Mapping Death in the American Civil War

I have been experimenting recently with different ways of visualizing the impact of the American Civil War. I am interested in how we can combine data recorded in the 19th century with some of the new digital tools available, in an effort to find new ways of engaging with this history and potentially reveal further insights into the war’s consequences and cost. Taking the 63rd New York Infantry of the Irish Brigade as a Case Study, I have been examining ways to visualize a regiment’s experience of the conflict.

Using the roster information of the 63rd from the New York Adjutant General’s report, I first exported the information on each man into a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. It is my intention in the long-term to use more sophisticated database tools, but in these early stages I was keen to find an easy to use program that converted the roster into interrogatable data. The rosters record 1,528 men as having served in the 63rd, with details that include information on aspects such as age at enlistment, date of enlistment as well as aspects such as desertion, wounding, death and discharge.

How then to map this information? For example, is it possible to visualize where the men of the 63rd New York encountered risk of injury and death? The rosters of the 63rd record instances of woundings or death in the regiment a total of 578 times. On 546 occasions this information is accompanied by location information. I decided to marry this data with latitude and longitude coordinates and place it in Google Fusion Tables. Unfortunately WordPress does not currently support embedding Fusion Table maps, so instead I have included some screenshots and supplied links to the full maps on the Google Fusion site.

The first map shows the different locations on the United States east coast where men of the 63rd New York were wounded or died. Some of these locations are battlefields, some the sites of hospitals, while others are Prisoner of War camps. To see the full version click here.

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table for 63rd New York, showing locations where members of the regiment died and were wounded between 1861 and 1865

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table for 63rd New York, showing locations where members of the regiment died and were wounded between 1861 and 1865

A detailed view of the area of Virginia, Maryland and around Washington D.C. highlights costly battlefields for the 63rd, such as Antietam, Fredericksburg and The Wilderness, as well as the fighting further south associated with engagements of the Seven Days and at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Important rear echelon areas such as Alexandria, Washington and Baltimore are also revealed.

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table for 63rd New York, detail of locations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. where members of the 63rd New York died or were wounded

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table for 63rd New York, detail of locations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. where members of the regiment died or were wounded

Although this mapping technique shows the different locations where men were wounded or died, it does not reveal the intensity of their experience at different locations. Using Google Fusion’s Heat Map function, areas where higher numbers of men died or were wounded are scaled by size and light intensity. The Heat Map scale moves from green to red, with the latter colour representing sites with the highest numbers of casualties. Looking at a satellite view of the eastern seaboard the parts of Virginia traversed by the Army of the Potomac during the war are immediately apparent; the green spots in North Carolina and Georgia showing deaths at Salisbury and Andersonville. To see the full version click here.

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table Heat Map, showing locations where members of the 63rd New York died or were wounded between 1861 and 1865, highlighting the intensity of losses in different locations

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table Heat Map, showing locations where members of the 63rd New York died or were wounded between 1861 and 1865, highlighting the intensity of losses in different locations

The regiment’s ordeal at Antietam on 17th September 1862 was far and away their worst experience of the war, when it sustained 202 casualties (183 of whom are recorded in the roster). Many men who were wounded here later died at Frederick, Maryland. A closer view of the Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. and southern Pennsylvania area clearly illustrates just how intense the 63rd’s losses were at Antietam, which is an intense red. Gettysburg is faintly visible across the state line in Pennsylvania, as are the battlefields which proved costliest for the regiment- Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and around Petersburg. The many who survived long enough to be removed from the field but who subsequently died are represented by the concentrations in cities such as Frederick, Washington D.C. and Alexandria.

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table Heat Map, showing detail of Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. and southern Pennsylvania, and highlighting the major battles where the 63rd New York suffered significant casualties

Screenshot of Google Fusion Table Heat Map, showing detail of Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. and southern Pennsylvania, and highlighting the major battles (notably Antietam) where the 63rd New York suffered significant casualties

I have also mapped the locations where men from the 63rd New York were discharged as a result of wounds and disability, which you can view here. Many other types of data can be mapped in a similar fashion. There are numerous refinements to be carried out in my visualization efforts, but they do offer interesting potential for examining different aspects of the Irish experience of the conflict.¬†Visualizations of data relating to the war and it’s consequences are being used to an ever greater degree; the University of Richmond’s excellent Visualizing Emancipation site is one fine example. When used correctly they can be powerful educational tools- hopefully in the future I will be able to bring you many more that are tailored to the Irish experience.

References

New York Adjutant-General 1901. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901.

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Categories: 63rd New York, Irish Brigade, Research

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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10 Comments on “Mapping Death in the American Civil War”

  1. Joe Maghe
    January 12, 2014 at 1:25 am #

    I do so admire your work. Thank you for this, Damian.

  2. Bob Mickert
    January 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you Damian for all your good work. My great grandfather, William Hodgins, enlisted in the 63rd New York in 1861, lived to survive and was mustered out in Alexandria Virginia in 1865. He returned to his home in Brooklyn New York and died in 1900 at age 65. How fortunate he was, and how fortunate I am, for I would not be here today had he not survived!

    • January 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Hi Bob,

      Many thanks glad you enjoyed it! I would be interesting in hearing more about your great-grandfather, do you have much information on him (both before, during and after the war)? I will soon be launching an appeal on the site for information specifically relating to the 63rd New York, as they are going to be a major focus of my attention over the next few years!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  3. pycarecen
    January 14, 2014 at 2:16 am #

    Thank you Damian. Great work as always.

  4. Jim S.
    January 15, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    This is great information. I’ve poured over many regimental rosters and keep thinking there’s a lot there that could be visualized, especially in charts and maps. I’ve done some analytics on the 13th New Jersey including a “real” age analysis (comparing the reported enlistment ages with soldiers’ real ages), seeing if there was correlation between desertions and whether a soldier was married, or desertions and age. I also compared the cumulative deaths due to wounds and disease between the mostly urban 13th NJ and the mostly rural 107th NY who were with each other throughout the war and included a chart in here…

    http://emergingcivilwar.com/2012/01/16/disease-a-tale-of-two-regiments-part-2/

    Excel works fine for me, as it has the tools necessary to do simple statistical analysis, but I would like to explore a GIS program to do mapping.

    • January 17, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks- and I am in complete agreement! That is a great post you did at Emerging Civil War, I love the sound of what you have been doing with urban/rural divides etc. I agree re Excel- I use it at the minute and it is really useful, but I am in the process of ‘upskilling’ to help me explore more detailed questions. The potential for this type of visualization is huge given the information available on different Civil War units and the 19th century U.S. generally, I think it is something we will be seeing a lot more of in the coming years. For example it should be possible to digitally to go through all the New York rosters, extract location information and map the experience of all those troops (now that would be a project I could spend a few years on :-)).

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  5. Jim Murphy
    March 20, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Thank you,

    from Harpers Ferry, WV

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