Exploring the Civil War through historic maps

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Just where were the Battles of the Civil War fought? How about the Battles of the Atlanta Campaign, which began in spring 1864 in the Chattanooga area? What do those places look like now?

Atlanta campaign Wikipedia partial

Here’s a map showing the flow of Battles in southern portion of the Atlanta Campaign, cropped from this Wikipedia map. During the Atlanta Campaign, Union forces kept substantial pressure on Confederate forces, which kept dropping back to their stronghold in Atlanta. The map uses colors most modern Civil War map-makers use, with blue representing Union forces and red representing Confederate forces.

On its website, the Civil War Trust, online at civilwar.org, offers maps of battles and, most recently, new apps for the iPhone to assist visitors exploring battlefields at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg.

You can use the maps to discover where on the modern landscape soldiers established opposing lines.

Using Google Earth (free online here), you can overlay the Trust maps on the present landscape, and see where the Civil War battle lines were. (Using an historic map of downtown Atlanta, we discuss how to overlay an image in Google Earth here on this website).

Civilwar org Kolbs overlay GoogleEarth

Overlay of the Civil War Trust’s map of the Battle of Kolb’s Farm fitted to the current landscape using satellite images displayed using Google Earth.

The example above is of the Battle of Kolb’s Farm, which happened on 22 June 1864, in the week before the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, which happened on 27 June. The Kolb’s Farm area is at the south end of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, and about five miles south of
Kennesaw Mountain itself. Both Battles were part of the Atlanta Campaign, which began in spring 1864 in the Chattanooga area.

One illuminating step is to move beyond examining satellite views to check the topography. This is easily accomplished using Google Maps’ terrain view.

Kolbs Farm lines over G map terrain

Once you see the topography and the lines of entrenchment, you can see how they match the hills and creeks of the area. The Confederate forces, in red, are aligned on hills or ridges just south of a creek. Both lines cross Powder Springs Road, and between them is a lower-elevation area. This whole area is here on Google Maps.

Archaeologists often use historic maps as an aid in understanding what happened across the landscape. Find a map you’re interested in and overlay it on Google Earth and see what you discover!

In this story on this website, we also discussed SGA member Garrett Silliman’s research into the locations of surviving Civil War-period battle trenches north of Atlanta.