Monday, July 6, 2009

Touring the Revolution with Google Earth

I never ceased to be amazed at how many Revolution-related resources are on the Internet. As I don't live near the battlefields of the Revolution, I've enjoyed using Google Earth to "tour" sites not readily accessible to me. Below I describe a couple of basic features of this software, illustrated with screenshots (in all cases you can click to enlarge).

First, finding sites of historical interest is generally quite easy. Use the Search feature to find the place that you're looking for. Below I searched for "Fort Stanwix" and the program instantly transported me to the reconstructed Fort Stanwix in Rome, New York. I then zoomed in somewhat to obtain the view below.

I turn off most of the options in the Layers menu, but one that I keep on are the links to Panoramio pictures in the Geographic Web menu. These are user-submitted images that provide a ground-level view of the area. More often than not, the images are frankly beautiful as in the picture below of the Old North Bridge at Concord. On the right side of the image you can see the controls for zooming, panning, and rotating the image.

Unfortunately, many battlefields of the Revolution have not been well preserved. Two of the better exceptions among northern battles are Freeman's Farm/Bemis Heights and Monmouth. At present, there are only a handful of Panoramio pictures for these battlefields, but that is sure to change over time. A great user-submitted image of Monmouth appears below.

Some of the best places to see -- both in person and online -- are the sites of 18th-Century forts. Below is one of several images of handsome Fort Chambly in Canada, the site of an obscure, but historically important, action early in the war.

Yorktown, Virginia, is particularly worth visiting with Google Earth, as the extant fortifications are easily visible from the air, and the many visitors to the battlefield have generated some fantastic images, such as that of the recreated 1st Virginia Regiment, taken near the site of Redoubt #9.

One other feature worth exploring is the "Street View" option (in the Layers menu). By entering Street View, you can have a 360-degree view of a particular spot on a roadway. Barring the slight fuzziness of the images, this is almost as good as being there. Generally, only major roads have been imaged this way, which limits the usefulness of this feature, but for some battlefields this is useful. The screenshot below shows a Street View image taken on Flat Rock Road, revealing a portion of the Hanging Rock battlefield. Each camera icon is the location of another available view. Although not clear from this image, one can travel for miles along this road using Street View.

Yorktown is the rare locale where the normal aerial view, the links to Panoramio pictures, and the Street View option all can be used to study the battlefield. Below is an aerial view of the "Hornwork," a key position in the British defenses that was heavily pounded by the French and American artillery. The cars in the foreground provide a good sense of the enormity of this work.

Below is a Street Level view of the Hornwork, taken from the road visible in the image above.

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