Friday, February 23, 2007

"Make me a map of the Valley" (as a pdf I can view on my iPhone)

In the comments section of one of the other Civil War blogsI've forgotten how to find my way back to itDrew 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 rememberancient 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 Savasanother map aficionadoand 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 allacquisitions, 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 dessertthe 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 officehe 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 timesas 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 battlemaking 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 actionsometimes multiple daysin 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 quarterlysometimes "freelance"a thankless job (sometimes literally a thankless jobI 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 againnot 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 freefor exposure in the university press worldso 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 draftsthings 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.


DW@CWBA said...

Great post, David! I am formatting an interview with Ted on the subject right now for a post. Interesting stuff. In preparation, I went back and flipped through all the books to look at the maps you guys created. Maps are always my 'first look' when I crack a CW book open, and I am instantly put in a bad mood toward it when they come up short (an all too frequent occurrence, and esp. galling when the text is otherwise excellent).

The first time I really noticed you and Ted as mapmakers--btw, I am glad to see more books explicitly show the name of the cartographer within or beside the map--, was the map of Yellow Bayou in Brooksher's RR Campaign book, published by Brassey's IIRC. All the other maps are dull, useless things then you get to the end of the book and suddenly there is this wonderful map of the battle, by far the best visualization of the battle to date.

Thanks for answering my question about software!


TPS said...

A soulless Window's machine? LOL

Ok, I am in a mood of levity. Looking back, I remember when we were working on that Vicksburg issue and you brought over a long loaf of bread with bits of dried ham in it (can't recall the name, but it was my favorite). We had the loaf on a small table in my library, and Thia (my Shepard-Rottweiler) grabbed it, and David and I sent 10 minutes chasing her around the house trying to get it back.

Thanks for this write-up David. Brought back a lot of good memories.


Anonymous said...

I also am a map junkie. Recently I found some full resolution US aeronautical sectional maps online which gives another viewpoint, compared to say the digital raster graphics. But my quest is to get maps usable with GIS software. This provides for a much richer experience (at least IMHO). Of course, to be usable in a GIS, a map has to be consistently projected and scaled. To that end I have been experimenting with some of the LOC maps. They have been a challenge to get georectified without creating a lot of distortion. But once that is done, then orthophotos or other layers can be added to help understand things like terrain. Information such as unit positions can be added as vector layers. I prefer shapefile format, since this is a defacto standard. But none of the GIS software I have used does a good job of handling time-series data, such as in following a campaign or battle. What I would envision is a system which explicitly exposed a timeline, and would display overlays based on time. This site : has been around a long time, and I don't think it has been updated in years, but provides some ideas of what can be done. Unfotunately, it doesn't make any data available for download which limits the usefulness since you are forced to view it in the creator's terms.

scott s.

dw said...


Thanks for the comments. I'll watch for your interview with Ted. He did some nice Red River campaign maps for CWR, which must be where that Yellow Bayou one comes from.

For many publishers and authors, the maps seem to be an afterthought, or something that they round up as gratuitous filler. That has always mystified me.


dw said...


Good to hear from you. I listened to your session on Civil War Radio the other day -- nicely done.

I remember Thia nabbing our bread, and the ensuing crisis. Can't really blame her though -- if you bake meat into bread, you're just asking for it.

That would have been bread from Tassajara, or from Acme Bakery in Berkeley, since they had those at the store I used to stop at on my way down to your place.


dw said...


Thanks for the interesting comments. On the technical front, you're way over my head, but I'm glad you're on the job, and playing around with ways to enhance views. What you described sounds pretty cool, where you could see the terrain with sequential troop overlays, following a campaign or battle timeline.

I checked out the Georgia Tech site you listed -- very interesting!

Is this Scott from the Islands?


Anonymous said...

David -

I have greatly enjoyed your blog - and especially your comments here about that great CWR Vicksburg issue! As the author of the 22nd Iowa piece, I'm proud of how it turned out, and I'd have to say the maps may be the best damn thing about the article.

Right now, I'm editing for publication the never-published regimental history, written by the 22nd's adjutant many years after the war - you think you and Ted might let me borrow a map or two? :-)


dw said...


Sorry for the slow reply. It's good to hear from you! Your article on the 22nd Iowa was always among my favorites. We felt fortunate to have it available for that Vicksburg issue. I'm glad to hear you're working on a book-length project for that regiment -- I look forward to seeing it in print.

If Ted can't help you with maps for that, let me know and I'll fix you up with something for old time's sake.


Anonymous said...


I read with interest and sympathy your post from about a year ago about 'black confederates fighting alongside white troops.'

I have some related questions:

1. Would it be correct to assume that most of the black men with confederate armies were slaves and that the army had paid their masters for their services?

2. If I'm reading about the number of troops in a given confederate army, is it likely that the estimate includes any slave labor working in support roles as teamsters, cooks, personal servants, etc.? For that matter, would free blacks have been included in such troop tallies?

