Critical commentary

This assessment is from Dr. Benjamin Ramirez-shkwegnaabi, Ph.D., associate professor of history at Central Michigan University and a descendent of Saginaw-Chippewa and Odawa forebears.

The film, The Road to Andersonville: Michigan Native American Sharpshooters in the Civil War, can be used as a lens through which Native people’s participation in the Civil War can be seen from an Anishinaabeg perspective.  Viewers are provided with an Anishinaabeg-centered history of Company K, beginning in 1863.  Additionally, the film presents this Anishinaabeg perspective through the context of oral interview historical accounts by numerous Anishinaabeg veterans, as well as noted mainstream and Anishinaabeg scholars in the field.

An important aspect of this film is its focus on bringing the viewers’ attention to the arguably masked bigotry against Native people during the time of the Civil War and afterwards, both in the Union army and the Confederate army.  Early in the film an interview with Raymond J. Herek, historian and author of These Men Have Seen Hard Service, is presented, in which Mr. Herek recounts the state of Michigan’s passage of a law forbidding Anishinaabeg Native people to join the Union army, thus excluding them while simultaneously claiming to fight in a war supporting the human and civil rights of African-Americans and against slavery.

Another major contribution of this film is that it ties together the past and present through the many interviews with Anishinaabeg veterans.  The voices of both the contemporary Anishinaabeg Warriors and their Ancestors are prominent.  The Ogichidaw speak not only of their own experiences but also those of their Ancestors; they also bring focus to the perspective of the Anishinaabeg world and universe.

The Road to Andersonville: Michigan Native American Sharpshooters in the Civil War is an important film; it brings a needed Anishinaabe historical context to the mainstream audience from which to see Indigenous contributions to the American Civil War.

This assessment is from Kendal Wingrove, vice president of the Historical Society of Michigan:

The Road to Andersonville: Michigan Native American Sharpshooters in the Civil War, produced by David Schock, is a moving documentary that connects past and present, linking a community’s need for recognition with the brave acts of Native American soldiers during the Civil War.

The film tells two stories.  The first is of Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters, a unit made up almost exclusively of Native Americans.  The second story begins almost 150 years later when descendants of the soldiers and others decide to honor these brave individuals.

The sharpshooters of Company K first saw service in 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness.   They also were at Spotsylvania, the Battle of the Crater and the siege of Petersburg.  The company distinguished itself, but received heavy casualties.  While many gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, some of the sharpshooters were captured.  After the battle of Petersburg, 15 of their number were sent to the prison camp at Andersonville.  Of the 15 from Company K, seven died and were buried on the site.

For a century and a half, the remains of these seven men were at Andersonville without receiving a traditional burial ceremony.  Descendants motored from Michigan to Andersonville to pay homage and respect to the spirits of the men of Company K buried there.

The Road to Andersonville provides extraordinary tales that speak to valor under fire, loyalty to comrades and the ties that bind among generations.  Along the way, there are many important insights into Native American culture.

Winning the Society’s top award is a signal honor. The Society is made up of people who love history in all its forms, who work to make it accessible to all, and who enjoy the company of others who share their interest. It’s not stuffy, it’s not elitist; instead it’s down-to-earth. Oh, and it’s wildly affordable: memberships start at $25 a year. Click here to learn more about HSM.

Here’s an episode of Newsmakers from WGVU TV with Patrick Center featuring David Schock and Kokoosh Roger Williams Kchinodin.