Person standing outside holding up a tablet with a scene from the Gettysburg AR Experience app

Gettysburg Augmented Reality Experience


Interactive Knowledge worked with American Battlefield Trust to design and develop 15 immersive experiences that place users in and around the areas of the Battle of Gettysburg. Using augmented reality and historically accurate details, we delivered an interactive application that brings the life and death of America’s bloodiest battle of the Civil War to life.

About this project

American Battlefield Trust (ABT) came to Interactive Knowledge with the idea of using augmented reality to recreate some pivotal moments of the Battle of Gettysburg.  By using augmented reality, the app allows users to walk up to and interact with the people, animals, and objects integrated into each scene. Users of the Gettysburg AR Experience have the feeling of walking among the Gettysburg participants.

Working with Historians from the Trust, each scene is historically accurate and includes 3D animations that are based on archival photographs and first-person accounts. Voices and gunfire background sounds add to the element of realism while using the application.

Some scenes are very specific to locations within and around the Gettysburg National Military Park. Users can see Generals Lee and Longstreet strategizing on the porch of Lee’s headquarters, or stand among the soldiers in the Battle of Pickett’s Charge as they jump over the famous rock wall. For the more adventurous park visitor, climb the hill of the Battle of Little Round Top to see the Confederate soldiers racing up to meet the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.

The Gettysburg Augmented Reality Experience will also take users just outside the park to the  Gettysburg National Cemetery. Users can stand among the crowd of people to witness President Lincoln giving his famous Gettysburg Address.

A hand holds a mobile phone horizontally with an AR scene shown on the screen while outside


The project goals

ABT had concrete goals for this application. Bringing people to Gettysburg National Military Park was first on their list. “We see augmented reality as an integral part of future battlefield visitation — and in-depth learning anywhere,” said American Battlefield Trust Chief Digital Officer Lawrence Swiader. “Families who visit Gettysburg now have a new and dynamic way to experience the battlefield together.”

The American Battlefield Trust preserves America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educates the public about what happened there and why it matters. In support of this mission, another goal for this project was to help educate students, teachers, and Civil War buffs about the events that occurred in Gettysburg, PA in 1863. Users who cannot make the trip to the battlefield still have the opportunity to experience all the app has to offer in their homes and classrooms. “Students are the biggest consumers of content on the Trust’s website and we believe that functionalities like augmented reality will draw their attention to the battlefields by making the past seem more tangible,” said Swiader.

Screenshot of the GBARE app showing the scene for Pickett's Charge: General Armistead's Virginians


The IK approach

Each event is introduced with background information including a detailed map of the location where the action took place in Gettysburg. Users are given on-screen instructions on how to place the scene, either outdoors or indoors, and tap the screen to begin interacting with the 3D animation. Unlike watching a video or viewing a photograph, the Gettysburg AR Experience allows users to walk into the scene and look at the people, horses, and objects from all angles. It’s a truly engaging and immersive experience.



Conversations with the Past

Several scenes include one or more characters who are designated as ‘ambassadors’ for that event. A rotating triangle above the ambassador’s head is touchable and begins the conversation. The ambassador turns toward the user and talks about the situation they find themselves in using clear audio. The scripts were prepared by ABT’s Chief Historian and reflect the language and sentiments current in 1863. The details included in these scripts are surprising and open a portal to the past that is unique and very memorable. Each ambassador has one or more comments to tell the user. All comments can be repeated in to order to share the experience with other members of your group. 


Content Placed in a Meaningful Context

Each scene has one or more rotating diamonds appearing among the characters and objects. Users can touch a diamond on the screen to learn important information about the event or specific details located nearby. This approach draws users further into the 3D animation by highlighting interesting elements they might otherwise miss. The 3D animations are very lifelike and movement throughout each scene creates a compelling experience. ABT’s educational goals are enhanced by offering historical information within the context of an immersive scene that will allow users to process the content effectively and remember the details later on. 


Screenshot of the Gettysburg AR Experience App Instructions Screen Step 5


Easy to Use Instructions

The Gettysburg AR Experience has been thoroughly tested as it was developed and extensively reviewed before every release. Instructions within an AR application need to be succinct but complete. It’s easy to create an experience that doesn’t work because the user never understands what to do next. The Gettysburg AR Experience has an optional introductory lesson that shows all the features and how to access them. In addition, each event begins with an on-screen offer to see tips for using the app. Users can page through a series of useful tips or quickly close the help window and dive into the 3D animated scene.


The Results

The impact of the Gettysburg Augmented Reality Experience has been well received by the Gettysburg National Military Park visitors. Users find themselves not only visiting the more famous spots within the park but are also encouraged to explore more obscure areas, resulting in more time spent on site.  The app has undergone several updates since its initial launch in 2020 and several of the scenes have been converted to a web-based experience, allowing more flexibility to users.

The Gettysburg AR Experience is available free at the Apple App Store and on Google Play