Colton’s spectacular Civil War map of Eastern North Carolina

Printed by Lang & Cooper 117 Fulton St. N.Y., COLTON’S New Topographical Map of the EASTERN PORTION OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA WITH PART OF VIRGINIA & SOUTH CAROLINA FROM THE LATEST & BEST AUTHORITIES. New York: J. H. Colton, 1860/1863.
Lithographic pocket map, 39 ¾”h x 26”w at border plus blank margins, wash and outline color likely by an early owner. Folded and tipped into pocket folder, with printed front endpaper, the boards with decorative embossing, and the front board with title in gilt. Map with minor separations along folds (a couple with old tape mends), just a bit of creasing and very minor edge wear, endpapers of pocket folder toned and a bit worn. “TRIPLICATE” stamp and a fragmentary ownership label on front endpaper. Overall better than very good, particularly for such a fragile map.

A large, striking and scarce Civil War-era map of Eastern North Carolina by one of the country’s great 19th-century map publishers.

The map’s coverage includes North Carolina from the coast to roughly 25 miles west of Raleigh, along with adjacent parts of Virginia and South Carolina. It depicts roads and railroads (the latter highlighted in vivid red); cities, towns, settlements; and a variety of natural and human landmarks, such as Wake Forest College, mills, important crossroads, coastal forts, and the mysterious “Burial Ground of Guy Caswell” along the Neuse River in the vicinity of Kinston. The region’s extensive marsh- and swamplands are roughly delineated by tiny tufts of grasses, but although Colton titles it a “topographical map” one thing not shown is topography. Below the main map is an inset “Plan of the Sea Coast from Virginia to Florida”.

As a result of the so-called “[Ambrose] Burnside Expedition” of 1862, when this map was issued in 1863 the Union controlled the North Carolina coast from Roanoke Island to Beaufort. Indeed, on both the main and inset maps the coast is shown lined with warships, perhaps to suggest that a Union blockade was stifling Southern commerce. I’ve not made a study of the subject, but it’s my understanding that in 1863 the blockade was still ramping up, and that in the Carolinas it was never completely effective… for example, the port of Wilmington, North Carolina remained open until early 1865.

Close examination of the western extremities of the map reveals numerous “cut off” place names, such as that of Robeson County, here reduced to “Beson”. This indicates that Colton created this map by masking off unwanted portions of a larger map, though I’ve not been able to identify the prototype.

The map bears a copyright date of 1860 but was first issued in 1861, followed by our edition of 1863, with a final edition appearing in 1864. The earliest advertisement I’ve found appeared in the New York Evening Post for September 17, 1862:

“Mr. J. H. Colton, No. 172 William street, has just added to his series of war maps a very excellent and interesting map of the eastern portion of the state of North Carolina, on a much larger scale than we have seen used before, for that state, on common maps. The scale is an inch to eight miles; the size of the map is 31 by 44 inches; it delineates with satisfactory minuteness the entire coast, which has become suddenly interesting from the recent naval operations….


“This map will be an acquisition to all who are following the operations of our army and navy in the unfortunate states now held by the insurgents.”

Another advertisement, in the San Francisco Bulletin for February 2, 1862, sought to capitalize on excitement about the early stages of the Burnside expedition: “The scale of this map is so large, that every movement of Burnside’s expedition can be readily traced. Here are Hatteras Inlet and Roanoke Island, and Nag’s Head, and the various localities about which our present telegraphic news speaks so much.”

Joseph Hutchins Colton
Colton (1800-1893) was one of the leading American mapmakers and engravers of the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. His earliest employment was for a sequence of map engraving firms, and he may originally have trained as an engraver before establishing his own business, J. H. Colton & Co., in 1833. Colton focussed on mapmaking and publishing, building the firm up to being the largest in New York.

Although Colton was bankrupted in 1859, when the Bolivian Government defaulted on its substantial debt to him, he bounced back rapidly and when the Civil War commenced in 1861, as he was well positioned to benefit from the greatly increased demand for maps. Importantly, he focused on practical maps which could be sold in volume, both to the public and the military—maps of the United States, regional maps, topographical maps of individual states showing forts and military installations, as well as more specific maps of the obvious theatres of war.

In addition to the map of Eastern North Carolina offered here, among the most significant of these Civil war maps are general maps such as “Colton’s United States Shewing the Military Stations, Forts, &c” and the aforementioned “J. H. Colton’s Topographical Map of Virginia, Maryland & Eastn. Tennessee & Part of Adjoining States, both published in 1861. There are also many theatre maps, such as “Colton’s map of the seat of war in Virginia: Showing Minutely the Interesting Localities in the Vicinity of Richmond” and “Colton’s Plans of U. S. Harbors Showing the Position & Vicinities of the Most Important Fortifications on the Sea-Board and in the Interior”, both published in 1862.

These were just the sort of map sought-after by foreign mapsellers seeking to explain the war to their domestic market. Colton was to dominate this export market, with many of his maps exported to England, such copies often found with the London mapsellers’ labels pasted-on.

Phillips, Maps of America, p. 619 (1861 edition). Rumsey #3044. Stephenson, Civil War Maps, #304.85.