published Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Filmmaker: Chattanooga pivotal in resolution of Civil War

  • photo
    Confederate reenactors move up Snodgrass Hill during the Battle of Chickamauga in the upcoming series “Civil War: the Untold Story.”
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

More than 150 years after battles in and around Chattanooga, and four-to-six months since the sesquicentennial of those battles, the Civil War continues to make its mark on the consciousness of the Scenic City.

Early next month, a new film series, “Civil War: The Untold Story,” which deals with the importance of the war’s Western theater, its average civilians and the experience of blacks, will be aired on WTCI, the local PBS affiliate. The series, produced, directed, written and largely funded by Chris Wheeler of Great Divide Pictures, will air for five Sundays beginning April 6. Airtime has not been set.

“It resonates with me how relevant this war continues to be,” the filmmaker said in a phone conversation from Atlanta last week. “Though the battles are done, issues that surround the Civil War remain today. We’re dealing with race and civil rights. We’re debating the Constitution. Congress is divided. We’re, arguably, as divided as we were 150 years ago.”

The fourth segment of the series, “Death Knell of the Confederacy,” details the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.

Chances are, unless they are Civil War buffs, few local residents know how crucial the battles were in the denouement of the war.

“Sometimes,” said Wheeler, “we take for granted the history in our own backyards. Chattanoogans should not. These were pivotal battles that helped determine the nation we are today.”

Of particular importance, the film noted, is the Nov. 25, 1863, Battle of Missionary Ridge. Indeed, as the filmmaker said through the voice of narrator Elizabeth McGovern of “Downton Abbey” fame, “The Union attack is one of the most dramatic moments of the entire war.”

The initial skirmish on the north end of the ridge by Gen. William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee went nowhere against Confederates led by Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, with one Confederate defender in the film saying, “We feel like we can kill all they send after us.”

But later in the day, farther south than Sherman’s forces, Maj. Gen. George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland attacked the rifle pits at the base of the ridge. Instead of stopping after seizing them as planned, they continued up the ridge under fire from above with, the film’s narrator said, “one thing in mind — redemption [for the loss at Chickamauga].”

That charge was “not much different than the guys going ashore at Omaha Beach [during D-Day in World War II],” Stacy D. Allen, chief historian of Shiloh National Military Park, said in the film.

At the top, pandemonium and confusion reigned among the Confederates, who fled down the back slope of the ridge.

“I don’t think any feat of the war can equal [the Union] attack on Missionary Ridge,” the film quoted C. Irvine Walker of the 10th South Carolina Infantry as saying. “If only our men had held their ground, it would have been child’s play. … When I saw them running, I could not believe these were the heroes of Shiloh, Perryville, Oak Hills and Chickamauga.”

Because there is little photographic documentation of battles in the Western theater, Wheeler said, he used regional re-enactors — mostly men ages 20 to 30 to duplicate the age of soldiers — to recreate battle footage and was able to film in 2012 on actual battlefields, including Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, “places where blood was shed.”

“It made for a powerful experience of living history,” he said.

Wheeler said telling the average Southern civilian experience is also important because most people in the North at the time — and perhaps today — don’t understand what many Southerners endured. Not only was most of the war fought in the South, he said, but it was fought on their doorsteps and in their backyards.

“They were part of the war,” he said.

Similarly, blacks are often an afterthought — or their existence as slaves simply given as a cause — in the telling of the Civil War, Wheeler said. So the film depicts their enslavement, emancipation and their part in the fight for freedom.

“Their actions influenced not only government policy but the president [Abraham Lincoln] himself,” he said.

Today, those average white civilians and descendants of black slaves frequently live next door to each other, work together or attend school together in Chattanooga. Though their pasts are different, they now share experiences.

“It’s important to look back 150 years and see the consequence when we as a nation could not solve our problems,” Wheeler said. “In 1860-61, no one could see the horror that lay ahead. But [the problems] are still part of our national conservation, still unresolved.”

How they’ll be resolved is the sticking point, but when the country marks the war’s bicentennial in 50 years, perhaps it will be difficult to imagine there was a time when brother fought against brother.

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Plato said...

Columnist Kathleen Parker has observed at times that distrust of Washington, and the dislike for the federal government that exists in the southern red states today, directly springs from the civil war. I find that to be a very unfortunate situation. Abraham Lincoln said "A house divided against itself cannot stand". That's as true today as it was then. Unless we find a way to reconcile our geographical differences and work towards the common good, we will never achieve our potential as a nation.

March 9, 2014 at 10:39 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

It is understandable that any Southerner would take a keener interest in the Civil War perhaps than most Northerners, since it was fought predominantly on Southern soil. But it's a shame that too many Southerners lack the good sense to realize that the South was indeed wrong on every count and it was far better to lose the war than to imagine what would have become of this nation if a Southern victory had assured us of being a house permanently and irrevocably divided. The South was wrong in thinking that states' rights were more sacrosanct than a nation held intact by a strong centralized government, wrong in the matter of choosing to secede, and wrong in trying to keep justifying slavery and clinging to it as the backbone of its economy.

