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iPhone is tour guide for city, battlefield

May 5, 2011 12:15 am


The Civil War Trust's Rob Shenk (left, director of Internet strategy and development) and President Jim Lighthizer look over a new 'battle app' that the group introduced. lo050511battleappram1.jpg

Michael Bullock, president of NeoTreks Inc., walks along Caroline Street to test the new battlefield app. lo050511battleapp3.jpg

The new app includes video, audio, maps, history and biographies to guide people through the battlefield.


Fredericksburg's Civil War history just went digital in a big way.

People around the globe can now learn--via vivid and interactive multimedia--all about the Battle of Fredericksburg.

And that information is as handy, smart and intuitive as only an iPhone app can be.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton announced the software's debut yesterday during a press conference at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Fredericksburg.

The project was made possible, in part, with VDOT's support and comes just as states and communities have begun observing the 150th anniversary of the nation's bloodiest conflict.

The department has committed to help underwrite 10 battle apps to encourage residents and visitors to explore the commonwealth's Civil War sites.

"Virginia is home to more significant Civil War sites than any other state, making it a top destination for heritage tourists exploring the events that took place 150 years ago," Connaughton said.

Next up are apps for Manassas-Bull Run, Gaines' Mill and Chancellorsville; the first of those should be available in time for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of First Manassas, on July 21.

House Speaker Bill Howell, holding up his own iPhone, called the Fredericksburg app "fantastic."

Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, welcomed the innovation.

"Being able to tour a battlefield with the leading expert on that battle in your pocket is a wonderful thing," he said. "This app expands our reach tremendously and can greatly enhance the park visit through maps and illustrations. We are anxious to help develop apps for the park's other three battlefields."

Karen Hedelt, director of Fredericksburg's Department of Economic Development and Tourism, said the app's four tours transcend the national park's boundaries and include the street fighting that was a unique--but relatively little-known--feature of the battle.

iPhone in hand, people can wander out of a coffeehouse downtown, walk a couple of blocks to the Rappahannock River and get a dramatic idea of the sniper fire and hand-to-hand combat that Union soldiers experienced entering the town, as Confederate defenders tried to hold back the advancing Yankees.

"Heritage tourists flock to Fredericksburg for the experience of being immersed in our nation's history," Hedelt said. "This dynamic resource offers another exciting way to make the past come alive for visitors of all ages."

The battle, waged Dec. 11-15, 1862, was one of the Civil War's largest and deadliest. It featured the first major opposed river crossing in American military history and the war's first urban combat, as Union and Confederate troops fought, block by block, through the streets of Fredericksburg.

With nearly 200,000 combatants, no other Civil War battle featured a larger concentration of soldiers.

All of that, and much more, is covered in the app.


Videos of top historians, period and modern imagery, artwork by Don Troiani and detailed topographical maps deliver "the power of place," said Rob Shenk, who managed the project for the Civil War Trust. "Now, people can visit and learn about the Fredericksburg battlefield from Juneau or Hawaii or Tokyo--or right here."

The app offers the convenience of a self-guided tour and the expertise of an expert-led exploration, Shenk said.

"Working on this project provided us a unique opportunity to apply cutting-edge, 21st-century technology toward the goal of making 19th-century history more accessible," said Michael Bullock, president of NeoTreks Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., which developed the software. "With the Fredericksburg battle app, visitors now have the past at their fingertips like never before."

History Associates of Rockville, Md., did the historical research for the app.

National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly, considered the leading authority on the battle, appears in the app's videos and interprets what happened at key spots on the battlefield.

A GPS way-finder shows visitors their precise location on the field, updated on the fly, in relation to historic and modern landmarks.

Users, who may also use the app on the iPod Touch, can download or stream all of the tour videos and audio.

Onboard battle animations and customizable troop displays let you stand where the two armies stood and learn how their attacks and counterattacks unfolded.

In the audio elements, users hear the action described by many of its participants.

But it's not all blood and guts. Users listen to and read about what happened to civilians during the battle, in which the Union army shelled the town. Northern troops looted many of Fredericksburg's homes after the vanguard crossed the river.

Many in-town spots are described in detail, including the Douglas Gordon House, Kenmore Inn, Farmer's Bank, the Irish Brigade marker, Fredericksburg Baptist Church, the Fredericksburg Courthouse, William Street's slave auction block, the Eliza Eubank House, Joseph Alsop House, Rocky Lane and The Sentry Box.

The role of women, including Clara Barton and several Fredericksburg diarists, is highlighted. Lizzie Alsop, who delighted in flirting with Confederate officers, reads from her journal and describes her feelings about the Union occupiers.

Nor is African-American history neglected. The area's enslaved people--most notably memoirist John Washington--get their due.

For today's visitors to Fredericksburg, there's information on parking and other tour logistics.

The battle app--available for $2.99 via Apple's iTunes store--complements the Civil War vodcasts and podcasts (also available via iTunes) on the Fredericksburg area's tourism website.


Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

From the Civil War Trust's Fredericksburg battle app:

1. Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside was appointed to the command of the Army of the Potomac prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg. Who did he replace?

2. What was the name of the Confederate army that Robert E. Lee commanded at Fredericksburg?

3. What river did the Union army need to cross to attack the Confederates at Fredericksburg?

4. Confederate Brig. Gen. William Barksdale's Brigade tenaciously defended the town of Fredericksburg on Dec. 11, 1862. From what state did most of his soldiers come from?

5. This Confederate action did much to annoy and slow the start of the main Union attack on Dec. 13, 1862

6. This hero of Gettysburg nearly broke Stonewall Jackson's line by leading his troops through a swampy, undefended portion of the line.

7. The Washington Artillery did much to thwart the Union attacks towards Marye's Heights. From what southern city did this famous unit herald from?

8. Brig. Gen. Thomas Meagher of the Irish Brigade issued this item to be worn in his soldiers' hats prior to their assault on Marye's Heights.

ANSWERS: 1. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. 2. The Army of Northern Virginia. 3. The Rappahannock River. 4. Mississippi. Barksdale's Brigade was comprised of the 13th, 17th, 18th and 21st Mississippi regiments. 5. Maj. John Pelham moved two horse artillery pieces secretly onto the left flank of the Union army and opened fire. This surprise attack unnerved the Union command and led to the redeployment of Doubleday's division as reinforcement for the flank--thereby removing it from the upcoming attack. 6. Maj. Gen. George Meade. Meade, who would later command the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, surprised the Confederates on Prospect Hill when his forces emerged from a swampy section of the battlefield that the Confederates felt was impenetrable. 7. New Orleans 8. Sprigs of boxwood. The greenery was intended to emphasize this unit's Irish heritage. Unfortunately for the Irish Brigade, almost 50 percent of their ranks would fall before Marye's Heights.

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