In the comments section of one of the other Civil War blogs—I've forgotten how to find my way back to it—Drew Wagenhoffer posted a note expressing his curiosity about what software people use for maps (or something to that effect). Maps and map-making are subjects dear to my heart, and I have wanted to make a blog entry on the subject.
I have loved looking at maps for as long as I can remember—ancient maps of the known world, modern roadmaps, library floorplans, even those colorful fold-outs that show all the parts of an amusement park. New advances in digital technology, like Google Earth, excite me to no end. I don't know how people get by without at least one globe in the house, and a few maps on the wall. In the kitchen, we keep the nearly 5-1/2 ft. tall Raven map of California, which I enjoy scrutinizing over a bowl of Cheerios. If I ever find myself in a contest to name as many valleys of California as possible in 60 seconds, I'm ready.
And really, what's more fun than settling down with one of those giant National Geographic atlases, discovering mountain ranges and rivers you've never heard of? Doesn't matter how old you are, there's always one more corner of the world with geography so strange and unfamiliar, it's as if you're seeing it for the first time. And maybe you are. Spend a few minutes studying the southern coastline of Chile sometime. How old were you before you noticed Novaya Zemlya on a map, separating the Barents Sea from the Kara? Cold Warriors may know of the nuclear detonations there.
But I digress. When Ted Savas—another map aficionado—and I commenced publishing Civil War Regiments, we were determined to support the articles with plenty of maps. It drove us nuts that long, complicated military narratives lacked maps altogether, or else had maps so useless, you wonder why the publisher bothered. Desktop publishing was pretty much in its infancy when we started out, and yet the transformation in publishing (digital straight-to-plate, electronic transmissions of pages) was well underway. With a handful of friends and family, we did it all—acquisitions, editing, design, typesetting, marketing, order fulfillment. It was only natural that we create the maps as well.
Farming out the cartography was not affordable, or reliable. Besides, it was the funnest part of the job. By the time we drafted the maps, we were thoroughly immersed in the article and its sources, and well positioned to tailor specific scenes to augment the narrative. Drafting the maps was the dessert—the reward for weeks of tedious copyediting, proofing, layout. Saved for last, it was very satisfying way to put an issue to bed.
We would start with blank screens, and start building something over untold hours and days. We showed each other drafts along the way, made suggestions, tweaked and tweaked, and sometimes tossed it out and started over. From the start, Ted and I had a multi-platform office—he on his tragically soul-less Windows machine, using Corel Draw (I think, initially), and me on my trusty Mac, using Adobe Illustrator. Over time, we developed distinct styles, and while the maps in an overall issue might look stylistically inconsistent to someone flipping through, they remained consistent within the articles themselves (Ted handled all CSA articles, and I did the USA ones).
As we became more proficient with the software, we got a little fancy at times—as cocky cartographers are wont to do. But in time, we settled into styles that emphasized clarity and readability over bells and whistles (most maps one saw in Civil War books then were useful and perfectly serviceable drawings by people like Blake Magner, George Schoch; later, some other, talented electronic map makers, like Mark A. Moore, arrived on the scene). Ted and I each devised our own way to depict elevations, woods, artillery, and so on. I favor using varying levels of gray scale to set off elevations, for example.
Many times, we worked from an author's hand-drawn map or crude photocopies, but usually we created something from scratch, referring to the O.R. Atlas for landmarks, and scale, and drawing on the text, and our own reading to get the action right. Often, the author's research meant depicting troop locations, and troop movements in a way that was at odds with published maps of the same battle—making our maps among the first to show it in what we became persuaded was the correct alignment. It was a blast trying to corroborate this information, comparing after-action reports, working up the map scale, discovering what was possible, and what could not have been.
My own favorites from the CWR days involved the Vicksburg issue, with Sherman's assault on the Stockade Redan, and the attack on the Railroad Redoubt, when the 22nd Iowa punctured the line.
It's an amazing experience to draw a map of a place, spending hours reading about the particulars, the descriptions of it by men who were there, studying modern photographs, until you can see it in your mind's eye as if it were the topography of your own backyard, though you've never visited the actual site. Then, on your first visit to the place, how odd it is to feel a wave of recognition. Deja vu all over again, as the great Yogi Berra said.
Also fascinating is the challenge of finding ways to depict lots of action—sometimes multiple days—in a small amount of space. Or, choosing a moment in time to capture the heart of a complex action in a two dimensional drawing. This latter problem led me to habitually add little narrative passages to the map itself, or to use insets to zoom in on something (see Cold Harbor to Petersburg map below). In the map at top, I was tasked with depicting four major battles around Atlanta in a single map that was alloted one-half of a page. It's busy, but somehow it works (Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference).
Both Ted and I went on to do maps for books in addition to the quarterly—sometimes "freelance"—a thankless job (sometimes literally a thankless job—I was recruited by one author to do some maps for his Civil War installment in the University Press of Kansas' Modern War Studies series, about 9 years ago. I spent whole weekends on three difficult maps, got them to the publisher on deadline, and never heard from the up-and-coming professor again—not even in response to my email informing him that they were delivered. Eventually the book came out. No mention of maps in the acknowledgments, no credit lines on the maps themselves. No simple "thank you" by email. I had offered to do them for free—for exposure in the university press world—so wasn't looking for payment. Just courtesy. I had to write to the publisher to get a copy of the book. This kind of thing is exceptional, but as you can see, little rudenesses like that are not easily forgotten).
The highlights of my own map making days have to be the 27 or so maps I did for a theme issue of the old Civil War magazine, all depicting action from Fortress Monroe to Richmond in McClellan's 1862 Peninsula Campaign. More recently, I did all 30 or so maps for The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, each of which was reviewed by Richard Sommers and Ed Bearss. It's astonishing what little details and subtle errors those two men marked on the drafts—things like moving one division behind another, redirecting a creek bed, relocating a critical road intersection, etc.
Maps can be notoriously problematic in the manufacturing stages, and a lot of trial and error goes into ensuring that different levels of gray are distinguishable (rather than all black, or all washed out), that thin lines are not too thin for the press, and so on. But it's a lot easier now that you can lock in a perfect pdf that will allow for those kinds of variances in the printing plant.
Here's a few more: click on the image to see it enlarged.