Hot off the press
I just finished typing up my review of “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson” for the Free Lance-Star. I’ll post a copy here when it goes to press. An updated version of a previous publication, this new book is truly a homegrown title. Researched and written by NPS Volunteer Chris Mackowski and Ranger/Historian Kris White, it was produced by local graphic-designer Jackson Foster and funded by the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields. According to John Hennessy, Chief Historian and Chief of Interpretation at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, this book is the first in what will be a series of publications to come out jointly under the NPS and FOFAB logo. Also in the pipeline are titles on the Wilderness and Ellwood, Chancellorsville, Chatham, and Clara Barton. Each will be produced locally and released through Thomas Publications. I find this extremely exciting as its always great to see regional histories flourishing.
On a related note, I just spoke with my rep at The History Press and they have begun production on my newest title as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. Today the marketing dept. officially settled on the title: “The Civil War in Spotsylvania County: Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads.” Projects like these are extra-special to me as it's an opportunity to share history on a local level. (Stay tuned for updates as the finished piece progresses.)
What's goin' on
Today I finished writing my presentation on research in writing for the Pittsburgh Writer's Project. I will be giving this talk at the Green Tree Library in Pittsburgh on September 12th. This is a real homecoming for me as I was born and raised just down the street (my parents still live there) and the library is the site of my 4-6 grade elementary school. Although my lectures usually deal with history, I gave a similar talk about the craft of writing a few months back to Fredericksburg's Kappa Delta Gamma (Beta Eta Chapter). This piece is similar, but I have broken it down into two parts: 1. a recap of how I researched one of my books (specifically how I wrote "Houses of the Holy") and 2. ten practical tips for conducting research. I’ll be sure to post a copy here upon my return. I also hope to have some photos of the affair.
As I am preparing to take my oldest to college in a couple weeks, I have intentionally thinned my schedule to almost nothing. I do have a book review to pen for the Free Lance-Star, but other than that, I am free. The title is “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson” and it was written by NPS volunteer Chris Mackowski and ranger Kris White. Of course Jackson’s death is near and dear to my heart and the book looks like a nice study of the subject. I do plan to post some images and updates on the National Civil War Life Foundation’s commercial we shot last week, (as well as some other announcements) and I still owe you a Naked Historian #10 from Catherine’s Furnace.
That said, if I appear to be slacking, don’t worry. I am.
Like many folks bitten by the "Civil War Bug," I was first introduced to the War Between the States on a family vacation to Gettysburg. I fondly recalled that life-altering weekend in a piece I wrote titled "Birth of a Buff" and have since then waxed the poetic on subsequent returns to Adams County in my adult years. As both a historian and longtime resident of Fredericksburg surrounded by four major battlefields, I am clearly spoiled when it comes to Hallowed Grounds. However, none of them have managed to touch me in the way that Gettysburg's battlefield does. Simply put, I love giving tours here in Virginia, but I really love taking them in Pennsylvania.
What is it about Gettysburg that makes it so special? Maybe it was because I first walked its wheat fields and rocky hills at the impressionable age of 7, or maybe it's because the town hasn't changed all that much since I first traveled there in 1978. Perhaps it is the legacy of the battle itself, truly an epic engagement on so many levels that favored both the North and South at different times and ultimately changed the entire course of the war. Maybe it's the feeling one has when they go there. Who is not touched by the tragedy that took place there in July of 1863 and who can ignore the beauty of this magnificent place that has been preserved for all generations? This is why millions of people travel to Gettysburg each and every year.
Many of these "stompers" have their own way of exploring Civil War battlefields. Some use the officially sanctioned audio-driving tours, while others bring books, photographs and sketches to use as reference. I have always used a combination and I also enjoy walking the trails with the licensed guides and National Park Service folks whose insights are often far beyond that of any pre-packaged materials. Unfortunately there was never a "one-size-fits-all guide," a concise and dynamic tool that appealed to the die-hard enthusiast and the casual observer. With all of these choices nothing was developed that would satisfy the inquisitive expert searching for that hard-to-find spot, as well as the family of four looking for a nice way to spend an afternoon.
That is until now.
Fortunately for people in both camps, a new book is finally available that will fulfill both of their desires. Even better, it was developed by two of the best in the business. Noted historian and author J. David Petruzzi has teamed up with Civil War cartographer Steven Stanley to produce the "THE COMPLETE GETTYSBURG GUIDE: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interest." This book is already my pick for the Best of 2009.
