Latest Entries »

Case Study Proposal:

Population Growth in Prince William County, Virginia and its Implications on the Environment.
This study will examine the continuous urban sprawl and suburban development in Prince William County, Virginia.  Prince William County is located in the region of Northern Virginia, which is a part of the Washington DC Metropolitan greater region.  Urban development disrupts hydrological and ecological systems, in addition to isolating and degrading local natural habitats.  Over the past few decades, Prince William County has transformed from a rural area with two main population centers, Manassas and Woodbridge, to a thriving society.  Today, these two population centers now are interconnected with a steady stream of roads and neighborhoods.  20 years ago, this area was quiet and had quite a lower population. In 20 years, the population has almost doubled from approximately 216,000 in 1990 to approximately 402,000 in 2010. In addition the county is projected to grow to approximately 555,000 in another 20 years; the county had nearly doubled its population every 20 years since 1950 (population was 22,000 in 1950).  The growth of this county has led to a decline in agriculture and an increase in pollution.  These constraints from growth and development have ultimately resulted in several ecological issues that this study will attempt to address.   Furthermore, this study will identify the spatial patterns associated with the growth and how it has grown over the years.
Maps (i.e. Historic, topographic, pre-1990 census maps)  – Any scanned map that has features that can be digitized to fill in gaps from all other data used.
SRTM – Any type of elevation data needs to be used in order to explain why certain areas have not been affected by urban sprawl.
Orthorectified Aerial Imagery – This type of imagery will provide most of the historical data needed to determine foundation data for comparing the present to the past.  Each image used can be digitized to extract data into vector format.
Satellite Imagery – This type of imagery will allow various types of sensors to determine changes via comparing two or more images identify change detection in vegetation, ecology, infrastructure, and other important features in foundation data.
Table 1. Satellite remote sensing data for ecological research.
spatial resolution (m)
temporal resolution (days)
LULC (Land use land cover), including current and historical datasets  – This provides an idea of where the different feature classes of land type and uses are located.
Census: 1990 and newer census tracts, population – Census data reveals where the population is with any given area.
Hydrographic: rivers, streams, lakes, watershed – Hydrographic features are part of a foundation dataset.
Infrastructure: roads, rails, powerlines, pipelines – Infrastructure features are part of a foundation dataset.
Environment: Air Quality maintenance area, water quality monitoring station – Reveals location of areas that monitor changes in the environment.  This allows for the validity of data acquired in relation to air and water quality data compared to sensors that capture quality via remote sensing.
Boundary: County and cities – Provides an outline for the areas of interest.
The methodology used for studying the issue of population affecting the local ecology requires two different datasets themed to a specific time frame, one pre-1990 dataset and one post-1990 dataset.  The area of interest that will be studied is within the county borders of Prince William County, Virginia, including the cities of Occoquan, Manassas, and Manassas Park.  A foundation dataset based on the aforementioned criteria is needed to identify changes and challenges that urban growth has had within the county.  GIS allows this foundation dataset to be overlaid with land cover and other raster and vector files that have a relation to identifying the affects of increased population in the county with files that can help determine factors that affect the ecology such has changes in county infrastructure.
In order to accomplish this, GIS plays an instrumental role in conducting spatial analysis between feature classes and identifying relationships among the two topics: population and ecology.
Not all datasets are readily available in can be used immediately for spatial analyses.  Most of all raster files in this project will have to be scanned and inputted into the system.  At this point, each file, whther it is a photographic image or a map needs to be spatially referenced in the area it is detailing.  Digitizing these types of files is a necessity once the files are geo-referenced in order to extrapolate any valuable vector datasets from the map or images, such as landcover and landuse, vegetation, missing pieces to infrastructure (i.e. roads, buildings, parks, waterways, et cetera), et cetera.  Most of the raster files that are not used for creating vector datasets will be used for identifying air quality, pollution, water quality, and most other ecological readings within the county.
Population data acquired from the U.S. Census Bureau and Aerial Photography will be monitored over the past 60 years, in 5 to 10 year increments depending on how much the population has changed the landscape of the county.  Each 10 year increment changes will be identified in GIS and then compared to see the progression of change temporally.  The decrease of agricultural land will also be identified in GIS via this process.
The results of this project should determine what areas within Prince William County have endured more drastic changes than other areas, as well as what areas need to be protected from any further development.  In addition, this project will visually and temporally depict the changes over time in regards to population growth, infrastructure changes, changes in water levels, air quality animations, and vegetation changes.  Overall, the results will identify spatial patterns that have directly impacted how the area has grown into what it is today from what it was 60 years ago, while simultaneously affecting the ecology of the area.
This most anticipated roadblock will be the acquisition of data needed to fulfill all the requirements in order to do spatial analysis and observations.  Secondary to do this, the time involved to complete this project will be dependent on the amount of change and extraction that is needed from the ingestion of maps or photographic images.  The more gaps in the vector data, the more time needed to extract from the raster files.

Maps can tell a great story without words, especially by showing a temporal depiction of the change of cultures and boundaries. Throughout history though, various empires conquered many lands across most of Asia and left behind many cultural influences that have molded today’s ethnic groups and languages in the region.

There are three main language families in this region depicted in the below map: Semitic (Yellow), Indo-Iranian (Orange), and Turkic (Green).

Semitic language roots trace back to the days of the Sumerians and Akkadians estimated around 2400 BC. These languages have evolved over time into the most commonly known languages of Arabic (commonly used in all Arab States), Hebrew (commonly used in Israel), Amharic (commonly used in Ethiopia), and Tigrinya (commonly used in Eritrea).

Indo-Iranian language roots trace back to 6th century BC. Indo-Iranian is most commonly known today as the Persian language family consisting of mainly Kurdish, Farsi, Pashto, Tajik, and Dari. Other Indo-Iranian languages are located in Pakistan and India.

Turkic language roots trace back to the early Middle Ages (around 8th century AD). Before the Turkic expansion occurred, most Turks were located in the Area known as Mongolia today. In the years following the early Middle Ages, the Turks expanded in all parts of Asia from Siberia to India to Turkey covering a vast land mass and influencing many cultures along the way. Today, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and the languages of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia make up what is part of the Turkic family.