3. In Northern armies, weren't those roles generally undertaken by people in the service, counted on muster rolls and included in head counts of the army as a whole?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi David,
Great post! You touched on 2 of my 3 passions...battlefields & maps (motorcycling being the 3rd). You could have written a post 25 times longer and I would have devoured it with the same enthusiasm.
You should consider a book about the topic. Thanks for the blogging.

Anonymous said...

By the way, have you seen the website Maps of War?
I think they are the future of online battlefield mapping, as they remove the time-capture issue you discussed.
Imagine a java script that moves the map along with the pace of the narrative in a side-bar, highlighting specific unit actions and commanders locations, etc. Add these types of features with Google Earth and GPS positioning and future generations will look at our current maps as ancient art, rather than practical intruments of war.

dw said...

Thanks for the kind words, Battlefield Biker. I agree, the future of map technology is pretty exciting -- and it's unfolding as we speak. Thanks, too, for the tip about the Maps of War site -- I'll have a look at that. I'll check out your blog as well.


dw said...


Sorry I forgot to reply to your message. You posted three questions -- my answers follow in brackets:

1. Would it be correct to assume that most of the black men with confederate armies were slaves and that the army had paid their masters for their services?

[Yes, they were slaves impressed into service, with compensation paid to the owners for the most part.]

2. If I'm reading about the number of troops in a given confederate army, is it likely that the estimate includes any slave labor working in support roles as teamsters, cooks, personal servants, etc.? For that matter, would free blacks have been included in such troop tallies?

[Troop strengths never included any slaves attached to the armies. They often, especially on the CS side, didn't even count all the white soldiers. There were many convoluted ways to arrive at "effective strength" that might not include all present. But slaves would never be counted as troops.]

3. In Northern armies, weren't those roles generally undertaken by people in the service, counted on muster rolls and included in head counts of the army as a whole?

[Yes, and they could also be put into line in combat roles, unlike slaves. And, of course, most of them volunteered for service. But the Federal Army also increasingly employed "contrabands" for labor as more southern territory was seized, and more slaves fled to Union lines.]

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the answers to my questions. The tendentiousness was because I was in the midst of Foote's history, and grew tired of hearing of plucky rebels inflicting immense casualties against forces of vastly superior numbers, and wondered if there might be other ways to add up the numbers.

I also note that in the end, he gave 4-year casualty figures that are not what you'd guess after reading his history -- you'd think the North had pushed far more soldiers into the meat-grinder, but he gives battlefield death figures that are only about 15% higher for North than for Confederacy.

I can well imagine that different armies had different ways of counting "effectives" and "present for duty" and "aggregate present" and all the rest. Just seems like assessing them and attempting to control for this factor would be one of the key tasks of a good military historian of the Civil War.

But then, I'm reading an author who was still writing about 'Southern' opinion as if the opinions of blacks didn't matter to the question. Until we have a historiography of this war that doesn't use Southern as a synonym for Confederate, we'll never have an honest history.

It's just too weird to read what "Mississippi" thought or what Tennesseans hoped when you know that roughly half the residents of these states wanted the other side to win. Hard to understand how people could write such gorgeous prose when their thought process was clouded by such gunk.

dw said...



Responding to some of your comments:

While it's true that Union armies held significant numerical advantages overall, and in specific campaigns or battles, the "against overwhelming odds" motif used as a rationale for southern defeat, begins to wear thin under scrutiny. Lee got the ball rolling with his farewell address to the ANV, and the UDC is still running with it. At Appomattox recently, I saw the UDC plaque that originally was attached to the Courthouse (if memory serves), and is now mounted on a stand out by the Confederate cemetery. It is emblematic of the phenomenon you're complaining of. I don't remember the specific numbers, but it painted a picture of Lee's army down to a few thousand in total, up against over 100,000 Federals (as if Grant had managed to get every Union soldier from Petersburg and City Point astride Lee's route at Appomattox). Park historians point to it now as a relic of the Lost Cause movement.

The Confederacy had enough troops to win the war, had things unfolded differently. Not to mention the fact that an invading army attacking a defender in entrenched positions would require a good deal more troops to get the job done.

On counting "effectives," and "present for duty," Richard McMurry wrote an interesting article examining Joe Johnston's figures for the Army of Tennessee just before the start of Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. Suffice it to say that McMurry convincingly closed the gap. Sherman definitely outnumbered Johnston at the start, but not by the numbers Johnston outlined. And you're exactly right -- a good military historian should account for the different ways troop strengths were tallied.

And I know what you mean about the exclusion of black people for references to "the South," and what the people of the South thought about a given topic. As you mentioned, some states (MS and SC) had more black people than white people, and a large percentage of the 4,000,000 Civil War-era slaves in the South had roots in America dating back to the first century of colonization, some probably even back to the earliest Virginia settlements. No one polled the slaves on the great issues of the day, but they certainly counted them when it came time to apportion representation in Congress.


Anonymous said...

This post was great. Mr. Woodbury I would like to communicate to you privately concerning map making for the Civil War. I am in search of a map maker for an upcoming book on the war.

Thank you sir,