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Mapping the Revolutionary War

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration of Independence, July 4 1776

With these words, the Continental Congress of the 13 American colonies declared themselves no longer part of the British Empire. The Declaration of Independence, which came 15 months into the American Revolutionary War, was just the beginning. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, would not be signed until Sept. 3, 1783.

In the seven years of fighting in between, the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, learned the importance of geospatial intelligence. From the rocky terrain of the north, humid swamplands of the south and dense forests of the west, the Continental Army’s superior knowledge of the varied geography gave them an incredible advantage. As such, mapping was critical to the colonists’ victory.

Geographer and Surveyor General to the Continental Army Robert Erskine and his team of surveyors completed well over 200 detailed maps and surveys of the Revolutionary War’s northern theater for General Washington and the Continental Army. With an accurate knowledge of the geography and terrain, Erskine’s team gave the Army a decisive advantage over the British. On many occasions, including the Army’s surprise nighttime attack on British soldiers at Stony Point, the Americans used Erskine’s maps to successfully outmaneuver their enemy.

Over 230 years later, American military forces still rely on timely and accurate geospatial intelligence – or GEOINT – provided by NGA to gain a decisive advantage over their adversaries.