GCC professors use theatrics to tell Civil War history

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 December 2018 at 9:17 am

Photos courtesy of GCC: Derek Maxfield, left, is General Ulysses S. Grant and Tracy Ford is General William Tecumseh Sherman in a 45-minute theatrical “conversation” between the two Civil War generals for the Union. They will present “Now we stand by each other always”  at 7 p.m. today at GCC in Batavia.

BATAVIA – Two Genesee Community College professors will portray Civil War generals this evening, sharing a conversation between the two leaders of the Union Army near the end of the Civil War.

Derek Maxfield will portray General Ulysses S. Grant and Tracy Ford will be the more charismatic General William Tecumseh Sherman. They will perform at 7 p.m. at GCC in Batavia in room T102 of the Conable Technology Building. The event is free and open to the public.

Maxfield has worked as a history professor the past 10 years at GCC. He wrote the script in the 45-minute presentation.

“We are both looking for new ways to reach out and educate,” Maxfield said.

Ford, an Albion resident, is in his 19th year of teaching English at GCC. Maxfield and Ford have both been part of living history events at GCC, portraying famous people from the past.

The presentation as the two generals is based on historic resources and references. Together, they recount the important meeting and conversation held at City Point, Va. in March 1865 when the two Union generals discuss the campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas and consider how to close out the Civil War.

“It’s really an experiment and a new way of teaching,” Maxfield said about the event.

Grant is a calm and reserved personality, while Sherman is the opposite.

“It really is the Tracy Ford show in many ways,” Maxfield said.

He reached out to his colleague about portraying Sherman because Maxfield said Ford resembles the general and has an engaging personality.

Ford said one biographer has compared Sherman to Daffy Duck. Ford welcomed the chance to bring out Sherman’s character.

Derek Maxfield, left, and Tracy Ford said they are looking for ways to engage students in understanding history.

“You read about a character in a book and it’s a very two-dimensional thing,” Ford said. “Sherman is quite vigorous, chain smoking cigars and pounding bourbon. It gives you a human face.”

Ford will have an unlit cigar during the presentation and a liter of unsweetened tea.

The two professors debuted the show at the Clarendon museum during the Orleans County Heritage Festival in September. They also performed in Hornell at a historical society. They have upcoming performances in Brockport in early 2019.

In 2020, they will be in Lancaster, Ohio for the 200th anniversary celebration of William Tecumseh Sherman. He was born on February 8, 1820.

Ford praised Maxfield for creating the script and pushing for the production.

“He is the brains and I’m the frenetic energy,” Ford said. “It has been a lot of fun. This is another way to do it and spread it out into the community.”

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