In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 men to join the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War as another war already was raging in the shadows. The Underground Railroad was escorting thousands of slaves to freedom, in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. One of its active members was Bishop William Hanby of southern Ohio.
"The Light of Freedom" is a new film about the role of the Hanby and Rankin families and thousands of other Ohioans in the Underground Railroad movement and the Civil War. A premiere showing is set for 4:45 p.m. Monday at Maumee Indoor Theatre in Maumee. The screening is for school, church and ministry groups. Children are to be admitted free.
The new movie features re-enactors from the Union Army's 14th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Bob Minton of Fostoria and Tom Daniel of Tiffin were among more than 150 re-enactors involved in the making of the film.
Tom Daniel (center) loads a weapon before
the cameras roll for a scene in “The Light of Freedom.”
In talking about their experiences, Daniel said he had not done any previous re-enactments, but Minton has been doing them for about 20 years. Daniel got involved at Minton's invitation.
"I'm a friend of Bob's. We've been friends probably 15 years. He said, 'Hey, if you come down, I can get you in this. We could use some extra soldiers.' I said, 'Can you outfit me?' He said, 'Yeah, I think we can come up with something.' I thought it would be neat just to see how a movie is made. I had a blast. It was really interesting and fun," Daniel said.
Minton said he first learned about "The Light of Freedom" from friends in the reenacting community who had heard rumors about a movie. They asked him to look for more information. Minton discovered the non-profit Kicks Flicks, based in Sunbury, was in planning stages for the film.
Writer/director Kim Robinson was looking for an original Civil War regiment that had been at Philippi (W.Va.), Rich Mountain (Va.) and Corrick's Ford (W.Va.) during the first months of the Civil War. The 14th Ohio met the criteria.
"It just so happened that we were exactly what they were looking for," Minton said. "They were looking for someone to coordinate their extras and help with their historical parts. I had extras that wanted to be coordinated."
Minton said most re-enactors have their own period uniforms, which add visual realism and save on costume costs. The re-enactors also are familiar with military equipment and maneuvers used in that period, and they are willing to volunteer their services.
As a bonus, Minton had been a consultant during the filming of an earlier Civil War film, "Gods and Generals."
Minton said the filmmakers sent him the initial script and he met with them several times in Columbus to discuss ideas. Minton and two colleagues spent the winter months researching news reports from The (Toledo) Blade and other original sources and pulling descriptions of events. They made outlines of the scenes that might lend themselves to the story.
Minton found accounts of the 14 OVI's march from northwest Ohio to Virginia.
"They went through Marietta, and all the locals brought out pies, so we recreated that in the movie. In another little town, all the kids were throwing flowers and cheering as they went by, so we recreated that," Minton said.
The producers also allowed Minton to script the battle scenes according to historical accounts, including battle reports written by the generals.
Although placing a member of the Hanby family in the 14th Ohio was a "historical stretch," what happens to the unit in the film is what happened in real life. Minton's research took him to the actual battlefield at Corrick's Ford. During that battle, the first Confederate general was killed, along with some of his men. Other Confederate soldiers were captured. Daniel portrayed one of the fatalities.
"I actually play a (Union) character named Major Love, and he's historically accurate, as well," Minton said.
Records state it was Love who identified the fallen general's body, a scene which is dramatized in the film. Minton said the research was more satisfying to him than the role he had.
"I was very pleased about the historical accuracy they let us have. ... We wrote most of the dialogue and (the filmmakers) tweaked it," Minton said. "I laid out the military scenes, and Josh Mann, originally from Tiffin, did a lot of the set dressing and backgrounds for us."
Mann is the chief historian for the National Guard, so he was able to give Minton access to a variety of sources. The number of men involved in each battle, the details of their insignias, the casualties and fatalities, the terrain and other aspects of each scene are done as close to the original as possible.
Minton said he was able to watch the director during filming and suggest changes that were needed.
"Our names are going to be on it, so when re-enactors are watching it for the next 10 years, I want it to be how it should be," Minton said.
Filming of the military scenes took place in the Ohio towns of Seio in Carroll County and in Zoar in Tuscarawas County. Other scenes were shot in Heritage Village in Cincinnati and the Rankin House, former home of a family that was active in the Underground Railroad. A main character is a young man from the Hanby family who goes to join the 14th Ohio with his friends, whose names were pulled from the unit's actual roster.
Minton said some of the story is narrated in the form of letter writing and flashbacks.
"A lot of the military scenes we did were in camp and he'd be reading or writing a letter," Minton said of the Hanby character.
During the war, letters from soldiers to their families were an eyewitness source of news. Minton said families would take the letters from their sons to newspaper editors for publication. Those articles helped the researchers recreate scenes from actual battles in the film.
Minton said filming began in April 2012.
"It was cold. The battles we did were supposed to be (fought in) June and July, but we filmed them in April and May," he said.
Daniel runs the Fort Ball Pizza Palace in Fostoria and Minton has been working for Daniel since 1997. The pizza shop has catered many events for the re-enactors.
"Bob has made hardtack for re-enactments at the restaurant. I've got everything there for it. He made it in the back room," Daniel said.
Once Daniel became an extra, Minton started training him at the restaurant to familiarize Daniel with his role as a Civil War soldier. The re-enactors use drills that came out of manuals from that time.
"When I got down there, he showed me how to fire a muzzle loader. He actually had a buddy take me out in the woods. There's a correct way of doing it, so I had to learn all that. That was one of the more interesting things," Daniel said. "The weekend I was there, it was hot. There was no rain. In the woods, with all the clothes on, it was warm, but it wasn't that bad."
As a Confederate soldier, Daniel even had a line to deliver as he came running out of a tent. The second time they ran the scene, Daniel fell, so it had to be done again. A river-crossing scene also had to be done multiple times to recreate the Battle of Corrick's Ford.
Minton said Kicks Flicks is part of Victory Harvest Church, which produces family television programs and films. They wanted the film to focus on the issues of war and slavery in a way that would be suitable for family viewing, so the director kept the violence and blood to a minimum.
For his contributions, Minton said he will have permission to sell DVDs of the film and his reenactment group will use the profits for historical preservation projects.
"Right now, we're raising money for a Civil War battle flag for the historical society," Minton said. "Our group has raised, in the last two and a half years, probably $35,000 for flag preservation."