The Emotional Journey of James Merrill Linn through the Battle of South Mills

My exploration of geospatial mapping analysis through GIS left  me with some profound questions about the nature of our experiences and their context chronologically and spatially. Chief among my interests was the exact nature of James Merrill Linn’s emotional state as his narrative progressed through the Battle of South Mills. While not particularly dense in technical specifics, my transcription excerpt was rich in emotional detail. In this survey I will attempt to characterize Linn’s emotional state through a spatial context. The question is simple; how did where Linn was, effect what he felt? More specifically, how do geography, distance and battle positions effect Linn’s emotions as expressed in his diary? Are there turning points and climaxes in respect to time and place? The first step was to analyze Linn’s text by sentence and assign a “sentiment score” on a scale from 5 to -5. This score is a qualitative judgment of the mood expressed by a sentence. For example, “I was exhausted, I felt like I would die.” receives a score of -5 as most negative number corresponds to the most negative sentiment. The sentence, “They came out in a wonderful order and we raised our colors high.” is an example of a very positive sentence with a score of positive 5. In the between 1 and -1 is 0, or neutral, where no descendable sentiment is expressed. I experimented with digital methods for sentiment analysis using python and  online software but most of these programs were qualitatively wildly inaccurate, or inconsistent. This was the goal originally to remove any artifacts of editorializing or personal prejudices from the analysis but the software proved to be entirely ineffective, a manual qualitative analysis was sufficient for shorter pieces of text.

  Figure 1 shows the sentiment for each of the 32 sentences the transcription contained. The sentiment score is put into a table next to its respective sentence allowing for the generation of a line graph illustrated in Figure 2.   

Figure 2 was the first visualization created in this investigation and it reveals the relationship of time and Linn’s emotions. Because of the linear relationship of sentences in his narrative, this graph reveals the chronological progression of Linn’s text. In the graph itself, the line at zero indicates a neutral emotion and peaks positive in the y-axis indicate a favorable emotion while negative in the y-axis is a unfavorable emotion.


Fig. 1


Fig. 2

Using Linn’s text, sentiment analysis and outside  resources such as period and modern maps and battle descriptions, a detailed and multilayered world can be built. In her article, Graphephesis, Drucker discusses the various forms information can be represented and visualization schemes through history. Drucker mentions that certain data representations such as the grid coordinate system inherent to line graphs and maps drawn with respect to coordinates have only existed within the  last three centuries. Drucker explains that there is a rich millennia-old history surrounding information representation systems, including maps based on landmarks, locations placed in terms of relationships and calendars based on star positions and concentric circles. Similarly, this investigation will create a map based on emotion, where objects of influence, movement and the passage of time can all come together to form a picture of the feelings behind an experience.


Fig. 3


Fig. 6

The process involved in creating such a map includes several outside sources of information. Maps of civil war battles often were not laid out in terms of accurate locations on a coordinate grid, but the relative positions of troops and objects in the form of simple illustrations. these maps were overlapped and a composite map based on most likely relative position was  formed. Figure 5 shows the progress of this aggregate map. While they do not perfectly line up, the positions of cannons, batteries and troop positions relative to fences and the road can be established. An overlay consisting of vector shapes was necessary to anchor the positions. Every road, river  and canal’s position was extrapolated from several period maps and overlaid on the aggregate.  Later, troop positions and movements of Linn’s regiment are overlaid from the path that Linn describes and the path confirmed from other sources. Dots representing Linn’s position with respect to each sentence are placed on top of the path. A color gradient was devised with bright red representing -5 and  bright green for 5)


Fig. 5


Fig. 4

With the finished pictorial diagrams, map and line graph it is immediately possible to see certain trends and turning points within Linn’s narrative. From this context-rich model of Linn’s world for that day, we can see objects and forces which affected his emotions. For example, the long walk from Elizabeth city ends near South Mills. It is clear through Linn’s writing that this journey was arduous and some of his most negative sentiments come from right before battle when Linn is exhausted from walking. Almost the entire beginning of his path is highly negative until he begins battle. The positions of his comrades next to him and their performance have a noticeable effect on his sentiment (the 9th of New York in particular).

