A major manuscript map of the southern Virginia Peninsula

1st Lt. Charles H. [Karl Eberhart] Worret, MILITARY MAP of a part of the PENINSULA Dept. Va. Maj. Genl. J. A Dix Comdg. under Charge of Capt. W. Heine Topl. Eng. U. S. surveyed drawn, compiled & corrected by 1th Lieut. Charles Worret, 20th Regt. NY.V. Top. Eng. U. S. 1863. [Probably Fort Monroe, Virginia,] [Jan.-July,] 1863.
Map in pen, ink, and watercolors on heavy drafting paper, around which are pasted 6 watercolor views and 2 pen-and-ink sketches. The map: 19 ¾”h x 28 ¼”w at neat line. The whole: 23 ¾”h x 40 ¼”w at sheet edge. Professionally conserved and re-mounted on new linen.


A heretofore unknown, highly detailed manuscript map of the southern Virginia peninsula, evidently produced at the conclusion of the Peninsula Campaign. Pasted to the map are eight watercolors and pen and ink sketches by the mapmaker, four of which he has signed. In light of its high quality of execution and wealth of topographical, cultural and economic detail, we believe this to be both the best map of the Peninsula produced to date and the finest Civil War map to appear on the market in many years.

The map
The map was prepared by Lieut. Charles Worret of the 20th New York Regiment, Department of Virginia, shortly after the Peninsula Campaign of March-July 1862. During the bloody campaign General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac ultimately failed to take the Confederate capital at Richmond and strike a mortal blow to the Confederacy. The area shown on the map saw major battles at Yorktown and Williamsburg and was largely occupied by McClellan’s Army of the Potomac for the duration of the campaign.

The map depicts the eastern half of the Peninsula, as far west as the Chickahominy River and West Point at the headwaters of the York (The latter is shown beneath the vignette at upper left, which can be partially raised as a flap.) All or parts of Poquoson, Hampton, Newport News, York, Williamsburg, James City, Charles City and New Kent Counties are shown, including significant areas along the far shores of the York and James Rivers.

Worret does not identify his sources, but it seems most likely that the base map (or maps) were supplied by the U.S. Coast Survey, which by the 1850s had extensively charted the Chesapeake Bay region and mapped its coastlines. However the extraordinary level of detail, vastly superior to that of any published map extant at the time, confirms that Worret had conducted his own surveys and/or was drawing on the work of other topographical engineers assigned to the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. This overall approach is consistent with at least one other Worret map, a mammoth Military Map of a part of Eastn Virginia Department held in the Rumsey Collection (#5081). That map includes a note assigning credit to the U.S. Coast Survey for the “coastlines” and to several fellow officers for their surveys of roads in the region.

In compiling the map Worret seems to have attempted to incorporate all possible information of military value, most of which is not available on any printed map of the period.  The topography is carefully rendered, with hachuring for elevations, green watercolor indicating wooded areas and symbols for swamps and ravines. Various line widths differentiate “maine [sic] roads,” “good roads,” and “wood paths,” while symbols indicate farms, mills, churches, “cymetrys” [sic], factories &c. Of particular interest are the hundreds of named landowners, while the dwellings of the (freed?) black population are merely indicated by a tiny “N” for “Negroes.” The more directly military information is rendered with a similar attention to detail, with distinct symbols for forts, batteries, rifle pits and pickets. Union and Confederate positions are often indicated by the abbreviations “U.S.” and “R.F. (“Rebel Forces”) respectively. Finally, the ravages of war are indicated by symbols for farms that have been burnt (“b.F.”) or deserted (“des.”)

The views
The map is surrounded by eight ink and watercolor sketches depicting subjects relating to military operations during the Peninsula Campaign, all apparently based on direct observation. A few of the views relate to Norfolk and Portsmouth, just south of the area depicted on the map. Only four are signed, but all eight are clearly Worret’s work. They were executed on separate sheets of wove paper and were pasted to the view at an early date, presumably by Worret himself. The inclusion of these views lends extraordinary visual and historic interest to the map, and would have provided those consulting it with a more fully informed sense of key locations in the region.

