It Happened on This Day 150 Years Ago
Here’s something that virtually every history buff will love, especially if they are students of the Civil War.
In case you may not know, this month marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States. And the folks at the History Channel have come up with a great way to step back in time to see what was happening across the nation a century and a half ago.
It’s an app called The Civil War Today. It will run on an iPhone, iPad or Android. It costs $7.50 and once you have a chance to try it out, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s more than worth the money.
So here’s a sampling of what I found yesterday when I opened the app and was taken back to April 27, 1861:
At the top of the page is a photo of President Abraham Lincoln with a story about how on this day 150 years ago, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in an area between Philadelphia and Washington, DC, empowering his commanding generals to detain unsympathetic Marylanders without indictment or arraignment.
Given that habeas corpus is one of our country’s basic rights, you can likely grasp the dire times the nation was headed for when Lincoln issued his order. There’s a handy little button at the top of this article allowing you to easily email the story about Lincoln to a fellow history buff.
Another striking feature of the app is a photo of two young lads from New York State’s 22nd State Militia posing in front of a cannon. Both are holding muskets with bayonets fixed. They appear to be in their late teens and likely have no idea of the horrors they will soon be facing. I can say these boys have not yet experienced combat because just across the page from their photo is a casualty count for the war, which on April 27, 1861 showed the north had suffered 52 casualties and the south just 3. Of course over the next three years those numbers will skyrocket.
I’m sure my Uncle John Keeler would just love this app. He was a serious student of the Civil War and in the 1970’s penned a book, entitled Civil War Chronicles. His book told the story of the war through the venue of a modern day newspaper. Each page of the book was designed like the front page of a newspaper, with photos and stories from the war. He spent weeks doing research and collecting photos at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, Civil War Chronicles wasn’t a financial success, but I’m confident if the technology had been available in his day, John Keeler would have turned his book into an iPad app. So I’m thinking my uncle’s idea was about 40 years ahead of its time.
Another thing that I really like about The Civil War Today is a section called A Day in The Life. Here you’ll find a grid of 15 photos that include the president, soldiers from both armies and women. Tap on any of the photos and you’ll get a description of who the person was and what they were doing 150 years ago. Tap Abe Lincoln’s photo and you’ll see a copy of a letter that the president received on April 27 from W. Dennison, Governor of Ohio. The letter is reproduced in Dennison’s handwriting and also in type, which is easier to read. The letter discusses some proposed war plans.
Tap on the photo of southern soldier John Beauchamp Jones and you see a page from his diary written on April 27, 1861. “We have had a terrible alarm,” Jones’s diary begins. “The tocsin was sounded in the public square and thousands have been running hither and tither to know it’s meaning. Dispatches have been posted about the city, purporting to have been received by the governor with the startling information that the US War steamer Pawnee is coming up the James River for the purpose of shelling the city.”
It’s pretty much the same thing with any of the other photos. Tap on the person’s portrait and you become part of their life as it was 150 years ago.
The quote of the day for April 27 comes from John Brown. “You had better, all you people of the south, prepare yourself for a settlement of this question.” Of course, now we know how that question Brown was talking about was settled, but when he made that remark 150 years ago, he obviously had no idea what the future held.
Each day The Civil War Today features the front page of a newspaper from 150 years ago. Yesterday, The Mountaineer from Salt Lake City was the featured paper. It’s an exact copy of the paper and a bit hard to read, but you can use the iPad’s zooming feature to enlarge the type.
A section called Civil War By the Numbers offers up fact about the war. Wednesday’s edition stated that the estimated total number of horses the South had at the start of the war was 1,700,000.
There’s also a photo gallery that offers portraits of soldiers from both armies. They’re striking photographs that take you back in time. Some of the people in the photos are identified; others are just faces from 150 years ago.
But don’t take my word for it. If you have one of the devices that I previously mentioned will run The Civil War Today, go to the app store and check it out for yourself. It’s a step back in time that will make you want to return for a few minutes every day.