The following maps are courtesy of the Gulf/2000 Project funded by Columbia University:

Linguistic Composition of Southwest Asian States: Present Day

The following group of maps reveals historic changes as a result of the various conquerors, empires, and cultures from 1450 to 2000 AD. Throughout the years, the only long standing empires have been the Ottoman/Turkey and Persia/Iran.

Islamic States ca. AD 1450
Islamic States ca. AD 1510
Islamic States ca. AD 1550
Islamic States ca. AD 1625
Islamic States ca. AD 1700
Islamic States ca. AD 1750
Islamic States ca. AD 1800
Islamic States ca. AD 1840
Islamic States ca. AD 1850
Islamic States ca. AD 1900
Islamic States ca. AD 1925
Islamic States ca. AD 1950
Islamic States ca. AD 2000
This will be my last post in this series of my Military Geography awareness postings.  I had fun researching and writing this topic.  In this last posting, I want to highlight the effects of weather, climate, and terrain on military forces and how geography plays an instrumental role in this.  A couple of years ago, I read book entitled Battling the elements: weather and terrain in the conduct of war by Harold Winters.  This book was not only intriguing to me, but also interesting at the same time in how it depicts various scenarios on how geographies played a crucial role in winning or losing battles.  This posting is a conglomeration of my thoughts with historical facts contained within this book.
Military operations have continuously been effected by various climates that have posed many problems for militaries in foreign lands.  Ground, naval, and air forces each are affected by climate in different ways, but also have some similarities among them.  Those forces that conduct an offensive battle in another climate have usually resulted in a decisive loss.  In order to counter the threat that the climate poses in a foreign land, military strategists and climatologists must do their part to educate their own military force to be effective.  This can be done by understanding the seasonal changes and how terrain and soil will be impacted by the temperatures and precipitation.  Though no strategy will be completely perfect since the weather within the climate may change from year to year, individuals can still study the historical commonalities over time to establish trends and patterns that will benefit their military force.  The impact of a climate in a foreign land has had devastating results on the movement and logistics of a military.
Intruders into a foreign region may be deceived by the weather in an area and not understand the long-term climatic effects.  Climatic factors that have affected historic campaigns consisted of temperature and precipitation as the primary forces.  Ultimately, these effects of nature have disintegrated armies in the past.  In Russia, temperature levels greatly rise in the summer months, but as the year progresses, the temperatures fall drastically.  In the past 300 years, three armies attempted to invade Russia regardless of its climate.  The Swedes, French, and Germans have all suffered greatly as a result of Russia’s weather and climate.
Temperature can be broken down into extreme heat and cold.  Each extreme affects military forces in several different ways depending on the climate the invading country originated from previously.  Extreme heat is preferably more favorable than cold.  For example, most military campaigns against Russia have began in the summer months since the movement of ground forces was somewhat more formidable than in the winter.  The climate in Western Europe relies mainly on air that originates from the nearby ocean which allows for more moderate temperatures.  This climate is very different than in Eastern Europe, where the ocean cooling and heating occurs at a slower rate since it is further inland.  In addition, Russia is a vast territory in size which allows for four major climates that affect its physical environment: tundra, subarctic, continental, and temperate.
Moreover, extreme cold temperatures create hazards for military forces that are unprepared when traveling from less extreme climates.  For example, the lack of seasonal uniforms that were worn by the Germans during their invasion of Russia forces major delays in their advancement into Russia’s heartland, because of their need to warm their troops and equipment.  In addition, soldiers can become frost bitten which allows soldiers to be more susceptible to death, injuries, disease, or desertion if they are inadequately dressed.  Therefore, climatic temperature can have a great impact on a military forces’ physical and mental well-being when traveling across great distances.
On the other hand, precipitation and moisture can cause damage to any military force regardless whether it’s hot or cold.  In summer months, continuous thunderstorms cause the soil to loosen which results in the ground turning to mud.  Climates that rapid cooling occurs in leads to temperatures dropping dramatically; therefore, colder regions of the world endure large quantities of snow.  In Russia, the large amounts of snow cover allows for reflection of the sun’s energy, ultimately prolonging the arrival of spring.  These conditions were quite different than in Western Europe’s winter and both the German and French armies were not prepared for the Russian winter.
The aforementioned climatic factors have ultimately decided the outcomes of military campaigns.  Every military force that decides to invade or fight against another nation in a different climate needs to understand the geographic setting and how the weather will impact their mission.  In addition, historic military forces typically have not been prepared with plentiful supplies, resources, and vehicles in order to carry out their mission in an efficient capacity.  A prime example of military forces that have operated from one climate zone to another during a seasonal change was the German and French invasion of Russia.  These two military invasions based their planning and operations during summer and fall months for their movement into Russia in the hopes for a short battle.
Both militaries expected to return to their respected home countries prior to the arrival of winter.  As a result, each army did not plan for the harsh winter which became their ultimate demise.  Regardless, both armies traveled eastward during the pleasant weather conditions in Western Europe in the summer months.  As the early autumn months arrived, harsh thunderstorms created mud conditions which drastically slowed down the army’s trafficability.  In 1812, autumn was shortened by frigid temperatures as well as extreme cold and snowy conditions.  In 1941, the Germans encountered a long wet autumn which then transitioned into similar harsh conditions that the French faced.  Inadequately equipped soldiers and limited shelter became more damaging to the invaders than any other force.  Overall, both armies were forced to retreat because the French and Germans were not match for the brutal climate in Russia.
Militaries have traveled great distances into unfamiliar climates throughout history in order to gain territory or show superiority to another region of the world.  During a campaign under these pretenses, militaries encounter dust, mud, frost, chill, and hot conditions.  Each of these climatic factors can weaken soldiers and their trafficability as well as affecting their logistics.  These factors also impact the maintenance and functionality of weapons and equipment.  Visibility can often be impaired by such climatic conditions for ground and air operations.  Moreover, air warfare is also impacted by cloud coverage and fog which also contributes to reduced visibility, especially in geographic regions where this type of atmospherics are prevelant.  In combining these factors along with the terrain, many foreign armies can expect conditions harsher than in an actual battle.
All climatic factors impact ground forces’ movement and maneuverability in several different ways.  The effects on trafficability change considerably with the progressions of the seasons.  Climates throughout the world vary in the levels of precipitation that is accumulated over time.  Some climates are mainly dry, while others can be consistently wet or change in the amount of rainfall every year.  The physical environment ultimately determines how a climate will impact military movement.  Constant rainy conditions often cause a muddy setting.  Mud almost always reduces travel time, and stalls machinery, vehicles, and soldiers usually by the unfavorable conditions mud creates in the ground.  This seemed to be a huge obstacle for the German and French armies when traveling into Russia.
Operation Barbossa
In higher latitudes, winter conditions also effect movement greatly.  Countries located in these climates have an edge because they are used to the harsh weather.  Foreigners that are not familiar with these types of conditions usually are unprepared in many ways.  Also, these climates have excessive snow amounts which impede wheeled vehicles and persons especially when the snowfall exceeds 12 inches.  Either of these conditions can completely halt or slow down movement, which was the case for the Germans in Operation Barbossa, and were forced to travel 12 miles in 2 days as a result of the foreign climate.  On the other hand, a benefit of higher latitude climates is when the ground freezes on open terrain, faster movement will occur because of the hardened soil which is ideal for ground forces.
Lastly, climatic conditions also have a huge impact on the logistics of an army.  For example, in June 1812, the French army traveled over the Niemen River in modern-day Lithuania and became stuck in a series of prolonged thunderstorms.  These thunderstorms caused the ground to become so muddy that they had to leave behind many heavy wagons filled with many supplies and equipment needed for the journey to Russia.  Assuming they would return to France prior to the start of winter, the French also brought a limited amount of supplies with them and as a result, the late summer and autumn months became very troublesome.  In the winter months, logistic necessities such as fuel, food, and water became scarce an armies had trouble acquiring the necessary supplies because of the harsh conditions and distance from friendly supply depots.  In addition, this results in a decrease in supplies and ammunitions and access to resources.  Since the higher latitude conditions are not favorable in winter months, most foreign armies are forced to retreat.  Overall, militaries that do not plan effective routes and a plentiful amount of supplies usually succumb to the forces of nature in foreign lands that have significantly different climates than in their homeland.
