Going back in time: Re-enactors bring Shiloh's story to life

SHILOH, Tenn. – John Spain sat on the sidelines Friday morning at Shiloh, shielded from unexpectedly cool weather by his 1860s-era wool Union overcoat.
The 30-year-old Civil War re-enactor from Memphis is taking part in his first movie shoot.
“I’m really enjoying it,” he said.
An emergency medical technician in his other life, Spain is a 10-year veteran re-enactor who has taken part in as many as 15 events in a year, and as few as one.
Earlier Friday morning he was at Shiloh’s Fraley Field portraying the part of a Confederate soldier as the film crew recorded the first skirmish of the Battle of Shiloh.
After more than half a century, the National Park Service is making a new film for the Shiloh National Military Park Visitors Center.
“Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle” was made by director Ira B. Likes in 1955, and has been in use as the park’s orientation film since then.
Shiloh Assistant Superintendent and historian Stacy Allen collaborated with filmmaker Chris Wheeler of Great Divide Pictures in Denver to write the script for the new project.
Allen shares some of his encyclopedic knowledge of Shiloh and Corinth in the Civil War in Blue amp& Gray magazine visitor’s guide, “Corinth: Crossroads of the Western Confederacy.”
“I had a ball helping write it, crafting the concept to keep things accurate to time and place, with a solid interpretation of Shiloh,” Allen said.
“Once Great Divide was selected and provided their first concept and vision, we began crafting the script at that time. We honed it out this past December to the fourth script and that is our shooting script.”
Allen said the movie started with a 25-minute concept but will be expanded.
“There were things we needed to see in the film, which is going to push the film to about 35 minutes,” he said.
The Battle of Shiloh was fought April 6-7, 1862, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Confederate Gens. A.S. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard challenged the movement of Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and Don Carlos Buell toward Corinth, about 22 miles southwest.
In Corinth the two main railroads east of the Mississippi River – the Memphis amp& Charleston east-west route and the Mobile amp& Ohio north-south connection – crossed, and it was considered the most important transportation hub in the southwestern theater.
Supervising producer John Burshtan of Centennial, Colo., is working with the 250 to 300 re-enactors to bring Allen and Wheeler’s script to life.
“It’s essentially the same story, though this one should be more historically correct in the way it looks, the way people are portrayed,” Burshtan said. “Over time we tend to get better at telling stories.”
Working with the re-enactors is going particularly well, he said.
“The re-enactors take it seriously and want to get it right, make it historically accurate as much as we do,” Burshtan said. “They want it to be as good as it can be.”
After this weekend of filming expansive outdoor scenes, additional filming will be completed over the next several weeks with smaller groups and close-up shots.
Post-production like editing, developing the music score and so forth is expected to take several more months, but the film is set to premiere April 6, 2012, for the 150th anniversary commemoration.
Through the weekend, though, re-enactors like Spain and Harry Bulkeley of Galesburg, Ill., are pleased to be part of the historic venture.
Bulkeley, a retired state court trial judge who has been a re-enactor for about a dozen years, portrays Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
“I was excited to learn at the Ulysses S. Grant Association meeting in Starkville last year when this was mentioned,” he said. “I called the guy who was working with the company to assemble the cast and he put me in touch with the production company.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and when a friend and I visited a battlefield and saw a re-enactment, I knew this was something I wanted to do.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal