Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Albert H. Campbell and the Mapping of Virginia

Recently I've been browsing Civil War maps of Virginia on the Library of Congress's American Memory website. In particular I've spent time studying an 1864 Confederate map of my new home county - Albemarle. The map is a part of the Gilmer Map Collection, named for Jeremy Francis Gilmer, Chief of the Engineer Bureau of the Confederate War Department.

Map of Albemarle: Made under the direction of Maj. A.H. Campbell; Held in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society.

I'll be the first to admit I'm no map expert. I enjoy books that provide high quality, modern maps to help explain combat, but if you asked me to name as many Civil War mapmakers as I could, I probably would stop after Jedediah Hotchkiss. But I was impressed with the detail of the Albemarle County map, and I wanted to find out more about those who made it. I started with the information written directly on the map:
From surveys and reconnaisances by C.S. Dwight Lt Engrs P.A.
Made under direction of A.H. CAMPBELL Capt. Engrs. in charge of Top. Dept.
I decided to start by tracking down A.H. Campbell. I thought it would be easier than it turned out to be, though in the process I became acquainted with the fascinating story of Confederate efforts to map the seat of war in the east.

Census records indicate that Albert H. Campbell was born in Kanawha County, [West] Virginia sometime around 1826 or 1827. Both Campbell's parents were Yankee-born, Mason Campbell in New Hampshire, and Mary Chaddock Campbell in Massachusetts. The Campbells were living in Kanawha County by 1824, but by the 1850 Census Albert's parents had removed to Washington D.C., where Mason Campbell worked as a clerk.

Campbell graduated from Brown University in 1847, and by 1850 the young man was out west. He is credited as a civil engineer on maps of San Francisco Bay completed in 1850 under the direction of Cadwalader Ringgold. In 1853 and 1854 Campbell accompanied another expedition under Captain A.W. Whipple from Fort Smith, Arkansas, via Albuquerque, to San Pedro, California to survey a potential Pacific Railroad. Then, in 1854 and 1855, Campbell was part of Lieutenant John G. Parke's expedition from San Francisco Bay to Los Angelos, San Diego, and on to El Paso and San Antonio. By 1861, Campbell had quite the impressive resume, and was serving as the superintendent of the Pacific Wagon Roads Office in Washington. Clearly, Campbell had connections in the North and the South, but he sided with the Confederacy. With their pre-war army and War Department connections, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee would have been well aware of Campbell's talents at the start of the Civil War.

Campbell's role in Confederate map making appears to have begun immediately after Robert E. Lee's ascension to command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June of 1862. In the early campaigns of the war, maps used on both sides were woefully inaccurate, many based upon surveys completed in the 1820s at the behest of state legislatures. According to Campbell's own account in Century Magazine in 1888, Lee recognized his deficiency in maps immediately:
One of the first things that engaged General Lee's attention on taking command of the army was the organization of some plan for procuring accurate maps for his own use and that of his commanders. A few days after this event, on the 3d or 4th of June, the writer was sought by Major Walter H. Stevens, Chief Engineer of the army at that time, and Major Jasper S. Whiting, his associate, and was informed that they had been sent from headquarters by General Lee to find a suitable person to take charge of a topographical organization which he was desirous of having formed as soon as possible, and proceed to the field, as he found no maps of consequence on taking command of the army.
Campbell asked to have a previously-made request for an appointment as a captain of engineers expedited, and by June 6th he had his commission and began to organize field parties to survey and map the vicinity of Richmond. Eventually, he oversaw about thirteen parties in all, traveling across the countryside of northern and central Virginia, creating detailed surveys. By the end of the war, Campbell explained, his parties had mapped:
from the western part of Fauquier and Rappahannock counties to Wilmington, North Carolina; from the strategic lines on the eastward Piedmont region of Virginia; and down the valley of Virginia as far as the Potomac River in Jefferson and Berkeley counties; and in southwestern Virginia as far as Smythe county; and nearly all the counties south of James River east of Lynchburg unoccupied by the Federal forces.
The maps were done in incredible detail, and included not only significant geographic features and road networks, but also known fords, passes, and the houses and names of residents. The demand among Lee's officers for these maps was so great that eventually the Topographical Office created a process of utilizing photography to reproduce maps, so as to save time, effort and the cost of reproductions via tracings and lithographic prints.

Map of Louisa County, Virginia; held in the collection of the Virgina Historical Society.

After the war, Campbell became convinced that his maps had been lost to posterity during the fall of Richmond. He wrote that at about 10 p.m. on the night of April 2nd, 1865, "I placed in charge of an engineer officer and draughtsman, upon an archive train bound for Raleigh, North Carolina, a box or two containing all the original maps and other archives of my office." Campbell never learned the fate of these boxes. Luckily for modern researchers, the maps eventually turned up, and can be found in several archives, including the Virginia Historical Society. They were essential tools for Robert E. Lee and his officers during the war. They remain extremely valuable resources today for Civil War and 19th century historians, as well as genealogists.

Let me know if you can point me in the direction of more information on Major Campbell.

Sources Consulted
In addition to those sources linked to above, I also consulted a Library of Congress essay entitled History of Mapping the Civil War, reproduced from Richard W. Stephenson's Civil War Maps: An Annotated List of Maps and Atlases in the Library of Congress.

Personal info on Albert H. Campbell was also located in Through Indian Country to California: John P. Sherburne's Diary of the Whipple Expedition, 1853-1854, edited by Mary McDougall Gordon, and the Report upon United States Geographical surveys west of the one hundreth meridian, prepared by George Montague Wheeler, A.A. Humphreys, and Horatio G. Wright and published by the Government Printing Office in 1889.

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