An Exceptional Civil War Relic; Used in a Union Officer's Escape from a Confederate POW Camp.
An exceptionally rare Civil War map of the area around Atlanta prepared in the field by one of the Union's greatest mapmakers, William E. Merrill, substantially enriched by its fantastic provenance.
The map was first carried into the field by Colonel Robert Kingston Scott of the 68th Ohio Infantry Volunteers (Scott would later become the Reconstruction-era Governor of South Carolina). Scott had the map with him when he was shot and captured during the Atlanta Campaign. He then gave it to Captain George W. Bowers, who used it while escaping from the Officers' prison in Columbia, South Carolina, with Bowers subsequently walking 42 days from Columbia to Union frontlines.
World Maps Online's article on Civil War field mapping provides this important explanation of the Atlanta Campaign linen maps:
In addition to the standard edition of the campaign map lithographed on paper, it was also printed directly on muslin and issued in three parts. Van Horne points out that this was mainly for the convenience of the calvary, "as such maps could be washed clean whenever soiled and could not be injured by hard service." Each section of the cloth map is entitled "Part of Northern Georgia" and was printed from one of the lithographic stones used for the standard campaign map. The superb work of the Topographic Department, Army of the Cumberland, led Van Horne to conclude "that the army that General Sherman led to Atlanta was the best supplied with maps of any that fought in the Civil War."
We can learn much about the present map from similar maps by Merill and William C. Margendant. The "campaign map" referenced above was Merrill's Map of Northern Georgia... That map is known to have been produced in 200 copies immediately before the commencement of the Atlanta Campaign. As Van Horne notes, the more focused maps printed on muslin were produced more specifically for cavalry. This means that their print runs were likely far smaller than 200 and accounts for why, today, they are far rarer both institutionally and in commerce.
The map was compiled under the direction of William E. Merrill from three main sources: "the Cherokee Land Maps"; "Surveys of Top'l Engineers, D.C."; "State Map of Georgia and information". The two other maps from the series are Part of Northern Georgia and Part of Northern Georgia No. 2. In addition to those three maps, Margedant and Merrill produced Map of 1st. distrt. Campbell Co. Georgia : south of the Cherokee boundy. line while at Chattanooga in 1864. These maps all seem to have been produced in the spring or early summer of 1864, which is probably the time when the present map was produced as well. In less than a year, this example of the map had undertaken a fantastic journey that touches on many of the elements of the late Civil War. The story of the map's journey is recounted below.
There are two hand-written notes pasted onto the map that hint at its fantastic life. The note on the back of the map reads:
Of invaluable service in my trip through Dixie presented by Col. Scott 68[th] O[hio] I[fantry] V[olunteers] also a prisoner of war with me. G.W.B.
A slight variation on that note appears on the front, in what would appear to be a slightly later hand:
Of invaluable service in the Rebel lines. Presented by my co-prisoner Col. Scott 68th I.O.Vols. to aid in my escape. G.W.B.
The map first entered service with Colonel Robert Kingston Scott of the 68th Ohio Infantry Volunteers. Scott is a fascinating Civil War character and his own story is worth a feature film. (He would eventually become the two-term Reconstruction-era Governor of South Carolina and was later embroiled in scandal and tried for murder.)
The Colonel took the map with him on the Atlanta Campaign, for which the map was issued. On July 22, 1864, during the Battle of Atlanta, Scott was accompanying Major General James B. McPherson when they stumbled into a Confederate skirmish line. When the two officers attempted to flee, they were fired on by the Confederate pickets. McPherson was shot dead, and Scott was wounded in the neck and his horse was shot out from under him. It is possible that some of the map's soiling comes from the bloody wounds inflicted on Scott during his capture. Apparently, a Confederate officer rushed up to Scott to capture him and inquired about the identity of the fallen general, Scott responded matter-of-factly: “Sir, it is General McPherson. You have killed the best man in our army.” Three days after his capture, Scott attempted to escape but fell down a railroad embankment after jumping from a train. He seriously injured his back, chest, right knee, and leg. He was recaptured and taken to Charleston.
It was probably in Charleston that he met Captain George Washington Bowers Jr. of the 101st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry. Bowers had already been imprisoned at Macon and Savannah, Georgia, before being transferred to the Charleston City Jailyard and then the Old Marine Hospital at Charleston. Scott was released from Charleston as part of a prisoner exchange in September of 1864. As Bowers was not included in the prisoner swap, we can infer that Scott gave him the map to help him reach Union territory if he ever had a chance to escape. Bowers got that chance after he was moved west to his next place of confinement at Camp Sorghum, Columbia, South Carolina. It was from Camp Sorghum that Bowers escaped on November 3, 1864, with the map from Scott to aid him.
Bowers would have headed southwest toward Atlanta, with that area now under Union control. Apparently he failed to get through the "Rebel lines", which he referenced in the attached note, and so he turned northwest towards Tennesse. 42 days after escaping, on December 15, 1864, Bowers reached Union lines at Knoxville, Tennessee, and was once again a free man. He was discharged one month later at Washington, D.C.