Featured at top center is a view of the Battle of Hampton Roads, depicting the famous action between the ironclads USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (Merrimack) on the 9th of March, 1862. They are shown locked in contest near the mouth of Hampton Roads, with a large Confederate encampment visible on the shore in the background. Standing by, just off Sewell’s Point, are the CSS Yorktown and Jamestown, which had assisted the Virginia the previous day in her successful attacks on the USS Cumberland and Congress. The Union flotilla, identified here as “Schooners and store ships,” occupies the foreground, with a French man-of war in the middle ground. The man-made island known as Rip Raps, constructed by Union forces and outfitted with artillery, is seen on the left. A wood engraving based on this drawing, or one closely related to it, appeared in the Harper’s Weekly for April 12, 1862 (p. 237), credited to Worret. The view as published is somewhat more expansive than the drawing, which was trimmed so as not to obscure too much of the map when mounted.

The battle view is flanked by sketches of Confederate-built batteries at Pinner’s Point in Portsmouth and Sewell’s Point in Norfolk. A view of Pinner’s Point at upper left depicts a large, 11-gun battery as well as a smaller one nearby. A few scattered dwellings are shown, along with a dock extending some distance into the Elizabeth River. At upper right is a view of the Confederate fortifications at Sewell’s Point, at the mouth of Hampton Roads. The USS Monitor, an American flag waving on her stern, is shown in the waters off the point, identified as “1 Pivot G.B. Monitor.” Union naval forces shelled the Point battery on May 8, 1862. On the 9th, Lincoln ordered the Monitor, which had participated in the bombardment, to determine whether the battery was still manned. This sketch likely represents the Monitor carrying out Lincoln’s directive and finding the works abandoned.

Flanking the map are views of locations on the James River. At left a view of Kennon’s Marsh & Upper & Little Brandon depicts several gunboats cruising the waters near the well-known Brandon plantations, located on the southern bank of the James River above Jamestown. The plantation buildings and wharves are visible in the upper right. This sketch is positioned where the river terminates on the map and in fact depicts that very location, its clever placement thus providing the 19th-century equivalent of a “Google street view” of that part of the river.

Along the right side is a view of Jamestown Island. Numerous dwellings are depicted as well as various ships and sailboats in the waters around the island. Early in the War the Confederacy considered Jamestown a strong location for the forward defense of Richmond. Five earthen artillery batteries were constructed there in 1861, and at its peak it was occupied by a force of twelve hundred. This view shows the island under Union control following the retreat of Confederate forces from the region. Four schooners anchored off the island may represent Federal transport vessels known to have anchored there during the summer of 1862.

Below the map are three views of military installations in Norfolk. At the lower left is a view of Quarantin [sic] & Lambert’s Point at the mouths of the Lafayette and Elizabeth Rivers, showing batteries installed at both locations to defend the entrance to the Elizabeth River. Also depicted are various buildings, some clustered together and stockaded, as well as a few ships and sailing vessels. At lower center a view of Fort Norfolk shows the heavy stone construction of the fort proper and the roofs of several buildings located within, as well as earthworks and a few buildings outside the walls of the fort and three wharves at the river’s edge. Fort Norfolk was seized by the Confederacy shortly after Virginia seceded, was the home port of the CSS Virginia, and supplied her with munitions for the Battle of Hampton Roads. Following its evacuation on May 10, 1862, it served as a Union prison. Finally, at lower right is a view of the Hospital Point Battery, outfitted with some thirty guns, with Portsmouth and Norfolk rendered in some detail as well.

Of the eight views, that of the Battle of Hampton Roads appears to be the only one published. A thorough search of the Civil War issues of Harper’s Weekly yields no other illustrations based on Worret’s work. However, in 1862 Sachse published a large view of the Hampton Roads battle “drawn on the Spot by Charles Worret,” and the same year Casimir Bohn published a view of the Siege of Yorktown, also attributed to Worret. The publication of the Battle of Hampton Roads sketch in April of 1862 suggests that all of the sketches were drawn within the same year, likely in the weeks immediately following the establishment of Union control over the locations depicted.

