In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast to produce the nautical charts necessary for maritime safety, defense, and the establishment of national boundaries. Within years, the United States Coast Survey was the government’s leading scientific agency, charting coastlines and determining land elevations for the nation. In 1861, the agency adjusted quickly to meet the needs of a country at war…

Civil War Collection*
Enter keyword(s)
State or Region
Enter a Year

*To see the entire collection, click the search button without entering information.

In 1861, U.S. Coast Survey supervisor Alexander Dallas Bache published Notes on the Coast of the United States, secret documents used by the Union Blockade Board. This series of Notes, covering the Delaware Bay to the Mississippi Sound on the Gulf Coast, contributed to the efficacy of the Union blockading squadrons.

Coast Survey superintendents prepared a report each year, showing the progress of the survey. While the full reports were over 200 pages, Bache’s summary statements for 1861, 1862, 1863, and 1864, gave a sense of Coast Survey’s involvement in the war effort. Bache suffered a debilitating illness in 1865, so the 1865 summary was prepared by an assistant.

Alexander Dallas Bache was the most dominant figure in American science leading up to and during the Civil War.

U.S. Coast Survey cartographer Edwin Hergesheimer created the 1861 map showing the density of slave population in the Southern states.

Meet more of the Coast Survey men who made a difference in the Civil War. Brief vignettes are introductions to some fascinating history.

The U.S. Coast Survey in the Civil War provides insights into the innovative developments of the era.

*NEW* Coast Surveyors were pivotal in the bombardment of Fort Jackson, April 1862

In 1916, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey compiled a comprehensive report: Military and Naval Service of the United States Coast Survey 1861-1865.

Office of Coast Survey's Historical Map and Chart Collection contains over 30,000 images from the late 1700s to present day.

NOAA Historic Coast and Geodetic Survey Photo Library has over 3,000 images and annual reports that chronicle the U.S. heritage of coast and geodetic surveying.

The Office of Coast Survey is the oldest U.S. government scientific organization. This brief history of U.S. Coast Survey describes how they attracted the best and brightest scientists and naturalists.

This project was supported by the NOAA Preserve America Initiative, part of Preserve America, federal initiative aimed at preserving, protecting and promoting our nation's rich heritage.

Office of Coast Survey
Historical Map and Chart Collection
Web site owner: NOAA's Office of Coast Survey