Lastly, another good book for anyone interested in getting an overview of military geography is Military geography for professionals and the public by John Collins.
Everything happens for a reason.  At least that is what a mentor told me years ago when I was just walking into the real world for the first time.  Culture is the basis behind every action throughout the world.  All people do things for a reason and this has a lot to do where one is raised or lives.  In the anthropology field, this is called a person’s “Worldview” – A person’s worldview ties into their geography greatly.  In addition, this carries over not only in our everyday lives, but for the militaries across the world.  Moreover, Military Geography is not only used by the military, but also by academics and politicians in order to understand the geopolitical sphere through a militaristic lens.
Knowledge and expertise of military geography is a critical factor in analyzing the enemy.  Military geography of a specific region is the discipline regarding geographic aspects that affect military planning and the execution of operations.  In addition, this discipline is divided into several sub-classes of study: cultural, economic, political, and physical geography.  Each one of the areas of study establishes the base for knowledge of a region or area.  The more expertise of a geographic region, the better suited an analyst will be in order to analyze raw intelligence and apply it to an analysis.  Outcomes regarding past U.S. conflicts have been determined by regional knowledge of military geography and have ultimately formulated standards of knowledge for today’s intelligence to be successful. 
Regional, area, and cultural expertise is vital knowledge required for understanding an enemy’s intentions and vulnerabilities.  Also, this knowledge can result in improved battle tactics by understanding the terrain, weather, soil, and lines of communication that are prominent in an area which may ultimately effect enemy movement.  Expertise in these areas allows for a commander, decision-maker, or analyst to establish an overall picture for planning and executing operations.  Understanding culture is becoming a more important factor for military operations across the world.  Unlike the days of the Cold War, enemies of the United States are now integrating into civilian societies.  These enemies may use certain key locations to take cover that are not allowed to be bombed or attacked to their advantage such as hospitals, schools, and mosques.  Therefore, the U.S. military needs to be cognizant of cultural and social norms within a region in order to identify any anomalies or something that is just not normal within a foreign society. 
Regarding military geography, cultural friction is one of the more significant causes of surprise in enemy action.  When in conflict with an opposing force, enemy intentions may be unpredictable, but it may be the culture of the enemy that is most often misunderstood in this sense.  This causes confusion among the friendly force because they are unfamiliar with the norms of their enemy’s society.  The expertise acquired in studying a certain region, area, or culture will overall determine the course that an operation must take in order to be successful, but at the same time limit civilian causalities.  In my opinion, regional expertise is more beneficial for strategic planning than tactical planning.  Understanding the military geography of an area is essential prior to executing enemy forces in a battle.  Knowing when, where, and how to attack an enemy is also influenced by this expertise and has a major effect on the planning stages of a military operation.
There have been several examples of this type of expertise not being utilized that have occurred throughout history.  A somewhat recent example of this took place in the 1990’s in the country of Somalia.  Somalia is a very unstable region that is in a constant state of conflict.  U.S. military forces where not very familiar with certain aspects of the area of Somalia where they were in conflict, in addition to not having basic knowledge of Somali society.  These aspects included the lack of decent geospatial intelligence.  Based on my overall knowledge of this conflict, I believe our forces attacked our enemy as ordered, but did not do their research prior to the battles in ensuring a successful outcome.  This opinion is based on the continuous failures during the conflict in the streets of Mogadishu that U.S. forces endured.  Overall, this was probably due to a lack of expertise in the region known as the Horn of Africa.  However, the United States has been in many other battles that have resulted in similar consequences that have forced U.S. troops to disband and leave the area of conflict.
In order for military forces to act successfully in a foreign land, they must be mindful of where they are located.  Furthermore, they must be reliant on intelligence analysts to supply them with accurate intelligence.  This ties into the that the United States continues to be involved more with asymmetric conflicts across the world, and fewer conflicts against political or organized entities similar to the past.  Military geography also allows for knowledge of an area to be applied to certain operations.  Tactical, operational, and strategic planning rely on this knowledge to avoid any uncertainties and create a successful battle plan.
Overtime, regional and cultural subject matter expertise continues to become a more substantial key component for intelligence operations.  Education, cultural appreciation, and regional experience of analysts are often insufficient for providing insight for an understanding of the enemy.  Also, there is little knowledge of any historical aspects that create social norms different than in the United States or even the language of the local population which can purely affect an overall analysis of a network’s true intentions.  Overall, this is unsatisfactory and proves why knowledge of military geography of a specified area is vital in understanding and analyzing the enemy.  This seems to be a common issue across the world and probably has led to initiatives such as human terrain analysis also known as human geography and other elements that cater more towards regional studies in academia.
Have you ever thought how geography was used in military operations before all this fancy technology came online?  Here’s an example I have drafted up involving geospatial intelligence and geographic analysis about 70 years ago using paper maps and aerial imagery.
Geographic techniques in conjunction with geospatial intelligence have both played important roles in planning wartime operations.  In this post, I will describe the value of this that contributed greatly toward the Invasion of Sicily during World War II in July 1943, specifically OPERATION Husky.  Intelligence provided General Patton with several different scenarios for the execution of tactical operations.  Each scenario was used to give Patton options in order to complete his missions.  Similar to a maze in a newspaper we used to try to complete as children, Patton would use these options in order to prevent a dead-end in his tactical operations.  If he was to reach a dead-end, the other scenarios would allow his other options to still achieve success in carrying out his mission.  All of the different intelligence sources assisted Patton in commanding tactical operations.  The intelligence collected by the G-2 provided details on the enemy opposition (such as their capabilities, intentions, and vulnerabilities).
Furthermore, terrain and weather played a significant role in his operations by allowing Patton to choose the most desirable route based on several considerations such as vegetation, terrain, lines of communication, soil-type, and weather conditions.   Each of these considerations determined the cross-country routes that would be taken in order to achieve his objectives.  Unfortunately, Patton did not have the option to utilize the vast techniques associated with geographic information systems, but instead, relied on conducting geospatial analysis with paper maps.  Intelligence also provided Patton with the means to go about an invasion no matter where in Europe the invasion would occur at.  For example, where to strike enemy forces on the beaches of Sicily became vital and was reliant on effective and accurate intelligence.  All of these factors supported Patton during his execution of tactical operations
Aerial photography was an integral part of many missions throughout World War II.  In OPERATION Husky, aerial photography assisted Allied forces in conjunction with General Patton’s army with a successful invasion of Sicily.  The geography of Sicily, especially the terrain, proved to be challenging for the aircrafts because of the elevation and ruggedness of the topography.  The imagery collected assisted photo interpreters to generate terrain models which allowed for visualization of the coastline, in addition to formulating beach landing zones in Sicily.
The aircraft used in this operation was a modified North American B-25D Mitchell (also known as an F-10 reconnaissance model) which had all of its armament and bombing equipment removed.  This aircraft’s main purpose was mapping the landscape in order to determine enemy order of battle, enemy routes, and determine viable landing zones for the Allied forces.  The aircraft was modified to equip three K-17 cameras, mounted at several angles: vertically, horizontally, and obliquely which allowed for various look angles to be captured on film.
Overall, photo reconnaissance provided ample support in order for an invasion into Sicily to be possible.  There were approximately five aerial missions a day and the processing of 200 to 600 prints per hour were extracted by analysts located in North Africa.  Lastly, the start of taking photographs at night began during the operations that were conducted in Sicily.  According to, aircraft dropped flash bombs from 10,000 to 12,000 feet that triggered the camera shutter. A single exposure covered an area roughly two miles long by four and a half miles wide. F-10s (modified B-25s) carried a small number of flash bombs, which normally limited missions to twenty pictures.”
I was not able to locate any aerial photography taken during this operation; however, I was able to locate a planning map that was used to direct where aerial photography was needed, an actual imagery report disseminated during this operation, as well as a picture of the F-10.
Operation HUSKY, Photo Reconnaissance Plan
                                                                       Photo Interpretation Report Example
F-10 Photo Reconnaissance Aircraft


