Jedediah Hotchkiss was born on November 28, 1828, to Stiles and Lydia (Beecher) Hotchkiss in Windsor, New York. He lived and went to school in Windsor, graduating from the Windsor Academy. In 1847, after a year of teaching Lykens Valley, PA, he set out on a walking tour through the Cumberland Valley into western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. Attracted by the beauty of the region, Hotchkiss accepted a position as tutor for the Daniel Forrer family in Staunton. This family school evolved into the Mossy Creek Academy, a widely known school for boys. In 1858 Hotchkiss organized the Loch Willow School at Churchville, which he operated until the War began.
When the War came, Hotchkiss closed his school and volunteered his service to Virginia and the Confederacy. Because of his self-taught mapmaking skills, he made a unique contribution to the Confederate military effort. He drew maps for General Robert S. Garnett before the battle of Rich Mountain in western Virginia in July 1861 and witnessed the Confederate defeat there. Afterward Hotchkiss became ill with typhoid fever and retired for several months to recuperate at home. In March 1862 he joined Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley as a captain and chief topographical engineer of the Valley District. Jackson set him the task of making a map of the Valley from Harpers Ferry to Lexington. Henceforth, Hotchkiss carried out reconnaissance and drew maps for the general until Jackson’s death in May 1863. Often personally directing troop movements he took part in the actions of the Valley Campaign and at Cedar Mountain, Chantilly, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg. At Chancellorsville he found the route by which Jackson was able to launch his surprise flank attack on the Union 11th Corps. Thereafter he performed the same services for Generals Richard S. Ewell and Jubal Early until the end of the War. He gave himself up upon notification of Lee's surrender. By now a major, he was arrested but General Grant had him released and returned his maps. Grant even paid for the right to copy some of them for his own reports.
Hotchkiss sketched most of the maps while on horseback, using different colored pencils to note the chief characteristics and peculiarities of the terrain as well as troop positions, roads and residences. The sketches were often critical in the planning of military operations by Jackson, Ewell and Early. Hotchkiss knew the ground and usually guided the generals unerringly as they planned their moves. In a sense, his eyes were the eyes of the Second Corps. Hotchkiss also kept a journal, which is one of the most useful of Civil War military diaries because of his staff role with the leading figures directing the Confederate military efforts in Virginia.
After the War, Hotchkiss taught school for two years before opening an office as a civil, mining and consulting engineer. With his intimate and wide knowledge of the Army of Northern Virginia, Hotchkiss became a popular lecturer on the War. Using chalk to illustrate his talks, he fascinated audiences in the North and South, often lecturing on “Reminiscences of Stonewall Jackson’s Campaign in the Valley of Virginia.” He was one of the "distinguished men of the South" who collaborated in the writing of the 12-volume "Confederate Military History", single handedly composing the 1,295 pages of the Virginia volume. Most of the Confederate maps in the atlas of the Official Records were drawn by Hotchkiss. He also turned his geographical knowledge and mapmaking skills to other advantage. Known by 1890 as the “Father of Booms”, he as author, lecturer, geological authority, editor of an industrial journal, and friend of Northern and British investors was one of Virginia’s most persistent advocates of industrialism in the late 19th century. He visited England and Scotland to encourage emigration to Virginia and worked ceaselessly to popularize the new notion of the public school system.
On January 17, 1899, at age 71, Jedediah Hotchkiss died at his home in Staunton, Virginia. His maps and journals on the War remained in private hands for nearly fifty years after his death, but in 1948, the Library of Congress acquired the materials.
One evening in 1862 Jed Hotchkiss was given an assignment by Stonewall Jackson to locate some needed wagons which had become separated. Hotchkiss told Jackson, “I fear we will not find our wagons tonight.” Jackson replied earnestly, “Never take counsel of your fears.”
Taken from SIDELIGHTS AND LIGHTER SIDES OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES: A Feast of History in Small Bites Cooked Up by Ralph Green, Past Commander-in-Chief Sons of Confederate Veterans. Used with permission.