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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Battle of Antietam

Written on Monday, September 24th, 2012 [permanent link]

A week ago I woke up in a Maryland field to the sound of a rooster crowing.

And then the cannon started.

After that came the bugles that I normally hear for reveille. But the cannonfire was a nice touch. I’M AWAKE! I’M AWAKE!! My 15-year-old son and I were camping just north of the Antietam National Battlefield with 4,000 other reenactors for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle. The spread of hundreds of canvas tents under the pink morning sky was inspiring. In our four years of reenacting, I’ve never seen more cavalry or more artillery on the field, sweeping to and fro during the afternoon battles for the spectators.

It’s like watching a moving painting. I portray a battlefield cartoonist, so I’m not marching in the lines of blue and gray but standing back on a hill, furiously sketching what it looks like for 400 men to storm a fence held by 250 other men. And I can also zoom down to sketch details that will add depth my own visual storytelling — how does the pot over the campfire look? How does J.E.B. Stuart hold his sword as he charges? And being in the mix of reenactors gives my other senses a chance to record details for me to use later. How hot is it in the wool clothing at midday? How do your feet feel after a day of marching? What does a Civil War mortar sound like when it fires?

Being on the actual field gives me a chance to research outside the box that a movie or TV show presents. The past 20 years have been revolutionary for the increasing number of historical movies and TV shows we get that have told great stories with great accuracy. But movies and TV shows are still a frame, capturing what a director or editor wants you to see — and leaving out the rest of the story. I’ve found that there’s no substitute for being able to stand somewhere to get a sense of the place and the historical event that happened there.

The visuals are a big part of the story of Antietam — the single bloodiest day in American history. Because Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army was caught so close to Washington, DC, a few days after the battle Alexander Gardner was able to photograph the dead men still in the field. Gardner’s photos were the first ever images to show dead soldiers on the field of battle. A New York Times article about the photographs said it was if the “dead had been laid at our doorsteps.” For civilians who still thought the Civil War was a romantic crusade, those photos were an unsettling window to the brutality and waste of the war.

You can read my story about Antietam — which includes info about Gardner’s photos — by visiting the iTune store!


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Chester is an App!

Written on Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 [permanent link]

Harriet Tubman iPhone

Different formats mean different stories. The Chester history adventures that I’ve published in book form for the past seven years were all designed to work as one-week-long episodes in a newspaper. (Look “newspaper” up on Wiki, kids.) I’m proud of how much action and information I packed into those episodes, but it’s time to update those stories and see how they sing in another format. Kids are reading lots of things outside the covers of a book.

Students, teachers, and parents can now put Chester in their pocket. The first three Chester story apps are available in the iTunes store for your iPhone, iTouch, or iPad! (Click the black app logo on the homepage to get to my links to the iTunes store.) It’s just 99 cents to get an expanded biography of Harriet Tubman or a more detailed story of the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War or the Battle of Britain in World War II.

When I cut up the panels of the old newspaper stories I got about 40 panels per story. I’ve drawn new material to double that length for my first three smartphone stories. Without the space restrictions that print puts on me, I could add the kind of details that make the history of human beings so interesting. Now there’s a scene to Tubman’s story in which she helps free a man in the middle of a riot in New York! The Battle of Antietam story now does a better job of showing in pictures how the Sunken Lane went from a Confederate stronghold to a Confederate deathtrap. And The Battle of Britain has more of Winston Churchill’s inspiring speeches — and links to webpages where you can HEAR Churchill give the speeches during the heat of battle! So it’s good to have the Tubman biography in the Wonder Women book because there a young reader can get a quick overview of her life and compare her to other bold women of 19th Century America. But it’s good to have the app, too, because it’s got more action!

I hope to keep printing comic books about history — I’m finishing up the World War I book now and am in the thick of drawing a bio about George Washington for Mount Vernon — but I’m also excited to pick my most action-packed stories from the past 11 years and morph them into mobile apps. Next up: The TRUE Story of Pocahontas!

I’d love to get your feedback on these apps!

PS — There are discounts for educational institutions that buy multiple copies of the iTunes apps. Check out for more information!

PPS — Yes, I know the Droid is selling well. I hope to take the apps I make for iTunes and move them over to the Droid in the next few months.

PPPS — After I get 5 or 6 apps published, I’m going to circle back to add important educational bells and whistles to these — the first being sound. I hope to add an audio track in English and an audio track in Spanish so that struggling readers can get some help as they scan through the story visually. Look for that in 2011!

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Slow as Manassas

Written on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 [permanent link]

Manassas Battlefield of Virginia

I’ve lived in Virginia for 18 years without making it up to the site of the first major battle of the Civil War — and then there was a last-minute mission to get my boys to the Green Day concert just down Lee Highway from the Manassas Battlefield . . .

(Don’t worry, I got my Cool Dad badge LAST summer when I actually went into the Green Day concert in downtown DC with my boys. But this time the concert was at an outdoor theater, and it hit 101 degrees today, and, well . . . )

Manassas was the site of the first major battle of the Civil War. And the feel of today’s battlefield park is just right. Thank goodness these rolling hills are not covered with condos. Though the Manassas Battlefield is only a mile or so north of Interstate 66, you can stand here and feel the struggle of men and guns up and down these hills (and why holding the high ground was so important). There WAS a modern road cutting through the park, but seeing the modern rush hour traffic jammed on its two lanes did not feel overwhelming — it just reminded me of the traffic jam that came at the end of the First Battle of Manassas, as Union soldiers and spectators rushed over each other down that very same roadway to get back to the safety of DC!!

I love visiting Civil War battlefields in the late afternoon. Battles usually ended at sunsdown anyway, so it’s a good time to feel the peacefulness and consider the bravery and the terrible pain that happened on this ground — and the ideas that brought people here in conflict.

I feel restored and inspired from having walked through the quiet grass of Manassas. Now back to Paneras to wait for the concert to end!

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