I thought I’d begin today with an entry on military geography, specifically how geography played a huge role and affected the battles of Manassas/Bull Run during the Civil War era in the United States.  In 1861, the United States broke out into a Civil War between northerners and southerners that led to many battles and skirmishes which carried on for several years.  This war was based on geopolitical reasons that led to the South wanting to break away from the Union.  The specific emphasis of this posting will be on the first and second battles of Manassas.  The first battle began in July 1861, and was one of the main battles with land forces.  It would shape the following battles of the war between the Confederate (south) and the Union (north).  The second battle began in August 1862 with the hopes that the Union could claim victory and take control of Richmond.  However, both battles contributed to a Confederate victory mainly due to the geographic expertise of the involved Confederate generals; as well as the lack of geographic expertise and poor organizational skills of the Union generals.  Furthermore, both armies thought these battles would be easy victories that would end the war early.  Historically, this was not the case, and more battles continued to unfold throughout the following years.
It is important to recognize the geographical factors that assisted in altering both outcomes.  Knowing the lay of the land is a very important factor when engaging in war because it will ultimately determine planning, operational, and tactical stages of a war.  For this to actually matter, generals and commanders must fully utilize their geographic resources to gain an advantage over their enemy.  The geography of an area influences choke points, order of battle organization, key routes, defensive positioning, and offensive positioning.  In this posting, I will describe the geographic basis for both battles; and indentify how key geographic features played an effective role in determining the course and outcome of both battles.
For the purpose of this posting, the Prince William County corridor (between the Bull Run/Pond Mountains and Bull Run creek) will be the main focus of geographical study, and the main location for the battles.  Nevertheless, the two campaigns actually began and ended well past these boundaries in the Virginian counties of Culpeper, Rappahannock, Fauquier, and Fairfax. 
  Figure 1.  I created this map using ArcGIS 9.3 and it depicts the
Prince William Corridor.  The significant locations of the the battles are
layered over a modern-day topographical map in order to understand the
relation between the points.  This map uses the WGS1984 datum.

