published Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Civil War meets iPhone


by Andy Johns
  • photo
    CIVIL WAR PRESERVATION TRUST/InterMap Technologies photo - Screen captures from the Gettysburg Battle App, a partnership effort from the Civil War Preservation Trust and InterMap Technologies (cq) offers users tours, historical information and videos. The app also utilizes the iPhones GPS hardware to place users in battle positions. Plans are underway to a companion app for Chickamauga National Battlefield and 13 other battlefields.

If only William Rosecrans had had an iPhone.

In 1863, the Union general didn't know where his adversary, Gen. Braxton Bragg, had stationed his forces and half-stumbled into the Battle of Chickamauga.

If Rosecrans had been able to download the Civil War Preservation Trust's battlefield app to a smart phone, the scenario would have unfolded differently.

"We might not have even had a Battle of Chickamauga," said John Culpepper, president of the Georgia Civil War Commission, when presented with the farcical scenario. "The only way they could talk to each other was couriers on horseback."

The trust, based in Washington, D.C., recently released its Gettysburg Battle App on iPhone, complete with GPS-enabled maps, videos, animations and audio tours.

Trust spokeswoman Mary Koik said there's no release date for the group's Chickamauga app, but she expects it will be popular with park visitors when it does appear.

"Look at your phone and see what the view looked like then, and then look up and see how it's changed or hasn't changed," she said. "It's teaching 19th-century history with 21st-century technology."

The group plans eventually to release the apps on other smart phones.

Culpepper, who is also the city manager of Chickamauga, said the apps are important for hooking the "tourists in the future."

"They're not going to sit there and read tablets," he said. "They want that instant information."

Koik said the apps are designed to be an "expert in your pocket" and give visitors the experience of a guided tour without having a guide.

"There aren't enough rangers to go around," she said. "What this does is it gives that experience to everyone."

Civil War buff and iPhone owner Dennis Goshorn, of Rome, Ga., said he has visited Chickamauga a dozen times over the last few years. He downloaded the Gettysburg app but said he was a little disappointed that it focused primarily on well-known battles around Little Round Top and Devil's Den without getting much into the other fighting.

He said serious enthusiasts may find it lacking.

"It's kind of designed for someone to go and be there for a day or half a day, who wants to see the highlights," said Goshorn.

He admitted, though, it might be different to actually use the GPS functions on the battlefield.

Ken Sumner, battle coordinator for the Battle of Tunnel Hill in Georgia, said the apps are an "extremely valuable tool."

Sumner, who owns a Droid smart phone, said the apps could help foster an interest in history among younger people.

"Any of the tools that come out like this, we'll see it 50 years down the road," he said

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6324.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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