13 May 2013

Connecting With Civil War Ancestors Through Battle Maps

     Last week was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville, a Civil War Battle fought in Virginia.  I know, from reviewing service records and researching regiment information, that my ancestors, Nathan Hyler and Frank Leaphart, fought at Chancellorsville with South Carolina's 15th Infantry Regiment, Company C.

     So I know that they were there, but what does that really mean?  Many of the battles fought in the Civil War were very large, involving troops from all over the country.  Where were my ancestors?  I'm a visual person, so when my google searching brought me to CivilWar.org's battle maps, I was able to really connect with and better understand what role my ancestors played in the battle.

     Take for example, this map of the Battle of Chancellorsville.  It's only a small piece of this map, which shows geographical features, modern day roads and historic troop movements.  I can see the 15th at the back of Kershaw's Brigade, moving parallel to VA State Highway 3.  If I were to visit Chancellorsville National Battlefield Park, I would be able to locate the exact location where my ancestors fought.

     Different battles have different maps. Some are contemporary to the time period, some have different levels of details, some represent specific times during the battle, or some have special features such as 360° views.  But all of the ones I've viewed have had maps like the one above, which I find the most helpful.  The maps can be found by browsing and searching from the maps page, or from the specific battlefield page.  If you've signed up for a free account, you can download copies of the maps in PDF form.  I recommend doing this, because you can't zoom on the website.

     From now on, when I visit a Civil War Battlefield where my ancestors fought, I plan to take a copy of one of these maps with me.  Finding that personal connection to history is what genealogy is all about to me, and these maps bring me one step closer to my ancestors.

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