Gettysburg Concordance App Brings Battle to Life
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Gettysburg Concordance appHISTORY MATTERS

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.

Gettysburg Concordance screen shot"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.  

Battle stats

"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."

 CONGINUE Gettysburg App Article 

The Portsmouth connection

The numbers a mind boggling. Approximately 150 New Hampshire men died at Gettysburg. The list of the Portsmouth dead can be found on the Soldiers and Sailors monument at Goodwin Park on Islington Street. I know that monument well and the bronze statue of Fitz John Porter, the man on the horse in Haven Park. But to be honest, beyond those two monuments, the Ichabod Goodwin Mansion (he was New Hampshire's Civil War governor) and the famous battleship Kearsage, I'm pretty fuzzy on the Civil War.

Portsmouth is tied more closely to its founding dates in the 1600s, to its colonial architecture, and to its role in the Revolutionary War.  And yet according to local historians Richard Adams and John Ockerbloom, the city played a significant role in the War Between the States.  With a population of just 10,000, almost half of Portsmouth's eligible males served in the Union army, navy, or marines.

One in ten of those Portsmouth men died. Private William Oxford, for example, died from wounds suffered at Bull Run, the first significant clash of the Blue and Gray. Charles Maxwell was killed in a battle at Sayler's Creek, two days before General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox

In a Civil War exhibit at the Portsmouth Athenaeum more than a decade ago, Adams and Ockerbloom published a brief history, now sadly out of print. Among the remarkable local individuals they identified was Henry Lakeman Richards who died of a leg wound on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. His story tells all. 

 Henry Richards of Portsmouth, NH killed at Gettysburg Battle

Making the concordance

Here's how the app began. James Kences, an independent scholar from York, Maine, spent years developing an incredibly rich and detailed timeline of the events leading up to and during the Battle of Gettysburg. The enormous amount of data from battle reports, news reports, private letters and journals, allowed him to build an hour-by-hour record of the battle.  

"My whole life has been doing library research,"  James Kences told me on the telephone. (My telephone still has a cord.) "History is constructed of momentous events, but the smaller events are easily lost. My goal is to blend the momentous with the obscure."

While traditional history offers only a brief often biased summary of what happened in the past, James says, emerging oneself into the raw chronological data at any point in time allows one to experience the battle as it was happening. Rather than commenting on events from the safe distance of time and space, James prefers "the tentativeness of history."

In a three-day battle of  ceaseless pounding artillery, with no sleep, likely to be killed at any moment, in sweltering hot conditions,  with little food -- James says, he wonders what he would have done and whether he would have been brave.

"When you take away all the mythology surrounding Gettysburg," James says, "then you can start the story fresh."

Last year James Kences brought his huge timeline to Tad Baker hoping to get tips on how to turn it into a book. Tad told him, reluctantly, that there was probably no market for such a book these days. That's when Tad's wife Peggy (whom he calls "the brains of the family") spoke up.

"It's an app!" Peggy said.

Tad quickly called Ethan Whitaker, who had been his college roommate at Bates decades ago. Today Ethan is a successful software designer and app developer  living in Wiscasset. A Civil War buff,  Ethan signed right on. The three collaborators worked tirelessly on the app for four months through over 100 beta versions. They don't expect to get rich (even at the $9.99 download price), but the app-makers have already seen sales from battlefield tourists, Civil War re-enactors, museums, history buffs, and university professors.  

 "I was the last member of my family to get an iPhone. I think the dog had one before I did," Tad says. "I held off until only a few months ago, and probably only use ten percent of the features. But, now working on this app, I have started thinking in very different ways about interpreting the past."

"Can you add more data to your app?" I asked.

"Easy," Tad said. "What have you got in mind?" 

 CONTINUE Gettysburg App Article 

Historian Tad Baker at Richards Grave in Portsmouth, NH

Finding Henry Richards

A few hours after I interviewed Tad Baker for this article he sent an email with a rarely-seen photograph of  Henry Lakewood Richards that he discovered online. Tad quickly pulled together a brief biography of Richards. Then he and his wife Peggy hopped in their car and found Richards' tombstone in Portsmouth's South Cemetery. They uploaded the digital info, including photos of Richards and his grave, to the Gettysburg Concordance. Now anyone using the app from anywhere on earth can track Richards' regiment (Company F, of the Second US Sharpshooters) from the weeks leading up to the battle and right into the breach.

" See how quickly you can add things to an app?" Tad noted proudly.

Now I was truly impressed. Henry Richards may be just one tiny statistic in a monstrous battle database, but his story brings the war dramatically home.

According to local history, Henry was a model of human bravery. morality, and kindness. When war broke out, he walked to Concord to sign up as a sharpshooter. When he was offered an army commission, Richards reportedly said, "No, I had rather be a good soldier than a poor officer." When the "noble -hearted man" was wounded at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, he returned to Portsmouth briefly to convalesce. According to one account, with his wounded leg, Richards "walked several miles to obtain flowers for a poor, sick woman." 

As soon as possible, he returned to his army unit, but was wounded in the knee by a Minnie ball on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. After lying on the battlefield all night in pain, Richards was carried to a makeshift hospital where his leg was amputated. The operation took place, according to the Portsmouth Journal "under the influence of chloroform, from the effects of which, he did not revive." He was 38 years old.

But the story doesn't end there. Richards' friend Joseph Foster traveled to Gettysburg to reclaim the body from among thousands and brought it back to Portsmouth for burial. The entire city mourned. Years before the war, Henry Richards had taken on a project of planting beautiful trees along both sides of what was then known as Auburn Street that led from Middle Street to South Cemetery. In his honor, the street was renamed Richards Avenue, and today it leads to the cemetery where Richards and other veterans are buried.

So how does Portsmouth remember these "saviors of their country" as the veterans of the Civil War were called during a memorial ceremony in 1893? At the ceremony at Goodwin Park, historian Frank Hackett worried that men and women "too young to have heard the echoing guns of the great struggle" might forget great men like Henry Richards. These local heroes were becoming obscure statistics.  

That's why, Hackett reminded his audience, that we build monuments. And that's why, he said, we must continually seek out and visit the graves of fallen heroes. And that's why, Tad Baker and his team might add, young people today should download the Gettysburg Concordance app.  

TO LEARN MORE search for "Gettysburg Concordance" on iTunes or YouTube, or visit pviMaine.com. CLICK HERE

 

Copyright © 2013 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site SeacoastNH.com. He is the author of 11 books including UNDER THE ISLES OF SHOALS and AMERICA’S PRIVATEER, available on Amazon.com and in local stores.