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Arts & Culture

Letters From Muscatine Soldier Brought to Life

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Muscatine Art Center
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Bryce Taylor as Daniel Parvin

The Civil War will be brought to life through the letters of a Muscatine soldier, in a new film to premiere on Friday October 23rd.

The six short segments – ranging in length from five to eight minutes – will introduce viewers to Daniel Parvin in “Muscatine and the Civil War: The Letters of Daniel Parvin.” The film features Bryce Taylor as Daniel and Courtney Gevaert as his wife Sarah.

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Credit Muscatine Art Center
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Courtney Gevaert as Sarah Parvin

The two read excerpts of Parvin’s letters to home written from 1861, when he enlisted, through his recovery from a gruesome battle injury in 1864. Daniel died in 1880, at 53, from cancer of the mouth. The Muscatine Art Center’s collection contains 117 letters that have served as the centerpiece for this project, as well as the original middle school outreach project presented during the 2018-19 school year.

Muscatine Art Center Director Melanie Alexander says the film project is in response to Covid-19.

"We had two sets of actors – two Daniels and two Sarahs, and they were trained to present excerpts of the letters, and they presented it like readers’ theater in the classroom. They came in costumes; they had props, and had other supplemental materials they would share with the class.”

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“We were in the pilot phase, sort of a two-year piloting phase and we were in the second part of it when Covid happened, and we realized it was going to be a long time before actors were going to be allowed in the schools, even when school resumed in person.”

They created a film project instead, with remaining grant funds from the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Historic Resource Development Program. The outreach in the classroom involved a variety of props and reproduced primary sources such as maps, letters, photographs, and documents to help students understand daily life for Iowans who served in the Civil War.

The props and other materials will remain in the Muscatine Art Center’s education kits and will become available for educators to check out in the future. 

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Credit Muscatine Art Center
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All filming was done over the summer in the Muscatine area, with local actors. The variety of locations included Strawberry Farms Bed and Breakfast, Weed Park, Wildcat Den State Park, and Muscatine Community College’s video studio. Through Daniel’s letters, we read about the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Vicksburg, and he describes the food, getting sick and wounded, and quality of the clothes and blankets. Alexander says the film shows us how regular soldiers experienced discomfort, injury, and separation from family and friends.

“What we really wanted to with the outreach program and the film project was – this is the actual experience in the words of somebody who lived in Muscatine who was in the Civil War. When you’re in the Midwest, sometimes the Civil War feels like it happened really far away from here, you know?”

“It did really change the lives of everybody, so to hear how somebody from your own community, what happened to him and his family, to make it personal in a way. And also to understand what all the day-to-day challenges were for the soldiers, it’s just good to have that exposure – to hear of an experience that happened to a real person.”

Although developed for use in the classroom, anyone interested in the Civil War or local history can watch on Channel 9 or visit the Muscatine Art Center’s website for the YouTube links.

“One thing that’s really a nice outcome for it turning into a film project, is that now we can air it on the local cable channel; it can be viewed on YouTube.”

It’s also much easier to integrate the film clips into a lesson than live guest presenters. She says the Muscatine Art Center has provided other online educational programs since March.

The Civil War film begins with an introduction that summarizes Daniel Parvin’s life. Segment two follows him through enlistment and training. The next spotlights Parvin’s first taste of action at Pittsburgh Landing. Segment four covers daily life in camp near Corinth followed by the Siege of Vicksburg in segment five. The last describes Parvin’s injury during the Atlanta Campaign and his hospital recovery followed by some details about his life after the Civil War.

It will premiere on Oct. 23 on Muscatine Access Channel Nine at 4 pm and 9 pm, then at the same times Oct. 24-26. After that, visit www.muscatineartcenter.org or Channel Nine’s YouTube channel to watch anytime.