2012-07-12 / Local & State

Gettysburg Battle Coverage In 140 Characters

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) – This year’s re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg featured breaking news coverage of one of the pivotal fights – 140 characters at a time.

Four tweeters recruited from two local newspapers delivered minute-by-minute coverage of last Saturday’s re-enactment of the fighting at Devil’s Den as part of the 149th-anniversary event at the battlefield.

“We thought it would enhance people’s understanding of what happened there,” organizer Marc Charisse, editor of the Hanover Evening Sun, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. He said one reporter would file from the Confederate side and another from the Union lines, while York Daily Record editor James McClure gave a “big picture” overview of the battle and he himself provided color commentary.

The annual event, which has attracted thousands to Gettysburg for decades, isn’t fought on the actual 1863 battlefield but on a farm about 7 miles away, and often not on the actual battle dates of July 1-3. And then there’s the play-by-play from an announcer. Still, Twitter adds a new dimension of social media and instant communication for about 2,000 re-enactors, who take great pains to achieve authenticity in their portrayal of 19th century warfare.

But some historians say they don’t mind adding social media to the mix, especially if it helps bring one of the nation’s most famous battles to life for a new generation. After all, war correspondents of the day filed dispatches using that newfangled device called the telegraph and using the shorthand of dots and dashes necessary for Morse code.

Michael Birkner, a history professor at Gettysburg College, compared tweeting to the 1950s CBS television program “You Are There,” which portrayed current reporters talking to historical figures to bring history to life.

“There would be Mike Wallace asking Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, ‘General, how does it look?”‘ Birkner said. “We want to be in the middle of the action. It’s just a different technology from a different era.”

Anthony Waskie, a Temple University German professor and Civil War aficionado who played Union Gen. George G. Meade in this year’s re-enactment, called it a “natural progression into new electronic media.” And he said he thinks the general would be all for embracing technology, since he was an engineer very interested in new innovations.

In fact, Charisse said, Meade introduced a new way to gather and deliver battle data at Gettysburg.

“The first thing he did when he arrived was ride his own line under a full moon with his cartographer, who had an easel on his saddle and produced maps of the Union positions,” he said. “Then he distributed them to his corps commanders.

“When I told that story to a friend, he said, ‘Oh, Meade, he won because he had the first mobile app,”‘ Charisse said.

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