If you enjoy learning about battles by studying maps then you’re going to really like the new Battle of Franklin animated map created by the CWPT.

The map is developed using Flash technology and is divided into four major sections: (1) Hood invades Tennessee, (2) the Affair at Spring Hill, (3) the Battle of Franklin, and (4) Preservation of the Battlefield.

The Franklin animated map is the sixth map the CWPT has created, including ones on Fredericksburg, Saving Bentonville, First Day at Chancelorsville, Chantilly and Cedar Creek.

CWPT’s Rob Shenk is the creative hand behind these superb web-based resources. Steve Stanley is the cartographer and flash animator. Carnton historian Eric Jacobson consulted with Shenk on the Franklin map.

The Battle of Franklin animated map incorporates these features:

a. Once the play button is clicked, the map auto-forwards through the slide show.

b. Period-authentic and contemporary photos are used.

c. Text-narration (not audio) is provided throughout.

d. Troop movements are simulated through use of forward and retreating lines and markers for brigades.

e. As troop movements are simulated one can also see the time-line advance (at the top). The user can click on a specific time-stamp on the time-line and the map will advance to the point in time of battle.

f. Regiment markers are keyed to the respective name of the Brigade it belongs to.

g. Artillery-piece markers are keyed to the number of pieces in that unit-placement.

h. If land has been preserved by private orgs or the CWPT, lines are drawn to illustrate land saved.

i. Each map is part of a larger section with an abundance of info about that battle (see: Franklin)

Check out The Battle of Franklin animated map .

I interviewed Rob Shenk ay CWPT about their animated maps.

1. How do you select what battlefield to animate?

CWPT’s Directors and I regularly meet to discuss which animated map projects make the most sense going forward.  We typically choose map projects based on the following criteria:

A.  Is there much natural interest in the battle or subject?

Not only is it important that we put our scarce resources against the larger battles which changed the course of the American Civil War, but those battles also tend to have a larger, pre-existing base of interested fans.  We hope that our animated maps not only educate the viewer, but also acquaint a larger audience with who the Civil War Preservation Trust is and what we do.

B.  Is there a relevant or interesting preservation angle to the subject?

Most of our animated maps feature battlefields where CWPT or other preservation organizations have saved significant sections of the battlefield.  By showing how the fighting  coursed over and through these battlefields we can help to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of the land that we seek to save.

C.  Do we have access to accurate time-phased maps of the battle?

Creating an accurate animated map requires that you have detailed time-phased information on how the various units fought and moved at the battle.  Therefore it’s critical that we locate pre-existing time-phased maps and/or work with battlefield experts who have that knowledge.  Unfortunately, not every battle that we would like to tackle has this level of information.

D.  Does the battle have an interesting tactical flow to it?

As you might imagine, animated maps tend to be much more exciting when there is much more movement and action.  Grand, sweeping tactical movements are much more captivating than static sieges as a for-instance.

2. How long did it take to make the Franklin map(s)?

Longer than we would have hoped!  Our Franklin Animated Map project took us roughly 4 months to produce.   Sometimes scripting the complex unit movements takes the longest amount of time.  In other projects the basic historical research can be the long pole in the tent.  Fortunately for this Franklin Animated Map project, Eric Jacobson played an integral role in providing us with detailed troop movements and other historical information. I’m not sure how we could have done this Franklin map without him.

3. How much assistance do you rely on outside of your own resources to create a map?

Outside assistance is almost always a necessity.  CWPT, despite being the largest Civil War battlefield preservation organization in the United States , is still very modestly staffed.  First and foremost, we rely upon the talents of Steve Stanley, who is our crack CWPT cartographer and battlefield animator.  Secondly, we usually require the input and guidance of historians who have a detailed knowledge of the subject battlefield.  Throw in some proof reading, web page production, and photo editing and…. Voila!

4. What are 2-3 features of these animated maps that users seem to like the most?

What we tend to hear most from viewers is that they greatly appreciate seeing the precise tactical actions of the various units – to see all the units in action at one time can be very illuminating.  Many viewers will tell us that despite having an in-depth book-level understanding of the subject, that their understanding of the battle was greatly improved by watching the animation.

What we are finding is that many of us are truly “visual learners” and when we can see how the battle ebbed and flowed we are more likely to have an improved understanding of that battle.   In the past, animation like this was available via the celebrated electric maps, such as the one that inhabited the Gettysburg Visitor Center for many years.  Our animated maps strive to be the 21st century version of those great lighted offerings.  But unlike those visitor center electric maps, our animated maps can be viewed from anyplace in the world where you have an internet connection.  We do know that schools, the military, and various round tables have used our maps as a teaching aid.  That kind of news really excites us.

One other feature that I love is the ability to toggle between the topographical map and a modern satellite overhead view.  Having a chance to see the battlefield landscape as it exists today can produce a powerful reaction with the preservation-minded viewer.   You can see this dichotomy – between the historic battlefield and its modern incarnation – most clearly in our Battle of Chantilly map.  After watching the Union attack through the farms and fields of Chantilly , you can then watch that same tactical action as the attacks pour over modern townhouses, parking lots, and highways.  In some of our map offerings you can also toggle to an early aerial overhead – an in-between view of the battlefield.   Unfortunately we do not have this “Now and Then” type toggle for our Franklin Animated Map, but we intend to add that in soon.

5. How many more maps are slated for launch in 2010 and on what battles?

We are right now discussing a number of potential animated map projects.  We would definitely like to do an animated map offering focused on the Seven Days Campaign outside of Richmond , Virginia .  We are also looking at other Western Theater battlefields of interest and will likely develop an animation offering focused on some segment of the Gettysburg battlefield in the not too distant future.

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