Mapping the Civil War: Antietam and South Mountain

The Cartographic Branch holds many maps relating to Civil War battlefields. Today we’re highlighting some maps relating to the battles of Antietam and South Mountain. The battle of South Mountain took place just east of Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 14, 1862, only days before the larger and better known battle of Antietam. At South Mountain, Northern troops pushed their way through three mountain gaps blocked by Confederates, resulting in a Union victory. However, the fight at South Mountain allowed valuable time for the Confederate Army, which was split into two sections, to reunite and strengthen its position along and near Antietam Creek.

Map of Antietam Battlefield. RG 77, CWMF, G443, vol. 9, pg. 10

The battle of Antietam is remembered as bloodiest single day in American history. By the end of September 17, 1862, after twelve hours of intense fighting, over 23,000 soldiers were dead, wounded, captured, or missing. Both armies remained in position after the fighting subsided. Although most historians view the battle as a draw, Confederate forces retreated from the battlefield on the night of September 18, allowing the Union Army to claim victory. President Abraham Lincoln used this Union victory as an opportunity to issue a preliminary version of his Emancipation Proclamation, a document which altered the purpose of the war from just preserving to Union to also include ending slavery.

Many of the Cartographic Branch’s Civil War maps, including those focusing on Antietam and South Mountain, can be found within various series of Record Group (RG) 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers. Battle maps can be found with the Civil Works Map File (CWMF) series. The maps within the CWMF series are filed according to the agency’s filing scheme. Maryland maps are mainly filed under the letter “F.”  This includes several maps of the Antietam battlefield that were annotated from information obtained from commanding officers to show battle lines, locations of regiments and artillery, and headquarters.

RG 77, CWMF, F73(1) (NAID: 109182775). Annotated map of Antietam Battlefield.
RG 77, CWMF, F73(4) (NAID: 109182781). Annotated map of Antietam Battlefield.
Reconnaissance map of the ground occupied by General Hooker’s First Corps at Antietam. RG 77, CWMF, F73(5) (NAID: 109182783).

Civil War battlefield maps can also be found within the War Department Map Collection (WDMC)  of RG 77. Some of these maps were prepared after the Civil War, often for the preservation and development of Civil War battlefield parks. The map below was created for the Antietam Battlefield Board in the 1890s. It shows important battlefield landmarks like “Bloody Lane” and also shows wartime residents, tree cover, and land use at the time of the battle.

Post-war map of Antietam Battlefield. RG 77, WDMC, 24 -MD (NAID: 109182881). 

Another map is from a post-Civil War publication and was colored to show Union and Confederate positions and the location of artillery pieces during the battle.

Map showing troop and artillery locations at Antietam. RG 77, WDMC, 33 – MD (NAID: 109182883). 

Many Civil War maps can also be found in the Colonel W.H. Paine Collection of Civil War Maps. Paine, who served with the Union Army of the Potomac during the C, drafted and annotated many maps, especially for battles in Virginia. He also worked on or collected several maps relating to the battles of Antietam, South Mountain, and Gettysburg. We highlight one map below of the South Mountain Battlefield.

South Mountain Battlefield. Paine Collection, A-7-9 (NAID: 84785906).

To view additional maps related to the battles of Antietam, South Mountain, and many others, try searching our catalog to view digitized items or plan a visit in person to the Cartographic Research Room in College Park, Maryland.

For additional information about Civil War Maps at the National Archives, see A Guide to Civil War Maps in the National Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1986).

13 thoughts on “Mapping the Civil War: Antietam and South Mountain

  1. I’m into Civil War History and I bought a Map Book of all the Battles from 1861-1865 and very detailed and very expensive Book. I have learned a lot from this book plus I have a map that is so old that the paper turned rust color and very stiff never was wet.

  2. Excellent post, Brandi. I had an ancestor, John McAnear, who was shot in the stomach at the bloody lane and somehow survived a wagon ride to Richmond and a year in the hospital there.

    Just wondering if we could have a separate link on our website for Civil War maps, without having to search the catalog?

    1. Great suggestion! Cartographic is hoping to add subject pages on the National Archives website in the future for records such as Civil War maps to make them easier to locate, especially since Civil War maps are scattered throughout many record groups.

  3. It amazes me, the skill the cartographers had, with no satellite images to aid them. How soon after a battle would maps like these be drawn up?

    1. It should be mentioned that none of these maps were available to commanders during the battle, except perhaps F73(5), which is hand drawn. Most commanders had to rely on crude sketches of main features, local guides to the area, or no maps at all. The detailed, colorized maps were prepared long after the action as a historical record of the battle.

    2. As Jim K. mentioned, most of maps included in this post would have likely been created after the battle. Some of the maps featured in this post were created long after the war, like RG 77, WDMC, 24 -MD, which wasn’t produced until the 1890s. Others were likely to have been created or annotated much closer to the date of the battle, probably in the weeks and months following the battle to record information for formal reports.

  4. Love these old maps. Especially the ones that also show landowners name. This was a tad west of where my ancestors lived, but I did have a 3rd great uncle, PVT Warnel Cross, who was with the Maryland 5th Company D. He was injured on the 17th and apparently recovered from his wounds. Sadly, he passed away in 1864 from disease while at Pea Patch Island Fort Delaware as part of the garrison.

      1. Have been there. I live about 20 minutes away. You can take the boat from Delaware City to the island and then take one to the New Jersey side and visit Finns Point National Cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried. They were originally interred on the island but moved at some point later.

  5. I love your blog! Civil War maps are fascinating. I have about five or six Civil War atlases in my Library collection, including one with vintage maps.

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