Mapping our Future, Plotting our Past: Geo-referencing Historic Battlefield Maps April 20, 2015

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During and after the Civil War, a wide variety of maps were created depicting battlefield landscape features, troop movements, and other data. Maps by well-known Civil War era cartographers such as Jedediah Hotchkiss and G.L. Gillespie can help us learn more about today’s battlefield landscapes and how they may have changed since the time the battles were fought.

Despite the lack of modern survey equipment and GPS technology, the Civil War and post-war era battle maps hold an unmatched wealth of artistic yet accurate topographic, cultural, natural resource, and military detail. In 2008, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation undertook a project to align – or “geo-reference” – a series of historic maps with the modern landscape at ten of the Valley’s battlefields.

In a process that pulls or stretches a digital scan of the historic map, using control points to align specific points on the map with the modern landscape, the historic map can be manipulated to depict where on the modern landscape the historic features may exist. Examples of control points would be road intersections, historic homes or sites, railroad bridges and railroad crossings, and sometimes fence lines. After the control points have been identified and selected, the map is moved (shifted, rotated, and scaled as necessary) into place, thus aligning the features on the Civil War map with modern spatial data.

The project was funded through a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program and allows the Battlefields Foundation and its partners to better understand the Valley’s battlefield landscapes and make more informed decisions about how to preserve and steward them.

The maps may be viewed in compressed pdf format by clicking on one of the links below. Please contact the American Battefield Protection Program for clarification about the rights, restrictions, and distribution of the grant product.