[Antietam Battlefield Board Maps and Correspondence]

An example of the incredible efforts undertaken during the 19th century to preserve the memory of the American Civil War.

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This is an incredible collection of ephemeral material, maps, and correspondence, related to the commemoration of the Battle of Antietam, the deadliest day in American history. On September 17, 1862, Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee engaged with Union troops under General George B. McClellan on the shores of Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Nearly twelve hours of intense fighting saw over 22,000 casualties, almost 8,000 of which were killed in action.

It was quickly recognized that the preservation of such a site was necessary, and in 1864 Maryland legislators voted to establish an official cemetery. In 1879, the responsibility for maintenance and upkeep was transferred to the War Department. Just over two decades later, an Act of Congress authorized the creation of the first U.S. battlefield National Parks at Chickamauga and Chattanooga (Antietam would be the 4th). In 1891, the War Department established the Antietam Battlefield Board to fulfill Congress’ goals of “to survey and mark the lines of battle for both Armies at Antietam, the positions of the Regular Army units there, and to buy land and build roads and drives to access those markers.”

The letters and maps in this lot relate to those efforts and include two letters to the Major Rufus Dawes of the Wisconsin 6th Infantry Regiment, part of the famed Iron Brigade. Dawes performed heroically during the Battle of Antietam after his commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Edward S. Bragg, was injured and was subsequently promoted for his efforts. He would go on to serve bravely in the Battles of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and others. After the war, Dawes returned home to Marietta, Ohio and served briefly as a U.S. Congressman for one term in 1881.

The following year, he received the first form letter from the Antietam Board, signed by its lone two members, Colonel John Stearns and General Harry Heth. Its contents inquire about the location of Dawe’s position during the battle, direction of advance, and other particulars. The second letter, dated October 31, 1895, is significantly longer and consists of five handwritten pages.

The signature on the first page indicates it was written by John Mead Gould, a veteran of the battle and member of the 10th Maine. This correspondence begins with an introduction thanking General Dawes for his historical publication on the 6th Wisconsin. It then launches into a barrage of questions inquiring about everything from the battle’s course of events to the topography of the grounds and the location of other units. Disputes over who opened the engagement, where particular skirmishes took place, and the status of reinforcements are all discussed at some length. Gould is famous in his own right, not only for his bravery (he was one of four soldiers that helped carry the mortally wounded General Joseph Mansfield off the battlefield) but also for his postwar efforts in attempting to preserve the details of the engagement.

To illustrate the inquiry, the collection includes a group of four separate maps. The first, a manuscript, was likely written by Gould, as it shows a similar hand as the second letter. Also, it was drawn on the back of a scrap piece of paper showing the letterhead of the State of Maine Agricultural Department, and the letter was sent from Portland (Gould’s home state is Maine). The map measures approximately 10.25″ x 8″ and shows a small area in the north of the battlefield, near the farmstead of David Miller. Road and buildings are outlined and the composition of the ground (grass, cornfield, etc.) is noted throughout. One annotation, in pencil, reads “my book calls this ‘a green open field'” – likely referring to a pamphlet on the precise location of Mansfield’s death written by Gould and published in 1895.

Included in that publication were two printed maps designed by Oliver Gould, John’s son and an avid historian of the Antietam battlefield. They each measure approximately 9″ x 12″ and show heavy wear along the outer edges of the sheet. Both are detailed large-scale outlines of particular areas of the battlefield and indicate that it was copied and corrected from the map of General Michler.

Last, but not least, a large folding map showing the entire Antietam Battlefield is also included. This was drawn under the direction of the two Antietam Board Members, engraved by Theodore Friebus, Jr., and published in 1893 by the Norris-Peters Company in Washington, D.C. It appears to be one of four that were issued as a set, this one emphasizing the locations of the U.S. Artillery Batteries. Despite heavy wear, toning, and significant repairs along the former fold lines, the large map (29.75″ x 36″) retains an intact image and provides a fascinating snapshot of the work of the Antietam Battlefield Board.

The collection is an incredible representation of the work undertaken to commemorate the memory of the American Civil War in the decades immediately following the conflict. Today, Antietam National Battlefield is one of the best-preserved sites of the war, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Antietam Board. It goes without stating that the letter and manuscript map are unique, though the additional printed maps are also rare on the market. The only examples I’ve been able to find in WorldCat reside at the Library of Congress, and their collections indicate only one of the Gould maps.

Sources: Antietam National Battlefield Trust, John Bank’s Article on John Gould, Large Map at the LoC, Gould Map at the LoC, Gould’s Pamphlet,



Map Details

Publication Date: 1892 - 1895

Author: Officer

Sheet Width (in): See Description

Sheet Height (in): See Description

Condition: B+

Condition Description: See Description

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