Maps during this era were not easily obtainable and not well organized compared to today’s standards of cartography.  Most maps used by commanders during the Civil War were usually hand-drawn and were restricted to specific areas of interest.  This poses potential problems and benefits for the military.  The problems result from the limited vision of only looking at the immediate area.  In order to understand the complete benefits of a map, an overview is needed to look at the bigger picture.  Obstacles may pose threats if they are not depicted on a map prior to utilizing a route to gain access to the specific area of interest.  Evacuation routes or choke points may be difficult to plan if a commander is walking into the unknown and may be surprised by an ambush or a dead-end.  In addition, the maps were not always reliable.  Based on my observations, relative distance was most likely incorporated in to most maps of this time which does not rely on accuracy because it is not mathematically represented within a scale or a map projection.

The beneficial part of a map catering to a specific location is the increased knowledge of a commander to gain insight on where their offensive and defensive position will be placed in order to maximize their chance of success.  Although in regards to the aforementioned problems, the maps used for the battles of Manassaswere mainly guides and were not designed to be taken literally.  The Union army presumably recognized these problems and decided to venture into establishing a balloon corps which would provide mapping and intelligence to the Union commanders.  This type of aerial surveillance provided the Union commanders with information regarding the terrain, lines of communication, and Confederate army order of battle/movement in the regions of Virginia being observed.
The Union’s first opportunity to use the balloons was in the first battle of Manassas, where Thaddeus Lowe launched his first balloon, “Enterprise,” from Alexandria to observe enemy movement and map out the terrain of Northern Virginia.  However, problems arose with the use of this balloon due to various mechanical problems and lack of untrained aeronauts.  Eventually, in 1862, aerial surveillance became fully operational and was able to examine geographic areas.  This type of geospatial intelligence may have assisted General John Pope of the Union in examining Confederate movements around Bull Run; however, due to contradictory intelligence reports from Washington, D.C., they did not prove to be as useful as they could have been.  As a result, these various reports most likely created confusion among the Union generals in the second battle of Manassas.

The topography of the Prince William corridor is mountainous in the west and subsides in elevation in the east.  The central and eastern part of the corridor is consumed by rolling hills, forests, ridges, and farmland.  The major mountain range in this region is the Blue Ridge Mountains and has bands stretching southwest to northeast.  The easternmost band of the mountain range is named the Bull Run Mountains and travels from the Rappahannock River northeast to Maryland.  The Bull Run Mountains are located at the western part of the Prince William corridor.  The southern portion of the Bull Run Mountainswhere the ridgeline descends is called the Pond Mountains.  The descent, also known as Thoroughfare Gap, is the only area for many miles that can be easily passed through the mountain chain because these mountains have sharp and rugged ridges that are impassible.  Besides the mountains, the remainder of the corridor consists of smaller, non-protrusive ridges and hills which do not impede soldier movement significantly.  The following key features in this part of the corridor are as follows: Chinn Ridge, Henry Hill, and Matthew’s Hill which all have an elevation of approximately 280 feet above sea level, and Stony Ridge which was approximately 335 feet above sea level.
Figure 2: This photograph was taken from the west side of
the Thoroughfare Gap (central).  The Bull Run Mountains
are on the left and the Pond Mountains are on the right
side of the photograph.
The geology of this area has laid the framework for the terrain and ultimately has allowed each side to take advantage of concealment techniques.  The majority of the battles were fought in the lower elevations in an area known as the Culpeper Basin.  At the base of the Bull Run Mountainsis a minor fault line which during the Mesozoic era ruptured and formed a break in the rocks.  This contributed to the basin changing the landscape from rugged terrains to rolling hills. Sedimentary rocks make up most of the corridor with siltstone that may be overlaid with red and gray shale.  In addition, the sedimentary rocks created open and smoother terrain which is beneficial for transportation networks and agriculture.  Most of the soil around the actual battlefield had not been through metamorphosis; therefore it also created a suitable area for farming and increased trafficability.  West of the fault line is diabase, which are rocks that have many dark and clay minerals providing many nutrients for vegetation to flourish.  These types of rocks are hard; and have an excellent resistance to erosion which allows rugged terrain and ridges to be formed.  Stony Ridge, which was formed at the end of the diabase, is extremely important for tactical purposes and lies in a wooded area.  This ridge proved to be a viable cover for the Confederacy in the second battle of Manassas.   
The hydrography of the area is plentiful and provides many offensive and defensive tactics for the soldiers of both battles.  Mainly fords and creeks were used as barriers, crossing points, routes; thus providing important, strategic factors for soldier movement.  Most of the creeks ran southeast towards the Chesapeake Bay.  The three most significant creeks that influenced both the Confederate and Union soldiers were Bull Run, Broad Run, and Dogan Run.  Fords along these creeks became key geographic areas for the battles.  In my opinion, the troops that controlled the fords would increase their soldier movement, and optimize their offensive battle tactics in order to attack their opponents’ flanks with ease.
Lines of communication in the Prince William corridor provided support to the armies of the battle at multiple levels: strategic, tactical, and operational.  There were several key roads and railways that contributed to the battle.  The following lines of communication were observed upon my field visit to the battlefield.  Key roads were used to assist the soldiers on both sides in their navigation from one point to another point for long distances.  Roads were also used as reference points to assist troop movement between the different local areas of battle such as prominent hills and ridges.  Some of these key roads were Warrenton Turnpike (Route 29) which was located between Thoroughfare Gap and Centreville in an east/west direction.  The Manassas-Sudley Road was located between the hamlet of Sudley and Manassas Junction in a north/south direction.  Lastly, the Groveton-Sudley Road was located between Sudley and the hamlet of Groveton in a north/south direction.  In addition to the Warrenton Turnpike which interconnected multiple counties, there were also two prominent railways that led the armies to the corridor.  The first railroad was the Orange & Alexandria (O&A) Railroad which ran between Culpeper and Alexandria, Virginia.  The second railway was the Manassas Gap Railroad which ran between Front Royal, Virginia and Manassas Junction.  There was a third railway that began construction prior to the war; however, due to a lack of funding, the railroad was unfinished during both battles.  The unfinished railroad was located slightly southeast of Stony Ridge and became very beneficial to the Confederate army in the second battle because of the concealed position it offered the soldiers. 
Preparations among Unionand Confederate commanders were beginning for what would be considered the first Battle of Manassas.  The majority of Confederate armies traveled slightly north of Richmond to the battlefield area by several routes and modes of transportation.  The Confederate infantry traveled by train, while the Confederate cavalry and artillery took advantage of several major roadways to the battlefield site.  Other Confederate soldiers traveled from the Shenandoah Valley in the west via Manassas Gap Railroad.  The Union armies mostly traveled west from various locations in FairfaxCounty and along the Potomac River. 
Upon arrival to the battlefield on July 16, 1861, the Confederate army defensively positioned themselves along several key choke points on the western side of Bull Run because of their familiarity with the terrain.  General P.G.T. Beauregard sought out these positions based on intelligence reports that Union forces were headed towards Bull Run.  Several fords and bridges along an approximate 2.5 mile radius of Bull Run were then guarded by Beauregard’s forces.  One of the key choke points was Stone Bridge which was a flat bridge that carried Warrenton Turnpike over Bull Run.  Just to the south of the bridge were Ball’s Ford, Lewis Ford, and Island Ford which were all key crossing points from Fairfax County into the Prince William corridor. 

