A monumental set of maps by John Bachelder depicting each day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.
Bachelder (1825-1894) was a painter, lithographer, photographer and historian. During the antebellum years he produced an important and appealing body of work depicting sites and cities in the northeastern United States. Immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, which ran from July 1-3, 1863, he traveled to the site and spent nearly three months traversing the field, making sketches, and interviewing eyewitnesses. Later that year he published a spectacular and detailed bird’s-eye view of the battle, which condensed brilliantly the vast and complicated event to a single, understandable image.
Intellectually engaged by the challenge of reconstructing the complex events of those three days in July, and deeply committed to honoring the sacrifices of those who fought there, Bachelder spent the next 30 years researching the battle down to its most minute details. This entailed correspondence with hundreds of Union and Confederate officers and ultimately enabled him to produce a 2500-page manuscript account, as well as a number of remarkable maps and other images. He went on to become the preeminent 19th-century historian of the battle and for years served as director of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association.
Map of the Battle Field of Gettysburg
Offered here is a set of three sheet maps, depicting respectively the events of the first, second and third day of the battle, compiled by Bachelder and published in 1876 by the Army Corps of Engineers. Each sheet consists of an identical base map of the natural and man-made features of the battlefield, upon which are superimposed the troop positions and movements for that day, with the Union forces shown in blue and the Confederates in red (On this assembled set the background tints vary sheet to sheet, though the base topographic data is identical.) Stephenson describes the maps as follows:
“An extremely detailed topographic map with spot elevations and contours “given for every change of 4 feet in elevation.” Drainage, vegetation, roads, railroads, fences, houses with names of residents, and a detailed plan of the town of Gettysburg are shown. “Every object is represented here as near as possible as it was at the time of the battle.”
“A very minute analysis of the deployment of the various units of both armies, with the names of commanding officers, period of time spent in a particular position, and other pertinent information is given. Dotted lines and arrows indicate the movements of the troops, and the positions at various times of the day are shown by symbols explained in the legend.” (Civil War Maps, pp. 157-158)
The amount of detail and the economy with which it is presented are astonishing. The detail is such that a simple visual code is employed to differentiate each unit’s “first,” “intermediate,” and “evening” positions on a given day. Bachelder even went so far as to employ a simple alphabetical code to indicate for each building and fence whether it was constructed of wood, brick or stone!
The maps are unusual in being the product of a civilian-military collaboration: The base map was reduced from area surveys conducted by the Army’s Topographical Engineers in 1868-69, while the troop positions and movements were compiled by Bachelder “from the official reports, consultations on the field, private letters, and oral explanations of the officers of both armies.”
Bachelder’s maps are a tour de force of Civil War-era mapmaking, and it has become difficult to locate complete sets.
Grim & Block, Torn in Two, pp. 134-137 (illustrating plan of the First Day). Stephenson, Civil War Maps, #325.