Saturday, April 9, 2011

"My best helper in this matter 'passed over the river:'" John Purifoy, Ezra Carman, and Map Making

A map sketch from the
Papers of Ezra Carman, Library of Congress.
This one depicts Early's movements
countering Sedgwick's advance in the
West Woods. Notes the writer, "This
affair occurred about 10 o'clock, and enemy
[Sedgwick] was driven beyond the left of the woods.
Our troops going out into the field, when
they were drawn back."
The series of maps produced by the Antietam Battlefield Board in 1904 and revised in 1908 are valuable resources to anyone interested in the events of September 17, 1862. These maps have become known to many as simply the Carman-Cope maps. Thanks to the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, both map series are available online in full format size and can be viewed and downloaded from the Library's website. Your local printer or blueprint shop, will be able to print the full color, poster-sized map series from the .tiff file you download from the site for about $25 per sheet.
The detail of each of the 20 to 30 minute segments is extraordinary and allows visitors to locate a unit by its juxtaposition to a fence, stone wall, rock outcropping, or farm lane. 
How were these maps created? 
Thomas Clemens' recently published The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1: South Mountain gives us valuable insights to how Carman went about his work. [1]
Clemens tells us that "Carman toured the Antietam battlefield in November of 1862, collecting information about the fighting and talking to civilians in and around the town. While there he confided to his diary that he was making a map and writing an account of the the battle." After the war, Carman "was active in veteran's groups and communicated with former comrades on a regular basis." In October, 1894 he was appointed to the Antietam Battlefield Board as Historical Expert. "His assigned task was to create a map showing the terrain and troop positions during the battle, which would be verified by surviving veterans." Four years later, the "base map" of the battlefield was completed and he asked for additional funding to create the series of fourteen sequential maps which appeared first in 1904 and revised into a final set in 1908. These are the maps that are now available from the Library of Congress. [2].
Carman's research is built on "letters he received from veterans of the battle, and the conversations he had with them when they visited the battlefield." The difficulty that Carman faced locating units on the map series is evident in a letter from John Purifoy to Carman on July 21, 1900. [3]
Lt. George S. Gove, Company K,
Fifth New Hampshire,
marked his company's positions on this
map and enclosed it in a letter to
Ezra Carman, March 24, 1896.
Papers of Ezra Carman, Library of Congress. 
Carman had asked Purifoy to mark his unit's location on a map of the Fox Gap area of South Mountain. Purifoy then tells Carman that he has “given the matters of inquiry therein due consideration, having consulted others who were with me on that occasion. If my conclusions as to the battle field at South Mountain, where D H Hill’s division fought on the 14th of September, 1862, are correct, as drawn from the map enclosed by you, and supported by the reference to it in Gen Lee’s report of his Maryland campaign, the first position held by us was in the field South of the Wise field, and marked by me with a red cross….” [4]
A few lines later in the letter, however, he expresses second thoughts: “When the present map was submitted to me I marked the position as shown in this. Yet the more I study the map the less confident am I that I have marked the correct spot. Having read Gen Lee’s report, I am led to ask myself the question whether we were first located further south. The following questions present themselves to me. Is Fox’s Gap shown on the map higher or lower (more or less elevated) than the point marked with my red cross?  Is the Wise House and Wise field higher or lower than the point indicated?”[5]
Detail from the Carman-Cope
9 a.m. map (1904 edition)
Library of Congress
Purifoy laments “[m]y best helper in this matter ‘passed over the river’ in February last, having died before my letter of inquiry about Sharpsburg with map reached him. If you think, by enlightening me on the topography of the field as indicated by the questions asked, I will be enabled to more definitely settle on the first location, I shall be glad to make an other effort to do so. If I were to visit the field now I do not know whether I could definitely settle it. This is is suggested by a visit to another field made by me and the effort to locate the three positions occupied by the battery to which I was attached. I find it the most difficult thing to do in the world to find two or more participants in a battle who have the same recollection of the topography or location at which they battery did its shooting.”[6]
[1] Thomas Clemens, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume 1: South Mountain (New York: Savas Beatie, 2010)See alsoDavid A. Lilley, "The Antietam Battlefield Board and its Atlas: or The Genesis of the Carman-Copes Maps" in Lincoln Herald 82 (Summer 1980): 380-87.
[2] Clemens, Maryland Campaign, pp. xii-xv.
[3] John Purifoy (1842-1927) served in the Jeff Davis (AL) Artillery (Bondurant's Battery). Alabama Department of Archives and History, Official and Statistical Register, 1915, p. 19 and retrieved from; Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web under Jeff Davis Artillery; Clemens, Maryland Campaign, p. xvi.
[4] John Purifoy to Ezra Carman, Montgomery, Alabama, July 21, 1900, Papers of Ezra Carman, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Containers 15/16.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

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