Union forces had identified that the barrier Confederate forces established became an unwanted obstacle for the Union movement; therefore, they diverted their route in a northwesterly direction to a crossing point that was not being guarded by the Confederates approximately 2 miles north of Stone Bridge. This crossing point was known as Sudley Springs Ford.  The geographic prominence of this point provided an opportunity for the Union to surprise attack the Confederate’s flank in addition to blindsiding them from the rear since their attention was faced towards Bull Run. This ford was a slow-moving, shallow crossing that made it ideal for wagons and artillery to pass through thus allowing the Union soldiers to stay dry.
Confederate forces became aware of the Union’s diversion and moved north to intercept them as they were traveling south from the hamlet of Sudley.  Both forces came to a halt at Matthew’s Hill when the Confederate forces moved into secured positions about 250 yards from the top of the hill on the southern slope.  This was a key opportunity for the Confederate forces because the reverse side of the hill provided concealment against enemy fire.  When both forces finally initiated the first battle on Matthew’s Hill, it was then realized by the Confederate generals that once on top of the hill, the hill did not provide any real geographic advantage since the top of the hill was open ground.  As a result, the Confederate forces retreated because of the lack of a geographic advantage and their disorganized lines.  They then relocated to Henry Hill, just south of Matthew’s Hill, in order to regroup.  Meanwhile, the Union soldiers seized Matthew’s Hill and dispersed some of their forces to an adjacent location named Dogan Ridge.
Henry Hill was situated approximately 1,200 yards west of Bull Run.  The Confederate armies had a clear view of the Union forces from here if they attempted to retreat over Stone Bridge.  The foreground of the hill was open fields that overlooked a creek to the north named Young’s Branch.  On the other side of the creek, the terrain elevated to form Buck Hill, which was only a quarter of a mile from the top of Matthew’s Hill.  Both armies stood their ground on top of each of the hills in order to regroup.  Once again, the Confederate army’s position on the reverse slope of the hill provided protection from direct fire.  When the Union forces approached Henry Hill, the Confederate army encroached onto the higher ground and showered the Union forces with gunfire.  The Confederate leverage over the Union assisted them with a huge vantage point in the overall battle.  The Confederates continued to hold their position and did not allow Union forces to charge up the slope of the hill.  The foreground of Henry Hill was open and treeless, but the fluctuation of small elevation made the Union’s maneuverability difficult because of its uneven grade.  The Confederates also used a tree line on the hill for concealment; thus leaving 400 yards of farmland and fields in front of them to devastate the Union army.  Eventually, the Union troops diverted their forces to an adjacent, higher elevation location, named Chinn Ridge.
Chinn Ridge provided more suitable cover for both armies in this part of the battle.  The Union forces used the forested lower level of the ridge named Chinn Branch for concealment when diverting their forces and the Confederate forces also used them when they were in pursuit of the Union forces.  The purpose of the entire battle shifting to another key geographic feature was for the Unionto gain a geographic advantage over the Confederate forces; however, some of the Confederate forces were still at the base of Henry Hill at the time of the diversion.  This new strategy consisted of Union forces moving southward on the peak elevation of Chinn Ridge and then cutting eastward in order to strike the Confederate’s right flank on Henry Hill.  Subsequently, the Union forces were not aware of where the Confederate lines were specifically located.  This became the Union’s ultimate failure.
Due to disorganization in the Union forces, the majority of Confederate forces had shifted their position from Henry Hill and pursued the Union as they climbed uphill on Chinn Ridge.  This pursuit surprised the Union forces on the ridge and then forced the Union forces to reverse their line northwest of their previous position.  Unfortunately, the Union strategy to attack the Confederate’s on Henry Hill by forming a line in the forests of Chinn Branch and Bald Hill never happened.  The result was a Union army that retreated back to Centreville (located on the eastern side of Bull Run), and lost this battle.  The Confederate army positioned themselves nearby to Stone Bridge in order to cut off the retreating Union forces; however, the Union retreated back to their entry route via Sudley Springs Ford.
Nearly a year after the first Battle of Manassas, another battle in the same area was brewing.  Confederate armies began to set up their strategic plan of attack with the use of geographic intelligence gathered by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  He was able to determine exactly where to establish a defensive line.  The Confederate and Union armies advanced to the Prince William Corridor, from multiple directions.  The Confederates mainly traveled through the Blue Ridge Mountains from Richmond.  This strategic area provided concealment and allowed for a safe trip to the battlefield site.  They traveled on paths through forests, open fields, and mountainous terrain until the reached Thoroughfare Gap. 
The first Confederate force, led by General Jackson, passed through the Gap and used Broad Run as a navigational guide to the O & A Railroad which intersected at Bristow.  The Confederates realized this was a vital choke point for the Union army and decided to destroy a railroad bridge at the intersection of the railway and creek, as well as ripping up the tracks to ensure the Union forces could not use this line of communication.  In addition, these forces traveled several miles northeast along the railway and demolished the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction.  This was a devastating blow to the Union army because it hindered their military movement, communications, and logistics for the battle.  In the meantime, several Union forces attempted to travel to Manassasvia the south and east, but were slowed down due to much disorganization.  This provided the Confederate forces to appropriately position themselves in geographic prominent areas within the Prince William corridor. 
The Confederate forces traveled back to Thoroughfare Gap after the destruction which occurred at Manassas Junction.  Since the Gap was located in between the Bull Run and Pond Mountains, it provided protection for the Confederate army.  The only direction which the Union forces would be able to approach them was from the east which left the Union forces without option to attack any of their other flanks.  As a result, the Gap became a tactical advantage and it was realized that whoever controlled the Gap, controlled the battle.  Eventually, more Confederate forces arrived at the Gap.  They positioned themselves on the western part of the Gap and waited for the Union forces coming from the eastern opening, while other Confederate forces continued on to Stony Ridge to the east.  Shortly thereafter, Union forces arrived at the eastern part of the Gap and barricaded the entrance leading out to the Culpeper Basin.  In the wooden areas surrounding the Gap’s entrance, Union forces cut down trees and made the Gap impassible for Confederate forces, which ultimately did slow them down.  In less than 24 hours later, the Confederates, along with their artillery, ordnance, and wagons that accompanied them, crossed through the narrow passage that was barricaded and were able to join their counterparts at Stony Ridge.
The next vital geographic area in the battle was at Stony Ridge.  It is a ridge that runs southwest to northeast.  On its eastern side away from the Bull Run Mountains, it is protected by dense forests as well as trenches and banks that make up the railroad bed that was left unfinished prior to the Civil War.  The original Confederate forces that destroyed the depot at Manassas Junction and left the Gap before Union forces blocked it traveled to the Stony Ridge area to establish a defensive line as well as a hideout.  This location was ideal for the soldiers because the forest provided concealment, and leverage due to the elevation.  Also, an unfinished railroad provided a 100-foot deep depression in the ground which allowed for a surprise attack against the approaching Union forces.  The Ridge also had diabase which resulted in hard rock and boulders making it tough for Union forces to rush the Confederate forces. 
When the Union forces finally arrived at the Confederate hideout, the Confederate forces ambushed them allowing a devastating blow to the Union flanks.  The Unionwas eventually forced into an open field around a local citizen’s property named Brawner’s Farm.  At this point the Confederate forces at the Thoroughfare Gap finally arrived on scene and also attacked the Union forces by way of Warrenton Turnpike.  The open field did not provide any advantage to the Union soldiers as they were not able to fully engage their enemy.  In addition, there were still Confederate soldiers attacking from the unfinished railroad site, and the higher elevation.  The only assistance that the terrain offered the Union forces was several shallow depressions encased with streams that were tributaries of Dogan Run.  The streams provided minimal protection since they were on the lower ground.  Some of the soldiers on both sides ran out of ammunition and decided to throw superficial, exposed rocks as a substitute.
As a result, the Union forces were unable to drive the Confederate forces out from their tactical ground and had no other option but to pull back further east to Manassas-Sudley Road.   In an attempt to regroup, the majority of Union forces formed lines along Chinn Ridge, Matthews Hill, and Henry Hill since the Union leadership was familiar with these locations from the first battle.  Their numbers were so small that the Confederate forces charged them at every angle.  Subsequently, the Union forces did not have any geographic advantage over the Confederate forces and finally retreated back towards Washington via thick woods to conceal their departing route; thus the Confederates had achieved another victory.

