An 1862 topographical map of western Virginia shows the region's mountainous terrain, its many rivers, and the railroad lines (in red) clustered in the north. This map was compiled by W. L. Nicholson and printed at the Office of the Coast Survey, the oldest scientific entity in the United States government, an organization that had been created in 1807 by U.S. president Thomas Jefferson to chart the new nation's coasts and harbors. This map gave a detailed look at an inland region that was of great strategic and economic importance during the Civil War. Union general George B. McClellan invaded northwestern Virginia on May 26, 1861, just days after Virginia voters had overwhelmingly approved the Ordinance of Secession and joined the Confederacy. Within months of McClellan's incursion, pro-Union elements in western Virginia drafted and approved an ordinance to form a new state. The resulting state—which included much of the area shown on this map—officially became the thirty-fifth state of the United States on June 20, 1863.
The handwritten note scrawled beneath the "Scale of Miles" indicates that this linen map was captured by Confederate troops under the command of Major General Earl Van Dorn during a raid on the Union arsenal at Holly Springs, Mississippi, in December 1862. The map was subsequently forwarded to General J. F. Gilmer, Chief Engineer at the Confederate Engineer Bureau in Richmond, Virginia.