Last night was the premiere of the Petersburg episode on Blood and Fury. So how did I become involved? Here's my story.
In May of 2016, I received an email from Randy Chase, a researcher/associate producer with Cream Productions, regarding this new series. Their final episode was going to be, in part, telling the story of the 37th North Carolina Troops and the Petersburg breakthrough on April 2, 1865, and they wanted to know if we could chat. I'm not sure how they got my name. Maybe it was a simple search online, but I'm always happy to talk history, and I do know one or two things about the 37th Regiment.
After a couple of phone calls, I was scheduled to meet the crew in Nashville, or Fredericksburg, or maybe even Washington, D.C. After a few more phone calls and email messages, the crew decided that I was close enough for them to shoot locally while they traveled between Nashville and Fredericksburg. But I had to find a place. The Avery Museum really doesn't have the space needed for the cameras, so I shot a note to a friend about using one of the rooms at Lees-McRae College. We wound up using the Alumni House at Lees-McRae (thanks Michelle Scott!). This all transpired in a frenzied 48-hour period. First, I was on my way to Fredericksburg, then they were coming here, and I had to secure a site: a wee-bit nerve-racking, as you might imagine.
They arrived in Banner Elk before I did, and I discovered that they had moved every bit of furniture in the room we were using. That made me a wee-bit nervous as well. We were the guest of my friend and the college. They had promised to put everything back.
It took about an hour for them to finish setting everything up, and in that time, we conversed freely. When it came time for the interview, I was in front of the bright lights for at least three hours while they fired off question after question. I guess, after spending twenty years studying the 37th Regiment and the Branch-Lane brigade, I was as ready as a person could be. Needless to say, I had to come home and take a nap after that grilling. And yes, they got everything put back in the room, and Michelle was delighted with how it looked!
It always makes me nervous when I am interviewed for something. This was not my first "rodeo," of course. I've been on TV before, on the radio, and interviewed several times. But still, when the final product is released, I'm always wondering what they used, how did I come across, (did I really say that?), and hoping I didn't look odd (dang my beard is getting gray!).
My take on the episode? Yes, they could have used a better wardrobe department, and yes, they needed some skilled interpreters/reenactors. Why was Nicholson in a cavalry uniform? To be honest, I would have preferred the story of Lt. Octavius Wiggins to Capt. William T. Nicholson’s. As the Federals came over the works, Wiggins was shot in the face, blinded, knocked unconscious by the concussion, and captured. He survived, and his fellow prisoners of war picked the grains of black powder out of his face. On the train ride to Johnson's Island, Wiggins jumped from the train, surviving the fall. He concealed his identity and worked his way south, only to arrive in Richmond and learn that the war was over. I think that was a better story.
Overall, I think the Petersburg episode was one of the better ones. The overarching mission of the series was to tell some lesser-known stories of the war. I guess that is kind of like my own mission, to research and write the lesser known stories. The role of the 37th North Carolina Troops is just as important as that of any other Tar Heel Regiment (and Confederate, when it comes to it). I'm just glad that I got to tell that story.