Overall, the studying of geographic factors of an area is essential for planning and executing a battle.  The topography, hydrography, geology, and lines of communication all integrated together to assist in the outcomes of the battles.  Ultimately, the Unionfailed to execute a successful strategy largely based upon the unknown terrain; yet, it provided an advantage to the Confederacy.  In addition, the Confederate army had the topographical knowledge and the assistance of local farmers as food sources and guides.  The Blue Ridge Mountains provided a good majority of natural resources needed for war such as coal for heat, salt for preserving food, and saltpeter for gunpowder which also gave them an edge towards victory.  However, both sides became victims of fatigue, disorganization, and insufficient ammunition supply. 
Confederate forces used geography to their advantage by pushing the Union troops back towards a retreat in both battles.  On the other hand, the Union commanders approximated the location of the Confederate army erroneously which resulted in failing results for the Union.  Victories are determined by many factors, but the main factor relies heavily on the geographic prominence and attributes that militaries use for an advantage, as the battles of Manassasproved.  Lastly, the battles at Manassas set the pace for modern geographic intelligence through aerial surveillance.  This assessment on the geographic factors that affected the outcomes of the battles is a prime example of what happens to an army when they do not have accurate information regarding the geography of an area.  It ultimately results in a win or loss.  As a result, U.S. engineers embarked on huge mapping projects after the first battle for these reasons in order to obtain better geographic intelligence.  Today, our nation stands on the forefront of the world by producing the most vital geographic intelligence because of technological advances in aerial and space surveillance.  For these reasons, geography played an effective role in determining the course and outcome of both battles in Manassas, as well as the battles occurring overseas every day.


Boyne, W. J. (2003). The influence of air power upon history. Gretna: Pelican Publishing

Collins, J. M. (1998). Military geography for professionals and the public. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press.
Gottfried, B. M. (2009). The maps of First Bull Run: An atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, June-October 1861. El Dorado Hills, Calif: Savas Beatie.
Hennessy, J.J. (2003). First Manassas: War’s First Carnage. America’s Civil War: Gods & Generals,8-16. Proquest
McElfresh, E. B. (1999). Maps and mapmakers of the Civil War. New York: Harry N. Abrams,
Publishers in association with History Book Club.
National Park Service. (2009). The Battleof First Manassas (First Bull Run). http://www.nps. gov/mana/historyculture/first-manassas.htm)
U.S.Army of Military History. Overview of the Battle.
Walker, A. S., & Zen, E. (2000). Rocks and war: Geology and the Civil War campaign of Second
Manassas. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books.
Winters, H. A., & Center for American Places. (1998). Battling the elements: Weather and
terrain in the conduct of war. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UniversityPress.

