History in Your Hand: Battle of Bull Run Fought on Your Smart Phone

Nineteenth century conflict invades twenty-first century technology.

History made fun. (Photo: iTunes)
Sal holds a Political Science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

July 1990. My family—Dad, Mom, ‘Sis, and I—pack up the Volvo wagon and make the drive from Pennsylvania to Boston. My Mom, bless her heart, had a weekend of intense sightseeing planned and wouldn’t let anything—178 degree temps or incessant complaining from my sister and I—deter her march through “your country’s history.”

I was ten, my sister nine, and we could care less about Paul Revere and the Old North Church. My life revolved around one act: playing Tetris on my Game Boy. After hoofing the Freedom Trail, we toured the USS Constitution. As the monotone guide rattled off inane Old Ironsides facts, I slipped into a Tetris coma, my mind awash in falling tetrominoes, wholly consumed by one question: would I ever eclipse my older cousin’s hi-score?

It is a situation precisely like this that spurned the Civil War Trust and the Virginia Department of Transportation to create the Bull Run Battle app, a piece of modern technology that retrofits history with a layer of interactive fun.

“We live in age of technology,” said Jim Lightizer, president of the Civil War Trust, to The Washington Post. “We’re also in the business of teaching people about history. So when you combined cutting-edge technology with…real history on a real battlefield, you’ve got a winning combination.”

The app was unveiled last month at the National Park Service’s Henry Hill Visitor Center for the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run.

It is available for free on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

GPS tracks visitor movement through 13 formal stops and the app uses audio, video explanations from historians, and animated troop-movement maps to bring to life the battle, which was fought on July 21, 1861 and won by the Confederacy.

There are also apps for the battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, with plans for five more before the end of 2011. To date, the three apps had combined for more than 20,000 downloads on iTunes, reports Fredericksburg News.

While the app was designed to enhance the experience of visitors standing on the 5,000-acre national park in northern Virginia, it works remotely—meaning you can literally reenact the battle from the comfy confines of your couch.

“This takes not only a step but giant leap forward to that personal experience that connects [visitors] to the Battle of Bull Run, the Civil War, or our history,” said Garry Adelman, a battlefield guide to the Post.

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