Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nathaniel Michler, Union Mapmaker in the Petersburg Campaign

I have learned so much about the Petersburg Campaign by viewing the period maps made by both the Union and Confederate armies. Some are extremely detailed, showing what areas were wooded and what areas were fields at the time. The maps also often show the locations of forts and batteries as well as the homes of prominent citizens and those in significant locations.

The name of one mapmaker has kept popping up in my searches: Nathaniel Michler (pictured above). Michler was born in 1827 in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was appointed to West Point and graduated from the prestigious institution in 1848. Specializing in engineering, Michler began a career in the U.S. Army that saw duty on the Texas-Mexico border. Before the Civil War he also surveyed a canal project in Panama, as well as the border between Virginia and Maryland.

Michler first served as an engineer officer in the Western Theater during the first couple of years of war, but was transferred east to survey Harpers Ferry. With the Army of the Potomac, Michler laid out defensive works in the Overland Campaign and was promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel in 1864 for his work around Petersburg.    

Michler's surveying and engineering skills came to the forefront as the contending armies stayed in ever close contact with one another. Both sides erected unprecedented numbers of earthen fortifications from June 1864 to April 1865. Michler's work was recognized as among the best and he was rewareded with brevet promotions to colonel, and later, brigadier general. 

I located the above photograph of Michler's cottage at Petersburg on the Library of Congress website. There was not much information provided with the image other than it was apparently located at the Bryant House. I'm not exactly sure where that location is, but hopefully with a little more searching I will be able to nail it down. I wonder if Michler utilized the tiny log cottage as a living space solely or if he did his mapping work there as well. In the image a couple of women, one holding an umbrella and apparently younger, stands beside a little boy and an older woman.  

One of Michler's maps of Petersburg and vicinity is shown above. Interestingly is states at the top left that it was "Prepared expressly for the Guests of Jarratt's Hotel, Petersburg Va." It appears that either Jarratt's Hotel highjacked Michler's map or he surveyed the map for them. Perhaps Jarratt's sold or gave out the map to their guests wishing to tour the sites of the various battles and earthworks around the river city.

Immediately after the Civil War Michler worked in Washington D.C. and then served in the Pacific Northwest and later in the northeast United States. In 1881, Michler died of Bright's Disease at Saratoga Springs, New York. He was buried in his hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania.

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