DW: Mark, I have long admired your map work in countless books and articles as well as the Bentonville and Wilmington/Ft. Fisher books you authored. How did you first get into military cartography? Do you have a graphic arts background?
MM: I got into military mapmaking in my twenties, when I was studying the Battle of Bentonville. At the time (mid-1980s to 1990s), there were no good maps of the action with the kind of detail I was interested in, so I decided to create my own. I don’t have a graphic arts background in terms of education, but I’ve always been a fairly creative person. So it came naturally to me.
DW: Anyone can draw a map (one sees the good, the bad and the ugly of this every day in Civil War publishing) but few, and I would place you in this group, possess the ability to take complicated history and convey it to the reader through the medium of a cartographic mise-en-scene of high aesthetic order. Do you have a personal “philosophy” of mapmaking?
MM: If I have a philosophy, it’s that I want readers to be able to follow the action with maps that are clear, enlightening, and aesthetically pleasing. It’s what readers of military history crave. With the Atlas, I had the opportunity to take that concept to its highest level—something not seen in the normal course of publishing (due to size and cost).
DW: How did this particular project (The Old North State at War) come about?
MM: I got the idea for the Atlas when I was working for the Research Branch at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. I wanted to create a detailed map study that covered the entire conflict within the state’s borders, something that had never been done before. My pitch was accepted by the agency, and I and my colleagues began working on the project in 2005.
DW: Glancing through the book I found myself continually amazed at how many military operations are being mapped in its pages for the first time. Can you briefly describe the typical process you use to take your work from the blank page to the completed map? Did you have much in the way of historical base maps (ex. for help with the road network, 1860s terrain, etc.) or other existing map resources available to assist you in this daunting task? What modern technologies did you use?
MM: Battle maps are a result of two main questions: (1) How did the regiments and brigades align from end to end; and (2) How did they fit to the terrain over various phases of the conflict? Campaign maps are broader in scope but offer their own brand of detail, in terms of routes and wartime communities impacted. Geography dictated how the movements of the opposing armies unfolded, and the goal is to help illuminate this fact. One of the Roanoke Island battle maps was adapted from a plate in the Official Records. Pretty much everything else was a result of my own research (in both primary and secondary sources). For the Cape Fear coastal defenses, I digitized (by hand) the surveys completed by Union engineers in 1865—a painstaking but rewarding process. Historian Wade Sokolosky helped me with Wyse Fork. For Bentonville and Fort Fisher, I drew heavily from my previous research on troop positions and maneuvers, both on my own and in conjunction with Mark Bradley and Chris Fonvielle. For Averasboro and Bentonville, I used the earthwork surveys precisely mapped by Union engineers after the battles. These were published in the OR Atlas in 1895, but with only partially surveyed roads (and cursory unit depictions). I reconstructed the Bentonville battlefield by matching these partial surveys to accurate surveys of the area made just 40 years after the battle, and to the modern terrain. The battlefield remained pristine for decades. Most of the roads in the area were not paved until after World War II (and some only recently). It remains entirely rural, which has served the battlefield well in terms of preservation. Miles of earthworks are still extant. The maps for Sherman’s routes are wholly new and encompassed one of my main research efforts for the book. For wartime road networks in the eastern half of the state, I relied heavily on the surveys of Confederate engineer Jeremy Francis Gilmer and his team. These are incredible and invaluable resources. Many of the largely rural areas retain much of their wartime road layout. In some cases they match up quite well with the most modern surveys, so I was able to match them even better against the earliest accurate surveys conducted in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. To flesh it all out, I consulted many manuscript maps and published plates depicting various towns and counties from the Civil War period through the end of the nineteenth century—mostly from the collections of the State Archives and the University of North Carolina, but from other sources as well. Wartime North Carolina featured a plethora of railroads, wagon roads, byroads, and communities. All of the cities, towns, and crossroads that are labeled on the maps in the Atlas—many with colorful names—existed by those names and in those locations during the Civil War. The result is a new geospatial window on state history. The modern technologies I used were GIS (Geographic Information System) and Adobe Illustrator. The state had a contract with ESRI, so I was able to use a desktop application called ArcMap. However, I used GIS as a means to an end, for spatial accuracy and to create my own files for historic roads. In other words, I did not create a GIS application for the maps. The GIS base elements were imported into Illustrator, where the military components and other details were added.
DW: The book’s content is a pretty broad array of military, political and social history. Did you get everything in there that you wanted?
MM: Yes, the book includes the elements I wanted. Topics ranging from the home front and women to slavery, agriculture, manufacturing, updated death statistics, and Union troops from North Carolina (both white and black) really broaden the scope and offer a larger perspective on the state’s Civil War history.
DW: What was the most rewarding aspect of the atlas project and what was your greatest source of frustration?
MM: The most rewarding aspect was mapping the routes of Sherman’s March (and Confederate counter maneuvers) through the state in 1865. That had never been done with any degree of geospatial accuracy, or in this kind of detail. There were plenty of frustrations. Not long after beginning the project, I was transferred from the Research Branch to the information technology office—a terrible mistake on the part of the Department of Cultural Resources that led to delays and interoffice squabbling over completion of the project. My former colleague Mike Hill wanted the book to be published by UNC Press, which would have been a good home for the project. But UNC was unwilling to do it justice with the 11” x 17” format. They insisted on 8.5” x 11” which would have never worked, so we had to look elsewhere. I reached out to my old friend Ted Savas of Savas Beatie and he agreed to publish the book. The State and Savas signed a contract, but when I left Cultural Resources as a result of the interoffice row, that option did not work out either. (Had Savas published the book, it would have been a lot cheaper for book buyers). The N.C. Office of Archives & History eventually published the project on its own through the depleted Historical Publications section, which at the time was gutted by the current administration. This is the section that publishes the N.C. Troop Roster series and the North Carolina Historical Review. As a result, the book is only available through the State of N.C. It turned out well and I’m happy they got it out before the end of the Sesquicentennial in November 2015.
DW: Finally, The North Carolina Civil War Death Study was, I believe, originally intended to be published in conjunction with this atlas. What is its status? Is it being incorporated into the roster series?
MM: The overall numbers from the death study are distilled in the Atlas. My understanding is that Archives & History will publish the full death study under the name of someone who did not actually do the research. That whole groundbreaking effort was conducted by my former colleague Josh Howard, who resigned from Cultural Resources several years ago. In my opinion, Josh is one of the best military historians working today. He specializes in the American Revolution.
DW: Thanks for your time, Mark! Readers, if you would like to own a copy of The Old North State at War you can order one from here.