JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 20, 2013 – What started as a research project for Texas attorney Dan Kennerly turned into a historical film, premiering Sept. 28-29 at Union University’s W.D. Powell Theatre.
Starring several Union alumni and faculty members, “The Raid on Holly Springs” is a true story of how Holly Springs, Miss., was saved from destruction during the Civil War.
“There is a sort of God-coincidence in the movie,” said David Burke, a professor of theater and the director of the W.D. Powell Theatre. “It’s really why Holly Springs is standing today.”
Kennerly, who directed and wrote the screenplay for the film, said General Ulysses S. Grant was defeated in 1862 during a Confederate raid on Holly Springs. In return for losing the fight, he ordered one of his colonels to burn Holly Springs to the ground.
Grant’s colonel later made a startling discovery in Holly Springs, Kennerly said, causing the colonel not only to defy Grant’s orders but also to post a cavalry across the city to prevent Grant’s soldiers from starting fires.
“We’re telling a story that has not been told,” Kennerly said, as few historical records detail what happened at Holly Springs.
Described by Burke as a Civil War aficionado, Kennerly learned about the Holly Springs raid while conducting research for a history class he was taking. After searching through Civil War archives and talking with descendants from the raid, he decided to create a film about his findings.
Kennerly held auditions for the movie in 1998 at Union. He then traveled from Texas to Tennessee to film the movie when his cast and crew were available.
Kennerly recruited Burke as an acting coach, since Burke already was on the sets with his three sons, who had roles in the film. During a critical scene at a Holly Springs mansion, however, Burke found himself starring in the movie as well.
One of the actors failed to arrive to the set, Burke said. With more than 40 cast and crew members waiting to start filming, Kennerly asked Burke to try on the uniform intended for the missing actor – and the clothes fit.
“I took about 15 minutes to try to memorize the lines as best as I could,” said Burke, who then stepped into the scene and played a general who laid out the plans to destroy Grant’s army depot.
Ray Eaton, a broadcasting technician at Union, also starred in the film as Grant’s adjutant.
Although the movie was Eaton’s first screen performance, he acted in about 50 plays ranging from comedies to dramas as a student and former Freed-Hardeman University staff member. Despite his experience, Eaton joked that his physical appearance was the reason he was selected to be in the movie.
“I had a beard at that time, and I think that probably helped me get the role,” Eaton said. “Because I had a full beard, I didn’t have to put on anything fake.”
Burke said that premiere attendees may recognize more than faculty and alumni in the movie, as many of the scenes were filmed in or near Jackson. Kennerly’s cameraman scouted the region for ideal filming locations, which included Civil War-era homes in Trenton, Tenn., and Holly Springs.
The movie’s completion was delayed for many reasons, Kennerly said, particularly due to editing 20-plus hours of footage. Union alumnus Julian Williamson finished editing the film July 2.
“The Raid on Holly Springs” will premiere Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 29 at 2:30 p.m. Burke said various cast and crew members will be attending the free premieres.
“It’s almost going to be like a family reunion,” Burke said. “There’s going to be a lot of good energy here at Union that weekend.”
For more information about the film, contact David Burke at email@example.com.
By Beth Byrd