One very curious trend that I noticed was that the language Linn uses to describe events changes from when he is marching to when is fighting. Linn used the word say, “Here I was so

completely exhausted that I begged Col Bell to give me Lt Beaver as I could not proceed” and “I thought would die” to and express his deeply agitated state just walking from Elizabeth city. When his men start dying in front of him and the enemy is in sight is language changes very subtly near sentence 17. Near the end of the diary he writes, “ fell and was unconscious for a little while – but recovered & staggered on, supported by some of my men. I am yet unable to say whether it was a faint or something struck me. I can’t find any mark the rebels left. But once we were unable to pursue, being too much exhausted.” While his state is similar, presumably he is more exhausted, he does not use the impassioned voice when recalling these events.sub He recounts his fallen men impassively, his own injuries in the heat of battle are described as a physician would describe them, a general emotional separation. While a more thorough analysis would be necessary, I hypothesize that Battle changes Linn’s emotional state -as evident in the language he uses when recalling it- so that an psychological armor is put in place to hide him from the horrors he was witnessing. Today we know of several psychological conditions and disorders that affect veterans of modern wars. During Linn’s time psychological services were non-existent. Through analysis of writings from Civil War veterans it is known that disorders like PTSD, brain injuries and emotional trauma were rampant among the many diseases during the American Civil War (Ford).


Linn, James Merrill. Diary. April 19th, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: “Interpreting Visualization::Visualizing Interpretation.” Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Harvard UP, Cambridge, MA

Ford, Sarah M. “Suffering in Silence:.” Psychological Disorders and Soldiers in the American Civil War. Kutztown University, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.    

The Battle of Camden. Digital image. Battle of South Mills. New York Herald, n.d. Web. Published May 4th, 1862

The Battle of Camden. Digital image. Battle of South Mills. New York Tribune, n.d. Web. 6 May 1862

The Battle of Camden. Digital image. Battle of South Mills. New York Times, n.d. Web. Published on May 8th, 1862

Linn’s Narrative as Revealed By GIS

GIS or Graphic Information System, is a quantitative method for parsing vast amounts of information in  geospatial context. For the case of James Merrill Linn and his 1862 experience in the Civil war, GIS allows us to give spacial context to his narrative. The existence of certain topological features, distances covered and object encountered all have a vital effect on Linn’s experience. All of this information can be neatly organized in the form of a highly interactive and flexible map. We can mark Linn’s journey through space and give detail to the characteristics present. As Bodenhammer points out, GIS and more generally viewing history through a spatial lens is a fundamental shift in the way history is understood (15). Bodenhammer claims that with a periodic or chronological analysis, certain details can be lost, a recent shift accompanying GIS towards a space includes many benefits. Any region of space has a multitude of inherent characteristics vital for historical understanding.  Bodenhammer writes, “Spaces are not simply settings of historical action but are a significant product and determinant of change…all spaces contain embedded stories about what happened there.”(16) In a general sense this means that spatial thinking elucidate the complexities of history as they are vital actors in historical events. Spaces are embedded with the cultural codes of whatever political arrangements took place. For example, as pointed out by Bodenhammer,  the descepency between European settlers who saw the North American continent as a wilderness, a resource to be consumed and the Native Americans who saw it as home (16). With this information and other historical sources like maps and written observation we can attempt to rebuild a world lost to time.


The question remains, is GIS in fact a source of objective knowledge or simply a method of interpretation? Bodenhammer claims that GIS is not simply a method but the incorporation of diverse forms of data reveal new information as an emergent property.  Does GIS provide an empirical truth or simply the view  of an observer? Bodenhammer acknowledges issues, ” Knowledge was always contingent on the perspective of the observer. Even calculations of the material world depended upon cultural assumptions.” For example, when is a river a creek or a brook? When is a pile a mound and when is it a mountain? As a response Bodenhammer points out that regardless of name, the object and its nature remains the same, through the nature of GIS we can introduce rigid definitions that are flexible through continually evolving technology, preserving some state of objectivity and reducing cultural artifacts (18).


As for Linn, GIS provided many advantages in understanding his narrative. For example, I was surprised by the length and nature of the distances between known location that Linn had to cross. Current physical and historical maps revealed the nature of the terrain covered, including swamp, and thick woods. My page of Linn’s diary heavily featured a state of exhaustion, seeing  the path Linn took it is easy to understand his condition, a spatial understanding of Linn’s world was necessary for the contextualization of this knowledge.




On Tagging and Markup

The process of marking up text itself reveals some key inherent aspects. As I built my TEI file, I saw the structure of the text as dictated by the appearance of objects, places and their relationships and definitions. For example, I noticed the relatively few times places were mentioned in the text. Only one place, “the road” was mentioned within Linn’s narrative for my section of text, events were tied to names not places. After going through the process it is evident that the marked up file is inherently different than the original. One problem I encountered was determining the amount of information and detail to include in my markup. If I did  too little I might end up losing important meaning or details, marking up too much risked obscuring the original text.  Pierazzo comments on this dilemma and notes that a transition can be viewed as  model of a physical object, considering there are an infinite number of details present in a physical object, one might be tempted to create a model that aspires to be the original as much as possible, however, a model is useless unless it is a simplification of what it models. Pierazzo  suggests this balance between too much and too little detail can be remedied with a application of a “grid of features” , a hierarchy of what characteristics of a text are important. 

