Striking bird’s-eye view of the theatre of civil war in the Mid-Atlantic

Drawn from nature and lith. by John Bachmann / Charles Magnus Printing Establishment, PANORAMA OF THE SEAT OF WAR. BIRDS EYE VIEW OF VIRGINIA, MARYLAND DELAWARE AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. New York: Charles Magnus, 1861/4.
Chromolithograph, 17 7/8”h x 28 ¼”w plus title and margins. Few minor spots in sky, hint of discoloration in sky at top center, and a few mended edge tears in lower margin. Very good, and far better than usual.

John Bachmann’s striking bird’s-eye view of the theatre of civil war in the Mid-Atlantic, issued to capitalize on patriotic enthusiasm in the early months of the conflict.

Already by June 1861 Bachmann had issued a pioneering bird’s eye view of eastern Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. For the first time in the United States, he employed the “bird’s-eye view” perspective–more commonly used to depict cities—to depict a theatre of war extending over thousands of square miles. In so doing Bachmann rendered the information more accessible to the general public, which may not have been cartographically literate but sought a geographic context with which to follow news of the developing conflict.

Soon thereafter Bachmann essentially abandoned that image and launched his far more ambitious Panorama of the Seat of War. This was a suite of six separately-issued views which, when assembled end-to-end, yielded a continuous view of the American coastline from Maryland to Texas. Offered here is the first sheet in that series, depicting the Chesapeake Bay and Tidewater region. First published in two variants by Bachmann in 1861, this edition was issued in 1864 by Charles Magnus, with significant additions of battlefields and towns.

Drawn from an imaginary point far above Maryland, the view depicts the Del-Mar-Va Peninsula, Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, with the Blue Ridge Mountains looming in the background. Towns are shown pictorially as well as forts, roads, railroads, topographical features and waterways. Of particular interest are the several vessels at the mouth of the Chesapeake, likely representing the increasingly effective Union blockade of Southern waters. Washington, D.C. and the Confederate capital at Richmond are highlighted and their proximity—by both land or water–emphasized. Whether Bachmann intended so or not, this must have bolstered the position of Unionist viewers who throughout the Civil War advocated a quick strike at Richmond to end the conflict.

John Bachmann (ca 1815-ca 1895)
Born in Switzerland, between 1838 and 1847 Bachmann worked there and in Paris as an artist and lithographer. Soon thereafter he immigrated to America and settled in New York City, perhaps propelled for some reason by the Revolutions of 1848. In 1849 he issued his first American view, of New York as seen from an imaginary viewpoint above Union Square, which “marks the starting point of the bird’s eye view as a popular American genre.” (Case, p. 22) Over the next decade, while based in New York, he produced nearly 30 views of New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and other major cities. Reps writes of these that they “are particularly outstanding and are justifiably regarded… as among the finest American views to be found.” (p. 161)

In 1860 Bachmann moved to Hoboken and then on to Jersey City. During the war years, in addition to his Seat of War series, he issued a few other views, including Central Park, Hartford, and Washington, D.C. After the Civil War Bachmann continued to produce views of the great metropoli of the East Coast, though somewhat erratically, suggesting that he battled financial and/or physical hardships (a view bolstered by the fact that between 1871 and 1878 he had no fewer than four different addresses in Jersey City.) His final view was an unfinished painted bird’s-eye of Havana, Cuba, done in or around 1894. After his death in 1895 his son John Jr. worked as a printer for more than three decades.

OCLC 23950521 (Aug. 2019, giving four institutional holdings of this edition.) Rumsey 2817 (this ed.) This edition not in Stephenson, Civil War Maps, but see nos. 2-3 for the Bachmann editions. For biographical information on Bachmann, see John Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, pp. 160-61 and especially Nat Case, “John Bachmann and the American Bird’s Eye View Print, Imprint, vol. 33 no. 2 (Autumn 2008), pp. 19-33.