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Gettysburg Concordance App Brings Battle to Life

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 

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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