Neely Presents Original Documentary as Civil War Institute Fellow
By Victoria Staub, A&E Editor
On Thursday, April 20, Brandon Neely ’23 premiered a 90-minute documentary he wrote, directed, and narrated for his final project as a Civil War Institute Fellow. This documentary, titled “No Fear: Gettysburg’s Edward McPherson and the Battle for America’s Soul,” was shown at Joseph Theater. Neely pulled out all of the stops during the premier, even including a trivia section during the preview. The documentary demonstrates Neely’s skills in both historical research and the art of filmmaking.
Neely has been working with Gettysburg’s Civil War Institute (CWI) for three years as a fellow. Even when he was not on campus, he continued working for the CWI in the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near his home in Missouri and during his semester abroad in Cairo, Egypt. During her introduction to Neely’s documentary, Assistant Director of the CWI Ashley Luskey explained that CWI Fellows are expected to work only about five hours per week, and Neely always surpassed this requirement. His dedication to informing the public about significant history is most evident in the task of making this documentary.
Originally, Neely was interested in pursuing a short podcast series, but he decided to take a different creative direction.
“Doing a film, rather than a podcast, allowed me to connect McPherson’s story to the iconic locations in the town that raised him. [It] gave me the time to look not just at Edward McPherson, but also the local and national context which informed and responded to his work,” said Neely.
Neely continued,“Edward McPherson was a Radical Republican who called the roll on the vote to end slavery, used his position as Clerk of the House of Representatives to protect Reconstruction, and worked in Gettysburg to preserve decades of local history.”
McPherson and his four sons were all graduates of Pennsylvania College, which later became Gettysburg College.
Throughout the process of creating this documentary, Neely learned countless lessons.
“The most important [lesson] is that McPherson’s legacy, Gettysburg’s opportunities, and my personal work all rely on collaboration with the people in [the] community,” said Neely. “Researching McPherson took me to archives and libraries across the state, community leaders throughout the town, and faculty throughout campus.”
Neely began the documentary with clips of students attempting to identify significant figures from Gettysburg history. Many students lent their voices to the production, reciting different historical texts. Additionally, historians such as Chairperson and Associate Professor of Africana Studies Scott Hancock and Scheduling and Technical Support Manager for the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life John Rudy ’07 provided commentary throughout the film.
Many of McPherson’s descendants were featured in the film, as well as the recognizable house on the corner of Carlisle and West Stevens Streets that once belonged to McPherson, but is now owned by Gettysburg College.
Regarding the legacy of his film, Neely shared, “I hope Gettysburgians who watch the documentary learn about how taking courageous action, at levels large and small, local and national, can always push the needle towards a better future. McPherson lived in one of America’s darkest periods, yet always believed that his town and country were capable of achieving equality, opportunity, and prosperity… I also hope the documentary encourages the community to continue supporting student scholarship here at Gettysburg College.”
Following his graduation, Neely will be attending Simmons University for Archives Management. He credits the CWI, and faculty members such as Luskey and Associate Director of the CWI Jill Titus, for assisting him in his graduate school search and providing “a place to develop [his] skills as a historian, work alongside public history professionals, and publish [his] work for the public to access.”
Neely’s completed documentary will be available on the CWI YouTube in early May.