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Kentucky battle comes to life in documentary

Steve Oldfield

Mac Payton, Staff writer

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Steve Oldfield and Sean Thomas,  graduate students in NKU’s public history program, are making a documentary about a little-known battle of the Civil War that took place in the small town of Augusta, Ky.

According to Oldfield, on Sept. 22, 1862, a group of Confederate soldiers came through Augusta in an attempt to attack Cincinnati, which was then the sixth largest city in the nation. They passed through Kentucky without much opposition until they reached Augusta.

The citizens of Augusta decided that they were not going to let the Confederate troops pass. One of the citizens, Joshua Taylor Bradford, set up what Oldfield called a “home guard,” and fired on the invaders.

Technically, according to Oldfield, the Confederates won the battle, but they had to retreat due to heavy losses and were not able to attack Cincinnati.

Much of the story of the short battle which, according to Thomas, lasted only 20 minutes, has come to light in recent years from the help of Don Clark, a lawyer, historian and descendant of Bradford.

He came across records in the National Archives about a court martial against two gunboat captains who were supposed to help defend Augusta, but fled after seeing that the Confederate troops had cannons as well.

Thomas explained that this new account helped to tell a lot of the story. Before this record was found, the only account of the battle was from the hands of Colonel Basil Duke, the leader of the Confederate troops.

The documentary is the second phase of an idea that has been in the works for almost a year, according to Brian Hackett, director of the public history program.

In 2011, Oldfield and Thomas attended History Day at NKU, where they heard several noted historians and professors speak on different historical subjects.

One of the speakers, Bill Baker, did a presentation on the Battle of Augusta. “We were so taken with Mr. Baker’s presentation, Sean and I thought this would be a wonderful story to tell,” Oldfield said.

Thomas said that they worked with historians in Augusta, both professional and amateur, to put a virtual walking tour together for the battle’s 150th anniversary.

Oldfield and Thomas own a business together called Instant Access Tours. The two create walking tours and place QR codes to replace the large bronze plaques that people are used to.

“In the real world, if you want people to learn history, you have to make it engaging and interesting,” said Hackett. The QR code signs allow for more text, as well as the inclusion of videos and images.

According to Hackett, the major downside of the large bronze plaques is that you’re limited to about 100 words. “[The QR codes are] a lot more interactive and informational,” said Hackett.

They also made an eight-minute video, which can be found online at BattleOfAugusta.org. They were able to interview noted historians, including Jeff Shaara, author of “Gods and Generals;” Nick Clooney, a resident of Augusta, a historian and George Clooney’s father; and Don Clark.

According to Oldfield, for this video, they got hours of interview footage. They realized that this eight-minute video was not enough to tell the full story, so they set out to give the full story in an hour-long documentary, according to Thomas.

“This is just the beginning of what we want to do,” said Thomas. “Stories like this exist in our backyards. [Our] job, I believe, is to help historical societies and organizations, like Augusta, tell their stories.”

When the documentary is finished, Oldfield said they hope to air it on PBS, as well as distribute the movie to Kentucky high schools.

Thomas said he thinks that students in schools these days aren’t learning enough about the history of Kentucky. “It’s difficult to teach Kentucky history if they’re barely touching base on Gettysburg,” said Thomas. “This story is struggling to come out. This story needs to be told.”

If you would like to help Oldfield and Thomas with making the documentary, visit their Kickstarter page.

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Kentucky battle comes to life in documentary