Linn’s Journey through the Croatan Sound depicted by GIS mapping

ArcGIS online provides viewers to visualize and interactively map historical events. Working with GIS has given me a better understanding of James Merrill Linn’s locations, battles and overall journey throughout the Civil War. My specific diary entry was dated between February 5-7, 1862, as Linn focuses on his expedition towards Roanoke Island. He starts at Stumpy Point, anchors on the shore of the Island the next day in the Croatan Sound, and then aboard the Spaulding, he travels around the bend of Roanoke Island where a cannonade commences. This cannonade depicts the start of the Battle of Roanoke Island.

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Roanoke Island in respect to Tyrell Shore

Dale Hartman and I hypothesized that Linn misinterpreted his location as he said, “the gun boats has moved up into the Channel between Roanoke Island and the Tyrell shore.” However, as shown to the left, Tyrell shore (shown as Tyrell county on the map) is not in close proximity to Roanoke Island, which is where the battle took place the same day. As Dale and I could stand corrected, we believe that Linn has made an error in his location. By just reading the diary entry, we would have assumed he did actually travel in the Channel between Tyrell Shore and Roanoke Island. However, GIS and maps in general give us the tools and resources to track Linn’s journey throughout the Civil War so we can better understand his locations day by day.

Bodenhamer discusses in his article the significance and consequences of GIS mapping. He says that “making data visual spurred intuitive interpretation- recognition of patterns, for instance- that remained hidden in statistical analysis” (17-18). For our purpose, GIS helped us visualize Linn’s experiences through the Civil War that we could not necessarily realize while just reading his diary entries.  As I mentioned before, Dale and I would not have been able to question Linn’s record of location on February 7, 1862 without using GIS to visualize his path to Roanoke Island.

Bodenhamer also mentions the importance of layers in GIS. He writes, “[g]eographic information systems operate a series of layers, each representing a different theme and tied to a specific location on planet earth. These layers are transparent, although the user can make any layer or combination of layers opaque while leaving others visible” (27). Because maps change over time as scholars continuously make new discoveries, layers benefit the viewer by giving a better sense of historical background of the map at the time. Additionally, layers focus on very specific events in history. For example, the layers “RoanokeRebels” and “Roanoke1862” are directed towards Civil War studies of battles in 1862. The layers are user-friendly and make the map more relevant to the viewer’s field of study.

Bodenhamer raises the point that there are some setbacks to GIS. For instance, scholars are trying to address the issue of “how… we as humanists make GIS do what it was not intended to do, namely, represent the world as culture and not simply mapped locations”(23). In some fields of research, cultural and social differences are critical and should be represented in the maps. However, when tracking Linn’s locations and comparing them to what he wrote in his diary entries, GIS serves its purpose in showing locations and different layers.

GIS has given me an overall better understanding of Linn’s journey throughout the Civil War. GIS and the Map app have essentially brought the diary entries to life and have made it easier to comprehend his path during the war. Here is my final product of Linn’s pathway between February 5-7, 1862:

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Map of Linn’s Journey February 5-7, 1862

Map app link:



Experiences while mapping with ArGIS


Unfortunately, I could not glean enough information by just looking at Linn’s diary entries. Using other tools such as ArcGIS was extremely helpful and beneficial. This source revealed how Lynn had a huge role in the Civil War and participated in many significant battles. We also see how he appeared in many different places during the war. ArcGIS showed where the locations were in relation to one another. By seeing a clear layout of the map, I was able to have a better overall understanding of Linn’s participation in the Civil War. ArcGIS has a feature where you can add map notes, which was very beneficial for me. Adding map notes helped to connect the different “clues” Linn was giving. For example allowed me to connect what I knew about the battles of Roanoke and South Mills.

At first, I did not understand the purpose of GIS. I did not grasp the concept of reading words and thinking of them as places. It was extremely frustrating and I was hesitant about the overall process. For example, I was reading about musketry and had no idea how to think of that as being a place on a map. I eventually realized I think of the center location as the medial part of the civil war, so musketry must be located in the middle.

GIS enables students to learn more information and get a better understanding of history. “(Bodenhammer 21) Archaeologist came early to GIS, as well as to other spatial instruments such as global position systems in large measure because it provided a handy and more accurate toolkit for managing their research in familiar but speedier ways” (21). ArcGIS reveals Linn’s participation in the civil war in a more accurate and succinct way.

