Judson professor part of living history

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2005

Contributed Reports

MARION- Judson

College professor of history Dr. Richard Neely spent a weekend in September on the Shiloh battlefield in western Tennessee re-fighting the Civil War.

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Though Neely grew up in Scottsboro as a “son of the South,” he found himself wearing uniforms of both the confederate and union armies!

The shoot was part of The History Channel’s series, “Battlefield Detectives” to be aired in December. The film explores what happened at

Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862.

Neely and his brother, John, of

Anniston, appeared as actors in the series.

John Neely is a professional actor having appeared in over 70 films. Richard Neely was a volunteer actor in previous films at the Antietam and

Gettysburg battle fields, but the

Shiloh shoot was the first time he was categorized as a professional actor and paid for his services.

Shiloh was a bloody two days that claimed over 23,000 casualties.

Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston died on the first day of battle, and the Union forces under Generals Grant and

Sherman prevailed.

According to the Houghton Mifflin college text website, the carnage of

Shiloh served as “a grim warning to the

United States and the Confederacy that they faced a long and desperate war.”

“The National Park Service had set up eight Sibley tents for us on one of the union campsites,” Neely said.

“The park rangers told us that we were the first people who had been allowed to camp on the actual battlefield since the war and so we felt especially honored.”

Neely said he was honored as well to retrace the footsteps of both of his grandfathers who fought at Shiloh.

“William Calhoun Forman was in the 18th Alabama Infantry and John Rufus Neely was in the 51st Alabama Partisan Rangers,” Neely said.

“It was a great feeling to walk on the very ground over which the regiment had advanced.

I’ve read that when the 18th reached that deadly part of the battlefield they were out of ammunition and charged in waving their D guard knives.”

In addition to his acting in the battlefield scenes, Neely had the responsibility of playing retreat and taps on the bugle.

“Less popular with the actors was my duty to reveille the camps each morning at 6:00,” he said.

The actors slept in tents and perspired in their period wool uniforms in the warm air of September, but other problems plagued them, Neely said.

“Uniforms ripped, cartridge boxes and belts broke and rifles got clogged with black powder residue and became unfireable.

“All the problems that the soldiers of that war experienced in the field actually happened to us,” he said.

When asked what motivated him to participate in such a grueling event, Neely said he’s been deeply interested in the Civil War from an early age.

“I grew up with people who were children of soldiers who fought in the war,” he said. “I was absorbed in the stories they told.”

John Neely continues his acting career having contracted with The History Channel to participate in a 16-part series on the Revolutionary War.

Richard Neely is back in the classroom and enjoys sharing his experiences with students in his popular “Civil War and Reconstruction” course.