Tremendously detailed, up-to-date, and beautifully designed, this newly released Savas-Beatie title includes walking and driving tours of the battlefield, town, cemeteries, hospital sites, monuments and obscure places that are often missed by the mainstream tours. A gifted writer, Petruzzi's narrative tells the entire story of the battle and Stanley's tasteful use of photography and maps complement it perfectly. Not only does this guide outline a great tour of the grounds, it also tells the reader how they fit into the battle and why they matter. By using this guide you won't only have a better appreciation for the National Military Park at Gettysburg, you'll walk away with a better understanding of what transpired there.
I firmly believe that it won't be long before "THE COMPLETE GETTYSBURG GUIDE" will become a must-have extension of the entire Gettysburg Tour experience. It's as enjoyable to look at as the Cyclorama, as informative as the NPS Tour, and as easy to understand as the Electric Map. I cannot wait to take my copy back to Adams County and walk the grounds in a completely new and exciting way. For those of you who have never been to Gettysburg, now it the time to go as this new book will make your inaugural visit even more enjoyable, and for those of us who are regulars, this book is a great excuse to go back and share in a brand new experience.
For more information and to order your copy, visit the book's official website.
A LONG post after a LONG week
Our documentary film project on the life and legacy of Sgt. Richard Kirkland made the front page of the Region section in the paper (see FLS article below this post), so I guess I’d better share my take on all this as promised… First, I will say that I will not - and cannot - comment on specific details about this film’s script or content. Obviously the director does not want anyone to release information until he is ready to do so himself. I will speak here ONLY to my own experiences as a co-producer/interviewee/consultant over the last week. The public will see the finished product when it is officially debuted in December on the anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. I will say that when the crew departed today to return to their studio in GA, I believe they left with over 10 hours of footage. The next two months will be filled with post-production and editing, followed by a private screening and subsequent release.
I will begin by saying that this has been without a doubt one of (if not THE) most exhausting, promising, enjoyable and potentially hi-profile projects I have ever been involved with. Everyone with ties to this movie from the crew and cast of experts, to the people who assisted in front of or behind the camera was amazing. The director Clint Ross and I share a great passion for the story and his vision in bringing it to the big screen was evident in every scene and at every location. Zach Graber the cinematographer is immensely talented and the way he set the frame and manipulated the entire surrounding environment from light and shadow, to color and clarity was a site to behold (see pic of my segment below). Often the set-ups on location would take over an hour, but the results were astonishing. From grand estates and battlefields, to old abandoned houses and museum galleries, every-single segment looked like a painting. The b-roll shots and still photo effects that they plan to intermix as well will compliment the historian interviews and dramatic recreations beautifully.
Clint and Zach hired a great crew and Naz (camera) and Clayton (sound) definitely brought their a-game too. I was amazed at how multi-talented they all were and how many roles they filled. The hours on a movie shoot are ridiculous. Timing is everything and we put some miles on this week. We usually did 10-12 hours and one day we worked from 8:30 am to 2:30 am while shooting in 3 different counties. In addition to the documentary, they also shot a commercial for the National Civil War Life Foundation with yours truly as the talking head. For the Kirkland piece we interviewed Megan Hicks, Don Pfanz, John Cummings, (me) and they also shot interviews in Camden SC and Roanoke VA. Over the week, filming took place at the Fredericksburg Battlefield (Sunken Road, Marye’s Heights, Kirkland Monument, Prospect Hill, Richard’s House, Innis House), Spotsylvania Battlefield (Bloody Angle-area), Chatham Estate, Civil War Life Soldier’s Museum and the Marie Johnson property (near Chancellorsville).
I had a blast in my role, but I must say that movie making is THE most exhausting endeavor that I have ever had the privilege of participating in. I loved doing the interviews, coordinating locations, even appearing on camera myself, BUT the biggest thrill was getting to help run the fog machine, play with lights, toss smoke grenades, run a sound recorder (while the soundman was an extra) and helping to move and manipulate a ‘jib’ which is a cool camera-crane. I also enjoyed going back to the hotel and looking at the day’s raw footage on the cutting-edge Mac systems they brought. This type of historical consultant/producer gig may be the beginning of something new for me, but regardless, this film will be something very special and I am very blessed to be a part of it. I’ll keep you up to date as things evolve and I’ll be sure to post the NCWLF commercial spot here when it is completed.
