(Washington, D.C.) — Experience Civil War combat like never before with the American Battlefield Trust’s new four-part series Civil War 1864: A Virtual Reality Experience. This immersive storytelling approach will put you back in time as you navigate in 360 degrees how it may have looked, felt and sounded to be a Civil War soldier. Viewable in a variety of formats — from desktop computer to mobile device to virtual reality headset — these short films take you inside a Confederate sniper’s lair, into a Union defensive position, along on a reconnaissance patrol and inside a Union field hospital.
“We constantly strive to bring people closer to historical events in hopes that they can better understand or even feel them” said Garry Adelman, the Trust’s chief historian. “The immersive nature of virtual reality can help us approximate the personal experience of Civil War soldiers like nothing else has before.”
The American Battlefield Trust, the nation’s premier heritage land preservation organization, has long worked to educate people to open windows of understanding into the past and providing potentially transformative experiences. The Trust decided to pursue a VR experience because of its unprecedented ability to put the viewer into a scenario. In each video, the action takes place in 360˚ surrounding the viewer with action, along with sound alerts to indicate where significant action occurs, or pop-up facts appear. Those using a virtual reality headset or cardboard viewer can take best advantage of its directional sound, while mobile devices enable users to pinch-and-zoom for a closer look at specific details.
To employ the emerging technology of virtual reality, the Trust looked to its longtime partners at Wide Awake Films, a Kansas City, Mo.–based creative media group focused on innovative, efficient execution of historical, commercial and corporate films.
“Our goal was to produce shorts that approximated everyday life for Civil War soldiers and civilians,” said the company’s founder Shane Seley. “It is one thing to read about the terror of battle or the drudgery of camp life, but a very different thing to live through it. We wanted to offer a real glimpse into the past that can’t be captured in books or standard documentaries.”
As such, authenticity was paramount. Wide Awake used professional actors and created exacting sets — including digging trenches, on a Kansas City–area farm. For even greater authenticity, the Trust enlisted digital animator Robert Cloutier to perform additional 360 animation, like flying cannonballs.
The results of this effort speak for themselves: Civil War 1864: A Virtual Reality Experience, a culmination of all four parts of the story into one, has already become the most popular video ever produced by the Trust, garnering more than 300,000 views in its first two weeks.
Viewers immediately responded to the innovative point-of-view experience, with one noting, “this brings home some of the hard reality that doesn’t always come through when reading books or visiting a battlefield on a sunny summer afternoon… For the soldiers, it wasn't about generals and flags and where this or that regiment stood. It was killing and death. They were trapped in a dirty, brutal horror story come to life.”
“This whole project is absolutely unrivaled in terms of realism by anything,” wrote one YouTube reviewer. “What a life-changing experience, the Civil War was instantly redefined for me as soon as this was over.” Another was even more succinct: “You’ve just revolutionized history storytelling.”
The Trust is no stranger to the history education sphere. Previous successful avenues have included battlefield tours and events, on-site interpretation, 3D photography and articles published online and in its award-winning magazine, Hallowed Ground. Other video formats produced by the Trust include Battlefield U, which tackles commonly asked questions with lightning-strike answers suitable for all audiences, In4, which offers deeper context on a specific topic, Your State, which traces local connections throughout the broader course of history, and Animated Maps, which provide unparalleled perspectives on individual battles or campaigns — plus long-form videos covering the entire Revolutionary War and Civil War.
The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today. To date, the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 51,000 acres of battlefield land associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.