Today we have a whole slew of Southerners who are calling for secession again and their heads appear to still be stuck in the 1860s, stubbornly clinging to a false pride and honor. I only wish that they would just go ahead and secede. Only let's not have a war over it this time, let's just let them go and be done with their foolish whining and regressive thinking. Maybe then we could pull this nation out of the toilet of gridlock and constant bickering that we're stuck in and get down to making the positive progressive changes we need to make, if it's not already too late.

March 9, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.

Rickaroo, nice spin by a progressive on the south. Your post is idiocy. You progressives are the ones who are stuck in the 1860's. The modern south is made up of a variety of people, many of whom have chosen to move down here because they're tired the oppressive policies of progressives up north. When you say "changes" you mean everyone should become a liberal or a progressive. In the south there is a respect for our Constitution that you don't find up north. There's also a greater respect for freedom in the south. Sounding the alarm because of the shocking rate we're losing our freedom, and how oppressive our federal government has become in 2014, just frosts you progressives, doesn't it?

There are secession movements in California, Maryland, Colorado, Oregon and other places not in the south. Maryland is a mid-atlantic state. "bickering", huh, you mean there should be one opinion. Modern day progressives/liberals would make fine slave holders.

March 10, 2014 at 9:19 a.m.
Plato said...

^You actually believe people move from Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin to Tennessee, Texas or Florida becasue of "oppressive progressive policies"? That's one of the sillies statements I have read in a while.

Here's a clue. The migration of people from the rust belt to the sun belt has a lot more to do with jobs and mild climate then someone worried about their first or second amendment rights.

Please list a few of the "freedoms" that you think you have lost? Here is a list of freedoms that are being infringed by conservative red state policies:

Women's Reproductive Rights

Marriage Rights of a specific class of citizens

Voting Rights

The red states are imposing their own populist version of religion and morality through the actions of their state legislatures and impeding the ability to vote by certain demographic groups through reducing early voting, reducing poll hours and over restrictive registration requirements.

I'm sure none of these restrictions on other people's rights bother you since they likely don't effect you personally.

March 10, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.

Plato, I moved here from Michigan for very much those reasons, including jobs.

When I left Michigan taxes were going through the roof, basic services, like roads were going to pot despite taxes being increased, and those want to be self-sufficient, like home school families, were being squeezed by the progressively controlled parts of the state. The most disgusting thing of all is the complete of accountability by the state government for our tax dollars.

I have a good friend who moved from New York City to North Carolina to escape that shocking amount of taxation, the progressive policies of the public schools, and new law, after new law restricting more and more. Those are facts. Thankfully, he isn't there now to live under that crackpot leftist DeBlasio.

Are you insane. Who's restricting anyone from getting an abortion? Who? That's here to stay and it will never go away. Just because laws are passed that prevent butchers, like that maniac in philadelphia, or some other minor deals, doesn't mean abortion is going anywhere. You libs' slavish devotion to abortion is bordering on crazy. Nobody is taking it away.

Voting rights? Are you cracked? Are you referring to voter ID. Go around the world and see how most countries handle elections. Voter ID is used around the world, but no here..oh, no, otherwise how else would you Democrats get all of the dead people to vote. 99% of voter fraud occurs in Democratically controlled areas.

You lefties live in the past, that's how get votes, by convincing ignorant voters that there's still slavery, blacks and women are going to lose their to vote, and there will be no more abortions. There have been over 55 million abortions since 1973, so, what do you want, more? Obviously nobody is stopping anyone from having an abortion.

If you think progressive policies are driving people away from up north, and driving businesses away, then you're astoundingly ignorant. Why didn't VW build a plant in New York, or PA? They

There's a fundamental disrespect for the Constitution up north, in big cities.

You're like all progressives, you don't trust the average man to make their own decision and you don't respect independence.

March 10, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

Go into any Democratically controlled major city in America and you'll see the results of progressivism. The corruption, the waste of money, the screwed up "families" are all the result of liberal governance and policy. There were more intact black families during slavery, then there're are now. I lived in Michigan, Chicago, and Indianapolis, and there's far less racial tension down here then there is in those places.

March 10, 2014 at 1:21 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Go around the world and see how most countries handle elections. Voter ID is used around the world, but no here..oh, no..."

Most of those countries have a national ID card and there is no hardship involved for elderly or poor people to get it. Here in the states, most conservatives are opposed to a national ID because they think it smacks too much of "big government."

"Who's restricting anyone from getting an abortion? Who?...Nobody is taking it away."

Abortion is still legal and the right of a woman to choose is still constitutional but no thanks to RWNJs and Christian anti-abortion fanatics. For the past decade and more they have succeeded in shutting down countless abortion clinics throughout the country and passing legislation that makes it increasingly difficult for a woman to get an abortion or for a doctor to perform one. In most states a woman has to travel long distances just to find an abortion clinic that is still open and then once they get there the woman experiences long delays and newly enforced procedures that make it much more expensive and more difficult for her to even go through with it. Anti-abortionists know that they probably would not succeed in getting Roe v. Wade overturned but they are doing everything in their power to make it so difficult for a woman to get an abortion that it might just as well be considered illegal.

March 10, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
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