Fort Wagner and the Charleston Harbor campaign, 1863

U. S. Coast Survey A.D. Bache Sup[erinten]d[en]t / J. Bien, Lith., 24 Vesey St. N.Y., CHARLESTON HARBOR AND ITS APPROACHES Showing the positions of the Rebel Batteries. [Washington, D.C.], 1863.
Electrotype on heavy chart paper, 26"h x 26 3/4"w plus margins, spot color

An important U.S. Coast Survey chart of Charleston Harbor, first issued in 1858 and updated during the Civil War. This extremely rare, separately-issued variant is overprinted to show the tactical situation around Charleston after the Union capture of Fort Wagner in September 1863.

The base chart depicts the entrance to the harbor from offshore and locates Kiawah and Folly Island, Light House Inlet, Sullivan’s Island, James Island, and Hog Island, with Charleston flanked by the Ashley & Cooper Rivers. A trove of information, the charts include immensely detailed soundings; navigational hazards and aids such as lighthouses and light ships; and sailing directions. Also provided is detailed topographical and cartographical information on the adjacent coastal regions, including a detailed plan of Charleston and its streets, wharves and major landmarks.

This example of the chart is remarkable for being overprinted in color to show the tactical situation in and around Charleston, with particular emphasis on the siege of Fort Wagner in the Summer of 1863 and its capture on September 7th of that year. “National” and “Rebel” batteries, trenches, forts and warships are indicated in blue and red respectively, with “Rebel Batteries in possession [of] national Forces” overprinted in both colors and, in the case of Fort Wagner, proudly displaying the American flag. Distances from the city center are shown by means of concentric red circles at ½-mile intervals.

A note that “The National works constructed since the Capture of Ft. Wagner are not represented” suggests the chart was hurried through production immediately after the battle and rushed to policy makers and field officers for use in the ongoing efforts to take Charleston. This surmise is further supported by the relatively slapdash quality of the overprinting, which is entirely out of character a Coast Survey production.

Stephenson’s Civil War Maps #379-382 records several versions of this chart, including variants lacking the added legend, the locations of iron clads and/or the concentric circles indicating distances; as well as another edition covering less area to the west and thereby omitting Kiawah and much of James Island as well as the western approaches of Charleston. Stephenson #379.5 describes a presumably earlier variant depicting “Batteries still held by the Rebels [on] July 17, 1863.”

The U.S. Coast Survey
The Office of the Coast Survey is the oldest scientific organization in the Federal Government. It dates to 1807, when President Jefferson established it for the purpose of fostering maritime commerce.

“These men and women (the Coast Survey hired women professionals as early as 1845) helped push back the limits of astronomic measures, designed new and more accurate observational instruments for sea and land surveying, developed new techniques for the mathematical analysis of the mountains of data obtained by the field parties, and further refined techniques of error analysis and mitigation. It was the Coast Survey that led American science away from the older descriptive methods to the modern methods of statistical analysis and the prediction of future states of natural phenomena based on mathematical modeling. Virtually all branches of science, including the social and biological sciences, have adapted similar methodologies and similar techniques in their quest for scientific truth. But, in the United States, it should be remembered that it was the Coast Survey that first trod that path.” (NOAA Central Library, at

At the outbreak of the Civil War it became apparent to the senior military staff that there was a lack of reliable maps available. The Coast Survey was by far the most sophisticated mapping agency in the Federal government, and many of its staff were tasked with compiling the best available information and creating up-to-date maps of the southeastern United States. By the standards of their time, the resulting maps were superbly detailed, providing commanders with essential data about the natural and human geography of the regions in which they were operating. The map of Charleston offered here is no exception.

In all a rare map of great documentary value for the Charleston campaign of 1863, also interesting as an example of the Coast Survey’s invaluable contribution to the war effort.

Stephenson, Civil War Maps, #382. Grim et al., Torn In Two, pp. 100-101 (illustrating a variant edition).


Gently toned, minor mended fold splits at left, and some marginal soiling, but still very good