restricted access Chapter Four: U.S. Army Military Mapping of the American Southwest during the Nineteenth Century
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Four u U.S. Army Military Mapping of the American Southwest during the Nineteenth Century ralph e. ehrenberg ‘‘Accurate geographical and topographical knowledge of a countryare particularly essential to military operations. They are the eyes of the commanding general.’’1 This statement was never morevalid than when Colonel John J. Abert wrote it in 1848 with the Southwestern Frontier in mind. The westward extension of American military power to the Pacific coast during the first half of the nineteenth century required up-to-date geographical and topographical information for strategic, tactical, administrative , and political purposes. Soon after the U.S. purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched several expeditions to map the newly acquired region.The first to take the field was that of captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the U.S. Army’s Corps of Discovery. Clark carefully documented the expedition’s epic 7,000-mile, three-year northern crossing of the American West in some two hundred route maps and field sketches.2 Clark’s master map provides a rich tabloid of geographic, ethnographic, and political information of the region. Engraved in Philadelphia in 1814 by Samuel Harrison for Nicholas Biddle’s History of the Expedition, it represents a fundamental contribution to western cartography and laid the foundation for subsequent American military exploring and mapping of the West. At the same time, Jefferson initiated two expeditions to the southern borderof Louisiana Territory to map the course and headwaters of the Red River, the generally agreed upon boundary line separating Louisiana and Spanish territories. During the fall and winter of 1804–1805, Dr. George Hunter and William Dunbar explored the Ouachita River, a tributary of the Red River, to its source in central Arkansas.3 After their return, Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis, accompanied by an army contingent U.S. Army Military Mapping u 81 commanded by Captain Richard Sparks, set out April 19, 1806, to map the Red River to its presumed source in the Rocky Mountains.4 Turned back by an overwhelming force of Spanish soldiers near present New Boston , Texas, the expedition nevertheless covered more than 600 miles. War Department copyist Nicholas King compiled two sets of composite maps of the expedition from field notes and sketch maps forwarded to Jefferson. Trained as a land surveyor in England, King was the first of a long line of civilian cartographers the army hired during the next half century to prepare for publication the topographic field sketches government explorers and soldier-engineers had drawn.5 As the War Department had no means of publishing its work prior to 1818, and Congress had scant interest in the Far West, King’s Map of the Red River in Louisiana (1806) and Map of the Washita River in Louisiana from the Hot Springs to the Confluence of the Red River with the Mississippi (1806) were privately engraved and printed in Philadelphia by Francis Shallus and William Kneass, respectively.6 While limited in scope, these were the first maps to be printed under government sponsorship of hitherto uncharted western waters. Samuel Latham Mitchell, editor of The Medical Repository, the leading scientific organ of its day, wrote that King’s map of the Washita River was ‘‘a substantial addition to American geography.’’7 Concurrently, the mercurial General James Wilkinson, commander of United States forces in the Mississippi Valley and secret Spanish agent, directed his protégé Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike to explore the course and headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers. Pike earlier had mapped the upper waters of the Mississippi River for Jefferson and was therefore one of the few experienced frontier army explorers available for such an expedition.8 ‘‘In the course of your tour,’’ Wilkinson instructed , ‘‘you are to remark particularly upon the Geographical structure; the Natural History; and population; [sic] of the country through which you may pass, taking particular care to collect & preserve, specimens of every thing curious in the mineral or botanical Worlds, which can be preserved & are portable: [sic] Let your courses be regulated by your compass, & your Distances by your Watch, to be noted in a field Book & I would advise you when circumstances permit, to protract & lay down in a separate Book, the march of the Day at every evenings halt.’’9 Pike’s journey in 1806 took him into southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico where his party was apprehended by a Spanish patrol on suspicion of spying . The party was held in...


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