Visual learning helped me to understand and learn more about Linn in the Civil War. “GIS relies heavily on visualization to display its results” (24). One example of the visualization displayed on the map is the hospital. It was extremely helpful to see where other places were in relation to his location. When Linn was passing by the hospital, I was able to see that he was near fort Hugers and the routes of the escaped rebels.

ArcGIS is a form of close reading. You are visually presented with a map, versus just reading words. Bodenhammerr said “GIS is fundamentally what happens in a geographic space (page 23)”.  Basically, It enables us to take what we have read and be able to visualize it in a way that provides us with more helpful information. By the end of this project, I enjoyed using GIS. It ultimately helped me have a better understanding about Linn’s participation in the Civil War.

Click below to see my final product! :

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Experiences while mapping


Preview of my map

Although my experiences with mapping were very frustrating, I cannot deny that mapping is indeed very useful. For starters, as Bodenhamer mentioned in his article mapping provides for an “unparalleled ability to manage and visualize data within a spatial context,” and I whole-heartedly agree with this statement (17). Mapping can also allow for the researcher to make connections and observations, that could not have otherwise been made through the text.

For example, my classmates and I used ArcGIS in order to tell a story through James Merrill Linn’s diary entries. Through this exercise, I now have a much better understanding of Linn’s participation in the Civil War and his whereabouts. Through merely reading the diary entry, it is hard to understand and visualize where exactly Linn is topographically. The maps allowed me to learn that the terrain that Linn and the first brigade was marching through during the Battle at Roanoke was swamps. Linn does not mention swamps specifically in my diary entry, however, by collaborating with my classmate Sam and taking a look at his map I can hypothesize that this is the case. I can come to this conclusion because my map shows both General Reno’s first brigade and General Foster’s second brigade marching towards an area that is a swamp on Sam’s map. Additionally, I was able to learn of James’ Meriil Linn’s participation in the war since General Reno is James Merrill Linn’s commander, I think it is safe to assume that Linn is a part of this second brigade.

Secondly, as Bodenhamer mentioned, “GIS provides a way to manage, relate, and query events, as well as to visualize them” (21). This is definitely a true statement, as I was able to tell a story through10808098_10152962550098777_821413876_n my map. More specifically, on Sunday February 9th, Linn discusses in his diary entry going to see three forts. However, through his readings it is impossible for the reader to know which specific forts he is referring to. The one thing Linn does mention about each fort is how many guns is at each fort. Through this little bit of information, and with the help of the map, I was able to discover Linn’s path and which forts he visited on this day. I was able to do so because one of the maps had both the names of the forts and guns listed. I was able to connect how many guns mentioned in his diary to the number mentioned on the map to discover that Linn started south at Fort Bartow, then worked his way north to Fort Blanchard, and ended at Fort Huger. I would not have been able to make these connections without the help of mapping. I also liked the map notes feature of ArcGIS which allows us to attach notes to a point, path, etc. that we made. The map notes allows us to give the public evidence of our work. Overall, mapping provided me with an image that allows me to clearly visualize and better understand Linn’s journey.

Although there are many benefits that can come about from mapping, there are also many downfalls that I came across while using ArcGIS. While using ArcGIS I found myself questioning its reliability several times. When first working with ArcGIS, I was looking into battles that the north won during the Civil War in the year 1862. I was intrigued and began looking into the details of this war that ArcGIS provided. However, I was saddened when a lot of the statistics read -0.99. I remember specifically this was the number that appeared next to causalities. This does not make sense as a statistic, and when I asked one of my professors, they responded that this is the number that appears when the website does not know the statistic. I normally would not have had too much of an issue with this, but the website does not allow for the user to change the number. Therefore, even if I discover the correct number by doing research, there is no way for me to input that information which I find very frustrating. These observations also goes along with Bodenhamer’s argument that “the precision that is necessary for statistical work does not admit readily the sort of evidence used by most humanists” (20). Another issue I found relating to reliability was that on three different maps Fort Huger appeared in different places. These specific instances made me question in what other ways ArcGIS might also be unreliable.

Despite these downfalls, I definitely think that mapping can be used to help visualize and manage events in a spatial medium. I personally learned a lot about Linn through mapping his experiences, and I think mapping can also benefit others in similar ways for other projects.

