Google’s Map Engine – First Regiment, Michigan Calvary

Step One: Excel
The first thing I did when examining the data for the First Regiment of the Michigan Calvary was to open Excel and begin putting the data into a spreadsheet. It was difficult for me to look at the such a large block of text and attempt to see patterns, and I wanted to be able to examine the data in an organized fashion. I created separate sheets for each year (1864, 1865, and 1866), and within the sheets I had the following categories: action, place, to, begin, and end. So this way I could see that the regiment had a campaign from Rapidian to the James River from the third of May 1864 to the 24th of June in the same year. Since this was a campaign that lasted over a month, I bolded the line in the sheet. All of the unbolded text underneath were places the regiment visited as a part of the campaign. I also made sure to not add any text to the spreadsheet that wasn’t in the original data. I put the information into Excel in the exact way it was written on the National Park website. When the regiment was at two places in one day (or perhaps the regiment had been split up?) I put those locations into two separate boxes, such as Furnaces and Broad Rock. I then added a column for latitude and longitude so I could input the information into the Google Map Engine as a CSV.

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Step Two: 1864
I decided to layer the map by year, so I had one layer each for the years 1864, 1865, and 1866. After I put the CSV file for 1864 into Google Map Engine, I found that there were 24 errors in the file, meaning that 24 of my latitude and longitude fields were empty. Some were obviously going to be empty, such as the campaign from Rapidian to the James River. Others I had not been able to find by doing a Google search, like Aenon Church and Locke’s Ford. I then searched in the Google Map Engine for these places, and found a few, which were then added to my data table (the ones I found in Google Maps are distinguishable by a yellow pin point in the data sheet on the map). I did run into several problems: the pin for the James River is at the source of the river, which I doubt is where the regiment actually was; it is impossible to see the sites that have multiple pins unless you go into the data sheet; and there was a great amount of uncertainty in the entire process. For example, the original data said the regiment was in Loudoun County, but there is no further information to clarify exactly where in Loudoun County they were. I had the same problem with the “Toll Gate near White Post.” I couldn’t put in the latitude and longitude coordinates for White Post because they weren’t actually in White Post, they were only near White Post. And which toll gate where they near? I had thought of drawing a line from Rapidian to the James River to show the regiment’s campaign, but I realized that they didn’t follow a straight line from point to point; they fought at several locations in between. I played around with the labels a bit, and originally wanted to keep the place name with each pin, but I thought it looked too cluttered. I kept the pins a red color because I thought they would stand out well against any base map I chose, and for 1864 I would have the highest number of pins out of any other year. I also decided to use the traditional pin rather than any of the variations because I think they’re more precise than the others. One of the best things about putting the data into a spreadsheet first was that all the additional information I had, such as the action and beginning and end dates, were included in the text in the pins. So, if you find Kilpatrick’s Raid in Richmond, you get the following metadata:

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Step Three: 1865 & 1866
I had the same problems with the data for the 1865 spreadsheet as I did for the previous year. There were 10 errors in this file, and so I went back through and searched for the places on Google. I was able to find five locations and add them to the map. I also added a line from Edenburg (spelled Edinburg in Google) to Little Fort Valley to show the regiment’s expedition. The 1866 CSV only had two rows of information, and since neither of the locations had latitude and longitudes associated with them I was unable to import data for that year. I put down a pin for Utah, since they were there for the beginning of the year before being “mustered out.” For the 1865 pins I used blue diamonds, and for for 1866 I used a green square. I ended up choosing the light landmass base map. The other maps were either too dark (satellite, dark landmass) or showed highways and interstates (light political, simple atlas).

Conclusions
This practicum was more labor-intensive than the others, mostly because I had to start with raw data that had not already been organized. I had no idea how imprecise mapping can be, and I am wondering how my map will compare to that of my colleagues’. I have no idea how many mistakes I might have made inputting the latitude and longitude coordinates, which parts of Loudoun or Faquier County the regiment was in, where Ground Squirrel Church is, and much, much more. This is in part due to the raw data I began with, which was often fuzzy and not explicit. The map obviously does not relate any content to the viewer, so maps are best used in collaboration with a narrative.

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