#GIS #geography #remotesensing #geospatial #humangeography #cartography #spatial

In addition to my tumblr blog which is themed for pictures of anything geo-related – I have recently created an additional blog which will be more text-based with geographic storyboard postings.

Check out my new geographic blog!

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications in social science are becoming more and more frequently used throughout the world in understanding several sub-fields of geography.  For this posting I will be discussing specifically the human geographic aspect that concentrates on understanding local populations and the implications of social change from effects of economic, political, geographic, and ethnographic issues through the use of GIS.  The typical uses or norms of GIS applications usually include science-related mapping, utility mapping, and/or disaster response/humanitarian efforts, and last but not least, map-making in general.  The social sciences and human geography are often overlooked and many people that I have encountered in life, school, and work are doubtful of the possibility of mapping human cultures.  This may be because in a global world today, most cultures are becoming more intermingled than ever before.  However, though globalization is beginning to merge many cultures, the majority of cultures still have unique characteristics that history has lent to them.
In GIS, there are many layers that would assist in developing spatial relationships among various aspects of human geography. This application is becoming more and more reliant by the United States government as a result of the issues with our military not understanding the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan before the invasions earlier in the century. Not only do federal governments have a vested interest in human geographic applications, but non-government organizations also have their fair share of a need to understand the world from a social science perspective.
As a proof of concept, the following 3 layers are an integral part of this overall system, but keep in mind there many layers that are needed in order to understand the big picture.
Ethnicity Layers: These layers would consist of the cultural groups within say for instance in Iran such as the Azeris, Kurds, Iranians, among various other smaller cultural groups. A polygon layer would represent the generalization of where these groups mainly have geographic control over;  however, there may be overlap among the polygon layers in a macroscopic view of the region. This would provide a baseline for understanding any implications the Iranian government would enforce on the local population.
Neighborhood/City Layers: These layers would provide more of a microscopic view of the parts of the regions, specifically cities or urbanized areas. Within these urban areas, a mixture of cultural groups may be present. Identifying the neighborhoods specific to a particular group would help to isolate groups and provide geographic context to conditions under the assumption that segregation is prevalent in the city.  I have noticed through my studies that even in a global world, there is still much segregation in neighborhoods because ethnic groups and religions tend to stick with like people.  Also, the mix of ethnicity would be more visible with these polygon layers, because at larger scales, a GIS user can begin to see the relationship and isolation of each of the groups.  A new technique such as settlement mapping can also divide formal from informal neighborhoods assisting in identifying certain demographics of people.
Religious layers: These point layers will help identify any historic or religious sites across an urban area to assist in the overall analysis of identifying spatial attributes to a particular group. Examples of point shapefiles would be churches, mosques, religious sites, relgious institutions, religious monuments, et cetera.  Alternative to point layers, polygons may also be helpful from a macroscopic scale for identifying which religions tend to favor certain geographic areas over others.  This may be from diasporas or history.
Researching human geography can be done and converted into geospatial information.  Another thing to keep in mind is that geographical text can be extracted and developed into data, which is one thing in any social science field, is part of the data collection.  One would have to convert text into geographic data, not only from information with geographic locations, but the surrounding context.  There are many ways to go about finding information.  Many anthropologists and other related fields have published many studies regarding cultures and civilizations.  These types of papers have an abundance amount of geographic insights, references, and data that can be extracted in to spatial data.
Commerical remote sensing imagers (i.e. Orbview, Geoeye, DigiGlobe) may also lead a helping hand; many cultures or ethnic groups in the eastern hemisphere have their own specific characteristics for architecture, buildings, and homes.  Many of these architectural distinctions are observable from space, especially with a favorable look angle.  If the imaging platform takes a snapshot of an area at nadir, it may be more difficult.  Other ways to find information is through social media sites that promote collaborative mapping and that may also provide insight into human geography.  Sites like Wikimapia, openstreetmaps, and amateur cartographic sites provide insight into cultural data.  Of course there are many different sources of information, and it would be someone’s job who is involved in human geographic mapping to analyze all possible layers to establish a final cartographic map that details the human geography of an area.
Keep in mind, if you are expecting 100 % accuracy on any of these layers, then you are in the wrong business, as you should always question the data since nothing is perfect.  There are many things to take into consideration when looking at mapping human geography.  You also have to consider what is the end use or final deliverable for the project.  Some geographic layers that are important to conduct such analyses are terrain, elevation, roads, buildings, hilltops, rivers, transit zones, local language, ethnicity, education, and demographics.  Where does one get all of this information?  The data can be acquired via remote sensing, various open sources, or other means.  All this data plays into the bigger picture, but most of us take them for granted.

Ease of mobility is a huge factor in cultural mapping.  In rural areas across Asia, even if the groups are forced out, they tend to stick together.  Not all populations have the luxury to send their kids to Tehran University or hop on the highway to go to Kashmir on a nice scenic vacation.  Ethnicity is another hindering factor like race is still an issue in America.  Therefore the infrastructure plays a huge role in identifying areas where cultures are prevalent.  In the United States, when people emigrate there, they tend to stick together with like-minded and like-speaking peoples hence why we still see segregation in our urban cities.  It’s not much different when cultural groups are forced to flee their land to another part of a country or to neighboring countries, hence why you see other ethnicities such as the Turkmens in Afghanistan or Iran even though there is a country of Turkmenistan.

Furthermore, there are many factors involved in understanding this and aggregating information is the key to success.  You need to acquire as much data and information that one can.  In addition to data, information is a key aspect to this in providing context to areas.  The world is not as isolated as it once was and there is a plentiful amount of information and data that would be suffice for a fairly accurate assessment of an area; you just need to know where to find it.

I just wanted to provide a little taste of what could be done more than the typical GIS applications that everyone knows about.  Hope this helps!

Brian G – @geocrusader80
desktop explorer

Geography and stuff for Urbanists


Where Industry Discovers Geospatial Image Analysis


High on maps and GIS


Stay in the know


The Earth. Christianity. They go together.