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Company catches ‘Burg’s big weekend on video



A few people taking part in the Battle of Fredericksburg commemoration events were carrying something decidedly more high-tech than period rifles last weekend.

They were armed with digital video cameras to capture the encampment, re-enactments and memorial parade that took place.

Heritage Media LLC, a local production company, is using their work to create “Fire on the Rappahannock,” a limited edition DVD that’s expected to be available by the end of next month.

“So far, the footage looks pretty dramatic,” said executive producer Thomas Van Winkle.

Heritage Media used four two-man camera crews to record the action during the sesquicentennial. One team was embedded with the Confederate side, another with Union forces. The rest mainly hid behind trees or windows of buildings downtown.

“We knew people didn’t want to see them,” Van Winkle said. “We wanted to be totally unobtrusive.”

A trailer for the film on Heritage Media’s website, heritagemedia, opens with present-day re-enactors firing cannons. As it switches to drawings of original battle scenes, background is provided by Scott Walker, a Heritage Media founder who operates Hallowed Ground Tours.

“One hundred and fifty years ago, the Battle of Fredericksburg exploded with hell’s own artillery fire over the Rappahannock,” he says. “The Union’s amphibious assault across that river met withering rifle fire. The urban combat was up close and personal.”

Van Winkle had high praise for the complex 150th anniversary re-enactments, which included not only the river crossing, but snipers, street fighting and the attack on the stone wall along Sunken Road.

He said things were well-organized with only one slip-up. The floating bridge built by the Virginia Army National Guard engineers fell short of the riverbank. Re-enactors had to plunge into the water and wade the remaining eight feet.

“We had a cameraman on the incoming side of the bridge, and we couldn’t use some of the audio track,” Van Winkle said. “There were a lot of wet socks hanging out in camp that night, I can tell you that.”

Heritage Media is considering holding a première of “Fire on the Rappahannock” in Fredericksburg when the video is finished, and DVDs will likely sell for $15.99. Copies can be reserved now on the company’s website.

“We want to make enough to cover our costs and give 10 percent to preservation groups,” Van Winkle said. “Hopefully, some of the stores and the Park Service will carry it.”

Heritage Media got its start in 2009 when the Fredericksburg Civil War Roundtable was discussing possible preservation efforts. One member suggested using new photographs, along with Civil War-era ones stored in the Library of Congress, to give a before and after look at the region.

“They came to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and said, ‘We’d like to do a video and have you do the distribution and get a donation,’” said Van Winkle, the Trust’s communications director. “They made me the executive producer. I figured how hard could it be? I’ve been working with every historian in the industry for years.”

Van Winkle, whose day job is East Coast field manager for General Motors, got together with Walker and two others to do the project. They were Scott Eyestone, a retired U.S. Air Force videographer, and Bill Hatch, a retired teacher.

“Civil War Fredericksburg Then & Now,” which included a cameo appearance by Robert Duvall, earned about $30,000 for the Trust.

“Once the DVD went out, we started getting requests for work,” Van Winkle said. “It started building and building, and now we’re the go-to guy for historic video.”

Heritage Media’s projects have included a film about the Central Virginia Battle fields Trust called “On the Front Line” and a TV show about the history of the Rappahannock River valley that ran for three seasons on a local access channel.

The company is currently working on a project called “Storefront Stories” in Abingdon, Arlington, Fredericksburg and Stafford County.

At retailers’ request, staff historians research the site’s history and create up to a two-minute video depicting its past and present. Retailers then receive a window placard with a QR code that passersby can scan to see the video, which is hosted on Heritage Media’s website.

Scan the one for Beck’s Antiques & Books at 708 Caroline St., for example, and owner Bill Beck recounts how J.B. Mitchell, who ran Mitchell’s Fruit & Vegetables in that space in the 1930s, regularly drove to Florida to get produce.

Once he returned with a baby alligator to amuse his children. It was kept in the basement, but eventually escaped and wandered over to the fire department on Princess Anne Street.

“We don’t know what the firemen did with it,” Beck says.

So far, about 15 store owners have taken part in Storefront Stories. The idea, Van Winkle said, is to pass on a bit of history about places people pass every day and also encourage them to go inside and shop.

“We really like to bring the history of our area out,” he said. “That’s basically our whole reason for existing. If we had to make a living on what we make, we’d be in a cardboard box somewhere.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407