Military History Online
"The only thing missing is
the gun smoke..."
Having traveled to Gettysburg National Park about a dozen
times in the past three years, I felt I was pretty familiar
with nearly all of it – until I previewed this excellent
production by Stephen Recker of Another Software Miracle.
Now, not only can I get more familiar with it, I can visit
the battlefield any time I wish…
This is a professional production presented in a great package
that includes the interactive Virtual Gettysburg program
cd-rom, three audio tour CDs, with an accompanying booklet
that includes all of the narrative (or close to it). The
tour was written and is narrated by Gary Kross; a well respected
Licensed Battlefield Guide at the park for over 20 years.
I personally checked with several of my LBG friends who
have nothing but awe when speaking of Mr. Kross’ knowledge
Stephen Recker has spent the past five years in developing
and production of Virtual Gettysburg, and every moment of
that time has been well spent. Now that his format is established,
no telling how great future productions and projects will
With 99 (count ‘em) panoramic views of the Gettysburg
Battlefield, anyone can visit and study the fields as they
are now by simply installing a cd-rom on their home computer.
Not only that, the visuals are interactive with zoomable
maps, photographs of the officers, timelines, and then…there
are the monuments.
One of the greatest art museums in the world is the Gettysburg
National Park. Each statue and marker has a story, created
with love and honor from those that survived the conflict
and their relations, emplaced on over several thousand acres
of manicured grounds.
“Virtual Gettysburg contains a photograph of EVERY
single monument and the text of EVERY single marker. As
well, every monument and marker is present on the interactive
map. Click on a monument or marker in the list and the map
zooms in to that monument or marker. Click on the map and
see a photo of the monument or read the text of the marker,”
said Mr. Recker in a recent interview.
So if you have those questions about your great grandfather’s
regiment and want to see their marker or monument—here
you go…and you don’t even have to drive there!
For those of you who live in California or Oregon or Texas,
who don’t savor three to four days driving across
America with three screaming kids and a dog who would rather
be visiting Mickey…here you go!
The presentation of the tour is the real story, however—using
the interactive features takes a little time to master,
but that is understandable considering the scope of this
overall project. With just a little practice, you can take
the tour, stop it at any time, and zoom into the maps, view
photographs, read the monuments, and actually take the opposite
viewpoint of your present location – all with the
click of the mouse! All this while a map in the lower corner
shows where you are and what direction you are facing, shaded
to show the present viewing area.
So how does this all work?
First you insert the interactive Virtual Gettysburg cd-rom
into your computer and it will run automatically. It will
install QuickTime 5 if you do not have it on your computer,
but this is fairly quick and simple. Once that is finished,
you are off and running…well, walking anyway. Minimal
computer requirements are given at the end of this review.
The opening screen fades in, and like a movie, it dramatically
takes you to the field. Mr. Kross opens his narration with
an overview of the First Day Tour, accompanied by pictures
taken right after the battle. There are seven major parts
to each day’s action, broken down by general geographic
locations like McPherson’s Ridge, Evergreen Cemetery,
etc. This means 21 different tours, followed by a great
presentation of the Gettysburg Address by James Getty, renowned
for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.
The actual tour begins after this preview, which you can
interrupt at any time. The panoramic views come into play
here and rotate accordingly to the narration. At some points,
I did find the picture changes to be a bit quick, and had
to “Stop Tour” a couple of times to orient myself.
A “pause” button may help here, as when I pressed
the “Resume Tour” key; it took me all the way
back to the beginning of the segment. At first, this was
a little inconvenient to folks like me who are a little
impatient. However, I found that by going to the Info button,
I was able to adjust the QuickTime program to a more acceptable
speed. Again, a little practice makes perfect, and I am
more likely than most to notice any difference.
Stopping the tour, I explored other buttons on the split
screen. I found I had the option of “Show Hot Spots,”
which highlights monuments or geographic references to that
view in light blue shaded areas. Clicking on those shades,
I discovered close-ups of the highlighted areas, and were
able to read the markers, monuments, and reference points
of interest accordingly with my map orientation. For example,
having visited the Peach Orchard many times before, I never
realized the vantage point that Lee must have had from the
Point of Woods—this presentation showed that! As an
amateur historian, I can really appreciate this production
Another great feature of the panoramic views is that the
map at the bottom right shows shaded areas of your directional
orientation and viewpoints. A central compass also shows
the same, which is a big help in determining just where
you are, especially for those that have never visited the
You also have the option of viewing from the exact opposite
of the current panoramic photograph. I discovered this by
accident when running my mouse over the picture itself,
as it showed an arrow going off into the distance. The scene
was the Peach Orchard, and in clicking the arrow, I found
myself suddenly viewing the Peach Orchard from the Longstreet
Tower about 600 yards away—wow! Very nice feature
The Options are especially interactive and just generally
neat stuff. You can choose to show the monument or marker
or picture full screen for further study. After a little
experimenting, I found that pressing the “Full Screen”
button again would reduce it back to normal. Perhaps a “Reduce
View” button or something similar might be of help
There is also a preview screen in the lower right corner
next to the map, which shows a miniature of the picture
that you wish to select to view. This is a great feature,
avoiding having the press the “Next” button
all the time. A list of the map, picture, etc shows on the
left to further aid in your view selections. Your choices
include Monuments, People, Scenes, and Tours—all interactive
with one another, meaning you can click on one and still
have options to view the others as you like.
