Archive for the ‘Alexander Bache’ Tag

New (terrific) movie “Lincoln” showcases U.S. Coast Survey Civil War maps   5 comments

As the scientific federal office that has provided the nation’s navigational charts and services for two centuries, we probably shouldn’t offer (strictly personal) reviews of the (absolutely phenomenal and deeply moving) movie, “Lincoln.” However, after seeing the movie this weekend, we would be remiss if we failed to note the (gorgeous) set designs that show the walls of the White House Cabinet Room and war offices covered with U.S. Coast Survey maps.

Especially prominent, over the shoulder of (marvelous) actor Daniel Day-Lewis, playing the (brilliant and compassionate) Lincoln, was the slave density map that influenced public opinion in the North and guided many of Lincoln’s military decisions, and the map of the State of Virginia.

Those maps, and hundreds more, can be explored in the special historical collection of maps, charts, and documents prepared by the U.S. Coast Survey during the war years. The collection, “Charting a More Perfect Union,” contains over 400 documents and is available free to the public.

U.S. Coast Survey was essential to the Union cause

President Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast in 1807 to produce the nautical charts necessary for maritime safety, defense, and the establishment of national boundaries. By 1860, the United States Coast Survey was the government’s leading scientific agency. Teams of men were surveying coastlines, determining land elevations, and producing maps and nautical charts for an expanding nation experiencing growing trade relationships between states and with other countries.

Under Coast Survey Superintendent Alexander Bache, the agency was quick to apply its resources to the war effort. In addition to setting up additional lithographic presses to produce the thousands of charts required by the Navy and other vessels in government service, Bache made a critical decision to send Coast Survey parties to work with blockading squadrons and Armies in the field. Bache detailed these activities in his annual reports to Congress.

U.S. Coast Survey cartographer Edwin Hergesheimer created the 1861 map showing the density of slave population in the Southern states.

Bache was also one of four members of the Union’s blockade board, planning strategy to essentially strangle the South, economically and militarily. On April 16, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the blockade of ports from South Carolina to Texas. Bache’s Notes on the Coast provided valuable information for Union naval forces.

In the centuries before Google Earth, maps in wartime had special military significance. As Bache pointed out in his annual report, on Nov 7, 1862:

“It is certain that accurate maps must form the basis of well-conducted military operations, and that the best time to procure them is not when an attack is impending, or when the army waits, but when there is no hindrance to, or pressure upon, the surveyors. That no coast can be effectively attacked, defended, or blockaded without accurate maps and charts, has been fully proved by the events of the last two years, if, indeed, such a proposition required practical proof.”

Today, the Office of Coast Survey still meets its maritime responsibilities as a part of NOAA, surveying America’s coast and producing the nation’s nautical charts. To honor its legacy and to inform the public, Coast Survey maintains a digital Historical Map & Chart Collection, with over 30,000 maps and charts from 1747 to 2009. The collection also maintains historical Coast Pilots.

The “Charting a More Perfect Union” project was supported by the NOAA Preserve America Initiative, part of Preserve America, a federal initiative to preserve, protect and promote our nation’s rich heritage.

The quiet history of Coast Survey   Leave a comment

As NOAA strives to meet the present and future navigational needs of the maritime transportation system, it is sometimes helpful ‒ not to mention inspirational ‒ to look back at history. Coast Survey has an amazing history that isn’t well known. It is a quiet history of men and women who led the country’s mapping and charting advancements in the centuries since Thomas Jefferson authorized the Survey of the Coast in 1807.

Coast Survey maintains a publicly accessible Historical Maps and Charts Collection, with about 35,000 images that anyone can download and print. For history buffs, searching through the images is a great way to find images related to your area of interest. Exploring the charts, one can almost develop personal relationships with the individual Coast Survey assistants and cartographers who produced some truly beautiful work. (Check out the Civil War Special Collection to find some especially intriguing maps, including the pivotal 1861 map showing the density of slave population in the Southern states.) Or you can spend some quality time browsing through little-known sketches and maps in the historical collection maintained by the NOAA Central Library.

This close-up of the Kohklux map shows how Davidson used English spelling to “sound out” the Native names of features. (See the full map in Coast Survey’s Historical Map and Chart Collection.)

The U.S. Coast Survey (which became the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, and was eventually one of the founding agencies within NOAA) has a unique heritage of scientific exploration and innovation. The exploits of George Davidson and others in 1860s Alaska is especially fascinating as we now look north to a new century of work in the Arctic. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology recently published an article by John Cloud in its magazine, Expeditions. The Tlingit Map of 1869: A Masterwork of Indigenous Cartography, linked here with the permission of Penn Museum, explains how Davidson set the tone for Coast Survey’s early sensitivity to the importance of preserving Indian names on maps ‒ especially, in this case, of a map drawn by Tlingit clan leader Kohklux and his wives.

Cloud further expounds on the discovery of Davidson’s maps in a recent radio interview with KCAW Radio, linked at Alaskan cartography influenced by Native mapmakers.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the United States, James Tilghman has written about Coast Survey superintendent Alexander Bache and assistant Ferdinand Gerdes, and the efforts to survey the Florida Reef in the 1850s. “If the enormity of the undertaking is the overarching story of the survey,” Tilghman writes, “it was equally remarkable for the budding science, hydrographic breakthroughs and creative solutions that enabled it.” Hydro International July/August 2012 has published the absorbing article, Surveying the Florida Reef.

Tilghman points out that “not all credit goes to the hydrography, but by the turn of the century wrecks on the reef were down 90 percent and wrecking was fast becoming a distant memory.” That quiet history, and the newly discovered connections to Alaskan cartography, speaks volumes about the heritage, and continuing promise, of NOAA’s navigation program contributions to preserving life and property along U.S. coastal waters.


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