Gettysburg Concordance App Brings Battle to Life
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
Page 1 of 3
I know Emerson "Tad" Baker as an archaeologist and professor of history at Salem State University. As an expert in the 17th century, he wrote one of my favorite books, The Devil of Great Island, about the mysterious flying rocks that plagued New Castle in 1682. Tad lives in York, Maine and is now writing the definitive book on the Salem Witch Trials. So imagine my surprise when he announced his latest project. (Read full story below)
"It's an app about the Battle of Gettysburg." Tad said. He was pumped.
The Gettysburg Concordance includes over 1,000 events from the biggest battle ever fought on American soil. Each event is geo-referenced to its precise spot on the battlefield at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The app includes information on 1,400 officers with over 700 images, all drawn from 200 scholarly sources. You access it over your iPad or iPhone.
Good stuff, but my response, at first, was not over-the-moon. I don't own a smart phone, or even one of those ancient flip-top cellphones. And, despite Ken Burns' best efforts, I still can't tell one Civil War battle from the next. The only "apps" I know are "Angry Birds" and one that sticks a fake digital mustache on your photograph. So far Apple has sold 50 billion apps on iTunes and I didn't buy a single one of them.
"You've got to think like a modern tourist," Tad told me. "It’s a whole new way to view history."
He's right, of course. The days of static museum exhibits and moldy brass plaques are fading. Young people, most of them sporting what look like surgically-implanted smartphones, want their information fast, free, and perfect. And they want to access that information on the spot.
"Our app provides the facts and images," Tad says, "then people can decide what they are interested in seeing. They create the narrative. If they want to follow only the cavalry or General Longstreet, they can do that, If they want to study the battle at Little Round Top or read diary entries, they can access just that information."
I guess, but what if the next generation only wants to look at funny videos of cats or text photos of what they're eating for lunch? I needed more convincing.
"Can your app tell me about men from Portsmouth who died at Gettysburg?" I asked.
It seemed like a good question. This month is the 150th anniversary of the bloody three-day battle between Confederate and Union soldiers that historians often cite as the turning point in the Civil War. But all history is local, right?
"There's nothing specific about Portsmouth in the app," Tad admitted. "I mean, there were about 165,000 men involved in the battle on both sides. Of the 46,000 casualties (men killed, wounded, captured, or missing), almost 8,000 died on the battlefield. Some died months or years later. We simply can't put them all on an app."
"We do include pretty major biographies of the generals," he said, "and important folk like Joshua Chamberlain of Maine. Col. Edward Cross is generally recognized as the leading New Hampshire hero of the battle. He's in there, but he was from Lancaster, not Portsmouth. All of the nearly 200 regiments are there."
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