In using the map views, I admit to a minor annoyance in
having to click the zoom in feature many times to get to
a specific point, although I understand that this just allows
more options to the viewer to get to specific points. Also,
the map pretty well just includes the monument and marker
locations—which was a little puzzling to me at first,
not understanding why not have the battle lines and troop
dispositions? DOH!—dummy me! Because the monument
and marker locations pretty well denote the battle lines
anyway. Also, I learned that by clicking on the particular
list item automatically zooms into the map as well.
I admit I didn’t take the entire tour, due to hungry
kids and cats, and kazillion “urgent” emails,
but will do so some late night soon without interruption.
However, when I did select “Exit”, it took me
to a screen that allowed me to view the Credits. I did so,
and was pleasantly surprised at a humorous outtake from
the recording of the narration by Gary Kross.
Any projects similar to this in the future? You betcha…
“The first project that I am doing in video format
that pertains to my efforts with Virtual Gettysburg is Virtual
Little Big Horn. I will probably release Virtual Little
Big Horn as a DVD before I release it as a CD-ROM. The guide
I used, Joe Marshall, has a book coming out next year on
the anniversary date, June 25th, so I am starting with a
simple DVD in order to have product to release on the same
date as his book,” stated Mr. Recker during our interview.
He continued, “I am in the process of rendering the
(Gettysburg) battlefield in 3D so that photo-realistic videos
of any pathway through the battlefield can be rendered with
either tree as they are now or as they were in 1863.”
My overall impression of Virtual Gettysburg was excellent,
and I give it five out of a five star rating scale.
Is Virtual Gettysburg for everyone? Hard question, as the
retail price is just under $130, which at face value, seems
a bit high for just another tour of Gettysburg product.
But, in my humble opinion, it is worth every penny and more…
Why? Because now folks from all over the world have an opportunity
to visit this historical monument to those that fought,
died, and bled for their beliefs. Virtual means “near”
and this is as close as you can get to being there without
actually walking the fields. And, if you actually get to
visit the fields, you can use the enclosed narration guide
and audio cd’s to enhance your tour experience as
well. I can even see using a laptop in the car while taking
the tour, although you should have a partner drive the vehicle
for you for safety reasons.
I see it as a great educational tool, for grade school to
graduate students, and for the amateur historians like me
that research specific reports and try to correlate them
without being able to visit the fields. As Mr. Recker reports,
Virtual Gettysburg is already being used by a captain at
West Point in a class, and that the Office of Civil War
studies at Gettysburg College have also placed a large order.
If this is the first of his offerings in this venue, I see
great success for Another Software Miracle Company in the
future. I look forward to the 3D and 1863 views of the Gettysburg
National Park, as well as his offerings for Antietam, Little
Bighorn, and others.
The only thing missing is the gun smoke…
Virtual Gettysburg is available at selected retail outlets
or through the web site at www.virtualgettysburg.com. Comments
and suggestions are most welcome. I found Mr. Recker to
be most cooperative and available for any questions or comments
at any time. He believes in Virtual Gettysburg… and
Rating - 5 stars of 5
Note: After clarification on several issues,
Mr. Bump revised his rating to five stars out of five.
Note – I received some clarification on the “Pause”
features of the tour from Stephen Recker in a quick response
to my inquiries.
Anyway, at any point in a tour you should be able to "Pause"
the tour by:
1. Hitting the Stop Tour button. You can start it again,
from the middle of the tour, by clicking on the Resume Tour
button, just like you said you wanted to do in the review.
2. If you go to the Photo Gallery (by clicking on the Full
Screen button next to the small photo), return to the tour
by clicking on the Go Back button on the right side of the
screen. This takes you back to the tour.
Then hit the Resume Tour button and the tour starts where
it left off.
3. If you go to the Maps section (by clicking on the Full
Screen button next to the small map), return to the tour
by clicking on a green (panorama) hotspot in the big map.
This takes you back to the tour. Then hit the Resume
Tour button and the tour starts where it left off.