This if an example of levels of detail TEI markup language allows. The transcriber must make decisions on what is important.

This if an example of levels of detail TEI markup language allows. The transcriber must make decisions on what is important.

The collaborative process changed the way I thought of edited work production. For the tagging of words, what might be an obvious tag for one might not be for another, while neither would have reasons completely disproving the other. Compromise was the eventual outcome thus collaborative texts are built on compromises between differing viewpoints. When considering other’s viewpoints on the same text, one gains the appreciation of how one’s own editing is the result of their own interpretation.

Elena Pierazzo mentions this as part of a larger phenomenon encountered in digital transcriptions, that is the essential effect of the transcriber when they chose what to bring to light. Pierazzo claims that a text in its original form contains an infinite number of facts and that transcription is “a substantially  interpretive act” as only a finite number of those facts can be presented in a marked transcription.

For example, place vs. object was a significant issue that was brought up in class. Is the Cossack, a ship, a place or an object? Some considered the Cossack an object as all ships are objects, others considered it a place as it behaves this way in Linn’s narrative, much like a house. The finished collaborative transcription is very different from one made individually. Pierazzo mentions this distinction with her description of a diplomatic edition.

Pierazzo claims that a direct transcription is  “a derivative document that holds a relationship with the transcribed document.” A diplomatic transcription however, is a “formal presentation of such a derivative document” that is proofread, corrected and peer reviewed before publication for the public. 


The finished product is a result of collaboration and is inherently different than the original individual text.

Linear Expression of History and TimeMapper

Representing complex ideas in a graphical form is such a difficult pursuit that perhaps there can be no perfect finished product, as complex abstract ideas cannot be wholly expressed in visual terms. Grafton examines one of the  the oldest and most common ways in which we visualize history, the line. The line as a metaphor is so ubiquitous it appears to be inseparable from our understanding of the passage of time, thus its universality in chronology and graphical representations of history. The line, however important when dealing with the order of things, presents an account of history in a one-dimensional manner. History, as Grafton notes, is filled with relationships, details and digressions impossible to translate into a linear format. Graphical representation gives context to fact, establishes relationships and introduces new information- such as geography- that one might initially overlook. Above providing additional  information, graphical representations allows one to easily digest diverse forms of data. Linn’s narrative is closely effected by the events hundreds of miles from his physical location, events like outcomes of distant battles and politics in both Washington and Richmond. The responsiveness of very distant events and the personal life of a single civil war tie in closely with the developments of the 1860s. A message from across the atlantic ocean, thousands of miles from Linn’s position could alter is narrative within a matter of days or hours. One of the major events of the 1860s was the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable


One of the most important events in the 1860s with an influence on Linn’s life.

. Immense changes  were underway during the 1860s that are very evident in Linn’s day-to-day narrative. In fact, the first four events on the TimeMapper follow a common theme; the creation of the first intercontinental railroad, the founding of the Pony Express, the opening of the Suez Canal and the invention of the bicycle.


Here we see the first four events in the Timemapper deal with developments in travel and communication.

The world was becoming smaller, information, people and goods could be transported at an unprecedented rate. Countries and continents were interconnected in ways never before seen in history. Thus we immediately see the interweave of the events from the TimeMapper timeline and Linn’s narrative.

On Distant Reading

For my investigation into the Linn letters I used a set of word I initially hypothesized to have some relation to the internal changes within Linn himself. The Jakacki hypothesis states, that a profound shift can be found half-way through the text that reveals a deep change and loss of innocence for Linn. Using the words received, brother and mother I was able to gain some insight into Linn’s relationship to his own family and Linn’s level of acknowledgment and mutual interest among those closest to him. The visualization revealed little other than that mention of family increases near the beginning and end of the letters.  I find little evidence to either verify or refute the original hypothesis, even carefully chosen words reveal few patterns as do carefully selected sets of words. I believe that Linn’s writing style makes it exceptionally difficult to derive deeper trends within his texts. My own investigation didi reveal that he rarely mentions any family member other than immediately after he left and before he came back, hardly evidence for the hypothesis.

The technique of using transcribed text and visual analysis tools might be helpful in some situations. Unfortunately, I have found little evidence that those methods reveal any more information in this particular case. This does not mean that distant reading methods are entirely ineffective, as the cirrus cloud did illustrate the relationships between words and their frequency. Small trends like the appearance of the word “boat” and “wounded” did match up with the general shape of Linn’s experiences. Overall however, this particular exercise revealed little evidence to support the hypothesis. grab