Article from The Free Lance-Star follows:
WAR 'ANGEL' TO AMAZE AGAIN
Filmmakers shoot Fredericksburg scenes for documentary on South Carolinian who won his enemies’ gratitude for risky act of charity
(Date published: 8/1/2009. By Clint Schemmer. Photo by Mike Morones.)
Richard Rowland Kirkland is arguably the most famous enlisted man of the Civil War.
His compassionate deeds on the Fredericksburg battlefield earned him acclaim from friend and foe alike, and a nickname--”the Angel of Marye’s Heights”--that has endured down through the decades.
Yet Kirkland’s story hasn’t been the stuff of film, our most compelling medium. Now, a South Carolina filmmaker and a Fredericksburg historian aim to change that.
“Of all the facets of the Civil War, this is one that people can connect with,” director Clint Ross said during shooting this week at Marye’s Heights. “Everyone understands Kirkland’s principles. His act of mercy itself, you can’t dispute that.”
Ross has spent this week in the area with a three-man crew--cinematographer Zach Graber, first assistant cameraman Naza Loun and set designer Clayton de Wet--shooting scenes for their documentary on Kirkland’s life. All four are graduate students at the Savannah School of Art and Design.
Spotsylvania County resident Michael Aubrecht, author of several books on Civil War history, has arranged interviews, done research and guided Ross and his team to evocative sites for shooting.
What the South Carolina sergeant did--leaping the Confederate defenses, under fire, to carry water to wounded and dying Union soldiers--profoundly impresses both men.
Ross, who wrote a screenplay for a different, earlier treatment of Kirkland’s story, said he wants to give the film’s battle scenes a nitty-gritty, you-are-there feeling reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan” or HBO’s “Band of Brothers.”
“That a man would risk his life to aid his enemy, the very men that he and his comrades had been busy killing only hours before, is just amazing,” Aubrecht said. “But it’s true.”
Kirkland, 19, was a combat veteran of First Manassas, Savage Station, Maryland Heights and Antietam. At Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, he and his comrades in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment assembled behind the stone wall below Marye’s Heights and helped slaughter the Union attackers.
But that freezing night and the next morning, the cries of Union wounded left on the killing field haunted many who heard them, including Kirkland.
On the 14th, he got permission to cross the wall, under fire, and brought water and warming blankets to the Yankees. Union riflemen ceased firing as he moved from soldier to soldier for nearly two hours.
Kirkland, who went on to fight at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863.
Today, the bronze-and-granite memorial to him here is the largest monument on any of the area battlefields. To many visitors, it may be as recognizable a feature of Fredericksburg as the Sunken Road or stone wall.
Sculpted by Felix de Weldon, the artist who crafted the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, the monument was unveiled in 1965 during the Civil War Centennial.
“Kirkland is almost a brand for Fredericksburg. This monument is essentially the identifying, universal symbol of the battlefield,” Aubrecht said, standing near de Weldon’s statue.
Scenes were shot at Marye’s Heights, the Sunken Road and the Innis House on the Fredericksburg battlefield, Prospect Hill and the National Civil War Life Museum in Spotsylvania County, and Chatham in Stafford County.
Since the National Park Service generally bars live-fire re-enactments at its sites, Spotsylvania landowner Marie Johnson made her property available for filming of a dramatic re-creation of Kirkland’s actions at Fredericksburg, Aubrecht said.
“Poetry has been written about Kirkland. He was mentioned in many soldiers’ memoirs. He’s been the subject of many artists, including Mort Künstler,” he said. “I don’t know of any other enlisted man who was so celebrated.”
Ross aims to complete the documentary by Nov. 30 and release it on Dec. 12 for the anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. He intends to enter it in film festivals, and it will be screened here.
The documentary may also be shown to visitors at the National Civil War Life Museum in Spotsylvania, a private institution that’s supporting the venture.
Among those being interviewed for Clint Ross’ film are Donald Pfanz, staff historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park; award-winning Fredericksburg storyteller Megan Hicks; Spotsylvania historian John Cummings; Spotsylvania author Michael Aubrecht; artist Mort Künstler; retired National Park Service historian Mac Wyckoff; South Carolina historian Joe Matheson; and a Roanoke boy, 10-year-old Richard Warren, who will portray the young Kirkland back on his family’s farm near Camden, SC.