Charleston Harbor at the Brink of War: Sketches from the RG 94, Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps Series

The Cartographic Branch holds a large collection of Civil War maps. Two series that often get overlooked are comprised of maps associated with the publication of the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. The first series consists of copies of the published maps, which are widely available. However, the real gem of the holdings is the Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps series from Record Group (RG) 94. This series includes an array of manuscript maps, annotated published maps, and published maps that were used to compile the published atlas. According to the Guide to Civil War Maps in the National Archives, this series is made up of maps that were “sent in with official records or reports of Union officers; manuscript maps sent in from personal collection of former Union and Confederate officers or from collections in local archives or historical societies; published maps with additions or corrections made by Union or Confederate officers; and published maps, many with editorial changes, compiled by Government agencies and commercial firms during and after the war” (5).

This series is arranged by the plate number associated with the corresponding published maps. Note that the manuscript collection is incomplete and does not include every map published in the atlas. To identify the plate number and see which battles or location may be included in the manuscript maps series, consult the index for the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Copies of the index can be viewed online and are also available in our research room.

Today, we are featuring some beautiful sketches from the Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps series showing Charleston Harbor’s features and fortifications, as seen from Fort Sumter during February and March of 1861. After South Carolina seceded in December 1860, Union forces abandoned Fort Moultrie for the relative safety of Fort Sumter, which, while unfinished, offered greater protection from the growing hostilities. South Carolina forces soon occupied Fort Moultrie, and also began constructing defensive works at various points around Charleston Harbor, including an abandoned fort on James Island (Fort Johnson) and Cumming’s Point. These defensive works could be seen by the Union soldiers stationed within Fort Sumter and are depicted in the series of drawings below. On the morning of April 12, 1861, tensions finally reached their breaking point. South Carolina batteries opened fire upon Union-held Fort Sumter, plunging the nation into civil war.

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Fort Moultrie, as seen from Fort Sumter, February 13, 1861. RG 94, Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps, Plate 1, Map 1.
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Fort Johnson, as seen from Fort Sumter, February 13, 1861. RG 94, Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps, Plate 1, Map 2.
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Morris Island and Cumming’s Point, as seen from Fort Sumter, February 13, 1861. RG 94, Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps, Plate 1, Map 3.
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Appearance of Batteries on Cumming’s Point, March 4, 1861. RG 94, Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps, Plate 2, Map 1.
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Sketch of Works East of Fort Johnson, as seen from Fort Sumter, March 16, 1861. RG 94, Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps, Plate 2, Map 2.
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Appearance of the Works at Cumming’s Point, February 19, 1861. RG 94, Civil War Manuscript Atlas Maps, Plate 2, Map 3.

We invite you to visit the Cartographic Research Room to request and view additional maps from the Civil War Atlas Manuscript Maps series!

For more information on Fort Sumter, see our previous post, Building Fort Sumter.

For more information on Civil War maps held by the Cartographic Branch, see A Guide to Civil War Maps in the National Archives.

Works Cited:

American Battlefield Trust. The Problem in Charleston Harbor. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/problem-charleston-harbor.

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