The July Create theme keeps giving us these fascinating anecdotes. See the movie trailer
The Class of '61
In February of 1993 I was at a US Civil War re-enactment in north Florida. The temperature was
unseasonably warm, above 80 Degrees F both days. I was with several good friends who had been involved
with a few films previously. We knew that a film was scheduled to start shooting the big, final battle scenes in
Marietta Georgia, just north of Atlanta, the following Tuesday. The battle was to be a recreation of the First Battle of Bull Run AKA first Manassas, that was fought in Virginia on
21 July, 1861. Somebody thought it was logical to film these scenes in the middle of winter against the
distinctive red clay of north Georgia.
The film was to be a pilot for a possible television series to be called 'The
Class of '61', following the lives of several of the Army cadets who were attending the Army college at
West Point when the states started separating in 1861. The series was never filmed.
On Monday morning four of us packed our gear into a van and headed the five hours north to the filming
location. Almost as soon as we had crossed the State border the rain came down. Had we not spent the last
three days camping in our tents we would have known that we were driving into a major cold front. By mid-
afternoon we arrived at a field with a registration tent and room for parking and camping. We were not only to
be paid for each day we were on-set, but additional fees would be paid for any set dressing we could provide
– period tents, tables and display items that would give the camp a realistic atmosphere in the film.
The rain had stopped, but there was a definite chill in the air. The others headed to the filming location to
set up their period tents, I remained behind to set up my more modern pup-tent for my own use, the others
intended to sleep in the van. We had been told to be ready by 5:30 in the morning for our bus ride to the set. I
settled into my sleeping bag, augmented by a pair of wool blankets for a fitful night's sleep. One of my friends
came out at about 5:00 to wake me. As I struggled out of my tent I found it, and everything else, covered with
a light dusting of snow. We all dressed and grabbed our bags of uniforms. Depending on the days shooting
schedule (which we did not know) we had to be ready to fight as either Union or Confederate solders as the
directors instructed us.
On our first day of shooting we were dropped off at the craft tent. This is the centre of most large
productions and is filled with tables that have good things to eat. It is a place where all the 'back-ground
artists' (or 'extras' to those not in the business) are corralled until they are wanted on set. Nearby are the
trailers that contain the dressing rooms for the 'talent' – the actors who actually have lines and are paid
by union scale, or contract.
Because of the snow we could not start filming until it had melted which took until about 9:00AM for the
remainder of the week it would be everyone on set by 6:00 and sit around the craft tent for three hours until
the frost was gone. There was a young woman who's job was to walk among us between shots and spray
glycerine water on our faces to simulate sweat from the alleged heat.
On the first day we were told to put on our Union kit and report to wardrobe for inspection and make-up
for our final preparation. We formed up and marched in front of the camera. The assistant director told to us
to look at exactly where we were standing as this was 'one'. After 'action' we moved forward loading and firing
our muskets until he yelled 'cut', all to often that would be followed by 'back to one' meaning the scene would
be re-shot after a shift of the camera or a quiet correction to one of the actors. At last we would finish the scene
which was marked with 'This is your new "one"'.
Normally at a re-enctment safety is our main concern. We are not allowed to be on the field with fixed
bayonets and ram rods are not to be touched and are often required to be left in camp. however for realism in
the film we not only fired with our bayonets in place, we also rammed every shot we loaded.
Wednesday would be a long day. They decided to shoot a night scene in the Confederate camp on the eve
of battle. This gave us several hours to waste between the day's filming and darkness. We were told we could
leave the craft tent and wander through the camp. I saw one small group of extras that I did not know, looking
closely at a table that contained, among other items, a set of seven straight razors. As I said most of these items
were the private property of the re-enactors, and I thought I could see a bit of larceny in their eyes. 'Look but
don't touch' I said in a fairly loud voice. Behind me I heard an even louder voice say 'You better listen to that
man, he knows what he is talking about!' Morgan Freeman continued to explain that in one of his early films he
had inadvertently moved something on a table between scenes and had gotten into trouble about it. We all
talked for the next hour or so and I explained that the collection of seven razors allowed them all to be
sharpened on Saturday evening and the owner could have a fresh blade for each day of the following week.
Thursday was the worst day for us. We arrived at the craft tent at 6:00 as usual and only a small number
were called out for shooting at 9:00, the rest of us were left with nothing to do. After about two hours the
assistant director came back to ask if any of us had experience firing the cannons. nobody raised their hand. he
then asked if anyone was willing to learn, My hand shot up, I would much rather be doing anything instead of
just sitting around, even if I was getting paid anyway.
I found myself in the number four position on a bronze cannon, that had actually been used during the
war, as a Confederate defending Henry House Hill. This was one of the few Union victories of the battle. As the
big scene approached the assistant director come over to us with three stunt men. There are four men who
serve close to the gun and he instructed the other three to give their coats and hats to the stunt men, then he
turned to me and said 'I'm sorry, you are on camera too much for a replacement – do the best you can'.
As we wheeled the gun back into position I am at the rear of the right wheel and you can see me fly back as a
shell lands nearby.
By the end of the week we all had colds and were ready to head for home. The film is still occasionally