Artist brings battle of Gettysburg to life


When it comes to history, it’s not enough for Dan Nance to read about it, talk about it, or even draw it. He likes to be on the front lines.

The 39-year-old Ballantyne resident was in his glory during the first week of July, the 150th anniversary of one of the most pivotal conflicts in U.S. history.

The battlefields of Gettysburg, Pa., provided Nance the backdrop for his declared “guerrilla marketing” campaign to demonstrate the iPhone app that brings the battles to life.

Nance teamed with fellow historical artists Keith Rocco and Bradley Schmehl to provide stirring visual depictions in “Gettysburg Windows in Time,” a product of Handheld History that depicts key battles by using overlays of paintings.

If you’re at Gettysburg, the app identifies your GPS location at more than 30 sites to provide the appropriate painted scene for the site via your iPhone camera. The battle scenes can be accessed from anywhere, with additional information available via audio and text.

“I’ve been painting history for 20-something years,” Nance says. “I wanted to see how we could expose these kinds of history lessons to a digital world, a 21st century environment.

“Everybody’s walking around with a mini-computer and a mini-encyclopedia,” he says. “Why not apply history lessons that are entertaining, so people can have some edutainment?”

The Gettysburg app stemmed from an idea Nance had a few years ago for the Charlotte Liberty Walk, which had views at 15 locations. His companion to that walk commemorates the Sept. 26, 1780, Revolutionary War conflict that prevented British Gen. Charles Cornwallis from capturing North Carolina and prompted him to refer to Charlotte as “a veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion.”

“Right there on Trade and Tryon, you can watch the Battle of Charlotte with horses running up the street, right there in present day,” says Nance, adding that this form of digital artwork on top of specific GPS sites has never before been offered. Handheld History partnered with Burchette & Associates Inc., to design, develop and market the app.

Becoming founder and president of Handheld History in 2011 may seem a natural progression for Nance, who grew up in the Carolinas and has always been fascinated by the region’s rich military history. But there was a learning curve.

“We cut our teeth on the Charlotte Liberty Walk,” he says. “I learned a lot about the technology. I’m a traditional artist, a paintbrush-and-canvas kind of guy.

“I’ve always loved entertainment; I went to film school in New York. This was a perfect blend for me to kind of get back into that media realm. So I put the brush down, picked up a mouse and started to manipulate my paintings and bring them to life with Photoshop and other applications.”

The July 1-3, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War has always riveted Nance.

“Hundreds of thousands fought there. You’ve got sites with great nicknames like Devi’s Den and the Slaughter Pen,” he says.

The app has several paintings that highlight the events of Pickett’s Charge, a climactic charge of 13,000 Confederates on July 3, 1863, that ended in defeat.

But for Nance, the most interesting Gettysburg conflict occurred on the first day of fighting.

“The 26th North Carolina got in a savage fight with the 24th Michigan (at McPherson’s Ridge). That fight shows how, in the Civil War, the tactics were not matched up with the innovation of the weaponry. The guns could do more damage than the tactics would allow, tactics from Napoleon’s time.

“They would just stand at one side and the other and just pound at each other. The 26th North Carolina went into that fight in the morning with more than 800 men. Within two hours they had lost 588 men. The 24th also had terrible losses” – and was forced into retreat.