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Collection Connections

Civil War Maps

U.S. HistoryCritical ThinkingArts & Humanities

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Go directly to the collection, Civil War Maps, in American Memory, or view a Summary of Resources related to the collection.

Civil War Maps provides students the unique opportunity to develop their historical thinking skills using reproductions of original maps from the Civil War era. Using these artifacts, students can study the course of the war, and research the careers of particular soldiers. By assuming the role of a soldier, students can gain a comprehension of the time period and learn to analyze and interpret maps. Finally, they may also practice issue-analysis and decision-making by examining a map as propaganda, and considering the role of the press during war-time.

Chronological Thinking

Students can use Civil War Maps to chart the course of the American Civil War. Have them begin by reading the Time Line of The Civil War in the collection Civil War Photographs. Students can then search Civil War Maps by battle name or location. They can note whether the maps they retrieve were created by Union or Confederate forces and what information about the battle is included.

Caption Below
Map of the rebellion, as it was in 1861 and as it is in 1864.
By searching the collection on regional names, such as Northeastern States, Southern States, or Middle West, students can find maps of larger geographic areas. From a printed copy of one or several of these maps, the students can chart the progress of the war. They can label battle locations and their dates. Using several copies of the same map, students can also document which land was under whose authority at different points in the war. They can begin with the succession of southern states through to the end of the war. Shading with colored pencils can indicate who controlled which areas.

Historical Comprehension

From Civil War Maps students can gain an historical comprehension of what life in America was like in the 1860s. For example, students can search on battlefield or the names of battles and see where the battles were fought. They can look at roadways and deduce that traveling by foot or by horse were the common means of transportation. They can also search on railroad to see how trains may have aided in the transport of goods. Even the means of drafting the maps - by hand with pen or pencil -indicate the printing techniques available.

From these maps students also have the opportunity to comprehend what the typical soldier encountered during the Civil War. What types of fortifications are indicated on the maps? What was the climate for the regions where most fighting occurred? Were soldiers able to shoot from behind trees in forests? Or were there battles out in open fields? What buildings would a soldier find if his troop entered a town?
Caption Below
Map of the battlefield of Perryville, Ky., 1877.

To further their comprehension of life at this time period, students can browse the photographs in Civil War Photographs looking for evidence of clothing worn and technology available. They can also search on Civil War in the following text-based collections for related narratives and then search in Civil War Maps on the names of towns and battles discussed in these narratives.

African-American Experience in Ohio
Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920
Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910
Recovered Notebooks from the Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

In many cases the battles of the Civil War were fought by men unfamiliar with the area of the country in which they were fighting. Have students search the map collection on Gettysburg to find maps of this battle. They can then assume the role of a soldier who has never encountered this part of the country before. What can the students learn about the region from the map?

Add to the story by telling the students they are equipped with a gun and a sword. Where might they position themselves on the battlefield, given the opportunity? If their gun failed, where would they move to? What if they were then wounded? Is there a place for them to hide from the enemy?

Caption Below
Field of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2nd & 3rd, 1863.

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision Making

Propaganda is a tool used to persuade citizens to the author's point-of-view. The material is designed to have a psychological impact on the viewer. Students can study commercial publisher J. B. Elliott's map entitled Scott's great snake. Published in 1861, this map is a cartoon depiction of Gen. Winfield Scott's plan to defeat the South both economically and militarily - a plan the press ridiculed as the "Anaconda Plan."

Caption Below
Scott's great snake, 1861.

Students can use this map as an example of one person's point-of-view on the course of the Civil War. After first reading outside resources describing Gen. Scott's intended course of action, students can determine what opinion this cartographer's map represents. Who was the cartographer trying to influence with this map?

Have students continue their research to determine what course of action Gen. Scott pursued and how this might have influenced the outcome of the war.

Continue this discussion with the students by having them consider what obligation they believe a newspaper might have to support the defenders of the nation? What is gained by periodicals publishing critiques such as Elliott's? What risks does a nation face in being critical of their own military forces, particularly during war?

Historical Research Capabilities

Included in Civil War Maps are some of the maps used by Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Thomas J. Jackson, also known as "Stonewall" Jackson. Students can increase their historic research capabilities by researching the career or a particular battle of one of these prominent Civil War figures.

After doing this background research, have students search the collection on the name of one general or the name of one of their famous battles. Referring to the relevant maps in the collection, students can see what information the Generals had at their disposal during particular battles. They can also search for maps that might have been used by the general's opponents in the same battle.

Caption Below
War maps and diagrams, 1861.
This map is labeled: " Official plan of the forts at Hilton Head and Bay Point, Port Royal Harbor, S.C., showing one position of the naval vessels during the action of November 7, 1861." On that day, Captain Samuel F. Dupont's warships silenced Confederate guns in Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard. This victory enabled General Thomas W. Sherman's troops to occupy first Port Royal and then all the famous Sea Islands of South Carolina.

For further historic research, students can search on the same topics in the collection Civil War Photographs.

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Last updated 09/26/2002