Unearthing Cobb County’s Historic Maps

I have always been fascinated with maps. Old maps; unfamiliar maps; maps that hold lost information; maps that show secret buried treasures; maps that walk you through dark unknown caves, etc….

The best birthday party I ever attended I was 4 or 5 years old and we spent the afternoon following an old pirate’s treasure map (it was old because it had burned edges), until we found a cigar-box full of rocks in our back yard, spray-painted gold by my mother, recently buried by my father. The best books ever written, like The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia, had extensive maps pasted in the front and back for reference.

A few weeks ago, business took me again to Washington, DC with my brother Michael. This time, we couldn’t find a reasonable fare for the return flight, so we booked the outbound flight and decided to “play it by ear” from there. We ended up staying an extra day to see the DC sights, which for me involved paying a visit to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I have long wanted to do this because “Records” means “Old Maps”, right? NARA did not disappoint us.

National Archives and Records Administration, August 2018

Many of Cobb County’s oldest historical records are archived here–safe from the passing of time, impervious to war, floods, fires, and silverfish. I wanted to research three areas in particular dealing with Cobb County:

1. Maps captured from Confederates during the War Between the States
2. Railroad valuation maps, and
3. Early aerial photography of Cobb County.

This post summarizes some of the preliminary research done after “business” was completed. I would like to return soon and attempt to answer a multitude of questions that this first trip has brought up.

The War Between the States resulted in some of the most detailed surveys and maps of the United States made up until that point in our history. Accurate mapping of battlefields, terrains, topography, and vantage points proved to be a strategic advantage that determined the outcome of critical engagements. This resulted in the creation of the Department of Topographical Engineers, charged with providing accurate and detailed maps to military commanders throughout the war. Sources included anything available: land lot survey maps, postal maps provided to the U. S. government before the war, local wall maps taken from residents, military maps confiscated from the enemy, reconnaissance missions, interviews with captured prisoners, etc.

The Library of Congress has digitized many of these Topographical Engineers’ maps and they are available for download in high resolution on their website. One of my favorites of Cobb County is the following map showing many of the old roads and land owners through out the county as of 1864. My wife’s ancestors’ farms are indicated on this map (Widow Green, Gann), as well as the house we live in now (Ruff). If you are researching genealogy in Cobb County in the mid-1800s, these maps are invaluable:

But for every map that has been digitized, there are thousands of maps that are not. I wanted to see what else was in the archives related to surveys conducted in preparation of the Atlas Maps to accompany the release of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in 1881. It turns out there is quite a bit–you can only scratch the surface on a short trip.

I hope to return soon to the archives and spend a few days on a deeper investigation. But in the meanwhile, I’ll share some quick finds related to Cobb County and the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District over the next few days.

First, A Map Showing Approximate Position and Entrenchments of the Army of the Mississippi from May 25th to July 9, 1864:


I have seen a low-resolution scan of this map before, online, but it did not compare to seeing the original map in person. The detail is remarkable, the water color is quite artistic–despite its wartime composure, and it covers most of Cobb County.

Look at the colorful detail of the Johnston Riverline Defenses:

Here is a detail of the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District:

Here is downtown Smyrna a few years before it becomes a city:

The red line running North to Sotuh on the left-hand side is Old Concord Road, still pretty much the same today. Concord Road heads out of Smyrna to the Southwest. What is labeled as “Buff Station” at the top is Ruff’s Station, near where Windy Hill today intersects the railroad.

Here is Marietta:

I found several more fascinating Cobb County maps and will write about them shortly–stay tuned. I am saving the best for last!




Michael Ivester reviewing large-format maps of the Atlanta Campaign.


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