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Chancellorsville has app

November 22, 2011 12:28 am


Civil War Trust web guru Rob Shenk (left) and historian Robert K. Krick try out the new Chancellorsville battle app outside Chancellorsville Visitor Center in Spotsylvania. lo112111battleapp1.jpg

The multimedia Chancellorsville battle app for iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch was introduced yesterday.


For an internationally known historian, Robert K. Krick keeps a low profile.

He eschews social media, prefers the printed word to e-books and generally avoids the limelight.

But Krick, who lives in Fredericksburg, has gone all digital, trendy, hip and 21st century, as of yesterday.

Deny it he might, but this South-centric scholar is the star of the latest multimedia smartphone "battle app" for some of the nation's premier Civil War battlefields.

Download the app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, and you quickly encounter Krick's visage and voice in one of the program's many on-board "historian in your pocket" videos.

And he's not merely eye candy; Krick wrote the bulk of the app's script, shared his decades of research and pointed the developers toward treasures tucked away in federal archives.

The Civil War Trust and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton announced the app's launch yesterday during a press conference on the battlefield in Spotsylvania County.

"Our goal is to make the study of history dynamic and immersive, helping it appeal to a whole new generation of Americans," trust President Jim Lighthizer said during remarks at the Chancellorsville Visitor Center.

Connaughton said he and Gov. Bob McDonnell believe that the apps will help draw more visitors to Virginia's battlefields and bolster local economies.

Using federal "transportation enhancement" grants, Virginia--the most fought-over state of any in the war--is committed to funding production of 10 apps during the Civil War's 150th anniversary, he said.

Next up are an Android version of the popular Bull Run app, then ones for the Malvern Hill battlefield near Richmond, Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley, and Petersburg, trust spokesman Mary Koik said.

Battle apps for Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Manassas/Bull Run are available via Apple's App Store and iTunes. They're free, and have been featured by Apple, which is picky about which apps it spotlights.

More than 30,000 of the battle apps have been downloaded by people all over the country, and world.

Next year will bring an app for the Wilderness battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania counties.

Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said the applications appeal both to first-time park visitors and regular "battlefield ramblers."

"The Chancellorsville battle app offers the freedom to customize your visit to your schedule and personal interests, while still benefiting from the expertise of knowledgeable historians," Smith said.

Krick, Lighthizer noted, is considered the leading authority on Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Krick and other historians say Chancellorsville was Lee's greatest victory--but one that cost the life of his most trusted commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

The Chancellorsville app features three GPS-guided tours, each covering different terrain and a separate segment of the three-day-long battle, one of the war's bloodiest.

Along the way, "virtual signs" describe each stop's historical significance, along with photos, video commentary by Krick and audio accounts from the soldiers and civilians who walked the same ground.

Soup to nuts, from strategic overview to quirky vignettes, there's something for everybody. A bevy of resource material answers many questions, with basic facts, a chronology of the battle, orders of battle for the two armies and an interactive quiz.

The app will also help people identify and find nearby historic sites and learn about visitor services.

It covers the entire battlefield, not just its most well-traveled paths. The app explores the national park in depth, but also covers property owned by private conservation groups, particularly the trust's First Day at Chancellorsville site along State Route 3 just to the west of Five-Mile Fork.

As speaker after speaker took to the podium yesterday, Krick sat quietly in the auditorium's back row.

But he donned a San Francisco Giants cap and tagged along when Rob Shenk, the Civil War Trust's Internet strategy director, and colleague David Duncan went outdoors to demonstrate the app, and--in front of news cameras--spoke enthusiastically about it.

Krick is the "heart and soul" of the app, said Shenk, who worked closely with the author, a former chief historian of the national military park, on the seven-month project.

Krick and Shenk, both California natives, said they hope such digital offerings will make history more enticing to young people.

When he was a boy, Shenk said, the closest parallel to a smartphone app was the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War.

"To have had tools like this would have been incredible, he said. "In some ways, we're hoping these become the modern equivalent of that--something that hooks someone, that gets them started, that gets them to Chancellorsville. We hope they'll visit here, stay in the hotels, eat here and have Bob Krick guide them on a battlefield tour."

Krick, too, said books sparked his lifelong fascination with the Civil War.

"I grew up in California, far, far, far from the Blue Ridge--pretty close to the Sierra Nevada, actually. By the time I was about 12 or so, I had decided Chancellorsville was the most interesting thing that ever happened," he said.

"I got that from Douglas Southall Freeman particularly, and then the American Heritage picture history of the Civil War. Had I had the opportunity to see something like this, it would have been unbelievably stimulating. So, I guess that's how it will go for the next generation.

"Those kids growing up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada will be able to see the Rob Shenk photographs, all of the digital maps and GPS and so forth. It's going to be just wonderful, I think."

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

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