The map provides a beautiful and detailed depiction of the contested Potomac River border region during the first year of Civil War. It emphasizes the topographical and man-made features of the landscape that influenced the mobility of troops and supplies, including the region’s many waterways, the low ranges of the Blue Ridge, and of course the network of roads, railways, canals and ferries across the Potomac. Supposed concentrations of troops are indicated with small flags… note how the Union flags flutter in the breeze while the Confederate flags hang limp! The locations of battles and skirmishes are indicated by small crossed swords, and at lower right is a list of 34 Union fortifications, many within the District of Columbia and most of the others along the Potomac.
The map is adorned by a large Union shield, the Stars and Strips, and American eagle, all lend the map a patriotic slant and no doubt enhanced its appeal among Union sympathizers. For all the patriotic messaging however, the military positions on the map betray the hard fact that as of early 1862 the Union had failed in its efforts to advance into Virginia and suppress the Confederacy. It had of course had great success in the Western Theatre, but the eyes of the public remained firmly fixed on Virginia.
This is the second state of the map, with 34 instead of 33 forts listed at lower right (The Library of Congress holds an impression of the first state.) The map was also pirated by the London firm of Bacon & Co., which issued a variant sans the patriotic imagery, perhaps reflecting the sympathy of many English for the Confederate cause.
The map was compiled by artist, adventurer, draftsman and cartographer Joseph Goldsborough Bruff (1884-89). The son of a prosperous Washington, D.C. family, he matriculated at West Point in 1820 but lasted only two years before being forced to resign on account of dueling. He then spent several years at sea, then went to work as a draftsman for first the Navy and then the Army, and by 1839 was working in that capacity for the Bureau of Topographical Engineers. During his decade there he prepared among other things the reports and maps of John C. Fremont for Congress. He left in 1849 to found the California Mining Association, a for-profit venture, and spent the next two years in the West (His writings and drawings from this period were published posthumously as Gold Rush: The Journals, Drawings, and Other Papers of J. Goldsborough Bruff. After his return he took a position as a draftsman in the Department of the Treasury, a position which he held for much of the rest of his life. For a brief time before his final illness, he was the oldest employee of the United States government.
Rumsey #2846. Stephenson, Civil War Maps, #455. Wooldridge, Mapping Virginia, p. 304 (#278). For a brief biography of Bruff, see “J. Goldsborough Bruff (1804-1889” on the Library of Congress web site.