Mapping the Catholic Church in the Civil War

As a visualization tool, it’s hard to argue with the enduring power of maps. After attending a NEH digital methods workshop for military historians at Northeastern University last year, I realized that creating a map of the Roman Catholic Church in America during the Civil War would be a helpful way for me and my future readers to take stock of all of the bishops, chaplains, and sister nurses mentioned in my upcoming book. While the University of Richmond had already made a wonderful animated illustration of the growth of the Catholic Church by county throughout the 19th century, no one had tried to map out the church’s activity during the war itself.

Screenshot of my "My Maps" map of the U.S. Catholic Church during the American Civil War.
Screenshot of my “My Maps” map of the U.S. Catholic Church during the American Civil War.

What my map portrays is a snapshot of the American Catholic Church during the war, with the boundaries of the Confederacy marked in red. Cathedral icons map the location of cathedral churches in various American dioceses or vicariates. Confederate and Union flag icons respectively mark the pre-war residence, as best can be determined, of priests who served as chaplains in the CSA and USA armies respectively. Finally, the locations of convents that sent sisters to serve as nurses on either side during the war are marked by nun icons.

Users can click on icons on the map to learn more about the number of priests in a diocese, the length of service of a particular chaplain, which regiment they served with, or the number of sisters who served as nurses from a specific convent during the war. Please note that I am still looking for specific date and place information on a number of chaplains and females religious orders. For example, I could not find where Rev. Bernard McCollum lived before the conflict, so I assigned him to Pennsylvania because the regiment he served with was from that state.  I would be grateful to any one who can help me fill in any gaps in my data. You can click here to see and explore the map for yourself.


Blied, Benjamin J. Catholics and the Civil War. Milwaukee: St. Francis Seminary Press, 1945.

Brinsfield, John W., William C. Davis, Benedict Maryniak, and James I. Robertson, Jr., eds., Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Germain, S.T.L, M.A., J.C.B., Dom Aidan Henry. Catholic Military and Naval Chaplains, 1776-1917. PhD diss., Catholic University of America, 1929.

Jolly, Ellen Ryan. The Nuns of the Battlefield. Providence, Rhode Island: Providence Visitor, 1927.

Maher, Sr. Mary Denis. To Bind up the Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

The Metropolitan Catholic Almanac and Laity’s Directory. Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1861.

Note on Methodology:

I realized while researching and building my database of the Catholic Church during the war that I did not need, at least at this stage, high-end GIS software to visualize the church during this period. Thus, after attending a “digital tool talk” by my colleague Peter Hedlund of the Encyclopedia Virginia, I decided on using Google’s “My Maps.” My Maps is a free mapping program available to anyone with a Google account. My maps allows users to upload spreadsheets of data and display them online. In essence, you can create your own customized version of Google Maps.  Recently, the basic and free version of My Maps was upgraded to allow users to upload more spreadsheet rows of data, have more layers, and use their own customized icons.

Google’s My Maps makes it very easy to map the location of dioceses and male and female religious because it does not require Lat or Long coordinates. Rather, one can simply enter in the name of the place just as they do in Google Maps.

Some map objects’ locations are only approximations of where they really were. Such is the case with Los Angeles’ cathedral and the convent of the Daughters of Charity of Emmitsburg, MD, which are mapped to their 21st century locations rather than their nearby 19th century ones. But, as this map is only meant to show the general distribution of the church and its religious who participated directly in the war, this caveat does not detract from the visualization’s  usefulness.