A collaborative documentary film effort between students of Kent State and the University of Akron, "The Sojer Boys of Portage County," led by KSU professor of journalism and mass communication Fred Endres, will premiere at 1 p.m. Saturday in 110 Franklin Hall on the Kent campus.
The 90-minute film, which Endres produced for PBS, follows seven young Portage County soldiers through the Civil War, based on their letters and diaries.
The premiere precedes the documentary's original airing at 10 p.m. Sunday night, which will be shown locally on WNEO. Prior to that airing, a free screening will be held for the general public. Parking is free for the event.
The project is a personal one for Endres, who describes himself as a longtime student of the Civil War and someone who is fascinated by the conflict's short- and long-term effects on the United States.
However, as he looked around at the various histories and documentaries on the war, Endres noticed what he felt was a glaring omission in the scope and direction of existing accounts.
"I've always been a student of the Civil War and fascinated by its effects on the country, then and now. It was just that most of the early histories dealt only with the prominent generals and national politicians," he explained. "Some of the histories and documentaries over the past 30-40 years dealt with the common soldiers, but I wanted to go even deeper, to do kind of a micro-history."
That line of thought led him to focus on seven soldiers who were all from Portage County, fighting on the Union side in the war. The fates of the seven men differed, but the documentary seeks to use their tales to sketch a picture of what the war's impact was on individuals from Northeast Ohio.
"Two did not survive the war, and only one escaped spending time in a hospital for a disease or a wound," Endres added. "Five were farmers; one was a blacksmith; one was a teacher. They ranged in age from 17-22 at the time of their enlistments."
A large number of students played roles in various portions of the project, ranging from assisting with research, creating graphics and providing voiceovers for soldiers and nurses in the film. The three primary student researchers for the project were Margaret Stahl, a December M.A. graduate in public relations, Felicia Wetzig and Philip Shackelford, two students in the department of History.
From start to finish, the documentary took years to complete, but Endres is confident the final product is worth the time and efforts invested in the project.
"It took more than two years to produce the program, but it was one of the most worthwhile and personal stories I have ever tried to tell," he concluded.