This is the link to my mapping project:

Mapping and the Battle of Roanoke

Although it took my a while to understand the program and how it all works, i found mapping to be incredibly useful and it allowed me to pull out a deeper understanding of what my diary entry truly means and how it connects to the war. Mapping itself is a very useful tool, and the ways that we utilized ArcGIS was very interesting. Although it took my a while to understand all the features, it allowed me to create a more interesting and compelling final product. Mapping allowed me to see what my diary was talking about in an easier context, by showing the course of the battle and his movements on an historical map. My mapping assignment allowed me to directly understand what effect my individual entry had on the war. Once i saw the historical map that was geo rectified on the the larger map, i was able to dissect my entry and see how his movements played out. Although it was hard for me to make conclusions from the basic writings of his diary, pulling out key phrases was what helped me in the long run. Little comments such as “He said he had been in pineswamp, but this was worse” and “Here we had to wade a pond up to our middle,” allowed me to make conclusions about where he moved around the map. GIS allows people to make a “more complicated story than traditional methods allowed,” (Bodenhamer) and thats exactly what i tired to do with my map. By combining the historical map and the entry, my story became stronger.

Looking at the historical map, a few things stuck out to me. My map notes below are without the historical map underneath it because it does not show up on my laptop, so i will have to explain. The battery image that comes up on the map is almost identical to the hand drawn sketch from Linn, as well as the location of the swamp in correlation to how he talks about his path to the battery. Although it may have seemed easy to me, its important to realize how perspective plays into all this. As Bodenhamer says, “the same body of water flowing in a channel may be called a brook, stream, or river.” This quote shows the importance of perspective, and it is important because someone else may have interpreted Linn’s writing in a different way from me. I made conclusions about the pineswamp and the pond, but they were not specifically talked about in the diary. Because of this, someone else may look at his path differently than i did.

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my map notes without the historical map


the battery from my entry


All in all, the practice of mapping allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the way that Linn records history and how maps can help us gain a better understanding of how history works. By using this software, i was able to figure out “what happens in a geographic space” (Bodenhammerr), which in my case, is the island of Roanoke and specifically my battle field.  Just by looking at the historical map and re reading my diary, i was able to make incredible conclusions about my entry. Mapping for me was useful and interesting, and i think that it is something that i would be interested in pursuing as a final project if i found information that fit well into a mapping situation.

Above is the embedded code to my map

Linn’s Journey from New Bern to Roanoke Island to Elizabeth City: Map and Web App

Linn's Journey from April 17 ,1862 to April 18, 1862

Linn’s Journey from April 17 ,1862 to April 18, 1862

In the past couple of weeks, we have used ArcGis as a form of technology. First, we were instructed how to use the maps,create layers, and add map notes. After doing this, we could create our own maps and upload archival maps to help us see the same landmarks Linn saw in 1862. I specifically chose the map “Eastern Coast” to help me see New Bern, Roanoke Island, and Elizabeth City a little bit more clearly as it was in the mid-nineteenth century. After creating our own maps with map notes and layers, we, then, created an app. This allowed us to show multiple diary entries basically as a story. We could take our audiences, interactively, through Linn’s diary entries and show them where Linn was and what he did. This map layer “Eastern Coast”, however, turned out to be very grainy, so I only used it when necessary and did not need to be zoomed in.

In the article, there is a crucial point: “through observation and testing we are able to understand how the world operates” (Bodenhammer). We saw the maps of where Linn’s journey and diary entries take place, but, until we can physically make our own maps and “test” things out, we cannot fully experience Linn’s perspective. GIS really helps us be present in his diary entries. We are essentially re-living what Linn did. We are trying to, using different aspects of technology, to better get an understanding of this soldier’s life during the Civil War.

The only time I have ever heard about Roanoke Island was in history class. We learned that this was the “lost colony.” After hearing Linn mention Roanoke Island, my mind had drifted back to history class, because this was my personal interpretation of the island. As Bodenhammer writes, “two people who view the same object may interpret it quite differently based on their different assumptions and experiences” (Bodenhammer). Linn had a very interpersonal experience with Roanoke Island, and, I am guessing, he never even thought about the fact it was called the “lost colony.” He may have heard about it, but that is not what comes to his mind when he hears the island’s name.

At the end of the day, “gis is fundamentally what happens in a geographic space” (Bodenhammerr). It is as simple as that. It allows us to take what we have read and be able to visualize it in a way that makes us more aware of what is happening in certain situations. I have never heard of New Bern or Elizabeth City, but GIS helped me understand exactly where Linn was and the encounters he had.