As Confederate infantrymen advance through the battle smoke with bayonets lowered, two nervous Maine infantrymen exercise discretion rather than valor. They drop their muskets, kneel, and raise their arms in surrender.
And that’s “a wrap” for a Maine Public Broadcasting Network film crew shooting footage in Fairfield for an upcoming documentary titled “Sixteenth Maine at Gettysburg.”
Due for airing sometime next summer, the 30-minute documentary will focus on the heroic sacrifice made by the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, said MPBN Art Director and Producer Dan Lambert. As Union lines collapsed that afternoon, the undermanned regiment fought thousands of advancing Confederates in a desperate bid to buy time for fleeing Yankees to escape. Only when enemy troops almost surrounded his battle-shredded regiment did Lt. Col. Charles Tilden of Castine surrender his men.
“Isn’t that a great story?” asked Maine State Archivist David Cheever, a Bangor High School graduate.
The Maine State Archives have emphasized the Civil War Sesquicentennial since November 2010. Beginning with a letter written by Maine Secretary of State Noah Smith on Nov. 23, 1860, archivists have compiled a long list of wartime correspondence involving Maine politicians, civilians, and military personnel.
The correspondence, which often includes letter transcriptions and period images, is available online at http://www.maine.gov/sos/arc/sesquicent/civilwarwk.shtml.
The Web site features one letter per week, according to Cheever. Several letters cover Maine-related activity pertaining to Gettysburg.
With the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg occurring in early July 2013, Cheever wondered, “What would be a good story to tell?” Delving into the book “Maine at Gettysburg” and other sources, he realized that “the story of the 16th Maine was a story in itself.
“They start with a thousand guys in the regiment” in mid-August 1862, Cheever said, and by the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, Tilden took fewer than 500 men into battle. He commanded fewer than 300 men as the 16th Maine made its epic stand at Gettysburg.
Earlier this year Cheever spoke with MPBN’s Laura Schenck about possibly doing a documentary about Maine’s involvement at Gettysburg. “I said, ‘Look at all these stories.’ All I was looking to do was pitch the idea,” he recalled.
“They took off with it,” Cheever said. “They have done just a great job with it.”
Schenck assigned the documentary several months ago to Lambert and Nick Woodward, director of media production services. They have worked on the project since then by filming Civil War re-enactors at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta and at a late August encampment at the Good Will Hinckley School in Fairfield.
The project’s focus has been on the 16th Maine since the start. “The 20th Maine, that story has been so well told. We wanted to include some other narratives,” Lambert said.
“We’re trying to pay tribute to these men,” he said, explaining that when he read “Maine at Gettysburg,” the 16th Maine’s story “stood out” among others. “These are men facing overwhelming odds … they’re standing firm, even as they are surrounded during the retrograde.”
Lambert and Woodward traveled to Gettysburg National Military Park Sept. 21-23 to film footage on the actual ground where the 16th Maine fought. There they met with Jari Villanueva, a renowned Taps bugler and historian (www.tapsbugler.com), to film him playing taps at the National Cemetery where 104 Maine soldiers are buried. Done with Villanueva in full dress uniform, that filming took place at sunset.
In Maine the detailed filming involved MPBN staffers and some freelancers. Woodward filmed with a digital Sony camera “that shoots relatively cinematic quality,” Lambert said. “It’s very filmic in quality.”
Production has moved indoors with the cold weather. At MPBN’s Ladd Studio in Lewiston, “we are tying together the re-enactors [footage] we shot” earlier in 2012 “with the footage of the battlefield itself, also the historical photographs and the first-person accounts,” Lambert said.
The state archives are providing much “original material,” he said.
“It takes a lot of shooting to get the finished product,” Lambert noted. “We’ve done seven or eight days of shooting so far. You have to boil all that down to find the cream of the story.”
In the next few months “we will determine what we need” for additional footage and schedule “a field day in late spring, when the weather is similar to what it is in July,” he said noted.
Maine Public Broadcasting is producing the documentary in partnership with the Davis Family Foundation and the Maine State Archives. Support from the Davis foundation was critical in “making the documentary possible,” Cheever said.
Lambert recently previewed the documentary’s trailer, which incorporates stunning footage showing Maine soldiers fighting desperately as Confederates advance through the battle smoke. Shot at Good Will Hinckley School last August, the footage involved using a fog machine to replicate smoke.
Based on a few other clips that Lambert also previewed, the “Maine at Gettysburg” documentary will emphasize quality production and historical accuracy. The film will unveil a Maine story overlooked in modern classrooms — and “will do Maine proud,” Cheever said.
“When they finish with what they hope to do, it’s going to be so worthy of Maine, almost to the point of reverence,” he said.