On Saturday 20 May 2012 I visited the Chancellorsville National Battlefield Park and used the “Chancellorsville Battle App”. The app is available from the Civil War Trust at Civilwar.org/battleapps/, and features interactive GPS enabled maps; three GPS guided battlefield tours; maps; text; primary documents and photos; video presentations by an expert historian; orders of battle; time line; information about the park; and information about other historic points of interest in the area.
This app, which is free, is the result of a joint venture of the Civil War Trust, The Virginia Department of Transportation, and the developer, NeoTreks, Inc. The project directors were Rob Shenk of the Civil War Trust and Michael Bullock of NeoTreks, Inc. The historians for the project were Robert K. Kirk, who appears in the videos, and Eric Mink, historian at the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park.
This app is designed to be used on the battlefield or as a stand alone educational product. This app will accurately guide the user through three tours of the battlefield; explain the geography, the context, and the events that occurred where the user is standing. It does so with a variety of texts, graphics, readings, and video presentations. In addition, one can click on “Battle Overview” for a general presentation of the entire campaign, and “Battle Resources” for further factual data about the battle, the armies, and leading personalities.
Each of the three battlefield tours include extensive information about the length of each tour, the walking distance, the driving distance, detailed (using the GPS map feature) directions, an interactive military contour map with unit markings and times, contemporary street maps (with satellite images), safety information, other points of interest, and even the location of the nearest public restrooms. Each tour is accompanied with an excellent explanatory video, readings from primary sources, and contemporary drawings and photos.
The app is available for iPod and Android platforms and is easily downloaded. Because many battlefields do not have Wi-Fi, this app can also be downloaded to one’s smart phone or tablet so that the only link needed is the GPS, which is available on all battlefields. The download feature also means that the user can use the product before and after visiting the battlefield.
The content of the app is accurate, well organized, and well presented. It is useful to any first time visitor as well as any second or third time visitor. It also serves as a stand alone history of the battle. The historians and developers have taken what is arguably the most complex Civil War battle and made it understandable to both novice and educated person alike. The result is a highly useful, quality product.
Normally I tour battlefields well armed with a map case, a Sylva compass, pencil, protractor, notebook(s), camera(s), and field glasses. All I needed at Chancellorsville this time was my cell phone. That is hard to beat.
I submit that apps are becoming the battlefield tour guides of choice. The technology is flexible, easily available, and portable. An app can be written for a first-time visitor or for the more sophisticated Staff Ride student. Historians and specialists now have the opportunity to bring the fruit of years of research into the hands of interested citizens visiting a National Park.
I look forward to using and reviewing more such apps.