The Civil War Connections Blog

The Lay of the Land: A Topographer’s View of the Civil War

A while ago, I introduced you to some Civil War photographers in an attempt to demonstrate the importance of those who served their country in a capacity other than that of a general or conventional soldier.  As the Union clashed with the Confederacy, one did not have to pick up a gun to aid in the war effort.  In the case of Jedediah Hotchkiss, a sketch book, some pencils, and an eclectic intellect were enough.  Throughout his life, Hotchkiss dabbled in botany, geology, topography, and mining, evolving nearly all into careers at one point or another.   Though he was a native of Windsor, Broome County, NY, Hotchkiss moved to the Shenandoah Valley at the age of nineteen where he would gain experience as a school teacher; one of the many trades that he would explore again later in life.  However, Hotchkiss remained unaware that the work he would complete to augment his teaching salary would lead to a prominent and respected role in the Confederate army.  Without training in cartography, Hotchkiss began to make maps while serving as a “mining geologist” in the late 1840s and ‘50s.[i]

File:Jedediah Hotchkiss.jpg

Jedediah Hotchkiss, 1897. Library of Congress

In 1861, Hotchkiss was forced to close Loch Willow Academy, the small school that he started in Churchville, VA, in exchange for a wartime career.  Initially under the command of General Robert Garnett, Hotchkiss carried out an invaluable trade which could literally guide armies to victory or render them helpless in unknown wilderness.  In the 1860s, the roads and fields of Virginia were not covered in street signs or searchable on Yahoo Maps.  The orientation of an army depended heavily on cartographers, topographers, and local soldiers who could discern the difference between a valuable path and an insurmountable route.  However, fame would not find Hotchkiss until he was transferred under the command of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in 1862.  By mapping out the Shenandoah Valley, Hotchkiss provided essential information to aid Jackson’s Valley Campaign (parts of which, including the Battle of Front Royale, have recently been discussed in previous blog posts).  Jackson’s “foot cavalry” would not have been able to maneuver themselves as swiftly and effectively as they did without the knowledge of the terrain that Hotchkiss provided.[ii]

Maps illustrating campaign of Gen. T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. 1862. Library of Congress

Until his death in 1899, Hotchkiss continued to exercise his skills as a teacher, topographer, and mining engineer in Staunton, VA.  His maps that had been so essential to the Confederate war effort became instruments used to teach the public and generations to come of infamous military events including Jackson’s campaign in 1862, the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Jubal Early’s attack at Cedar’s Creek.  Now, historians can use Hotchkiss’ work to see the battlefields as major Confederate generals saw them.  Just as a sculpting tool can shed light on the crafting of a Native American clay pot, a map can aid in the understanding of Confederate troop movements or the outcome of a battle.  In this post I have included links to some of Hotchkiss’ maps as well as his sketchbook (just click on the images).  I strongly encourage you to explore the entries that Hotchkiss penciled while on horseback and appreciate the intricacies of the land that he was charged to document.  Happy searching!

Sketch book of Jed. Hotchkiss, Capt. & Top. Eng., Hd. Qrs., 2nd Corps, Army of N. Virginia. Library of Congress


[i] Clara LeGear.”The Hotchkiss Collection of Confederate Maps.” Reproduced from Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions 6 (November 1948): 16-20; “Jedediah Hotchkiss,” Civil War Trust Online.  Web.  31 May 2012. <http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jedediah-hotchkiss.html>.

 

[ii] “Jedediah Hotchkiss,” Civil War Trust Online.  Web.  31 May 2012. <http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jedediah-hotchkiss.html>.