Preservationists Seek Funds For Film About Boston's Fort Warren
By Kathryn Jorgensen BOSTON, Mass. - For 10 years John Moon,
current president of the Civil War Round Table of Central Massachusetts,
has pursued a dream. He's been dogged, determined and dedicated,
trying to bring the Fort Warren Film Project to fruition.
Moon is looking for funding so that producer/director Erik Ewers
can produce a one-hour documentary about Fort Warren which housed
Confederate military and political prisoners on George's Island
in Boston Harbor.
Among those imprisoned during and after the war were Gens. Simon
Bolivar Buckner and Joseph Tilghman, Confederate Vice President
Alexander Stephens, Confederate sailors, and James Murray Mason
and John Slidell, whose arrest on the British steamer Trent
nearly brought Great Britain into the war.
Ewers, who is an editor for documentary producer Ken Burns at
Florentine Films of Walpole, N.H., wrote the script which he
and Moon researched. It was Ewers's idea to make a film to tell
the remarkable story of the fort where only nine prisoners died.
The title will be "Fort Warren: Bastille of the North."
Ewers's script tells Fort Warren's story from when construction
started in 1833. It was large, six acres, and strong, built
of granite. Its name honors Dr. Joseph Warren, the Minuteman
who died at Bunker Hill.
"This Fort Warren story can be a further healing because
of the humanitarian ways of [Commander] Col. Justin Dimick who
is a real American hero," says Moon. The film script relates
many of Dimick's kindnesses to prisoners some of whom signed
a letter asking humane treatment for Dimick's son, an army lieutenant,
if he were captured. He died at Chancellorsville. Conditions
changed in 1863 when the War Department ordered that prisoner
treatment be comparable to that in Southern prisons.
A lot of people agree that the film which Moon hopes would air
on PBS and at the fort would bring many benefits, including
preservation and tourism. Proceeds from video sales would go
to restoration of the fort.
Donations have come from diverse groups and agencies including
a $16,000 matching grant from the National Park Service, a $500
Preservation Services Fund Grant from the National Trust for
Historic Preservation, and funds from the Massachusetts Department
Sons of Union Veterans, 5th Alabama Field Music, and Rhode Island
Civil War Round Table.
Among those endorsing the film project is the Metropolitan District
Commission which owns the island and is spending $1.5 million
of its and federal money to restore the seawall. The Fort Warren
Film Project has been endorsed by the office of the Governor
of Massachusetts, the Island Alliance and SUV camps in three
Boston Harbor Island Advisory Council Chair Jack Wiggins wrote
of the economic and cultural benefits to the state. "We
believe the film has great value not only as a chronicle of
a fascinating and important era in the history of the islands,
but also for generating public interest in and promoting visitation
to the Boston Harbor Islands."
The film pilot impressed Wiggins who noted its "depth of
research and film-making expertise."
Moon says that for the production phase they need about $67,000
to cover such expenses as filming interviews and footage of
the fort, camera rental, purchase of photographs and visual
materials. Post-production is more costly, an estimated $150,000
to $175,000 which would include salary for Ewers who was not
paid for his research and 80-page script.
His boss, Ken Burns, says the documentary will make "excellent
television." He has agreed to act as a consultant, and
several of his staff will assist Ewers.
Ewers, who grew up in Massachusetts and visited
Fort Warren as a child, is a former member of the 2nd South
Carolina String Band. He worked on the PBS Jazz, Lewis and Clark
and upcoming Mark Twain documentaries.
In describing the project Ewers wrote that the Fort Warren story
will be told "through the words of those who were kept
within its walls, soldiers and prisoners alike." Photographs,
illustrations, live footage, music and narration will be used.
If the money materialized immediately Moon estimates the project
would take a year and a half to complete because Ewers is now
busy with Burns's Mark Twain documentary.
In the meantime Moon knocks on all doors he can think of pursuing
his dream of a collaborative effort. He recently applied to
the American Battlefield Protection Program and would like a
chance to tell the people at the Civil War Preservation Trust
about the film project. He has ideas for promoting other preservation
efforts through materials given with the video and film credits.
He hopes a state medical group will help since the hospital
at Fort Warren may be the only Civil War hospital left in the
For years Moon has worked for and donated to preservation of
battlefields. His thick file of correspondence documenting his
efforts reads like a who's who of Civil War preservation.
Moon sees the Fort Warren Film Project as a sort of demonstration
project for others, including corporate sponsors, on the benefits
of what he calls "collaborative Civil War education preservation
effects." He's seen support from Civil War groups at the
local, state and regional level, as well as from the National
Trust and Department of Interior. Now he's looking for national
If he is successful in his quest for film project funds it will
demonstrate "strong local, regional and national Civil
War grassroots," he says.