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New Park Service film mixes real-life quotes, live action
Park Service film solidly speaks with voices of local people who witnessed Civil War days

 Troops unload wounded in a scene from 'Virginians Desolate, Virginians Free,' a film about civilian life here during the Civil War.
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Date published: 6/10/2006


FROM GRADE-SCHOOL history books to presenta- tions at battlefields and historic houses, telling the story of the Civil War was once approached mainly with diagrams of troop movements and charts of soldiers killed on both sides.

"Virginians Desolate, Virginians Free," a new film that will be shown at the visitors centers of the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields, is a welcome arrival because it explores the Civil War years here through the eyes of local residents who struggled to simply live through it.

Written by John Hennessy, chief historian with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, the film hits just the right note by mixing real-life quotes from homeowners, slaves and more with snippets of live-action scenes throughout the three localities.

As you hear the words of a slave in Fredericksburg, you see the Colonial home where he worked, and eventually, a unit of Union soldiers who lure him to freedom, swimming across the Rappahannock River.

As you hear the period words of folks from all walks of life, soldiers are seen skirmishing in a convincingly re-created downtown Fredericksburg, displaced city residents filing into a Spotsylvania County farm and a heartbroken father standing in a family cemetery. And much more.

One of the beauties of the film is the elegance and passion found in the words Hennessy has used as the film's framework.

Stung by an occupation, looting and more by Union troops, wives and shopkeepers refer to the boys in blue as everything from devils to a plague on the region.

There's balance as well, with one local resident saying that occupying Confederate troops have looted and done just as much destruction as the Union forces. There's also an interesting passage from a Spotsylvania resident who notes that although she despises the Yankees, she can't let several wounded men on her land call out for help without tending to them.

All in all, the film shot for $140,000--a pittance in the film world--will serve to make visitors and other viewers open their minds to the effects of the Civil War on folks who simply called this region home in the 1860s.

Those with sharp ears will recognize several local people giving voice to the quotes that are the strength of the production.

To reach ROB HEDELT: 540/374-5415
Email: rhedelt@freelancestar.com

WHAT: Premiere of "Virginians Desolate, Virginians Free"

WHERE: Sanctuary of Fredericksburg Baptist Church

WHEN: 8 tonight

COST: Free