Charles Worret
The title of the map states that it was “surveyed drawn, compiled & corrected” by 1st Lieutenant Charles Worret (1819-1878), a topographical engineer with the 20th New York Volunteer Regiment. Worret was born in Frankfurt and emigrated to New York, as Wooldridge points out, in the wake of the 1848 EuropeBRM2446 Worret portrait copyan uprisings. The 1860 census lists his profession as “actor.” He entered the Army in May 1861 for a two-year term along with other German volunteers, who formed their own regiment, the 20th New York Volunteers. He was immediately promoted to sergeant, then to 1st Lieutenant in October 1862, and was discharged on July 9, 1863. He did not become a citizen of the United States until September 29, 1864, over a year after being mustered out of service. His naturalization record describes him once again as an actor, resident on Lorimer Street in Brooklyn, though records of his acting career have not been forthcoming.

Although not a cartographer by profession, Worret’s body of work demonstrates that he had well-developed drafting and drawing skills, displayed here more fully than on any other of his known maps. No doubt on account of this talent, his service records indicate that from early on he was repeatedly detached to the Topographical Bureau of the Department of Virginia, based at Fort Monroe. His commanding officer, also named in the title, was General John Adams Dix (1798-1879), who was head of the Department of Virginia and later the Department of the East, though never a field commander. Worret presumably made this map during one of his stints with the Topographical Bureau, but certainly no later than his discharge in July 1863. (William Wooldridge, private correspondence and Mapping Virginia, pp. 298-303)

Other maps by Worret
During his Civil War service Worret left a distinguished cartographic record. There are a number of manuscript and printed maps by Worret in institutional and private collections, all covering areas of southeastern Virginia and/or adjacent areas of North Carolina. For its inclusion of topographical views, overall visual impact, and documentary value, the manuscript offered here is by far the finest known example of his work and a unique cartographic document for the Virginia Peninsula.

Of the extant Worret maps, that most similar to ours is a manuscript held by the NOAA’s Historic Coast and Geodetic Survey. That map is undated but bears the same title and covers the same area of the Peninsula, while the content appears identical in all but the most minor details. However the composition on the NOAA map appears more finished, the projection has been rotated perhaps 45 degrees to the East, the style of lettering differs, and the spelling errors present on our map have been corrected (E.g., “cymetry” is now rendered “cemetery.”) For these reasons it seems likely that the NOAA map was copied by another party from a Worret prototype.

Stephenson lists three maps by Worret held by the Library of Congress: a manuscript of southeastern Virginia and part of North Carolina (Stephenson #476); another manuscript of Hampton Roads and vicinity (#559); and the bird’s-eye of the siege of Yorktown published commercially by Sachse in 1862 (#673.7). The Wooldridge Collection, now held by the Virginia Cartographical Society, has a Worret manuscript map of Richmond, Petersburg, and the adjacent area to the east (Mapping Virginia, #273). Wooldridge also cites a printed map (#274), ca. 1895, in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion based on Worret’s work. As mentioned earlier, the Rumsey Collection has a mammoth Military Map of a part of Eastn Virginia Department by Worret and one G. Kayser (Rumsey #5081). The Gilder Lehrman collection holds a manuscript by Worret of the Yorktown peninsula (#GLC04355.01) that may have been the basis of the previous work. The Swem Library at William & Mary appears to hold an 1863 Map of the Peninsula by Worret, though this appears only as a small image in an on-line exhibition about the Battle of Williamsburg. Finally, the New York Historical Society holds an 1862 Military Map of a Part of the Peninsula from Halfway House & Williamsburg to West Point (#M25.1.12).

NB: This map is owned jointly with our colleagues at Geographicus Antique Maps, High Ridge Books, and James Arsenault & Company.