The planning and prosecution of military operations depend to a large degree on a knowledge of geography and topography. In the case of the American Civil War, which ranged over a vast expanse of territory, cartography played a significant role in the formulation of strategy and tactics. Evidence of this appears in the wartime and postwar writings of the war's participants, and more concretely in the enormous corpus of maps created in direct response to military needs. Not only did maps provide essential intelligence, they also recorded victories and defeats. Official mapping agencies, military personnel in the field, commercial cartographic firms, and newspapers and periodicals all contributed to the war's cartography. As a result of their efforts, the numbers of maps produced far exceeded those of all previous American wars combined.
At the beginning of the war, neither Union nor Confederate commanders had detailed maps of the interior South available to them. Although less apparent in 1861, the Federal government held a decided advantage in maps, along with most other types of war materiel. Since early in the nineteenth century, the Corps of Topographical Engineers and the civilian U.S. Coast Survey had been mapping westward expansion and internal improvements. They now devoted themselves to supplying Union armies and by war's end had generated thousands of maps. In contrast, the Confederate government had no mapping agency. Not until June 1862 did the Department of Northern Virginia's Engineering Bureau establish a map reproduction office in Richmond. Eventually Confederate map production increased, but throughout the war, the burden of mapping fell to topographers attached to armies in the field.
The study of Civil War cartography serves two primary purposes: maps un-