.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 10, 2012 at 8:50 am

      That’s a great example. The zoomable version is here. Warning: hideously clunky user interface.

      • the59king said, on May 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm

        Great map. Agreed about the shortcomings of the LoC zoom view — they could modernize their interface quite a bit… but I’m inclined to forgive them almost any trespass because of the fantastic service they provide. Went ahead and made a zoom.it version, as well as a downloadable version, for the benefit of your readers:

        zoom.it zoomable interface:

        http://www.zoom.it/kfKm#full

        7mb Downloadable JPEG:

        Kind regards,
        —t59k

  5. the59king said, on May 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the insight and analysis on the map; very much appreciated. I’ve added a back-link on the page itself so that others may learn from it as well. Glad to learn of your blog; edifying material. Feel free to peruse the other BMB CW maps by using the tag “U.S. Civil War” ( http://www.bigmapblog.com/tag/civil-war/ ) if you’re inclined.

    Kind regards,
    —t59k


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