The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

"Death and the Civil War" airs on PBS

Last night I eagerly watched as American Experience debuted “Death and the Civil War,” a documentary film based on the remarkable This Republic of Suffering (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008) by Drew Gilpin Faust. My eagerness was generated in part by my personal interest in the Civil War, and in part because this past spring I had the pleasure of working with Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns and a wonderful production team from Steeplechase Films when they visited the MHS to work on this project. I assisted them in selecting documents and artifacts for filming and had the special opportunity of supervising the filming process in the Society’s Dowse Library. What an eye opening experience!  Seeing the care and time invested in the selection and filming, all the while knowing the MHS material only represented a small portion of the total material needed for the two hour film, left me with a deeper appreciation for those that research and create documentary films. 

So last night, I was anxious to see which MHS materials made the final cut and was thrilled to see a large number of our resources were used to tell portions of the story.  MHS materials feature prominently in two segments of the film. In the segment “Dying” a letter written by Wilder Dwight to his mother Elizabeth Dwight (available on our website), begun "in the saddle” at the opening of the Battle of Antietam and finished as he lay mortally wounded on that field, is read aloud while the letter and a photograph of Dwight are featured on screen.

Later in the film the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, a Massachusetts soldier mortally wounded at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, and his father Henry Bowditch, who championed improvement of the ambulance service available to soldiers after the death of his son, weaves through the segment “Naming.”  This segment includes images of both Nathaniel and Henry Bowditch, a panning shot featuring a number of personal items belonging to “Nat” from the Bowditch Cabinet, as well as an assortment of items – the “terrible telegram” and the annotated map of Virginia showing the site of the younger Bowditch’s death, among others -- contained in the Nathaniel Bowditch Memorial Collection.   

If you missed the episode, look for it to re-air on PBS or watch it online. You will be glad that you did. 

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 8:00 AM


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