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Discovery of a Forgotten Antietam Map Ignites Civil War Researchers!

In 1864, railroad engineer and cartographer Simon G. Elliott visited the battlefield of Antietam and prepared a detailed map that documented the burials of 5,844 soldiers—2,634 Union and 3,210 Confederate. After the war, Elliott’s map found its way to the archives of the New York Public Library (NYPL) where it remained largely forgotten.

Earlier this year, two Civil War researchers from the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg, Pa., were searching the NYPL digital archives for more information about Elliott (who had also created a well-known map for the Gettysburg battlefield), when they stumbled upon the Antietam map. Realizing the significance of their find, they immediately reached out to the American Battlefield Trust, who confirmed the importance of the map and shared it with rangers at Antietam National Battlefield Park. The Elliott map sheds new light into the Battle of Antietam where more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing, in one day. In some instances, researchers can pinpoint the exact burial location of individual soldiers, regiments, and even horses.

As part of our Civil War Stories project, we’ve teamed up with the American Battlefield Trust to help tell the individual story of Civil War soldiers, the regiments they fought in, and the families and communities they left behind. The Elliott map is an amazing tool to help us do this!

In the days after the Battle of Antietam, the area surrounding Sharpsburg, Maryland, turned into a mass burial ground. Soldiers were buried in single graves or sometimes in long trenches turned mass grave. In 1864, the same year Elliott mapped the battlefield, efforts got underway to identify the gravesites. The State of Maryland purchased property nearby, and in 1867, the newly created Antietam National Cemetery was dedicated. Many of the soldiers’ remains were disinterred from the battlefield and reinterred in the Antietam Cemetery. Their original burial location became lost to time.  

The Elliott map helps tell the story of soldiers like Isaac Thurlow from the Third Wisconsin Infantry, Company C. On April 19, 1861, just four days after Abraham Lincoln sounded the call asking for 75,000 troops to enlist in the Civil War, residents of Green County, Wisconsin, gathered at the County Court House to discuss organizing a company of volunteers. During that patriotic meeting, hands shot up one by one as men volunteered to leave their homes and families to heed President Lincoln’s call. Within a short time, 83 men enrolled, including 24-year-old Isaac Thurlow. His 18-year-old brother Albion would follow in his footsteps just a month later.

On September 17, 1862, during the Battle of Antietam, the Third Wisconsin was just north of the Miller Cornfield in an open and exposed position when its men were attacked by Hood’s Division as they emerged from the corn about 7:30 a.m.

Elliott map notes position of the Third Wisconsin and location of graves

Lt. Warham Parks, recorded the following experience as Isaac Thurlow was hit by gunfire, “I caught him as he fell and his brother (Albion Thurlow) carried him to the rear. In a few moments, he came back saying his brother was dead, picked up his musket and resumed firing…but his courage never failed.” When the firing ceased, nearly two-thirds of the regiments 345 soldiers were either killed or wounded. Originally Isaac Thurlow was buried on the battlefield and using the Elliott map, we can pinpoint almost the exact spot. Later Isaac’s remains were reinterred in the Antietam National Cemetery.

Do you have ancestors who fought at Antietam? Search the Elliott map for the location of their regiment and head over to our Civil War Stories page to learn more. As part of our Civil War Stories project, Fold3 and the American Battlefield Trust are trying to research every soldier who fought in the Civil War. You can be a part of this massive effort by sharing your Civil War records, stories, journals, and documents. Just upload images using this tool. Alternatively, you can attach images to an existing soldier’s Memorial or create a new Memorial page using this video tutorial. Keep in mind that Fold3 has already generated thousands of memorials using regimental records, and one may already exist for your soldier.

We’re so excited about this project! Eventually, you’ll be able to search your ancestor and see regimental records for all the soldiers he served with. In many cases, these are brothers, fathers, sons, and cousins. To take a closer look at the Antietam Elliott map, click here. To learn more about the Battle of Antietam and the regiments that fought in it, visit our Civil War Stories page on Fold3 today.   

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  1. Anthony Davis form ed