The American Civil War raged between the northern states and southern states from 1861 to 1865. The southern states seceded from the United States in 1861, forming the Confederate States of America (CSA), also known as the Confederacy. Confederate forces won most of the early battles, but a fateful encounter near the small rural town of Gettysburg changed the course of the war. Theodore Ditterline’s oval-shaped map, “Field of Gettysburg,” is considered the first map published of the pivotal battle, where Union (U.S.) forces stopped an invading Confederate army.
Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, resulted in some 51,000 casualties (killed, missing, wounded).The Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia,” commanded by General Robert E. Lee, invaded the northern state of Pennsylvania with some 70,000 troops. Union troops encountered elements of the Confederate army near the town of Gettysburg, and Union forces ultimately swelled to some 90,000 soldiers as reinforcements rushed to the battlefield. The Union “Army of the Potomac” was led by Major General George Meade, who had just been given command of that army.
The map by Ditterline shows topography, roads, railroads, troop and artillery locations, and troop movements from July 1 to July 3, 1863. Ditterline, a northern cartographer, compiled the map based on eyewitness accounts of the battle. George W. Childs, a Philadelphia newspaper publisher during the Civil War, endorsed the map and added that his opinion was “shared by several officers in the battle.”
On the first day (Wednesday, July 1), the more numerous Confederate forces (in red on the map) made the Union defenders (in blue) retreat from their positions north and west of Gettysburg. The Union army fell back through Gettysburg and took a defensive position south of town on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill.
By Thursday, July 2, the Union soldiers (called “Yankees” by the Confederates) were gaining in numbers and strengthening their positions on the series of hills south of Gettysburg. Union reinforcements were streaming in along the Baltimore turnpike. Confederate troops (called “Rebels” by Union soldiers), spearheaded by General Longstreet’s corps, attacked the Union left flank (southernmost position on Ditterline’s map). Lee’s plan was to have the rest of the Confederate line assault the Union’s center and right flanks, but these attacks were ineffective. While Longstreet’s attack almost broke the Union’s left flank, thousands of Confederate soldiers died in the attempt, but the Union positions held.
The Union and Confederate lines remained about the same on Friday, July 3. Lee decided to hit the Union center, because he thought the flanks had been reinforced at the expense of the center. Lee ordered a massive artillery bombardment to precede a Confederate infantry charge of some 12,000 soldiers, which becomes known as “Pickett’s Charge,” after Major General George Pickett. Pickett’s Division is labeled on Ditterline’s map. However, Meade anticipated the assault against the Union center, and the Confederate attack failed with huge loss of life.
After the battle, Lee pulled his army out of Pennsylvania, and the rebels retreated back to Virginia. Many believe that Gettysburg marked the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. Lee’s army never recovered from the loss of thousands of soldiers during the three days of battle. There were some 19,000 Virginian soldiers at Gettysburg, and 1 in 4 was a casualty of the battle—many lost their lives during Pickett’s Charge.
Theodore Ditterline captured a critical turning point in U.S. history, with an attractive map design that effectively tells the story of a complex battle. Collectors covet this rare map, which is 400 by 490 mm (15.7 by 19.3 inches), and a copy sold for $5,400 in 2013.
This and other famous maps are printed in the recently released The Times History of the World in Maps by HarperCollins. I was asked to be a contributing author for this publication, and my map descriptions of Dittlerline’s Gettysburg map and Abel Buell’s map of the new United States (published in 1783) are among several featured in the book.