Included in the Civil War display running through Tuesday at the McDuffie Museum is one of only a handful of known maps used by the Federal forces during their advance on Atlanta in 1864. The map on display is an actual map printed “in the field” July 25, 1864, by the Federal topographical engineers assigned to Gen. Sherman’s army.
This map, and other official documents and papers, were printed on large, heavy printing presses transported on wagons wherever the army went, over hill and dale and across streams and rivers. The greatest gap in the knowledge of the commanders of the War Between the States was geographical. Accurate maps of most inland or country areas were rare, and commanders often had to advance slowly, groping their way blindly. Thus, highly trained military surveyors and mapmakers, called topographical engineers, became indispensable to commanders in both armies.
In July of 1864, as Sherman’s army neared Atlanta, Federal topographical engineers prepared for the possibility of street fighting in the city. Using Edward Vincent’s Subdivision Map of Atlanta published in 1853 by the City Council of Atlanta, they prepared this map, a street plan clearly identifying the locations of military targets and other landmarks. Large buildings like warehouses and hotels were identified as possible sites for barracks or storage. Church steeples were noted as navigational points, and their sanctuaries could be used as hospitals. These maps were issued to the officers of the Union army to help navigate them around a city nearly all of them had never seen. It was a quite brilliant idea. If one group of men was in desperate need of help, a courier could ride to find that help and could easily identify on the map where it was needed.
The street fighting never came, but Atlanta suffered dearly anyway. The mayor of Atlanta turned the city over to Sherman, hoping his cooperation would save his “Gate City of the South.” It did not. Sherman’s troops looted the city, and destroyed private homes. Sherman ordered the forced evacuation of the entire population of Atlanta making thousands of women, children and the elderly homeless refugees. Maj. James T. Holmes of the 52nd Ohio wrote that the citizens were all leaving, and the homes were also leaving, piecemeal on the backs of the Union soldiers, on wagons, carts and old buggies. He said as soon as a house was vacated, a soldier came in with a rail, and burst off a board, and then it was goodbye house. A hundred soldiers would carry off windows, shutters, flooring and studs; all to be used to fix up quarters in the next camp.
Sherman ordered his men to burn the rail yard, the storage buildings and other major structures of military value. These are all labeled on the map as “A” through “F.” Churches, schools and hotels are labeled “1” through “20.”
Atlanta was ablaze.
Lewis Smith is the curator of The McDuffie Museum, 121 Main St., Thomson, where a Civil War exhibit continues through Tuesday.