“My Kingdom for a Map”

An interesting piece showing the influence of terrain and quality maps on a battle, using Ball’s Bluff as an example.  Much is made over Stonewall’s foot cavalry, but I wonder if his mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss, is deserving of more credit than he gets.  Stonewall’s famous 10′ map of the valley would’ve allowed him to manoeuver with more skill and confidence than any of his less cartographically-gifted opponents.

Hindsight can hardly capture the dynamic of the chaos at Ball’s Bluff. But the historian Richard F. Miller has emphasized the absence of maps as contributing to the outcome. Had Stone known more of the difficult topography, perhaps he wouldn’t have sent across anything more than reconnaissance units across the river. Union troops had occupied Harrison’s Island — directly across from Ball’s Bluff — since Oct. 4, long enough to map the region, or at least to recognize the daunting obstacles that lay across the river. And in sending the initial reconnaissance patrol, Stone might have been seeking to improve knowledge of the area…

Sneden’s beautiful map of Ball’s Bluff was drawn a few weeks after the battle, and includes some errors such as the identification of the 40th Massachusetts, which was not there. But notice how he emphasizes the terrain, and thus vividly conveys the sense that Union forces were trapped not just by the Confederates, but by the landscape itself. Yet the terrain took on importance only because of the battle, and especially its outcome. It speaks volumes that the Union dubbed this the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, while Southerners termed it the Battle of Leesburg. For the Federals, the bluff was the battle.

via My Kingdom for a Map – NYTimes.com.

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